Whether in pencil-and-paper, or on the computer (Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale), we’ve been plagued by the gnome stereotype of foolish inventor and chaotic law-infringing businessman.
I guess it’s time to change that - after a brief dicussion yesterday (Cabal of Bob, anyone?), I’ve decided to throw a bone: help me make the gnomes a race worth featuring in an RPG.
Long have the Hyrnan, vile masters of the land of Athas, ruled through terror and tyranny. Theirs was an eternal life, and prowess beyond mortal ken, both that of the warrior and the warlock. While graced with ethereal elfin beauty and fae magic, theirs were the wings and talons of dragons, and so was a dragon’s temper and greed.
Their magics worked flesh like a potter works clay, and thus gave birth to the giants, stalwart and strong, to serve as an iron fist, to the dwarves, enduring and tireless, to serve showel and pick, and the Gnomes, called the Zastur, to serve as eye, whip, mouth and a wizard’s stave.
Delighting in the role their masters gave them, they oversaw the slaves , crafted tools, weapons and artwork for them, and aided the in their great magics,conjuring abyssal horrors and forging unholy life of metal, pus and darkness itself.
Then, the Reckoning came: the dwarves and giants incited a revolt, having called aid from overseas - over the northern ice and eastern sea, legions of humans came, and besieged the Hyrnan castles, while from within, dwarves and giants, having plundered the armories, threw the gates open, and assailed their masters.
The other subjugated people also came to their aid, and thus, the Age of Terror ended.
Seeing their masters fall, the Zastur boarded the flying ships and floating cities, knowing that to do their masters’ bidding, they must be alive. The Hyrnan, too proud to yield, fell all - their flaming blades quenched by the blood of those they slew, their ancient armours pounded into dust by the very hammers that forged them, their eternal beauty stomped into dust by the heels of those who once covered at THEIR heels.
The Zastur swore revenge for being chased out of something they considered paradise, and fled, knowing that their time would come.
For one unfamiliar with their background, the Zastur (singular: Zastu) do not seem too intimidating - podgy midgets perhaps four feet tall, with really hairy heads - most Zastur grow a mane of wild hair despite it being decimated over and over again by failed alchemical experiments swiftly.
The men also grow beards. Their hair, as well as eyes, often show freakish colours, like a vivid red, or blazing orange.
Their eyes, ears and noses are comparatively large, and very sensitive. Their senses are complemented by large antennae on their foreheads, meant to be able to spy for their masters better.
With all fingers opposable and an extra digit on each of them, their hands are truly very nimble.
They are surprisingly resilient for their size.
Now, the Zastur are convinced of their own importance, and will wear clothes meant to compensate for their small size, like flowing capes, tall hats adorned with gems and metals, ornate armor and phallic symbols of all types, like wizardly staves taller than themselves, huge weapons with extra spikes added (constructed of lighter materials as to be weildy) and mighty scepters. All this will be complemented by the biggest magical halo the Zastur can manage - a burning aura and lights orbiting him are seen the same way as we see a nice tie and good perfume.
Being very pompous, they will be accompanied by their allies, and sycophants, who, while not speaking when their master does, will nod and murmur in agreement and generally add weight to his arguments.
Their society is organized into cabals united by two facts - their trade and their deceased master. So, alchemists, necromancers and summoners will have their own cabals, as machinists and biomancers - those will be subsections of of a dead Hyrnan’s following. So, the “Cabal of Behtevet the Night-Born Soul-Flayer” will feature gnomes of all trades, who will be in various subsections, distinguished by titles, medals and various insignia - Zastur heraldry is about as complex as Chinese writing.
Most cabals will have a central focus mirroring their master’s main interest in his lifetime. The Cabal of Mosgaron the Dystopic Blood-Forged Hell-Stone might be excellent at making golems, while the Cabal of Helshiraz Atrocious Immolator of Untainted Hearts” might be the best battlemages around.
The individual Zastu of lesser position is genrally repressed a lot, so he will seek releases either in venting it on those below him, or through art, or rather: developing a new way to harm the ‘Infidels’, those who have cast their masters from the throne. Or a way to bring himself to the top. The different cabals concur much like megacorporations might - on the market, as well as through pawns, spionage and the like - there might even be independent shadowrunners
The actions of a cabal are guided by a council, much like a board of directors, with say an archmage, the general, the head alchemist and an economist. Another source of input is the Head Spiritspeaker, who tries to contact their dead master through ritual, drugs or sacrifice, and learn of his intentions.
As for bringing their rulers back from the dead (even if they could), their opinions are varied - while it is true that under the protection of the Hyrnan they had little to fear, now they are their own masters, no longer subject to every whim of their lord, so being hanged for having dirty shoes is no longer an option. The most dedicated cabals will still strive to seek a way, while many more are just glad there is no great god-ruler and they are free to do as they will. Perhaps, one day, they will rule all the people of Athas insted of some stupid dragon/fairy/dark jedi bastard. But ... just in case he comes back, they will polish his statue and build a few more.
Because they have insufficient numbers due to the heavy losses they suffered, their rather low birth rate and the many disfigurements their heavy industy and unheathy living conditions cause, they cannot dare to assault the ‘rebels’ directly, so they resort to slave raids, sabotage and intrigue. This has earned them the name ‘Blighters’ amongst the folk of Athas. Indeed, their greed and appetite for slaves is great, meant to fuel their unholy experiments and machinery. As well as that, a Zastu does not know such a thing as modesty and will try to indulge himself is as much splendor and wealth as possible, of course unless he is one of those absorbed too deply in his science.
Additional Ideas (1)
Where would Zastur dwell?
(This is a New Look at Gnomes)
And who knows what goes on in the twisted mind of a Spiritspeaker? A few of them will be able to actually contact them, while the most just drone some mumbo-jumbo, and try to get a poece of the pie for themselves. Sucks to be them should their masters return, though.
Zastur dwell in floating towns, quite safe from assault, or hidden forts, less so. They sally forth to plunder, and have mining and farming outposts in hard-to-reach locales. For transport, they use airships.