Guide to Gnomes in Dungeons and Dragons 5e: Many Flavors of Little People
What are the best classes for gnomes in D&D? What are some good gnome names?
Read this guide to gnomes in DND 5e to learn more. Gnomes come in many flavors, and almost all of them add a bit of spice and excitement to a campaign. From the genius absent-minded tinkerer putting a burning pipe down carelessly on a pile of black powder to the minstrel prankster not only picking pockets, but leaving slugs and snakes behind - gnomes are known for being mischievous, loving a good prank, and adding very unique and hard to forget character to any narrative.
The Gnomish Way - Gnome Backgrounds
While gnome characters and NPCs can be wildly different, this is part of the delight of this race. There are a few common traits that seem to be shared by all these beings even across sub-races. They are endlessly fascinated, delighted at the experiences of life, and often incredibly enthusiastic no matter what they dedicate themselves to. Being alive is a most wonderful thing, is it not? That is a philosophy likely shared by all gnomes whether 12 years old or 320!
While known as jokers and pranksters who always appreciate a good laugh they are widely tolerated and liked because they are also extremely loyal friends who, when they actually set themselves to a task fully will do so with the full seriousness and dedication that matches any other race.
Names are a big deal in gnomish societies. In fact, the average gnome may have a dozen names or more. A given first name, a second name, multiple nicknames, it's not unusual for a gnome to have a name their core family calls them, a different name from their cousins, a nickname from acquaintances, and then a shorter or easier "travel" name they use while on the road. That means Alston could be Gimble to his cousins, Garrick's Alvyn to the town, Badger to his childhood play friends, and Orryn to his traveling companions.
On first introduction, cheerfully stringing 12 names together can be a fun way to dive right into character and set the tone to a new campaign right off the bat. Using the earlier example, a character might introduce themselves as "Alston Gimble Orryn Badger Alvyn of Garrick. You can call me Orryn."
Beyond fun with names and a reputation for fun, mechanically there's a lot to like about this race. They are quite inclined to travel, exploration, and adventure. All gnomes start with a +2 stat boost to intelligence and hit the full scale of good alignment from lawful good to chaotic good and everything in between. Like halflings, they are considered small and have the same basic walking speed of 25 feet per turn. Darkvision is a great bonus while exploring caves or keeping watch at night.
Gnomish cunning means they have advantage against all intelligence, wisdom, and charisma saving throws when saving against magic or a magical effect. They are hard to charm!
Two Gnome Sub-Races - Types of Gnomes
There are forest gnomes and rock gnomes. Each sub-race has their very distinctive traits that can really shape how a player would design their small adventurer. While other races certainly have differences between the sub-races, the differences can be especially stark when looking at the two main types of gnomes.
Note: There is a third group, the svirneblin or "deep gnomes," they are currently only found in the Monster Manual as their harsh Underdark environment makes them quite separate from these two sub-races that players will actively play.
There are those of the forest. A forest gnome will often be a ranger or druid, or friends with both. They receive a +1 to dexterity, know the minor illusion cantrip as a racial trait, and can speak with small animals and beasts. This can make all the small animals of the woods an intelligence network for any curious forest gnomes who want to know what's going on. They tend to be very close to elves and good fey and tend to be rarer and more secretive than their cousins.
Then there are those rock gnomes. These are the inventors, the tinkerers, the much more common of the two groups. A player who chooses to go with a rock gnome gets a +1 starting boost to constitution, and get double the proficiency bonus when it comes to any intelligence/history check with items or devices that are magic, technological, or alchemical in nature. These tinkerers also have the ability to create multiple little devices that can be useful or just fun to play with.
Best Gnomish Class Matches
There are multiple classes that blend very well with the natural traits that gnomes enjoy. Mechanically speaking the boost to intelligence makes them a great starting point as a wizard. Intelligence is the base stat for wizards and gnomes are the only race starting at +2 intelligence even among Volo's Guide to Monsters and the other additional 5e guides that have been released.
In addition to the mechanical bonuses that gnomes start out with that make them good potential wizards, the enthusiasm for learning magic and all the tricks that could further be had from a solid knowledge of spells fit in quite nicely with the common traits of gnomes, as well. Druids and rangers/rogues are also solid choices, although one step down from wizard as a top tier class. The intelligence proficiencies can work well for both groups, and thematically these are classes that any player deciding to go the gnomish way will feel right at home with.
Personality wise, it's easy to imagine gnomes as bards as the need for entertainment and travel will fit right in, even if this is a charisma based class as opposed to an intelligence based one. However, it is worth remembering that bards can learn magical secrets, allowing them to reach across classes to find spells that use other saves or modifiers and that can lead to a really interesting mix.
Special Gnomish Considerations
Gnomes are not nearly as common as a martial class, which makes sense both because of their size and general attitude towards life. This doesn't scream fighter or barbarian to most people, but there are situations where a gnome paladin or cleric could actually be in the cards. Arcana, history, nature, and religion all fall under the intelligence stat leading to proficiencies that make sense for these classes.
However, because gnomes are so interesting as a race and have such distinctive traits, it makes sense to believe that they would have to be very different in nature. For clerics the trickery domain is the obvious choice since that would go hand in hand with the mischievous personality that might be the single most defining trait for this racial group. Paladin is less convincing, but would need to keep the same sort of thing in mind. They would be inclined towards good gods, but also those less likely to take things too seriously.
Thematically, a gnome warlock is almost certainly going to go the path of the Fey, or with a few small exceptions maybe a special type of celestial like a unicorn from Xanathar's Guide to Everything.
Best Gnome Builds - Made for Fun
A gnomish character shouldn't be brooding or dark. This is a race that is made for role playing fun, for enjoying an easy-going character, for adding some spice to things. This is important to keep in mind because it really adds to the character whether going a conventional route like wizard or ranger or trying something a little bit different off the beaten path like bard or warlock. This is a race that does well with multiple groups of classes like the casters, the druids, the martial spell classes like rangers. Make sure to take advantage of this to have fun.
After all, being alive is a wonderful thing, is it not?
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Last updated: January 27, 2019
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