Game: The Quintessential Gnome
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Review Dated: 27th, June 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
“As elves have drow and dwarves have duergar, the true evil counterpart to gnomes are not the deep gnomes, but these little devils.” That’s a quote from the last sub-race of gnomes mentioned by The Quintessential Gnome. Who are these little devils? Why, Garden Gnomes of course! The Quintessential Gnome is not without its humour.
There’s quite a lot of humour in the book. It’s clearly something that Mongoose staff writer Alejandro Melchor put a lot of thought into since its something he talks about in the designer’s notes. He tries to get the balance right. This isn’t one of the comedic Slayer’s Guides; the Quintessential Gnome is supposed to be useful. Some people may well find the five-paged chapter on pranks useful, but not me. The rules for spending and then winning back experience points suck all the humour out of the concept. That said; the chapter does make a good template for people who might otherwise struggle to assign XP for contests of intelligence or wisdom rather than melees and brawls.
Don’t get hung up on the pros and cons of pranking. This isn’t a fantasy version of the first Malkavian Clan Book; it’s book sixteen in the Collector Series and is everything you’d expect from it. The Quintessential Gnome begins with a chapter of Gnome concepts. These character concepts, as ever, roleplaying handles that provide slight bonuses and penalties to game mechanics. Here we find caricatures of gnomish temperament. There’s the really curious gnome concept, the misguided genius, the “nature child” gnome, the tinker and troublemaker. There are plenty others and they all take some aspect of stereotypical gnome behaviour and spin them into a character concept. This might sound bad but it’s actually a tried, tested and fairly good way to get to grips with a character quickly. If you can avoid ham acting and build up a shtick for your character instead then it’ll be a memorable one for all the good reasons.
As is the format for the Collector Series, Prestige Classes come next. Whereas the character concepts concentrate on what gnomes are like, the prestige classes concentrate on what gnomes do. There are prestige classes for technology and illusions. The Prankster is a prestige class and so is the Priest of Laughter. If you’re familiar with Stonebridge then you’ll have seen the link between Renaissance Europe and gnomish style and technology made by Mongoose writers and it reoccurs here. The Renaissance Gnome is the obvious one but so to could the Trouble-Shooter and perhaps the Submariner. The Tripper is a gnome monk. It does away with any attempt to pretend that people become monks to find their inner calm and cosmic truth, you become a monk to kick arse. If you’re too small to kick effectively, you trip people up instead. A quick count turns up 8 prestige 5-level prestige classes and 4 10-level prestige classes, suggesting a total of 12 prestige classes – and that’s not bad at all.
The class based Quintessential X books have a “Tricks of the Trade” chapter and this is suitably renamed “Tricks of the Gnomes” here. You’d think there would be plenty to talk about. There are nearly six pages of rules governing a gnome’s ability to… make notes. I kid you not. By reading and understanding gnomish notes you can expect to enjoy a nice bonus to a skill or learn a feat. It’s all right though; characters can’t learn more than two feats per level this way. Ahem. There are XP costs for all of this, in the case of feats, your current level multiplied by 300. I can see GMs rushing to ban all of this. Imagine having ten extra feats by the time you’re playing a 5th level character. If you just want to use a feat (or enjoy a skill bonus once) then you don’t need to pay XPs. Just consult the notes or journal and use the feat within your intelligence modifier number of rounds. Sucks to you if you’ve a zero intelligence modifier. The best bit in this section is a full-page set of tables that allow you to roll up a random gnomish sounding journal title. Here’s one I did just now: A Formal Account to Matters Related to Bugbears and Gnolls, as Written By Rolo Garby, Sage Of No Little Experience.
Fortunately there are other sections within this chapter that bail it out. Greater Jury-Rigging is the gnomish ability to make changes to equipment and improve them at the risk of malfunction. This costs money; components are always expensive. A jury-rigged item will be enhanced with a suitable skill or feat – and not all skills or fears are suitable. I was worried this would be another Cosmic Power Through Note Taking section but this time round I’m won over. The game balance is better. The examples seem to work; mixing a spear with the jump skill results in a spear that’s slightly more awkward to throw because of the powerful spring built into one end but allows the user (a small gnome, remember) to enjoy +6 to Jump and Tumble. There’s a %27 chance of malfunction. There are new skills and uses for old skills too.
There are four pages of gnomish feats: believable illusion, master artisan, prodigious hands, etc.
The Tools of the Gnomes is a mix of simple but small items to complex and technologically advanced items. Given this we’ve got the gambit from war pokers and gnomish bolas all the way to grenade throwers, ram-drills, twin-spyglasses and sneeze dust.
The true wonder of Gnomish Technology isn’t subsumed by the Tools of the Gnomes; it has a chapter all by itself. There’s a small warning at the start of this chapter. A wonder of technology that a genius gnome might build could easily outstrip the technological levels of the campaign. That’s one reason why the two chapters are separate. Another reason for the separation is that it leaves “Gnomish Technology” free to dwell on more detailed game mechanics. In fact, Gnomish Technology is one of the reasons to buy the Quintessential Gnome. If you’re looking for steam powered armour, weird siege weapons, highly mobile adventuring equipment, an impressive new hand held weapon or even a vehicle then this chapter deals with both the creation and use of the invention. Good stuff.
Another hit (given that the Garden Gnome entry appeals to my sense of humour) are the Gnomish Sub-Races. If you don’t like Forgotten Realms (and there plenty of us who don’t enjoy gaming in a fanboy setting) then you could well be very short on gnomes (excuse the pun). The Gnomes here are typically inspired by an elemental connection. Rock Gnomes, Deep Gnomes, Forest Gnomes, Steam Gnomes, Lake Gnomes and the dread Garden Gnomes.
There isn’t so much on Gnomish Magic as there is for Gnomish Technology but the d20 world already oozes magic. The Quintessential Gnome includes rather slick rules that allow the illusionary adept gnomes to manifest illusions without resorting to the standard arcane spell lists. There’s a brief touch on the religion of the gnomes and then the Craft and Laughter Clerical domains.
The book concludes with Burrows and Workshops. This chapter is only a few pages long but it’s about the size I wanted it to be. It’s a look at less than obvious rooms and enhancements you might find in a gnome burrow or workshop. Panic rooms, storage burrows and the natural concealment of the burrow’s entrance are all typical examples.
The final pages in the Quintessential Gnome are for the designer’s notes, a comprehensive index and then a multi-paged character sheet. I don’t like the very white character sheets in the Collector Series but I do like to read the designer’s notes and I always appreciate a detailed index.
The Quintessential Gnome is a mixed book. The good parts and the bad parts will vary according to your particular tastes. Gamers who expect to use %100 of a newly purchased supplement will probably not be happy with the Quintessential Gnome. I just don’t think it’s possible to use all of it in the same campaign or campaign style. If you’re willing to use most of a book and take from it what particularly interests you then there’s much to be said for this book. The Quintessential Gnome isn’t a book you’ll buy because gnome supplements are so rare; the Quintessential Gnome is better than that. It’s quite good.