Gnomes in Elstern
In contrast to other places, where the race is portrayed in gimmicky or comical terms, gnomes in Elstern are a technologically advanced, socially progressive, forward-thinking race with a complex history and a fundamental role in the world.
Gnomes were among the “speaking races” mentioned in most versions of the ancient myths; they have no agreed-upon legend that tells of their own origin, but their stories generally agree that gnomes in the Age of Fire were a cave-dwelling people of very simple tastes. During the Age of Dragons, gnomes were among those who worshiped dragons and learned from them how to read and write, as well as the secrets of arcane magic.
Unlike their underground neighbors, the dwarves, gnomes have never mined their homes, called ‘burrows’; they prefer to live in naturally-occurring cavern systems, finding them more hospitable and more aesthetically pleasing. The relative scarcity of these environments has placed a natural population limit on gnomes as a race, so they did not grow in numbers as humans, elves or even dwarves have.
Because of their preference for metal-poor, crystal-rich underground environments, gnomes are undisputed masters of the arts of glass-working, alchemy and optics. Gnomish glassware is de rigeur in every single alchemist’s lab in Elstern. Gnomes pioneered the use of alchemy for everyday purposes; it’s not unusual to find soupstones, never-ending saltshakers, tankards of frost and nightlight crystals in human and elven homes, even in remote communities, and some of them in continuous service for generations.
Gnomish clockwork and automatons are also extremely advanced. Although early designs were clearly copies of human gearwork, gnomes have progressed far beyond what other races are capable of (or even think is possible).
Culture and society
Gnomish society is very tight-knit and egalitarian, although this was not always so. For most of their recorded history, gnomes lived under a caste system; a remnant of this past is the uniquely gnomish obsession with genealogy. Gnomes use a rather convoluted naming system, consisting of one or more given names, a chosen name, a secret name and sixty-four surnames. The exact pattern varies from burrow to burrow, but the general pattern is
given name + “of” burrow name + chosen name + family surname
An important transformation of gnome society was the gradual transition from the functional polytheism which is the general rule among speaking peoples to a strict monotheism. Gnomes worship a single diety of pantheist traits named “El’Ua” (“That One Which Is”); very few gnomes are particularly devout, however. The religion of El’Ua appears to to outsiders as a mish-mash of philosophy, ethical code and world-view, with no discernable rites or practices (although there is a priesthood of El’Ua) The central commandment of Elua has been (somewhat imprecisely, as gnomes quickly point out) translated as “Learn All, See All, Share All, Trust All.”
To gnomes, family is an extremely important institution, as it is understood both as a social cohesive and the only proper instrument for continuance of the gnomish people. Since the abandonment of the caste system, gnomes no longer arrange their marriages (although gnomish elders will not flinch from engaging in ferocious match-making on behalf of a bachelor/spinster gnome) except in some very old-fashioned families. Divorce is extremely rare, and gnomish widows and widowers are quick to remarry, so it is not unusual for a gnome to have one or more full sets of stepsiblings at some point in their lives.
An intriguing (and to other races, rather comical) aspect of gnomes is their relationship with beans. Beans are uniformly regarded by all gnomes as a delicacy beyond all others; “proper” preparation of beans is a task that is not undertaken lightly, as some recipes call for over three hundred ingredients and a preparation time of roughly 13 hours.
Aside from their gustatory properties (which few non-gnomes will vouch for), beans act on gnomes as a mood-enhancer and a mild aphrodisiac. Most festivals and celebrations are attended by specialized cooks known as “beandoñas”, gnome matrons who specialize in bringing out the uplifting properties of beans. A particularly potent batch of beans was, at least in part, the cause of the gnomish population explosion1 of 482, “The Year of Loud Beans”.
During the Year of Loud Beans, gnomish populations grew beyond the carrying capacity of their burrows, so gnomelings born during that year (“the Beanblessed”) grew up in very crowded gnomeholds and yearned for the openness of the surface world. When they reached maturity, Beanblessed gnomes left the burrows almost en masse and became, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, a common sight in the surface world. Beanblessed gnomes are, even by the standards of their kind, the most curious, outgoing, optimistic and intelligent kind of gnome. Most Beanblessed are multiple births, so it is not at all uncommon for a wandering gnome in the surface world to be accompanied by a fraternal twin or two (or more).
1 No pun intended.