Gnomes are commonplace throughout Rekkar-Sarrat, and have been a prominent fixture in their development for nearly a thousand years. Ever lustful for experience, the robust and eclectic tendencies of the ports of the great river have proven to be a most favorable home for the small folk, where they have near endless opportunities for their many divergent interests.
Gnomes hail from a land north of Rekkar-Sarrat called Corodo, a region of crosshatching waterways, deltas, and wetlands that make any sort of travel difficult by land. Due to this feature, Gnomes of Corodo early on in their advancement as a people developed vessels to transport them over the water. Their ships evolved swiftly from rafts and they were the first culture in their native area to master the watersheds, which made them both prominent and powerful. Able to get people and goods quickly across the waters, the Gnomes rose to more or less command Corodo, though their way of “ruling” is quite alien to most other races. In fact, Gnomish governance proved to be a great boon for the region in general, full of free enterprise and lucrative endeavors that benefited most everyone. Even neighboring nations benefited from the Gnomes’ holdings, making international conflict nearly non-existent.
The Gnomes first found the land of the Pharosi and the Nomadi several centuries after the First Pharaohs began their conquest of it. During the building of the empires of the God-Kings, the Gnomes explored extensively the network of waterways that crosshatched their homeland, going farther and farther with each passing year. Eventually, many of their tributaries led down into the floodplain, and the Gnomes were excited about this new land with new experiences, and perhaps most importantly, new customers. Gnomes are nothing if not entrepreneurial, and their love of commerce, and coin, has led them to have footing in lands half the world over. When they docked their ships along the sand in the riverlands, the Pharosi immediately labeled them inferior. Just like the Shuka before them, the smallfolk were regarded as lesser beings. They could not, however, ignore the ships of the Gnomes, which were so unlike anything that the Pharosi or even the Nomadi had ever seen. Neither people were well-versed in the slightest in shipbuilding or sailing, and their tiny rafts and rowboats paled in comparison with the vessels that carried the Gnomes. This interested the Pharosi, and fortunately for the Gnomes, curiosity was one sure way to delay Pharaosi aggression. The northern Pharaohs received the Gnomish visitors by marching their armies to the river’s edge, flaunting their military strength as was their custom. The Gnomes themselves were rightly a bit worried, having never before been placed before such a host of potential enemies.
There were, however, a few things the Gnomes knew could serve to ease any tension: gold, luxury, and pleasure. Rather than waste time on tedious diplomacy, the Gnomes simply offered gifts to the leaders of the land. The armies took the Gnomes and their gifts to the Pharaohs, who could not help but cast away their regal statures at the sight of the gifts. Whether the gifts were fabric, food, fragrance, or flesh, all were envied by the Pharaohs and their people. It was not long at all before the Pharosi admitted that they might have judged the Gnomes too quickly, and when the newcomers opened their holds and began to dole out the rest of their goods, the Pharosi became absolutely pleased by their arrival.
The Gnomes knew business, and as soon as they saw the materialistic Pharosi all done up in gems and gold and luxury, they saw both an untapped and endless customer base. The Pharosi did not disappoint, and fawned over all of the exotic goods that the Gnomes unveiled. Scents, fabrics, jewelry, metals, furs, cosmetics, decorations, and foods of all sorts were bought up as fast as the Gnomes could unload them. The Pharaohs themselves, however, would never dream of buying what they believed should be rightly given to them as installations of the divine. The Gnomes knew better than to anger these God-Kings, having already seen what they were capable of not only by their displays of might, but also by what they learned of Rekkar-Sarrat. They were making hefty amounts of income off of the Pharosi lowborn and nobility alike, so they saw little need to sow conflict among the Pharaohs, and continued to give them gifts of goods. The Gnomes were not fools, however, and masterfully engineered ways to make the Pharaohs customers in the end. When the goods ran dry, the Gnomes talked the Pharaohs into buying their ships, making them the owners of some of the trade routes that the Gnomes ran. This brought the Gnomes into the employ of the Pharaohs’ houses, and as such were paid to sail back north and return with even more. Due to the Pharaohs’ ignorance of the lands between Rekkar-Sarrat and Corodo and Corodo itself, when the Gnomes returned north they easily went about their business as usual, though still returned to Rekkar-Sarrat with goods for the Pharaohs and goods to sell.
In the years that followed, the Gnomes made the lands of the Pharaohs their primary port of call, and set up shop in nearly every settlement along the river. Not only did they integrate with existing settlements, but came in such numbers that they set about erecting their own villages as well, where they could stock goods from the north and work their crafts. This presence has grown ever since, and Gnomes are now a very common sight throughout most of Rekkar-Sarrat.
In accordance with their history, the Gnomes’ arrival in Rekkar-Sarrat tended to benefit most everyone in the long run. Ironically, it was the Pharaohs who ultimately suffered the most in this exchange, as the coming of commerce began the undoing of their gold-fisted, millennia-long reign over their people and others. For the commoners, the lowborn, the displaced, and the assimilated, the Gnomes sowed the first seeds of economic freedom.
Though the Gnomes were not originally a people from an arid, desert-like climate, their innate nature of new experience and change and the millennium that they have spent in the river kingdoms have made them quite acclimated to the environment. Gnome genetic diversity is so eclectic and random, however, that it is quite difficult to ascertain what Gnomes are fixtures in the riverlands and what Gnomes are traders from lands to the north. Very generally, Gnomes whose ancestors were amongst those who settled in the lands of the Pharaohs have a darker skin tone than their kin who have lived in the north for centuries. Their hair is also slightly less divergent, not as prone to extreme colors such as purple and blue, but Gnome physiology can lie dormant and appear in untraceable patterns, so attempting to apply such generalizations to them is virtually pointless.
Regardless of origin, Gnomes are small, standing between 3 and 3 1/2 feet tall as adults. They are slightly stockier than other races their size such as Halflings, and have very expressive facial features. There is no cultural norm for style in grooming or in dress, with every possible idea or combination existing among them. Hair can be absent, short, or long for either gender, styled in any way imaginable, of nearly any color. Facial hair is only evident in males, but can be sparse, thick, long, short, and of a completely different color than the hair on their head. Gnome dress is likewise whimsical, with there being no gender norms in regards to clothing – men wear dresses and women go shirtless just as often as the other way around. While such vehement displays of individual freedom and free-spiritedness are completely normal to Gnomes themselves, other races can certainly find such things off-putting, but anyone living in a city along the river for any good length of time is likely to grow accustomed to it.
Gnomes comprise a race of makers, builders, thinkers, lovers, businesspeople, and hedonists. Gnomes live in the present and do not dwell on the events of yesterday nor worry themselves with the problems of tomorrow. Every current second to a Gnome is the best second to be alive, and squandering such opportunity is akin to squandering one’s entire life. Life is for pleasure – material, emotional, intellectual, and physical wealth are all equally important, as each one begets, supports, compliments, and contrasts the next. Thus, Gnomes are eager learners and even more eager doers, intent to try as many experiences as life has to offer. Gnomes relish each chance to meet a new person, try a new food, play a new game, read a new book, visit a new place, or hear a new song. Variety is indeed the spice of life for them, and an existence of stagnancy or complacency is generally just not worth it.
A zest for life makes Gnomes prone to joviality, excitability, and impulsivity. Generally a happy people, anger and sadness is not unknown to them, but such negative emotions only seem to better fuel their penchant for optimism, as if getting a taste of the downsides of life reinvigorates their zeal for the upsides. Gnomes are lovers of song and dance, art and poetry, and any good thrill. They love to create, for each new creation births a new pleasure into the world.
Individuality and self expression are very important to Gnomes; non-conformity is their conformity. Each Gnome not only seeks out but is encouraged to seek out any and all avenues that bring them excitement and pleasure, so long as they do not impede those of others. Gnomes are raised from birth to do as they will without regard to expectation or the thoughts of others. Gnomes do not much worry about their legacies or their impacts upon the world, for those things tend to matter only to people who are not them. The future is a place that means nothing to a person living today.
Society and Government
Gnomes live all along the river, though their population is mostly concentrated in the largest cities with ports where the first Gnome settlers opened up shop. Gnomish populations in these cities are often in the top, sometimes second only to the human Pharosi and Nomadi populations. Some Gnomes have travelled further inland and built up their own, all-Gnome communities, but such places are often only for those Gnomes who have retired from business or are taking vacation from it, or are otherwise some sort of peculiar Gnome that desires a quiet lifestyle. The land of Jzelar in particular has a robust Gnome population.
Gnomes are heavily involved in the commerce of the river, and there are few Gnomes who do not make their living shipping, selling, or arranging to sell goods. They are primarily invested in any sort of trade that involves luxury or pleasure. Gnomes command the jewelry, cosmetics, and fragrance trades, and also have a heavy hand in the businesses of food, fabric, and decoration. Rekkar-Sarrat is home to many Gnome-operated facilities that see to the creation of many manufactured goods, seeing to such things as tailoring, carpentry, glassblowing, and dyeing. They often find themselves rivals of the Dwarves, who also strive to dominate certain trades. Gnomes are not solely interested in goods, however, and are renowned for their many extravagant services, as well. Gnome-operated bathhouses, opium dens, pipe lounges, and the like are popular throughout much of Rekkar-Sarrat. Notably, there are also many gnomish brothels that cater to several cities, staffed by a mix of genders and races.
Though Gnomes are cheery, whimsical, and friendly, they are shrewd masters of commerce. Their culture lacks the shadow-games and betrayal of Dwarven society, but the Gnomes are serious about their business dealings and profit. Their joviality, many have learned, cannot be misconstrued as naiveté or pliability when it comes to professional matters. The extensive network of their dealings and the wealth that their entrepreneurship has granted has afforded them many hands in twice as many pockets, and they have countless ways to deal with those who cheat or double-cross them. Fortunately, their presence in Rekkar-Sarrat has been mostly positive, but there have been times when businesses, nobles, and other organizations have been quietly removed from the history books by a Gnome’s mere suggestion. Gnomes are wonderful friends and terrible enemies.
Gnomish society, like many of their customs, often seems strange to outsiders, especially since the outsiders that most commonly deal with them are humans and Dwarves. The Pharosi, Nomadi, and Dwahani all have long histories of traditional authority. The Nomadi have a tribe structure with chiefs and shamans and elders, the Dwahani employ a well-established, tiered system of democracy, and the Pharosi for so long served the Pharaohs. The Gnomes have no true system of governance amongst themselves. They do not have elder chieftains, nor do they elect leaders, nor do they have hereditary kings or rulers. Gnomes govern themselves at an individual level, and are encouraged to walk paths of independence and self-awareness. This is not to say that Gnomes are anarchists, for they still follow the basic tenants of a civilized world – knowing that theft, murder, and the like are morally wrong, and that helping others is an amiable thing to do – but do not let a concept of authority stifle them in their endeavors. Even at the familial level, parents rarely take a firm hand with their children, nor do they attempt to exercise control over their actions. The only real form of structure Gnomes have come down to business and professional dealings. If a Gnome works as a glassblower or jeweler for another Gnome, then a conventional employer-employee relationship is established, in which the working Gnome is expected to heed his or her superior. However, for Gnomes, if a superior does not explicitly say to do something a certain way, or does not specifically disallow something, than the subordinate is free to do as they will, working within the set parameters. Further, Gnomes are not contractually bound to one another in the way humans might be, and freely enter and leave service as they desire. This cultural feature generally means that Gnomes work to be supportive, fair, and honest to one another to ensure good business all around.
Gnomes also utilize a strong foundation of guilds to promote and proliferate their crafts and trades. Guilds are open to any Gnome who wishes to enter and learn, and many Gnomes move from guild to guild to learn as many trades as they can, or to find the one they like the best. Gnome guilds have no leaders, but usually do have a figurehead position to represent the guild that is often passed around. Gnome guilds demand no tithes or dues, but are generally not open to non-Gnomes.
In their dealings with other races, Gnomes adopt a much more structural way of business, as they aware such things are necessary when interacting with non-Gnomes. Despite not being this way amongst themselves, Gnomes have proven to be masters of it, enabling their deep foothold in nearly every enterprise along the river.
Gnomes show little interest in religion, befitting their loose relationship with codes, laws, and authority. They have no formal religion as a people, but Gnomes feel free to engage in whatever philosophical or religious practices they which, though not many take up such ways as it so conflicts with their cultural identity. Gnomes are very much invested in the here and now and on material things that they can touch, feel, smell, and taste. Many feel that to think on hypothetical afterlives or appeasing supernatural beings is a waste of the present and the world around them. Gnomes are most likely to take up the reverence for deities of beauty, pleasure, or festivity.
Language is a curious thing among Gnomes more so than any other race. The innate nature of Gnomes – their curiosity, inquisitiveness, inventiveness, and whimsy – has led to the creation of countless dialects without rhyme or reason. A Gnome that moves away from his or her family and builds a house next door could start a new dialect of the language and it would not seem strange. As storytellers, explorers, and businesspeople, Gnomes tend to blend other languages in with their own as well, adopting loanwords and grammar at random. Gnomes have come to call their own mash-up of language Ballardian, a random term that they claim means “many.” No matter how strange the gnomish dialect, they always seem to understand one another. The more concrete form of the language – that is, the written form that is learned by others – is not so interchangeable, but most Gnomes are amiable enough to speak that form with non-Gnomes.
Gnomes are prone to following many different paths through life, and nearly any class can appeal to any Gnome. Though it is true that many Gnomes are business-minded, as business alone grants them access to many avenues of experience, not all gnomes are invested in trade. Gnome explorers and adventurers are common, for such a lifestyle also reveals many opportunities and experiences. Of all the classes, Gnomes are the least likely to follow divine paths – many divine classes simply demand too much rigidity or regiment and often have somewhat singular purposes. As a rather atheistic people and no deities of their own, Gnomes rarely fall into the worship of other pantheons. Bards, Rangers, Fighters, Rogues, Sorcerers, and even Barbarians and Bloodragers are common amongst Gnomes both in and out of business settings.