The Gnomes and Their Kin
by Galaramir Astynnor|
with assistance from Xalastik Manasieve
The gnomish species and their closest relatives, the dwarves and the halflings, are relatively rare in the vicinity of Iridia. These subterranean humanoids, commonly no more than three feet in height when standing erect, are highly territorial and do not oven leave their home ranges for extended periods of time. Even the halflings, who over time have adapted to life above ground more fully than either the gnomes or especially the dwarves, still value the permanent feeling granted by a stable home and long local lineage. The few who do venture out into the rest of the world are often treated as outcasts upon their return; indeed, most don't bother to return at all.
On a more physical level, it should be noted there is a visible timeline of sorts in the family containing dwarves, gnomes, and halflings. In a broad sense, it would not be amiss to call all three of these distinct species dwarves, as it is apparent that both the gnomes and the halflings are divergent branches of the more ancient dwarvish stock. Modern dwarves are far closer in appearance and build to the subterranean burrowers from which all three species descended, still bearing their ancestors' thin coat of fur, rat-like countenance, sharp-clawed hands suited for digging, and total reliance on spirit sight for vision. The light of the sun and, for some, even the dimmer light of the moon, is capable of effectively blinding any dwarf. As such, it is effectively impossible for a dwarf to make any sort of lengthy foray onto the surface.
Of these three species, the gnomes are unique in that they are well-adapted for life both above and below the surface. While they have lost the spirit sight enjoyed by the dwarves, it has been replaced by extremely light-sensitive eyes and a form of heat vision that allows them to actually see varying degrees of temperature. This proves useful both at night above ground and in the warm, damp caves that they prefer to craft their homes in. Where the halflings craft homes just beneath the upper layers of the ground, the gnomes excavate elaborate systems of caves that run in three dimensions, crafted to take advantage of their ability to effortlessly scale stone walls. This ability is due to the retention of the dwarves' digging claws, though their hands are far more human in shape than those of the dwarves.
Their hands are not the only feature they bear that is in general closer to what is considered human. They have lost the full-bodied coat of fur sported by the dwarves to such an extent that they are largely hairless. There remains only a broad band of hair that runs from the temples around the back of the head, leaving the crown and forehead bare in a style strongly reminiscent of the religious monks of Eda. Some gnomes are able to maintain a short forelock, a feature in which they take great pride. Their faces and the general construction of their heads have also moved away from the more rat-like appearance of their ancestors although traces of this heritage still remain. Compared to a human head, the gnomish skull is flatter and stretched somewhat forward, similar to the tapered snout of a mouse or rat, but not enough so that it would be considered out-of-line by normal standards of human variation. Their ears are pointed and set somewhat high and back on the sides of the head, and their eyes tend to be small and dark, giving them a uniquely gnomish look.
The halflings have progressed even farther from their shared ancestor than either the gnomes or the dwarves. Indeed, they resemble nothing more than a species of extremely short humans, but a study of the patterns in their crystals places them much closer spiritually to the gnomes and dwarves than it does to humans. It has been speculated that the halflings appear so humanlike due to extensive and long-range interbreeding with various races of humans, but this is not supported by an examination of their crystal structure. Standing no more than waist height to the average human, the halflings nevertheless hold a distinctly human look, characterized by full heads of curly hair and broad mouths and noses. A closer examination will show that they too maintain the small, dark eyes of the gnomes and the sharp claws of the dwarves, but these features are subtle and easily overlooked in most situations. They have no more ability to see in darkness than the average human.
The final point I would like to make pertains to the magical abilities seemingly inherent in the makeup of the gnome. It needs to be noted that this ability is unique to the gnomes, as neither the dwarves nor the halflings have any inborn magical talent whatsoever, though either species is capable of being taught. It seems that whatever oneness with the spirits that gives the dwarves the capacity for spirit sight has been channeled into a mastery over spiritual manipulation in the gnomes. To gnomes, command of the spirits to ends commonly referred to as magical is nearly as unconscious as breathing, and the raw power of their abilities is testament to this. They have no talent with the power locked away in crystals, but this is likely because they never needed to. Where humans must rely on the concentrated spiritual energies stored in crystals or beseech the spirits and rely on their mercy for aid, gnomes reach out into the air and manipulate the spiritual forces there directly, often to greater effect than a human wizard drawing power from a crystal. The nature of this ability is unclear even to the gnomes, and I continue my research into ways it can be duplicated or harnessed.