Thursday, December 15, 2011

Gnomes, Brownies and Boggarts (Pathfinder Variant Race)

The idea for this variant of the gnome race started in a communal effort from my old gaming group to create a shared Pathfinder campaign setting – each player would develop a region, with feedback from the others; finally, we would add everything together and rotate as Gamemasters in a future campaign. In theory it seemed perfect, but in the end just I and another player ever came to write anything.

I remember that one of the few things that were unanimous at the time was that everyone thought that gnomes were lame and shouldn’t be used (halfling were also out, bet let’s leave that for another day). I don’t know why, but that reaction annoyed me, so I said that “I’m gonna make gnomes not only cool but scary!” (Yeah, I was a little arrogant). The result follows below.

Please, bear in mind that this small recreation (or reskinning) is a pure mash-up of legends, other games and sources. The idea is to look at Gnomes differently.

Variant Gnome

Appearance: Nothing changes here; in fact, as this variant race is really descendent of chaotic denizens (synonymous of fey in my opinion), you can go full “Guillermo del Toro” – give them not only weird and strange hair and skin colors, but also add arcane and surreal traits; things like discreet runes and lines naturally drawn on the skins, leaves and thorns growing together with hair, cold (or feverish hot) skin etc. Get creative. These little imps are closer to Raksha than to D&D’s traditional hilly folk.

Background: Gnomes are not a true race but an entire group of wee fey folk, of which the most common type are Brownies (also known as Changelings or Lesser Gnomes) – little and agile chaotic humanoids with skin and hair of strong elemental colors. Their faces are usually exaggerated and with caricature-like features (many Brownies also have childish faces). They’re fidgety and curious, with a taste for trickery, riddles and puzzles. Brownies have a hard time understanding hierarchy – except when the orders come from their sinister fey lords of the Chaos Warrens.

Gnomes are actually a race of servants from the Chaos Warrens – dark and dangerous fey realms. Because of that they have a natural knack for arcane and druidic magic.

Brownies are created from humanoid children (usually human, but also dwarven or elven*) through a fey ritual. Like all Gnomes, they’re sterile and must use magic to reproduce (reenacting the original ritual). It’s because of this practice that Gnomes are reviled and feared through most lands – usually they’re tolerated only in big cities, magocracies and fey-ruled regions. This prejudice, together with the Gnomes’ knack for magic, led many of these half-fey to acts of vandalism and fey trickery – or to live their lives as paranoid loners. To make things worse, Brownies usually are fugitives from the fey lords.

Besides Brownies, a more dangerous type of Gnomes are the Boggarts, nasty and cruel creatures of dark disposition. They have yellow or green molten skin, shiny predatory eyes, sharp teeth, small claws and unnatural hair (that occasionally move on its own). A few Boggarts have tails, horn or cloven feet. Boggarts are clearly more aligned to the Chaos Warrens. They’re known among adventurers to pose as “Goblin Kings”, ruling entire tribes of that race. They also enjoy eating humanoids in general and painting their armor or clothes with their blood. What few people know is that Brownies can become Boggarts, sometimes permanently. This is one of their direst secrets (and fear). There also legends of the Gruagach or Deep Gnomes – self-exiled half-fey that love earth, stone and crystal; famous because of their magic smiths. If the tales are to be believed, they’re immortal and can be wounded (or even killed) by sunlight.

Finally, above Boggarts there are the True or High Gnomes – the fey lords from the Chaos Warrens that occasionally invade the Material Plane. Also known as Springans, they are great sorcerers, responsible for creating the first Brownies from humanoid children. Springans can change their size to gigantic proportions, breath underwater and work greater feats of magic. They’re always of horrendous form, unless when they kill a humanoid and take his skin. Some sages tell of arch-fey above the Springans, immortal and unique creatures called Fomoraíg, with the power equivalent to a demigod or half-deity.

*If elves are fey in your setting, disregard this.

Gnome (Brownie) Racial Traits

+2 Wisdom, +2 Charisma, –2 Strength
Small: Gnomes are Small creatures and gain a +1 size bonus to their AC, a +1 size bonus on attack rolls, a –1 penalty to their Combat Maneuver Bonus and Combat Maneuver Defense, and a +4 size bonus on Stealth checks.
Slow Speed: Gnomes have a base speed of 20 feet.
Low-Light Vision: Gnomes can see twice as far as humans in conditions of dim light. See Chapter 7.
Fey Magic: Gnomes with a Charisma of 11 or higher also gain the following spell-like abilities: 1/day—dancing lights, ghost form (you become incorporeal for 1 round, but can’t ignore iron or any other metal, which immediately dispels it), ghost sound, invisibility (only lasts 5 rounds, can’t run and is also dispelled by metal), prestidigitation and speak with animals. The caster level for these effects is equal to the gnome’s level. The DC for these spells is equal to 10 + the spell’s level + the gnome’s Charisma modifier.
Keen Senses: Gnomes receive a +2 racial bonus on Perception skill checks.
Forest Ghosts: Gnomes receive a +2 racial bonus on Stealth skill checks in forest terrains.
Secrets of Staff and Thistle: Gnomes receive a +2 racial bonus on Knowledge (Nature or Arcane, pick one) checks (and are considered trained on it).
Fey Touched: Gnomes are not pure fey, having mortal blood. They are considered humanoid and also fey for spells and magic effects (this normally means that they’re vulnerable to effects that target fey and that they can use magic items usable only by fey).

Other suggested racial abilities:
These secondary racial abilities can be used either as pure flavor, or as character traits, or yet as benefits granted by racial feats. Suggestions are in [   ].

Gnome-Talk: Brownies can communicate on a more intuitive level with other Brownies. In game terms, a Brownies has a limited form of telepathy that requires eye contact and work only with other Brownies at 30 ft. [This ability can be used purely as flavor like a limited type of telempathy (only emotions); if really useful it may require a character trait. Otherwise, if it really is a type of racial telepathy, it requires a feat. A second feat expand it, allowing the Gnome to communicate with fey and druids]

Dream Devourers: Brownies only eat for pleasure. They require no food as substance, but dream stuff (or emotions, or even souls if you believe in certain legends). In game terms, a Brownie must sleep at least 10 feet from the “victim”. After a good night of sleep the Brownie eats party of the target’s dreams, dealing 1 point of Wisdom, Intelligence or Charisma temporary damage (normally healed by the target during that same sleep and thus not noted). Wicked or “hungry” Brownies (or Boggarts in general) prefer to taste stronger emotions and normally tie, scare and torture their victims, in a process called Harrowing. After 1d4 hours, the victim suffers 1d4 points of Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma temporary damage, plus another 1d4 points of Constitution temporary damage. The Brownie gain a +2 bonus to one ability of his choice and +10 temporary hit points. These bonuses last for 24 hours. Brownies that abuse of the Harrowing risk changing permanently to Boggarts in a very short time. [This ability, if used as written, definitely requires feats. The first feat lets the Brownie use “dream stuff” as food/water. The second feat leaves the Brownie immune to hungry and thirsty and allows him to cast dream once per day.]

Boggart Rage: When wounded or angered (Gamemaster’s discretion), the Brownie becomes a horrendous Boggart. This is best simulated by a level in the Barbarian class – the “transformation” is a reskinning of the rage class feature. [You could buy a feat to negate a Brownie’s racial -2 Strength modifier during a rage in “Boggart form”; or, maybe, buy it as exclusive rage power.]