Frontiers – Gnomes, or the Shore Folk

   Posted by: Andrew Linstrom   in Frontiers

The black-clad, shore dwelling, legendary whalers who call themselves the gnomes can be found living by the ocean on every known continent, from the frozen reaches in the north of Atrebor or Nasertia, down to the strands where Ber-Tud’s sweltering jungles meet the sea. Their walled villages have little contact with one another, but they somehow maintain a common language and culture. Their word for themselves, “gnome,” means “earth dweller.” It seems incongruous for a race that lives by the sea, but to the gnomes, whose whole world is the ocean and its perils and bounties, their land dwelling is what sets them apart from the flora and fauna they hunt and harvest.

Gnomes are physically close to halflings, standing about half a human’s height. Their skin color varies little, with most gnomes’ hides being a deep, sun-cured brown. Gnomes are sleek-bodied and barrel-shaped, with wide necks and rounded bellies. Gnomish children grow patches of fur over their arms and legs and torsos which help keep them warm as they take to the water at a young age. In puberty, they shed this fur in favor of layers of insulating fat just under the skin, leaving hair on their heads and bodies in patterns similar to humans. Powerful swimmers, gnomes are also capable of holding their breath for extended periods and diving to depths other humanoids would find painful. Their wide eyes are suited for taking in light at such depths, allowing them to stay under and hunt for extended periods, or to tend their seabed gardens, though the latter task is aided by the underwater light sources enabled alternately by their sea-themed alchemy and their magics.

Gnomish culture revolves around worship of Leviathan, the primal god of the deep waters and the creatures that dwell within them. The priest of Leviathan is the ultimate authority in each village, choosing which outsiders can be traded with, and when individuals must be cast out. They are a grim, conservative people, dedicated to their families, their work, and their religion, and eschewing technology and development. Gnomes are suspicious, keeping outsiders at arm’s length, and interest in the outside world is discouraged. Reading and writing are strictly forbidden in gnomish culture. From what’s been gleaned by scholars and gnomish outcasts, gnomish legend tells of a time when their people had grown arrogant and powerful and challenged the gods, who struck them down. Those who fled to the shore were given a chance by Leviathan to carve out a place for themselves, and there they have remained, faithful to the simple ways of the sea and scornful of the doomed paths of progress.

Gnomes often hunt alone, swimming or taking a small canoe out to sea in order to find prey of modest size. For larger prey, whales or giant squid or dire sharks, gnomes travel in teams of up to a dozen, rowing out to sea in longboats. There, divers flush out their prey, sometimes with the help of trained seals and octopodes. When their prey breaches, the crew’s harpooner lands a strike to fix the target within reach, and the whole pack lays to with blades of bone or traded steel. When the fight has fled the beast, they tow it back to their village to harvest.
When their homes or hunting grounds are threatened by outsiders, gnomes give only short warning if any, and then treat their foes as ruthlessly as they do their prey. Captains are trained to be well sure they are not within threatening range of a gnomish village before dropping anchor, for there are a number of stories over the years of gnomish boarding parties slipping over the rails, armored in bone and stone, and butchering the crew before sinking the vessel. Gnomish villages have their territory marked with trophies from such encounters: ships’ masts and wheels, and the skulls and armor of intruders and interlopers.

The gnomes are the surest source of the sea’s bounty, from whale oil and ambergris to giant pearls and mystically strong bones and shells. Gnomes accept little in the way of trade–their technophobic culture forbids even the wheel. They do accept certain foodstuffs and consumables, such as grains, fruits, simple textiles, and coal. They also accept steel, though not in finished products; they prefer to forge their own tools and weapons. Traders must make camp outside the village’s walls, in areas designated by their hosts, and most trading is conducted outside the village’s main gate. Traders approaching by sea are often denied entirely, but the rare exceptions made are directed to a nearby beach away from the village’s own shore. Despite keeping traders at arm’s length, gnomes will sometimes welcome small parties of passing travelers into the village for the night, sharing their fire and their food, though warning their visitors to not pollute their society with talk of the outside. (It only took a handful of missing priests before the Dominists stopped sending missionaries.)

Occasionally, gnomes are cast out from their villages by their elders, either for crimes committed within the community, or for pursuing forbidden knowledge. Such outcasts either become hermits, or they attempt to join an outside society. Outcast gnomes are often recruited as harpooners by whaling outfits. Outcasts, unwilling to settle down after losing their home, usually turn to adventuring, selling their talents as vicious hand-to-hand fighters or as expert rangers across aquatic terrain. A curse follows outcasts, ensuring they will not pass on their heresy: those gnomes cast out from their communities are sterile, unable to conceive children with other outcasts.

This entry was posted on Monday, May 16th, 2011 at 7:34 pm and is filed under Frontiers. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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