The latest Design & Development is about half-orcs and gnomes, both of which will be in PHB2. I have opinions and I am going to write these opinions in this blog.
I’m not sure what to think about half-orcs; until very recently, I thought they were “new” in 3rd Edition. It turns out that they’re not. Consequently, I’ve been living a lie.
In general, I’m willing to give the really old stuff a lot of leeway, in no small part because it started a lot of things. I also thing there’s a lot more fun I could have in there, by trying to bridge some of the gap between retro stupid and the sort of “serious” roleplaying I did in college and still occasionally find time to do here.
Of course, not everything that’s old is still good, whether or not it made sense at the time. THAC0 was an improvement over the to-hit tables from 1st Edition, but I’m not shedding any tears over it.
Two examples of things that are old and I don’t like? Bards and gnomes.
I’ve harbored a dislike for bards because I couldn’t think of a way to make them cool. I never made it through the whole Lord of the Rings (The Hobbit was all I could finish), so I was never exposed to Tom Bombadil, who I’m told is one of the inspirations for the bard class. The bard seemed out of place in Dark Sun, the setting I started with, and for a number of other reasons, they seemed like dead weight. I wasn’t sad that they weren’t in the PHB, and after having read the preview, I think I’ve mostly made my peace with them in 4th Edition.
So that brings us to gnomes. Gnomes suffer from a problem that any of the other races do, too, only worse. It’s this: in a party of mixed races, people tend to play the archetype of their character’s race. Furthermore, everyone else in the party will tend to treat you as an archetype of your race unless you make an effort to prove otherwise.
For instance, your average dwarf is somebody who likes hitting people with axes and drinking ale. This might not even be a concern because hitting things with axes is thoroughly in keeping with the D&D tradition, and a lighthearted game thrives on characters who approach adventuring with dwarfish gusto.
Gnomes, though? Their archetype is that they’re annoying. They’re waaaacky! They love puns, jokes, games, and intricate tricks. In my humble opinion, this is terrible. Furthermore, from a visual standpoint, we’ve already got a race of short, skinny people: halflings. In my opinion, Blizzard made a smart move in picking one or the other and sticking with it; even if gnomes are ridiculous, I have to give it to them that they’re semi-original.
Of course I’m not saying you can’t play an interesting gnome. I know at least one person who did. His gnome was evil and I don’t know for sure but I think he might’ve killed people. (Honestly, “evil and kills people” seems like the most straightforward to make a gnome interesting.) The problem you’ll face if you try this is what James Wyatt describes: people will treat your gnome like any other gnome. I suspect halflings have this problem, too. Gnomes just have it worse because they talk to burrowing animals, like to steal things, and make horrible, murder-worthy jokes.
God, now I really want to play an evil, murderous gnome.
Anyway, I guess the notion of gnomes as a dark, serious race is somewhat absurd— perhaps short, pudgy people are inherently silly. If Wizards absolutely must bring them back, toning down some of the more ridiculous stuff and making them more coherent seems like the way to go. I may not like it, but perhaps this time around, the gnome will be better executed and therefore less aggressively irritating.
I’m done now…
…and I am not sorry!