A Difference between Gnomes and Dwarves

As someone who enjoys playing gnomes in D&D (and in fact assumed that the illustration on the title page of the first Player's Handbook depicted one), I always bristle when people complain that gnomes are lesser copies of dwarves. I recognize that the game hasn't always been good about leveraging what makes gnomes interesting as foils to dwarves, and I also agree with those who argue that halflings and gnomes in a campaign is one smaller-than-dwarf species too many. But a game that uses just gnomes can easily highlight the different niches gnomes and dwarves occupy.

Rather than talk about, say, tricksy gnomes and dour dwarves, I'd like to focus on the spaces the two species occupy. Over on the RPG Pub forum, Edgewise noted that "dwarves dig in rock and gnomes dig through soil," and I think that's a distinction with serious implications.

Gnomes live near the surface, burrowing in dirt. Their tunnels dodge tree roots and criss-cross with those of foxes and badgers. Gnome life is about interaction with living creatures, plants and animals and fungi. You delve around the trees instead of chopping them down to fuel the forges. It's difficult for a gnome to understand why dwarves want to surround themselves with dead stone.

The dwarves think that the gnomes are literally and figuratively shallow.


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