HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED About Dwarfs and Gnomes…
By Gary Gygax © 2002
Ernest Gary Gygax July 27, 1938 – March 4, 2008; last name pronounced GYE-gaks was an American writer and game designer, best known for co-creating the pioneering role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons with Dave Arneson; Gary was the author of this article, much of which was shared with the late Paul Wilson, a 'little people' investigator before he died in October 2009. Permissions were given.
Aside from body build, both dwarfs and gnomes are treated pretty much the same in the RPG. That is, the two races are basically treated as underground dwelling. Indeed, gnomes should be mostly subterranean, as dwarfs are generally treated, considering their mythological roots as creatures of elemental earth, dwellers in mines and caves. Their habitat, when compared with their possessions and diet, then brings to mind a number of questions. Have you ever thought about how these underground races get the things they need, are sometimes renowned for, while living in caves and caverns where those very things aren’t found, can’t be had? Here are those questions that can not fail to spring to mind in this regard. Note the multiple choices are included in levity.
What do dwarfs wear other than metal armor?
* Mostly leather & furs
What do gnomes wear other than metal armor?
* Mostly leather & furs
What do dwarfs eat?
What do gnomes eat?
* Berries & fruit
What do dwarfs drink?
What do gnomes drink?
Wearing apparel of metal sort seems pretty normal for both dwarfs and gnomes, and the addition of leather garments for these races is justifiable in that they could obtain hides from hunting forays. As for the rest, well, ahem! Neither race could logically raise neither crops nor flocks to provide the basic materials needed for cloth. To gain cotton, linen, and wool, considerable trade with humans will be necessary. Do you envisage dwarfs or gnomes with great “farms” where huge spiders are kept, their webs gathered of weaving into cloth? Not too likely, that. So as depicted, both races perforce interact on at least a commercial basis with humans so as to obtain their fabrics and likely some of their leather and furs as well, because subterranean animalia won’t provide the whole of their wants and needs in this regard.
Diet of both dwarfs and gnomes is likewise limited by their habitat. Of course these races could enjoy masses of grubs, worms, underground fauna of various (generally revolting) sort garnished with roots and fungi. This doesn’t meet the “traditional” depictions, however. Yes, both races likely enjoy root crops and fungi, but certainly they also consume bread and other sorts of vegetation that grows only in the sunlight. Once again, this means that dwarfs and gnomes perforce trade with humans and their ilk that dwell in the light world.
Drink underscores the matter. Ale and beer are made from fermented grain and hops. Mead is made from the fermentation of honey, that substance being the product of bees gathering nectar from flowers. Wine is made from grapes, other fruit or berries, grain or vegetables. As ale, beer, and stout are renowned as the drinks of choice for dwarfs, and usually for gnomes too, this means that a most active trade in at least the vegetable ingredients to brew such drink, and of course the wood from which the barrels that hold the end product, is conducted between the subterranean folk and the men above.
Without the assumption of such commerce between dwarfs and gnomes with human suppliers, we must either have considerable numbers of agrarian dwarfs and gnomes, or alter their dress and what they eat and drink. Could elves serve as the above-ground suppliers? Not according to the way that race is typically depicted in the FRPG. The “ilf” race of the LEJENDARY ADVENTURE game system will indeed serve perfectly in that roll. That’s because when I was developing the “Alfar” peoples for the game’s environment the need for exchange of such goods was borne in mind.
What do dwarf’s and gnomes trade for the various products coming from humans and other surface dwellers? That’s a very easy matter. Here is a list I propose as being the major materials that would be supplied to humans in return for their goods:
* Building stone
The number of things dwarfs and gnomes can supply that are in demand by surface-dwelling humans is more than ample to ensure that their own needs are fully covered. In fact, enterprising folk of this sort could become wealthy from such trade, with the trade balance being such that the subterranean-dwelling races could demand payment in gold and gems so as to draw those things back to their own realms. This is a likely event, and it would have repercussions.
Of course an imbalance in trade would make humans resentful, make them seek other sources for the materials they want in quantity. The imbalance and the reaction to it would then bring about some degree of hostility between dwarfs and gnomes on the one hand and humans on the other. The humans would have to turn to trade with less “wholesome” subterranean races. Some of such peoples would want payment in commodities of what will be generally unacceptable sort—slaves in the main. Also, they might want arms and armor of human craftsmanship in order to more effectively fight against dwarfs and gnomes.
In the main, while amity, or at least tolerance, will be the order of the day in regards dwarfo-gnome relations with humans, there could most certainly exist areas where the races are bitter enemies, where the former races enlist the aid of malign subterranean races and creatures. Of course that will be to counter the like alliance between humans and other sorts of underground dwellers. In the LA game system, the dwarfs and gnomes might be dealing only with veshoges, allied with trollkin, trow, and huldra in fighting humans. The latter, in turn using trogs, even goblins and hobgoblins to attack and pillage their dwarf and gnome foes.
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