@Copyright E. Charles Tucker, written on behalf of Living Mask Productions all rights reserved. Please do not reproduce without permission of the author.

Keepers of Knowledge: The Book of the Gnomes

If there were ever a race of people who, on the surface, seem so ill suited to survive the war-torn world that is Illusia it would be the Gnomish people. Small of stature and kind to a fault, the Gnomes are at heart a peace-loving nation, preferring to withdraw to the safety of their burrows rather than engage in head-on conflict with the more aggressive of the Chosen races. How, then have the Gnomes managed to survive – and thrive – over the course of the centuries, earning a reputation as a force to be feared in the process?

PHYSIOLOGY

The shortest of the Chosen races, both the male and female of the Gnomish people stand at an average of 3 feet in height, with very little disparity; an exceptionally tall Gnome would still be considered incredibly short by Dwarven standards, their closest comparison. They tend towards the plump side for their size, with weights for both male and female adult Gnomes ranging from 60lbs to a hefty 90lbs. Despite their slightly overweight appearance, Gnomes can be surprisingly agile and quick; this combined with their illusory magicks make them an incredibly illusive race.

A Gnome can also be marked by their protruding, bulbous noses and large, round ears. The male of the race develop short, curly beards that encircle their cheeks and chin; it is a rare Gnome, however, who manages to grow a moustache. Their hair is usually curly, with coloring over a wide range spectrum from jet black to blond to fiery red. Most Gnomes have high, round cheekbones that give them a perpetually cheery appearance – aided by the wide smiles travelers are usually greeted with.

Fashion amongst Gnomes is fairly simplistic – they appear, for the most part, to be a farming people. Loose-fitting tunics, functional vests, and durable breeches comprise everyday wear for the short race. Many prefer to go barefooted, wearing shoes and boots only when taking a long journey. Colors tend towards spring and summer hues – brown, green, yellow and red tones with the occasional white, black and grey for variety.

Gnomes are strict vegetarians, with a deep love of mushrooms in all their varieties.

RELIGION

Gnomes do not, as a race, worship any of the Gods. While they are willing to acknowledge that beings of great power do, or have, existed, they view them as mortal beings who have attained a level of knowledge and enlightenment that transcends anything the races of the world have yet to achieve. Ultimately, the Gnomes seek to attain this enlightenment and discover the deeper mysteries of the universe they feel this level of understanding will unlock for them.

In that regard, then, one could consider the pursuit of knowledge to be the Gnomish religion. They certainly take to it with an almost religious fever; Gnomish children recite mathematical formulae and alchemical equations with a reverence normally reserved for edicts handed down by the Gods. Libraries are prevalent in every Gnomish home; bedtime stories are often a reading of some philosophical treatise, leaving young Gnomes to fall asleep contemplating the energies of the universe. Many older, venerable Gnomes are learned in several disciplines ranging from herb lore, astronomy, engineering, arcane lore, mathematics and alchemy.

Despite the lack of theistic pursuit, the Gnomish people enjoy contemplating the existence of these beings and the power they are attributed with. To the Gnomes, “godhood” is an attainable goal for all sentient beings who are willing to explore this knowledge to its fullest. Magick, by their train of thought, is the closest a sentient being can come to touching the very essence of the universe – and is a path of learning that is revered above all others.

The Gnomes do not believe magick to be a dangerous tool, not if the knowledge is taught from the earliest childhood and tempered with a solid education in the dangers of an over-reliance on its energies. It is not uncommon to see Gnomish children playing with illusory magicks the way a human child will play with clay and charcoal, crafting visual games and artistic drawings in the air rather than on parchment. This early respect and understanding of the forces they wield are believed to help the young Gnomes when they reach adulthood, and pursue an understanding of the more dangerous arcane paths.

The Gnomes are great astronomers, and will spend hours gazing up at the stars and studying the constellations. Again, this is not a religious pursuit but more a means towards understanding the way the universe behaves. They disregard most astrologers and prognosticators as frauds; however, in an odd contradiction they believe that divination magicks do exist that can part the fabric of reality and give glimpses into possible futures.

CULTURE/SOCIETY

With such an emphasis on learning and knowledge, it might surprise a visitor to the Gnomish lands to discover that the people are a happy, carefree race who enjoys festivals and celebrations of any kind. Birthday parties and nameday celebrations take place nearly every day within a Gnomish warren, with the entire community coming out to join in the festivities. The largest celebration within the Gnomish society, by far, is the Doaln Moon Festival.

Taking place during the full moon of the ninth month of the year, the Doaln Moon Festival is a sacred day revered by the Gnomes – although, at first appearance, it seems little more than a game and yet another reason for feasting. At moonrise on the night of the Festival, Gnomish hunting parties scamper out of their burrows and head into the deeper parts of nearby Amanap Forest in search of the elusive Wild Doaln mushroom – a rare delicacy whose oils can be distilled into the near-mystical brew the Gnomes call Kombucha Tea. This blackish, bitter fluid is widely supposed to have miraculous medicinal properties, ranging from restoring hair to decreasing aches and pains, improving memory, restoring energy and generally solving every health problem that exists. The Gnomes guard the brew and its secrets with religious fervor; very few outside of the Gnomish city of Quill have ever sampled the curative.

After the oils are distilled the spores of the mushroom are removed and sent to the farms for seeding; while the medicinal properties of the Doaln are lost in the domesticated growths, the resulting mushroom crop provides the bulk of foodstores for the Gnomes for the rest of the year.

The meat of the Doaln is carefully carved out and given over to the chefs of the festival, who then go on to prepare some of the finest dishes known to the Gnomish people. Visitors to Quill from other races have compared the taste to the finest venison, delicate and flavorful regardless of the method of preparation.

While mushrooms act as the mainstay of the Gnomish diet, it is by no means the only crop the diminutive people rely on. Their diet consists largely of tubers, root and bulb vegetables (potatoes, squashes, carrots and onions) balanced by low-growing bush and vine fruit – melons and berries, with select nut varieties. Combined with their vast knowledge of herbs, it allows the Gnomes to create surprisingly complex vegetarian dishes, most of them using varieties of mushroom to replace meats the other races seem to rely on.

Pipeweed is also a popular Gnomish crop. The dried leaves are crumpled and sprinkled into a wooden smoking pipe, with the smoke from the aromatic herb inhaled with slightly euphoric effects. Many Gnomish farmers attempt to grow their own hybrids, mixing the seedlings with different shoots from other plants to produce different flavorings. A popular strain can become a point of pride for a burrow, with the farmers competing with their crops during the annual Pipeweed Festival. Very few Gnomes leave home without a pipe and a pouch of pipeweed tucked safely away in their pockets.

Besides farming, the Gnomes have also domesticated a number of woodland creatures. Many Gnomes keep rodents such as pika or chipmunks as pets, with the larger mongoose serving as a defense against badger and ferret raids. Riverside Gnomish communities are often found near beaver dens, and the pig-like snugfworts are used for tracking the elusive Dolan mushrooms. Moles are used for extensive digging, and kept for their milk.

“Invention is the product of curiosity” - Gnomish engineer.

The Gnomish gift for knowledge is not limited to books and learning, but manifests in the form of invention as well. The Gnomes love to see ideas brought to life, and do not hesitate to build elaborate contraptions that perform the most complex of actions, regardless of safety concerns. They build not for the sake of convenience, but for the sake of invention itself – to test their theories in physical form. To a Gnome, there is no such thing as a failed experiment; each lack of success is, in reality, an advancement in knowledge. A typical engineer believes that to know that a thing does not work is to be one step further towards understanding how that thing can work – a confusing statement on the surface, yet manages to show the depths of the Gnomish thought process. Most warrens within the Gnomish cities are littered with failed or partially functioning devices.

POLITICS

Gnomes, as a group, do not act unless each member of the community has had a voice in the decision. Weighty issues are first discussed among families within a burrow, then brought before the entire clan. Clan decisions are then discussed within each warren; representatives of each warren then meet in council to come to a consensus. There is no discrimination between male and female in these discussions; even children are invited to share their views, as the Gnomish people believe that the innocence of a child can often offer a new perspective on a situation.

The current head of the council, called the Speaker, announces the decision to the entire city. There is no dissent once a consensus has been reached; each person has had their say, and regardless of the outcome the majority of the Gnomish people have made their choice. Each Gnome considers it his or her duty to abide by any decision made.

Political power is a foreign concept to the Gnomes; individuals have little power themselves, but instead act as conduits to relay the voice of the people they represent. These individuals are never elected formally; by default they tend to be the more outspoken, personable Gnomes within a group. Gnomish government is used as a means to coordinate activities within a warren, and to convey the will of the people as a whole; each Gnome knows, and understands, their duties and happily plays their part in keeping the community well ordered.

QUILL: THE SUBTERRANEAN CITY

Located a few leagues south of the Forest of Tagnan, the city of Quill seems, to the casual visitor, to be a quiet community of wide farms and modest huts. Earthen mounds dot the landscape, presumably used to store the variety of melons, vegetables, grains and berries the Gnomish people take such diligent care to grow.

Those who know the Gnomish people have come to discover that the huts are little more than distractions, used as sentry towers to warn of approaching strangers. The relatively flat terrain surround the Gnomish lands ensures that no danger can approach unseen. Each storage mound is, in reality, an entranceway leading to the true home of the Gnomes located well beneath the land – Quill, the Underground City.

Quill is a dizzying network of tunnels, caverns and passageways that house the entirety of the Gnomish people. Each Gnomish home, or burrow, is connected to other burrows by means of trapdoors and passageways; these groupings are, in turn, called warrens – a Gnomish version of a village. The burrows themselves are round caverns, with individual alcoves – called dens – serving as rooms.

A typical warren looks much like a gigantic cavern, with rounded wooden doors neatly arrayed in a row along the wall. A warren may consist of several levels, with ladders leading up and down the levels to the individual burrows. Some of the larger warrens within the city use a Gnomish invention known as the “Upanddowner”, a series of tubes and piping that uses air pressure to propel a Gnome up, or down, a shaft to the various levels. Unfortunately, due to the careful measuring of air pressure-to-body weight needed to properly operate these machines, outsiders are discouraged from using them for their own safety.

At the heart of Quill lies a sacred cavern called the Chamber of Light. Carefully crafted by Gnomish engineers and jewelsmiths, the entire chamber is a web of crystallized stalactites and stalagmites with cross-branches interweaving from wall to wall. Using a complex network of mirrors and crystal tubing, the light of the sun is reflected to this chamber and multiplied, refracted a thousand times and “beamed” out to the various warrens throughout the city. “Sunglobes” can be found nestled strategically into the walls all over Quill, providing warm light to the entire city.

Amanap Forest lies close to Quill and provides the sole source of their favorite food, the Wild Doaln mushroom. The forest is a dangerous place for a Gnome; owls, giant spiders, and ferocious badgers inhabit the woodland, as do several species of meat-eating plant life. Several fey creatures such as pixies, sprites and wisps have also made the dark forest their home, leading many visitors to their doom.

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