Thursday, June 21, 2018

Let's Read Mordenkainen's Tomb of Foes (Halflings and Gnomes!)

Where we've been so far: dwarves, elves, drow and eladrin, shadar-kai and the Raven Queen. Where we're going: halflings and gnomes.

If Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes is about the conflicts of the D&D multiverse, halflings and gnomes are the outliers in that they don't have any epic betrayals, civil wars, or unending feuds in their histories. Interestingly, it is posited that their innocence is the explanation for the halfling's supernatural luck: good luck is their cosmic reward for not being shitlords like everybody else in existence.

We're also told that halflings judge people by the content of people's characters--they don't mind a kindly butterface at all. They've also internalized a pile of self-help books, as they're all about "living in the moment."

Halflings love stories, and love objects for the stories they're connected to. They're also animistic, believing that objects have their own spirits. 

Halfling villages are hard to find; they're obscured from view by the primary goddess of the halfling pantheon--which is a far more useful thing than most of the crap D&D gods tend to lay on their followers. Overall, halfling religion is nicely differentiated from the elves and dwarves: they don't see their gods as divine creators, but rather as folk heroes who have ascended to godhood. Halfling gods are basically successful Gloranthan cultists. As such, their gods aren't really worshiped so much as emulated.

Did you know that the rare halflings that break oaths and sever communal ties eventually become twisted caricatures beset with paranoia and misery? The allusion is pretty heavy-handed, right?

On to gnomes then. Gnomes have always had trouble differentiating themselves from halflings and dwarves in D&D. One has the small friendly folk covered, and the other has the stout makers-of-things shtick covered. Whence gnomes?

They have a love of discovery based on a psychology of endless curiosity. From nature to mechanism, from magic to gem-cutting, they want to know how things work. Gnomes are the Mythbusters of the D&D multiverse.

Gnomes also don't mind drudgery, are never bored, and don't feel bad when a research tangent leads to a dead-end. This means that gnomes would be the ideal grad students.

We get a sidebar about the master gnome artificers of Bytopia who make "celestial toys," which are basically as good as magic items. We also get a sidebar about the tinkerer gnomes of the Dragonlance setting. As with an earlier sidebar about kender, the book is really trying not to paint Krynn's races as insufferable.

Gnome religion feels a bit more "realistic" than much of what we get from the other religions, as gnomes don't tend to agree about the "facts" of their gods. Some gnomes see their gods as all male, others see them as all female. Some gnomes see the gods in the guise of animals, others believe they are constructs created by Garl Glittergold. (Sidenote: Garl Glittergold is the worst name in D&D; beats out Iggwilv for the title.)

A sidebar tells us that the kobolds hate gnomes because the Gnome God pulled a prank on the Kobold God. Again, Mordenkainen's inadvertently puts me on the side of the bad guys because pranks are the fuckin' worst so yeah, fuck Garl.

Some gnome communities send the youngins out to explore the world before they're allowed back to Gnomeville. GNOME RUMSPRINGA! Gnomes also sometimes feel a pull to explore the cosmos or the planes--were gnomes a big part of Spelljammer? Seems like a hint is implied there.