Welcome to the second post in our Tabletop Thoughts series! If you’re lost and unsure what these posts are doing on your screen, head on over to the first post, where I talk about Mountain Dwarves and explain what I’m doing. If you’re struggling more broadly with the concept of what the screen in front of you is doing and who you are, I can’t help with that and it’s feasible you have short term amnesia or are incredibly drunk, so either seek medical advice or drink plenty of water and brace yourself for a rocky morning.
OK, so, Rock Gnomes…
What makes a rock gnome a rock gnome? What makes them different from the other gnomes?
(For those of you who have played World of Warcraft – rock gnomes are like WoW gnomes)
Rock Gnomes are the typical gnome you expect to see in cities and around Faerun. They enjoy the above-ground world and can thrive in large cities, though they often live in small hidden gnome settlements, visiting cities rather than living in them. They are small, shorter than dwarves, reaching up to 4 feet, but sitting anywhere from 3 to 4 feet. They usually have slender, light frames too. Mechnically, they are one of the only small races, alongside halflings and some monstrous ones.
What does this mean for roleplaying a rock gnome?
If you’re going down the typical rock gnome route:
Or, if you’re looking to break free from the typical gnomish ways above:
So, what about mechanical abilities?
Let’s start with ability scores:
Now, these ability scores make me sad. Unfairly I think, since they’re good stats, but they strongly push rock gnomes over to wizard if you want to optimise and I don’t think that’s as interesting as it could be. You could go Arcane Trickster or Eldritch Knight (I believe a gnomish knight is in fact a Gnight, of course), but you don’t have any bonuses to strength or dexterity for weapon attacks and you can’t use the roguish sneak attack ability on spells if you’re an Arcane Trickster. Eldritch knight abilities also focus on gaining more melee attacks alongside spells, so you’ll need to spend time upping one of your other stats and you won’t make the best use of your high intelligence.
This is mostly because intelligence is underused (in my opinion) amongst primary stats. You can use strength or dexterity for any class if you go a weapon-focused route. Wisdom is great for clerics, druids, monks and rangers. Charisma is essential for sorcerers, warlocks and bards and also good for paladins. Plus, dexterity, wisdom and charisma tie into lots of skills that are very frequently used.
I think intelligence gets the short stick. It’s only for wizards (and two subclasses) and it only ties into one reliably useful skill – investigation. You can check out the Mystic and Artificer from the unearthed arcana articles for current attempts to bring forward new intelligence-based classes, though the first iterations both definitely have their flaws.
Anyway, let’s look at the rock gnome’s racial abilities:
You might be able to tell that I find these underwhelming. I THINK that the artificers lore and tinker abilities are deliberately meant to be ribbons (a term the game designers use to refer to abilities that add more flavour than power to a class or race). The reason for this is because Gnome Cunning took up most of the ‘power’ aspect of the race and additional powerful abilities couldn’t be justified. It is powerful, but it doesn’t yell interesting to me, which I think is more fun.
That being said, I think there are some fun things we can combine these abilities with. So, rant over! On to building an awesome gnome!
What are our ability scores? (ability modifiers in brackets):
You’re a gnome! You’re tiny, of course you’re not as strong as the average human. That just feels right to me. I’ve leant into the racial bonuses, so you’re hardy and smart. You’re quick too, which also makes sense to me as a smaller creature and helps with initiative and AC.
Wizard feels like the obvious choice here and I was strongly tempted to just dive into it. My first thought was a necromancer, but I was put off once I realised that, as written, you probably can’t ride your undead minions as mounts if you’re a gnomish necromancer (a skeleton has a speed of 30ft, so it improves your base speed! Needs level 5 before it happens, doesn’t require necromancy specialisation, but that makes your ‘mount’ stronger) – if you like the idea and your DM does allow it (maybe you can build a basket for the ‘mount’ to wear, it’s not like they can get tired, they can’t disobey you and they have enough strength to carry you + gear as standard), then the stats I’ve chosen above will work perfectly well with a necromancer wizard and you’re free to pick any spells you like! I also veered away from this because it doesn’t really bring any unusual ideas to the table if you can’t be sure you can ride your zombies and skeletons…
If your DM needs a bit of convincing for balancing, a skeleton only gives you 5ft of speed boost and can make 1 attack around with a +4 to hit and deal 1d6+2 damage. It uses a spell slot every day (which could easily deal more than 1d6+2 damage) and a bonus action every so often in combat to give new orders (remember you can order it to attack several enemies at once and it will keep doing that until the order is complete without needing to spend more bonus actions).
With +2 dexterity, I’m not inclined to go for a rogue or other light armour class, since your AC is going to lag and, as mentioned above, spells can’t trigger sneak attack.
So I came back to Fighters. Specifically, Eldritch Knights! I was doubtful at first, but I think you can build a potent combo here:
Let’s get into the specifics, because there are some fun combinations of effects here. Including ways of bringing your Tinker trait into use!
A little bonus section specifically for a rock gnome eldritch knight!
Using the Firestarter: So this can become pretty handy and is probably the best of the three. Grab Control Flames as a cantrip. It requires a non-magical flame, which the Firestarter creates, and allows you to do a handful of fun and sometimes useful things. You can spread the flame to anything flammable in 5ft, you can change the colour or brightness of the flame, which means you can light a torch with an action and use it to illuminate 80ft of dim light for the next hour. With darkvision, dim light is as good as regular light, so you can illuminate most rooms with two actions, allowing you to investigate without disadvantage.
Using the Clockwork Toy/Music Box: These are more situational. You can use these to lure enemies into an ambush, where you and your group open fire as soon as someone comes into sight. If you can collect a few people, you’re in a good position to use a fireball (fireball does not effect objects so your box is fine, weirdly, but it’s important to note, since fireball doesn’t just demolish everything in a room), or some other area attack. If you’re intending to charge INTO a room anyway, luring the enemy OUT can give you the tactical advantage, if you’re sure they won’t run off and warn others.
More specifically, you can also cast Glyph of Warding on it and set the condition to be when a certain number of enemies come in range, or comes round on patrol. It’s an expensive spell though, costing 200gp.
Fighters, on the whole, are straightforward and solid performers in most aspects of the game. You’re hard to hit, hard to kill and have high attack bonuses, so there isn’t anything catastrophic to watch out for. That being said:
So, what’s this Gnome’s story? Well, I think she comes from a small underground Gnomish settlement not far from the capital. Bored of living underground when there is so much of the world to see, she heads out to the capital and joins the city watch, hoping to meet new people and discover new things, especially new food. She’s fair minded and always sticks up for what she thinks is right. Sometimes that puts her against local criminals and sometimes it means she clashes with her superiors. Though it’s not usually something that can’t be fixed over several drinks.
A few reasons for her to move on from the watch come to mind:
I’ve put together an artificer-like class that felt fitting for a gnome. If you’re keen to play a rock gnome now and you want to try something a bit different, head on over to DM’s Guild and grab a copy! It’s pay what you want, but I get a record of number of downloads regardless of payment, so I can check in and keep making content that people enjoy 😊
I’m looking at Goliaths next, since it just felt right to go from the smallest to the largest playable race of the PHB. At some point I’ll come up with a real system for choosing – comments and suggestions for future posts are more than welcome!