Game: Gnomes – Masters of Illusion
Publisher: E.N. Publishing
Review Dated: 3rd, July 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
Gnomes – Masters of Illusion is a Dark Quest produced product for EN Publishing. What this means is that we’re looking at a d20 product and one that’s going to be soaked in well written flavour. Some people really don’t go for the flavour; in fact some people use term as a synonym for filler. I think they’re wrong. I think flavour, the inspirational stuff, makes the supplement worth buying. You can faff crunch. You can’t faff flavour. And what of crunch? Masters of Illusion isn’t short on crunch either. There are more new school of Illusion spells in this supplement than there are in some paperback Illusion Spells Only products. Gnomes – Masters of Illusion manages to provide plenty of both by being a 96-paged PDF. If you liked Moon Elves or Death: Guardian at the Gate then you’ll like Gnomes – Masters of Illusion. Except; I think those first two are better.
So what’s actually in Masters of Illusion? There are three types of gnomes and they’re not to be confused with the gnome sub-races described later. These three broad gnomish views are entirely based on the d20 canon gnome and even though there are slight physical differences between the three, they all use the same stat base. Since there are three types of gnomes: hill gnomes (the Quarden), mountain gnomes (the Tirisden) and imperial gnomes (Daewan), there are four initial chapters. The first chapter talks about generic gnome traits and the following three chapters studies each of the three main gnome races. The following chapter, “Developing a Gnome”, is where you’ll find feats, sub-races and a short section on gnomish diseases. There’s a chapter on equipment and then one on spells and magic items. There are lots of spells and magic items. The supplement comes to a close with a collection of prestige classes and a glossary of gnomish terms.
Chapter One begins by describing the physical traits of the gnome – their appearance, size and, of course, nose. Big noses always equate to excellent olfactory senses in fantasy worlds and in this case it helps reconcile the cheerful temperament of most gnomes with their sense of cleanliness. Face it; human neat-freaks are rarely happy-go-lucky charisma bombs. With typical Dark Quest style its noted that the gnomes have term for the “small noses” humans. By accident or design as the supplement describes how a gnome community bands together to look after the young, the old and each other and how this leads to certain alignments being more common than others it provides a nice escape to wonder of the pitfalls of high fantasy supplements. Why are all gnomes so similar? For that matter, why are orcs so similar, elves so similar, dwarves, bugbears and halflings so similar? Why is humanity the only diverse race? Okay. This high fantasy tradition probably comes from Tolkien and Masters of Illusion doesn’t actually ask these questions (thus my speculation over accident or design). What Gnomes – Masters of Illusion does is provide as much information on gnome nurture as it does on gnome nature, merges the boundaries of the two (gnomes are physically weak and so benefit by being communal) and presents the GM with this intelligent and /plausible/ culture.
Having fully described the ‘average gnome’ the next three chapters look at the three main gnome races. We’re not surprised to discover that evil Imperial Gnomes are slightly less rare than the other two because we also discover that they don’t quite have the same tightly bound community. What’s in a community? Running down the nicely indexed bookmarks from v5 of the PDF it’s easy to summarise. We’re told about the life cycle of the gnomes, death, the family, the clan, marriages, society, class structure, guilds, social etiquette, recreation, the arts, education, food, drink, clothes, fashion, religion, myth, government, the military and law. Phew. That’s quite some list. Gnomes – Masters of Illusion does more than simply list these topics, it discusses them fully and it does so three times over. If you couldn’t care less about gnomes then you may well be thoroughly fed up with them at this point. You’ll also only be at about page 38 and have 60 more pages to go – so there’s clearly more than just this “flavour text” in the supplement even though it might not seem like it.
There are over two pages of tightly packed feats. In addition to the Master of Illusion feat you’ll find the Master of Clockwork feat as well. You don’t necessarily need to be interested in the magic side of the gnomish race to be interested in this product. The amusingly named “Little Dancer” offers the gnome +8 dodge against Giants. Hmm. Impressive… but I’m still not going to take the quote “Dont be silly. No ogre is fast enough to hit a gnome!” from the Famous Last Words list. There is more than just feats in the chapter though. There’s a sample pantheon of gods and a long look at gnomish views on classes. The race on classes section is another example of how the product looks at gnome culture rather than the “genetic gnome” for its observations and insights. A gnome barbarian is a rare thing except among the poor of the Imperial Gnomes. Rather than giving us a poorly thought out half-mechanic (another +1 dodge, say) for these commoner barbarians the supplement gives us possible cultural advantages and disadvantages; you’re some sort of uneducated accident if you’re a Hill or Mountain Gnome barbarian but if you’re an Imperial Gnome barbarian then your commoner cousins will treat you like a saviour hero.
Frightlocks, Oakcaps and Toedirts are the sub-races that get the crunch treatment. These three are presented in a character race format. You’ve got the racial traits in a bullet point list so you can apply them to character generation, you’ve favourite classes and automatic languages, etc.
Gnomish equipment should be small and inventive. There’s a fair few good ideas in here; bola staffs (fancy maces), fan staffs (fancy pole arms) as well as things like smoking herbs, sauces, spools of silk threads and entire inventor workplaces. I think the latter example is a bit on the cheeky side but it does provide a summary cost of how much the whole shebang would cost.
There’s no single list of spells. It would be a long list if there where. Gnomes – Masters of Illusion begins with a list of common spells. I didn’t quite catch (or note the importance of) the ‘common’ the first time I read through the supplement and given that I’d already been impressed by its thoroughness, I was twice as impressed when I released there was a lot more spells to come. The common spells are just that; spells common to the gnomes. As you’d expect there are lots of illusions. And the un-common spells? These are the branded spells, those associated to individual gnomes and which carry their creator’s name. You know what I mean; Bigby’s Grasping Hand is an example of a branded spell. It’s worth noting that Wizards removed the names from the SRD – meaning that third party publishers can’t talk about Bigby’s Grasping Hand any more, just the Grasping Hand spell. Why? We’re curious about Bigby and so there’s money to be had there. Bigby adds a little extra to the spell. Re-inventing the branded spells for a gnome supplement is a good idea; they’re just the fantasy race I’d expect to use this tradition. In Gnomes – Masters of Illusion we’ve magic items and spells by Bandycook, Dooblebip and Emerithop. I don’t like the names. I refuse to be impressed by anything prefixed by “Dooblebip”. Samples of Dooblebip’s work include Dooblebip’s Muter, Dooblebip’s Smooth Voice and Dooblebip’s Tone-Deafness. Notice the common theme? That works for me. It makes sense that gnomes like Dooblebip would have an area of interest and excellence. It makes sense this school of spells are linked together by name by those gnomes who go on to use them. Dooblebip’s magic items are similarly themed. If you had to spot the forged item from name alone would you pick the “Sonic Staff” or the “Illusionary Box” from the trader alleging to have some Dooblebip wares?
And prestige classes. Of course prestige classes. Always prestige classes. Mind you, there’s not quite the same plethora of gnome prestige classes as there are of Fighter based ones. We’ve got the Burrow Savage, the Earthbound Lord, the Gnome Guardian, Gnome Naturist, Illusioneer, Master of Gnomonics, Stump Knight and Tiger Monk. All these classes are 10 level and they all have enough special abilities (rather than just plus numbers) to keep them interesting. Many of these prestige classes have a special ability award at every level. Are they balanced? Balance is entirely dependant on your game. Taking one at random for a more detailed inspection we discover that the Master of Gnomonics is someone who’s taken the art of memorisation to a phenomenal level. This is a spell casting prestige class and spells per day advance in the style of +1 level of existing class. The Quick Preparation ability gained at first level allows the Master of Gnomonics to prepare his spells in half the usual time and then the Studious Insight bonus appears at 3rd level, increasing at 6th and 9th is there to prove that Rangers aren’t the only one able to learn the fighting styles or habits of common opponents.
The PDF finishes with a glossary of gnome terms. This a page of made up but gnomish sounding words but it’s the sort of thing that I like to find in the trailing pages of a supplement (alongside a good index – which we have here too). This is a niche product. You’d need to be interested in gnomes and whereas there are plenty of new game mechanics to adopt from the supplement I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone allergic to flavour. If you’re the sort of gamer that Gnomes – MoI is pitched at then it should go a long way to pleasing you. It’s professional, intelligent and thorough. The obvious downside, if I can call it that, is that there’s no wow factor. There’s nothing that made me sit up and wish I’d thought of that. I’m one of those gamers who likes to find engaging flavour as well as efficient game mechanics and I liked Gnomes – Masters of Illusions.