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- Jun 2014
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Wandering Sentinels, Gnomes of Eldralar
I decided this was easier than constantly editing and finding some excuse to bump the main thread. Without further ado, gnomes.
“Trust a gnome. Trust nothing near a gnome” –old Humanic saying.
Among the smallest of the races of Eldralar, gnomes make up for the size in many a way. They are innately magical, and possess many useful abilities, such as affinity with forest beasts, or marvelous artifice. Guided by their twin gods of protection and travel, Gnomes wander Eldralar in small groups, sometimes even as few as a single pair. They lack a centralized society, instead operating as a wide network, sending messages by bird or metal messenger. Gnomes can be found anywhere and everywhere, but they seem to be most common around ruins and borders.
Archeologists and Explorers
Gnomes have a cultural wanderlust, and are always looking for new places. They especially gravitate towards ruins and abandoned fortresses, collecting magical artifacts and materials for their creations. Adventuring companies do plenty of business with gnomes, as they often sell the rights to loot a location after finding it, or hire adventurers when they need extra muscle. Apart from that, gnomes can also be found selling magical curiosities and lost relics, found on their journeys. One advantage to their networked social structure is that gnomes can easily send for aid if need be, such as in cases where the nice new unexplored tomb they found turns out to be teeming with ghouls.
Older gnomes, befitting their magical nature, often become magical researchers or academics. Though not possessed of the ingenuity of their human peers, the gnomish knack for practical magic is indispensable at any prestigious wizard’s college. Some gnomes even go into the field of designing magic items, which can lead to such “useful” trinkets as the bag of tricks. Of note is that gnomes are generally excellent sports at magical research, they tend to block the development of certain spells whenever they come up. With lethal force, if need be.
The Twin Gods
Gnomes have a rather sparse pantheon, as they ask for little, and rarely have the time for grand displays of piety. As such, the only gnomish gods are the founders of gnomekind, Jevrin, god of protection, and Levram, god of travel. The twins can be worshipped either individually or together, with followers of Jevrin being more common under the surface, and shrines to Levram atop it.
While there are several stories of the exploits of Jevrin and Levram, most can be attributed as simply traveler’s tall tales, plucked from the gnome’s guarded secrets of their gods.
The gnomish religious tradition most known to other races is their practice of layman’s divination, using special lightly enchanted sets of cards. The premise is simple, there are six distinct cards, each associated with an outcome, and the one drawn at random represents the near future. Two cards are associated with aspects of Jevrin, two with Levram, and two with both gods together. The Rogue is an omen of success, of passing through obstacles. The Vigil is an unfortunate omen, one of a comrade’s death. The Warden is the inverse of the Rogue, representing failure, a blocked path. The Deep One predicts safety, defense. The Brothers, depicting the two gods apart, is an omen of good fortune, of wealth. The Twins, the gods together, represents adversity, conflict.
“I don’t trust ‘em. Those masks, the way they are always just… there. They must be hiding something.”
-Tor, War Troll
The Undercity is a dangerous place, controlled in various places by the several subterranean gangs and races. However, arguably the most powerful faction is definitely the least physically imposing. The Svirfneblin, or Deep Gnomes, control not the districts within the Undercity, but its edges. No expansion happens without the Deep Gnomes first surveying the spot and giving their authorization. When not exerting this power, the Svirfneblin act as ordinary denizens for the most part. In cases where an expansion is blocked, however, the Deep Gnomes will maintain a presence there, keeping other races out, yet oddly transporting goods in through their barricades.
Deep gnomes can be easily told apart from their aboveground brethren by the masks they always wear. Said masks are actually Gnomish Funerary Masks, traditionally placed over the faces of the dead, for when their bodies are sent on the last journey. Jevrin, Gnome god of protection, among his duties guides souls from their failing bodies to the afterlife. As such, gnomes have an odd sense of how to respect the bodies of their fallen. When a gnome dies, he is prepared for his “last journey”, arrayed in clothes he would wear in life, his face hidden behind a funerary mask. So prepared, the gnome is interred underground, ostensibly to be given to the earth. In truth, he is given only to the deep gnomes. Svirfneblin have no fear of the undead, and view necromancy as a respected, albeit dangerous art. All fallen gnomes soon rise again, bound by Svirfneblin necromancers to do the bidding of the deep gnomes.
The Svirfneblin’s ability to appear nearly anywhere in the Undercity is a mystery to many, but close examination of ancient historical texts will reveal the secret. The center of Deep Gnomish power is the city of Vandrin, an ancient fortress, locked away from time and space by divine magic. Vandrin exists as a sort of overlay to the Undercity, a grand city from inside its nearly inaccessible walls, but a mere collection of ruins and dust from outside. In fact, much of the Undercity is built within were Vandrin would stand, allowing easy access for the gnomes to the outside world. It is said the city was created as a garrison for the first of the deep gnomes, a gift from the twin gods to the deathsworn soldiers who went below Eldralar’s surface, to confront the underground armies of a mad conqueror, The Son of the Stars.
Gnomes are not a warlike race, but nonetheless, they have systems put in place should the need arise. Most gnomes have either some combat training, or at least keep some tricks about them. Of particular note is the tradition of the alchemists, gnomes who carry vials and potions into battle, capable of feats beyond their size. It is considered standard practice to avoiding engaging a gnome alchemist with arrows if your infantry is nearby. Such targets tend to die with quite a bang.
The next step up is the dragoons, gnomes trained for battle. Armed with longswords and an array of grenades, they prefer medium to heavy armor such as scale and chain, and use riding goats for quick deployment. Dragoon captains will sometimes instead ride steeds forged entirely of metal, powered by either clockwork or magic. While a goat mounted gnome might not seem a fearsome opponent, one cannot underestimate the power of small mounted infantry. In essence, gnomish dragoons are knights that can be deployed anywhere.
In the unlikely event of a large-scale conflict where dragoons are not enough, gnomes will unveil their secret weapon, a hidden army. Gnomes have mastered the arts of animating armor and creating golems. Though some of the marvelous soldiers are given or stolen away, most lie dormant in secret repositories. Animated armors, helmed horrors, golems of various types. All can rise at a moment’s notice, if the situation is dire enough.
Fitting with their more rigid structure, the svirfneblin have an actual standing army. Closer to a warrior caste, it is the remnant of the subrace’s origin, gnomish warriors called by Jevrin to fight against an evil brewing underground. This evil, that the deep gnomes seek to contain by sword and rock, that their dead are raised to fight, nail and claw, is the mind flayers.
Deep under Eldralar, below even the undercity lie the realms of the mindflayers, aberrations twisted by unknown forces, and their slave races, mindless thralls that now serve the flayers. Mindflayers are like no other creature seen on Eldralar, possessed of deadly psychic abilities, and able to sense and devour the brains of their victims. Although in ancient times the fought alongside the drow in a great conquest, all alliances with the flayers have since broken down. Whatever horrific entities govern them permit not such foolery. In their minds, there are no other true races. Merely the flayers, and a lot of differently shaped thralls.
The masks the svirfneblin wear were designed to combat this fate. They block telepathy, so the flayer cannot tell if the gnome behind the mask has a living brain, or that of a rotted corpse. The consequences for guessing wrong tend to be swift and dire. Gomes have always covered the faces of their dead with masks, even when they still buried the fallen like normal races. In fact, the svirfneblin tradition of wearing funerary masks in their daily life came from the story of the first deep gnomes. It is said that they were an army of gnomish veterans, those who had nothing left to them but the fight. When the news came that the Son of the Stars had bowed the accursed subterranean elves to his will, and had raised up the mind flayers from the deep, this army, according to some legends handpicked by Jevrin himself, swore an oath that those foes would never reach the surface. The warriors knew their task would never be completed, and so they donned their masks, as a reminder that their lives on the surface were over.
To fight the flayers psionics, the order of Nulls was created. Nulls are gnome mages dedicted entirely to the blocking of magic. Distinguished by blank masks and heavy iron bracers, Nulls are devastating to casters. They advance, slowly, voiceless, and no magic gets by them. It is suspected that a Null’s bracers are magic, as there is no other explanation for their near endless supply of counters and dispellings. Although there have been reported sightings of surface Nulls, it remains primarily a subterranean tradition. Most surface gnomes prefer variety and style in their magic, always experimenting, always changing tactics. Meanwhile, the Nulls are a tactic unto themselves, unchanging, unchanged. Even rarer than that of surface Nulls, however, are reports of a far more dangerous threat. Nullblades, gnomish swordsman who are trained in the secret arts of countermagery. While what amounts to a walking anti-magic field is already a frightening enough prospect, most races shudder to think of one than can go toe to toe with a knight as well. Fortunately, either such warriors are mere myth, or deploys exceedingly rarely. That or they usually leave no survivors.