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OD&D and Gnomes as a Character Class

by Adam Curtis

Ah, the most ignored and maligned of the sentient creatures in TSR publications. I've never played a gnome, nor have I ever seen one played by anyone. Makes me wonder why I even did this, but I decided upon looking into making gnomes playable in OD&D terms.

My primary source was the *D&D Cyclopaedia* itself where it had gnomes listed in the "Monsters" chapter. I then consulted some information in the AD&D PHB, and scanned one last time through the *D&D Cyclopaedia* where I found a tiny, obscure passage in the back giving an optional way of creating a gnome PC. Here's the gist of it:

- Gnomes are halflings mechanics wise in all regards excepting the below.
- Gnomes have dwarven saving throws and attack rolls, plus they have the dwarven infravision and detection abilities in place of the halfling hiding ability.
- Gnomes speak gnome, goblin, kobold, and dwarf.

My vision of a gnome PC was decidedly different than the above. Here's what I've come up with in the format presented in *D&D Cyclopaedia*:


Prime Requisites: Intelligence *and* Dexterity.

Other Requisites: Constitution score of at least 9

XP Bonus: 5% for an intelligence score of at least 13, 10% for a dexterity score of 13 *and* an intelligence score of 17.

Hit Dice: 1d6 per level + con bonus to 9th level, +2 hit points without con bonus at 10th level.

Maximum level: 10, attack rank K

Weapons: Any small melee weapon. Any medium melee weapon, though two hands are required to wield it. Shortbow, light crossbow, sling, bola, dart. Gnomes generally prefer shortswords and light crossbows.

Armour: Any, shield permitted. Gnomes' generally small sizes require tailor-made or refitted armour.

Special Abilities: Fighter manoeuvres. Lance attack and set spear at first level (remember weapon used must be either short or medium), fighter combat options at attack rank D (800,000 XP). Automatic 1/2 damage from spells or 1/4 damage from spells with saving throw at attack rank F (1,400,000 XP). Detection ability. -2 to AC when attacked by enemies over man-size (6' and above). Illusion and related spells, illusion spells penalise target's saving throws by +2.

Gnomes are short demihumans, perhaps distant cousins of dwarves as both races share many more characteristics than any two other human/demihuman races. They are slightly smaller than dwarves averaging 3'10" in height and much lighter, less dense than the stocky dwarves. Gnomes average 90-100 pounds and can tread water unlike dwarves.

Gnomish skin colour ranges from fair to dark brown. Typically gnomes have noses much larger than even the largest human noses and serves as perhaps the easiest way to distinguish visually between a gnome and a dwarf. Gnomes can have light to dark brown eye colour, and their hair is white with little exception. A very few gnomes have straw-coloured hair.

Gnomes mature quickly and usually live 400 years (500 being the upper limit), an age only surpassed by elves. Their longevity is generally attributed to their inherently magical nature.

Gnomes are naturally inquisitive creatures that take great delight in mechanics. They also excel at gem cutting and metalworking like their dwarven cousins, but work just as well in other mediums (certainly an elf-like trait). Gnomes do appreciate the work ethic like dwarves but do not let it fully consume their rather long lives. Like elves, gnomes know they will be around for a long time and may let projects remain idle for years at a time.

Gnomes can be found living in a wide variety of dwellings ranging from a human-like house to a halfling burrow to an underground mine complex, their diversity in dwelling preference attributed to their highly tolerant nature to different ideas. This tolerance also extends to every other human and demihuman race; gnomes generally like members of any other race and vice versa.

Gnomes are similar to both fighters and magic-users. They can use most weapons with skill, wear any type of armour appropriately fitted to their slight frames, and are inherently magical beings giving the typical gnome ease in manipulating magic much like an elf. However, this affinity is particularly strong with illusory magic and weak with other varieties generally limiting the variety of spells they may learn.

Spells of a protective, necromantic, or physically damaging nature generally are unattainable for gnomes to use. Gnomes actually do understand all the principles behind such spells if they receive the proper instruction, but their magical nature is devoid of compatibility with such spells making it impossible to cast them (but luckily that leads to gnomish magic damage resistance . . .)

Because their fighting skills are not as strong as those of the normal fighter or elf and their magic cannot produce explosive physical effects (fireballs, ice storms, etc.), gnomes utilise a high degree of physical and magical trickery in their fighting tactics.

Gnomish families are organised into clans (and I have no idea what gnomes would have for a relic. Any suggestions?).

Special Abilities

Special Attacks:

Gnomes always know the lance attack and set spear manoeuvres. Gnomes can cast spells even when in armour. Whenever a gnome uses an illusion spell, the target rolls its saving throw at a +2 penalty (example: a saving throw of 10 becomes a 12).

Fighter combat options:

Gnomes may not use the disarm manoeuvre upon giant-sized opponents. Gnomes gain combat options at attack rank D along with the ability to make two attacks per round. Gnomes may make three attacks per round at attack rank J.

Special Defences:

Gnomes, though inherently magical like elves, are actually devoid of talent with necromantic and physical attack spells (basically the two types of damage causing spells). At attack rank F, gnomes automatically take 1/2 damage from any spell and take 1/4 damage if the gnome makes a successful saving throw versus spells. Always round down when adjusting damage, but a damaging spell will never do less than 1 point of damage.

Due to their short stature and slight frames, gnomes are difficult for large creatures (generally over 6' tall, DM's discretion) to hit. Whenever attacked by a large size creature, a gnome's armour class is effectively lowered by 2 for that attack (example: Laveni Fogelson goes toe to toe with an Ogre in a gladiatorial competition. Laveni's AC is 4. However, as a gnome, Laveni's armour class is effectively a 2 for the lumbering Ogre to hit).


From their time spent in tunnels, gnomes have developed infravision good for a 60' range.


In addition to knowing common and alignment languages, gnomes know the gnome, dwarf, goblin, and kobold languages.


As experienced miners, gnomes are almost as good as dwarves in detecting certain properties about any mineshaft, cavern, or edifice. A gnome can detect traps that are part of the construction, sliding walls, sloping corridors, and new construction.

A gnome may not automatically use this ability. The gnome must concentrate for one round first (tell the DM the gnome PC is doing so). The DM will secretly roll a 1d8. On a roll of 1 or 2, the gnome gains the information the player sought (but there may be nothing to tell anyway). On any other roll, the gnome does not discern the information requested.

OPTIONAL: For gnomes, dwarves, and elves using their detection abilities, they may, without fail, discern the requested information if 1 turn is spent in preparation for the detection check. The time must be spent in the same room (or general area if the room is large or the PC is outside, DM's discretion). However, PCs seldom have ten minutes to spare. Make sure they know that when time is a factor in the adventure.

Higher Experience Levels:

Gnomes that attain name level (9th) become known as a lord or lady (non-gnomes usually refer to such lords as gnome lords or gnome ladies). Lords are recognised as a clan leader (though usually not the Clan Master, the oldest and wisest member of the clan) capable of giving valuable guidance to others.

Lords may build a human-style keep or a dwarf-style citadel (part above ground, part below ground). Depending on the size of the clan and the size of the keep, 40-100% of the clan will move in, maintain, and guard the keep free of charge (though at least basic amenities must be provided) as long as the lord has remained on good terms with the clan. Keep in mind that unless the gnome severs ties with the clan or is the oldest member of the clan, the gnome will only be the Clanholder of the fortification, not both Clanholder and Clan Master.

Experience Table

Level XP Attack Rank 1 2 3 4 5
1 0 1 - - - -
2 3,000 2 - - - -
3 6,000 2 1 - - -
4 12,000 2 2 - - -
5 24,000 2 2 1 - -
6 48,000 2 2 2 - -
7 95,000 3 2 2 1 -
8 180,000 3 3 2 2 -
9 345,000 3 3 3 2 1
10 500,000 C 3 3 3 3 2
800,000 D*
1,100,000 E
1,400,000 F^^
1,700,000 G
2,000,000 H
2,300,000 I
2,600,000 J**
2,900,000 K

* - Gain fighter combat options. 2 attacks/round possible.
**- Three attacks per round possible.
^^- Automatically take half damage from any spell, 1/4 if saving throw versus spell is made.

Saving Throws


Levels 1-3 4-6 7-9 10
Death Ray/Poison 13 9 6 3
Magic Wands 13 9 6 3
Paralysis/Petrify 12 8 5 2
Breath Attack 15 11 7 4
Spell^^ 16 12 8 4

^^- At attack rank F, automatically take 1/2 damage from any spells, 1/4 damage when saving throw succeeds.

Spell List

NOTE: As the D&D spell book doesn't differentiate between spell schools, I made an educated guess as to which spells were allowable under the AD&D specialist rules for Illusionists. Spells with a super text of ^^ denote an illusion spell. All targets of these spells when cast by a gnome make their saves at a +2 penalty (example: a saving throw of 5 becomes a 7). All reversible spells are denoted with a super text of *.

Gnomes are allowed to enchant weapons and armours with pluses and minuses as well as any other spell they are able to cast as long as the gnome has reached at least 9th level.

First Level Second Level Third Level Fourth Level Fifth Level
Analyse Continual Light* Clairvoyance Charm Monster Conjure Elemental
Charm Person Detect Evil Create Air Clothform Contact Outer Plane
Detect Magic Detect Invisible Fly Confusion Dissolve*
Invisibility^^ ESP* Haste* Dimension Door Feeblemind
Light* Knock Hold Person* Growth of Plants* Hold Monster*
Mirror Image^^ Levitate Infravision Polymorph Other Passwall
Phantasmal Force^^ Locate Object Water Breathing Polymorph Self Teleport
Read Magic Wizard Lock Hallucinatory Terrain^^ Wizard Eye Woodform
Sleep Invisibility 10'r^^ Seeming^^(from AD&D PHB) Projected Image^^
Ventriloquism^^ Massmorph^^ Mass Invisibility*^^

Final note on magic: Gnomes likely have illusion spells that no other race has access to. Feel free to add such spells to the above list. Generally gnomes gain access to any illusion spell in question one level before humans or elves.

Whew! That was a lot of typing!

Some thoughts on gnomes on Mystara:

Gnomes are RARE! They don't even number greater than the Mystaran dwarves who probably don't number more than 2 million souls worldwide. They are also mostly found only in one area, that place being the Old World. If a gnome ventures even a few miles from his or her community, it's likely that less educated humans and others will mistake the gnome for a dwarf (and that's if said person even knows what a dwarf is!).

Gnomes are a curiosity wherever they go. When relating to the common person, gnomes usually receive looks of wonder and careful words. Xenophobic societies, such as the Ethengar and Hattian cultures, are likely to react with fear or outright hostility at the sight of such an odd little fellow.

Gnomes are talented in illusions and often can compete with the most accomplished human illusionists. In fact, a gnome would be a shoe in candidate for the Glantrian Secret Craft of Illusion. However . . .

As a walking oddity of magic resistance and contrarian magical properties, Glantrian mages, even a second-rate magic-user with some mediocre morality defects, wouldn't hesitate to catch a valuable experimentation specimen within reach.

In short, more than any other race, adventuring gnomes inspire extremes in initial reactions on a regular basis. Leaving a crowd in a bar awed can be very useful, but often the novelty of the gnome can make him or her a prime target for all sorts of mischief. Keep anyone playing a gnome PC on his or her toes.