Tabletop Thoughts: Playing Rock Gnomes

Welcome to the second post in our Tabletop Thoughts series! If you’re lost and unsure what these posts are doing on your screen, head on over to the first post, where I talk about Mountain Dwarves and explain what I’m doing. If you’re struggling more broadly with the concept of what the screen in front of you is doing and who you are, I can’t help with that and it’s feasible you have short term amnesia or are incredibly drunk, so either seek medical advice or drink plenty of water and brace yourself for a rocky morning.

Being a Rock Gnome

OK, so, Rock Gnomes…

What makes a rock gnome a rock gnome? What makes them different from the other gnomes?

(For those of you who have played World of Warcraft – rock gnomes are like WoW gnomes)

  • They live as long as dwarfs – a good 300-500 years.
  • Gnomes are already enthusiastic, inquisitive and busy. They relish inventing and experimenting. This is doubly true of rock gnomes. They often have several inventions on the go at any time.
  • They like to squeeze as much as they can out of life.
  • They love jokes and tricks, but they tend towards the good-natured kind.
  • Making mistakes is all part of the fun of trying new things!
  • Their cities and towns are very hard to find (if they want them to be) through clever constructions or spells.
  • They are a welcoming folk, curious and attentive.
  • They speak fast and with several people at once! Not enough space in the day for just one conversation at a time!
  • They collect names, often having more than 5.

Rock Gnomes are the typical gnome you expect to see in cities and around Faerun. They enjoy the above-ground world and can thrive in large cities, though they often live in small hidden gnome settlements, visiting cities rather than living in them. They are small, shorter than dwarves, reaching up to 4 feet, but sitting anywhere from 3 to 4 feet. They usually have slender, light frames too. Mechnically, they are one of the only small races, alongside halflings and some monstrous ones.


Roleplaying a Rock Gnome

What does this mean for roleplaying a rock gnome?

If you’re going down the typical rock gnome route:

  • You talk fast and often to strangers and friends alike. A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet anyway!
  • You often forget to shorten your name for the other races. Most of them just have a first and last name. So weird.
  • Everything has the potential to be made into a new invention. Who cares if it’s unstable or it doesn’t work first time? Your hair is on fire!? What an interesting side effect…
  • Any rest that doesn’t include at least a little bit of tinkering or exploring seems inefficient.
  • There is always time for a quick joke. Sneaking red dye into the fighter’s pipe so he breathes pink smoke was possibly the best thing you ever did… A few gold for a punchline is 100% worth it.
  • You care deeply about your friends and travelling companions.
  • You tend towards good.

Or, if you’re looking to break free from the typical gnomish ways above:

  • Gnomish life is way too busy. They won’t stop talking and a house catches fire every other day! How the others manage to get anything done between the jokes and explosions, you have no idea.
  • Why are other rock gnomes always hiding behind inventions, illusions and tricks? When a real enemy turns up, someone is going to have to tackle them head-on eventually.
  • Why can’t they take things seriously sometimes? You can’t spend your whole life joking, laughing and messing around. No wonder other races always think gnomes are just silly, flighty folk who won’t settle to anything.
  • You live for 100s of years! Why take life so fast? There is plenty of time to explore, invent and chat.
  • Not everyone is a friend. One of these days the other gnomes are going to trust the wrong person.


Mechanics of Rock Gnomes

So, what about mechanical abilities?

Ability Scores

Let’s start with ability scores:

  • +2 Intelligence – Intelligence is for wizards! It ties into a lot of knowledge skills, which is good (though I know their usage varies a lot based on DM style), but the only intelligence focused class is wizards. Eldritch Knights and Arcane Tricksters (subclasses of Fighters and Rogues, respectively) use Intelligence to cast spells too, but only from level 3.
  • +1 Constitution – Never say no to more HP.

Now, these ability scores make me sad. Unfairly I think, since they’re good stats, but they strongly push rock gnomes over to wizard if you want to optimise and I don’t think that’s as interesting as it could be. You could go Arcane Trickster or Eldritch Knight (I believe a gnomish knight is in fact a Gnight, of course), but you don’t have any bonuses to strength or dexterity for weapon attacks and you can’t use the roguish sneak attack ability on spells if you’re an Arcane Trickster. Eldritch knight abilities also focus on gaining more melee attacks alongside spells, so you’ll need to spend time upping one of your other stats and you won’t make the best use of your high intelligence.

This is mostly because intelligence is underused (in my opinion) amongst primary stats. You can use strength or dexterity for any class if you go a weapon-focused route. Wisdom is great for clerics, druids, monks and rangers. Charisma is essential for sorcerers, warlocks and bards and also good for paladins. Plus, dexterity, wisdom and charisma tie into lots of skills that are very frequently used.

I think intelligence gets the short stick. It’s only for wizards (and two subclasses) and it only ties into one reliably useful skill – investigation. You can check out the Mystic and Artificer from the unearthed arcana articles for current attempts to bring forward new intelligence-based classes, though the first iterations both definitely have their flaws.

Racial Abilities

Anyway, let’s look at the rock gnome’s racial abilities:

  • You’re slow – you have a speed of 25ft. Mostly this won’t make a lot of difference, but maybe it encourages you to have a mount?
  • Darkvision – always handy. Very common in 5E!
  • Gnome Cunning – Advantage on all spells against you? Amazing. This is spectacularly good for facing off against spellcasters. Probably one of the best spell resistances in the game. It’s a shame there aren’t any reliable ways to redirect spells to yourself, or you’d be the talk of the party!
  • Artificers Lore – So, at a glance, this looks pretty good, but most magic items, as written, require casting of the Identify spell to figure out abilties. This just tells you the HISTORY of these items, if it has one. A kind and generous DM might let you know what the item does, if it is very famous, but they don’t have to as written.
  • Tinker – I want to like this! It’s a fun idea, but it’s like they designed all of the items to specifically not be very helpful. Proficiency with tools’ is situational, but fun. Definitely check out Xanathar’s Guide for some cool tips on what you can use your tools for.
    • The clockwork toy makes a lot of noise and MOVES RANDOMLY. You can’t reliably use it for anything other than giving away your position, since it starts making the noises immediately.
    • The music box is like an immobile version of the above.
    • The fire starter is fun, but at best OK. You can just use a tinderbox out of combat and it does specify that you can only use it to light a candle, torch or campfire. Using a single action is faster, so if you find yourself mid-combat, with the need to light a torch or candle (you have darkvision, so arguably this would be a waste of a turn usually), you can do this in one turn.

You might be able to tell that I find these underwhelming. I THINK that the artificers lore and tinker abilities are deliberately meant to be ribbons (a term the game designers use to refer to abilities that add more flavour than power to a class or race). The reason for this is because Gnome Cunning took up most of the ‘power’ aspect of the race and additional powerful abilities couldn’t be justified. It is powerful, but it doesn’t yell interesting to me, which I think is more fun.


Building our Rock Gnome Character

That being said, I think there are some fun things we can combine these abilities with. So, rant over! On to building an awesome gnome!

Ability Scores

What are our ability scores? (ability modifiers in brackets):

  • 8 (-1) Strength
  • 14 (+2) Dexterity
  • 16 (+3) Constitution [15+1 Gnome Bonus]
  • 16 (+3) Intelligence [14+2 Gnome Bonus]
  • 10 (+0) Wisdom
  • 10 (+0) Charisma

You’re a gnome! You’re tiny, of course you’re not as strong as the average human. That just feels right to me. I’ve leant into the racial bonuses, so you’re hardy and smart. You’re quick too, which also makes sense to me as a smaller creature and helps with initiative and AC.

Wizard feels like the obvious choice here and I was strongly tempted to just dive into it. My first thought was a necromancer, but I was put off once I realised that, as written, you probably can’t ride your undead minions as mounts if you’re a gnomish necromancer (a skeleton has a speed of 30ft, so it improves your base speed! Needs level 5 before it happens, doesn’t require necromancy specialisation, but that makes your ‘mount’ stronger) – if you like the idea and your DM does allow it (maybe you can build a basket for the ‘mount’ to wear, it’s not like they can get tired, they can’t disobey you and they have enough strength to carry you + gear as standard), then the stats I’ve chosen above will work perfectly well with a necromancer wizard and you’re free to pick any spells you like! I also veered away from this because it doesn’t really bring any unusual ideas to the table if you can’t be sure you can ride your zombies and skeletons…

If your DM needs a bit of convincing for balancing, a skeleton only gives you 5ft of speed boost and can make 1 attack around with a +4 to hit and deal 1d6+2 damage. It uses a spell slot every day (which could easily deal more than 1d6+2 damage) and a bonus action every so often in combat to give new orders (remember you can order it to attack several enemies at once and it will keep doing that until the order is complete without needing to spend more bonus actions).

With +2 dexterity, I’m not inclined to go for a rogue or other light armour class, since your AC is going to lag and, as mentioned above, spells can’t trigger sneak attack.

Class Selection

So I came back to Fighters. Specifically, Eldritch Knights! I was doubtful at first, but I think you can build a potent combo here:

  • You’ll have good AC from level 1 (you’ll need to take medium armour since you don’t have the strength to wear heavy armour, but this only costs you around 1AC and you can avoid having disadvantage on stealth checks).
  • Your high constitution gives you 13 HP from the get go and you gain 9 a level.
  • You can use any weapons at all, so plenty of ranged or finesse melee weapon choices to make use of that dexterity.
  • You can use a shield when needed!
  • From level 3, when you specialise, you’ll be able to focus on spellcasting, but also be a sturdy, hardy backup meat-shield if things start to turn.
  • Fighters get training in Strength and Constitution saving throws. Gnomes get advantage in Wisdom, Intelligence and Charisma saving throughs (vs. magic, but that will get pretty common as you get stronger). That’s a huge proportion of saves covered! You are hard to hit with effects and spells of almost any kind. Dexterity saves are common, but this is why you have a +2 to dexterity too. At level 9, Fighters can also reroll any failed saving throw a few times a day. This means on some spells you can roll 3 times!
  • You get a familiar to help grant advantage.

Building our Rock Gnome Fighter

Let’s get into the specifics, because there are some fun combinations of effects here. Including ways of bringing your Tinker trait into use!

  • You’ll want to go with a ranged weapon. Longbows or Light Crossbows are both good, but as a gnome, Longbows are a no-go, since they’re too big for your tiny frame. The Light Crossbow has the “Loading” property, you can’t use it more than once a turn, which means at higher levels it’s less effective, but as a higher level Eldritch Knight, you can pump out spells instead.
  • If you grab the Archery fighting style at level 1, you’ll have a +6 to attack rolls for ranged weapons, which is 1 more than players who start with a 16 in their main attack stat anyway.
  • At level 3, you’re going to be swapping to using Cantrips. Mostly damaging ones. Fire Bolt is an excellent choice, since it’s 1d10+3 fire damage (and can set fire to small things if you need). Cantrip damage scales with level at the same rate as the Fighter’s extra attacks, so it stays nearly on a par damage wise (the extra attacks get to add your ability modifier to each attack, so they edge out a bit). You only get one attack roll, which is why you have your familiar for advantage to make sure it counts!
  • You will want to take Find Familiar at level 1 too. They can use the Help action on enemies on their turn, which grants you advantage on your attacks, including both ranged weapon and ranged spell attacks! Perfect.
  • Weapon Bond at level 3 can let you have some fun with thrown weapons, since you can summon them back as a bonus action. It’s not more powerful, but it definitely feels badass. It’s great regardless, as you can sneak your weapon in everywhere and can never be disarmed.
  • If your speed is slowing you down, you can take Expeditious Retreat to double it every turn for a bonus action. OR you can teleport 30ft with Misty Step. No longer is 25ft speed a problem!
  • From level 7, you can make a weapon attack as a bonus when you use a cantrip. From level 10, this melee attack grants your target disadvantage on their next save, so over two turns you can:
    • Turn 1:
      • Use Familiar to get Advantage on your Cantrip.
      • Cast your Cantrip.
      • Make a Bonus Weapon Attack.
    • Turn 2:
      • Cast a powerful ‘save or die’ spell like hold person and enjoy watching the enemy have to make their save at disadvantage!
  • As a fighter, you have access to 7 ability score increases or feats. Using 4 of them to get Intelligence and Constitution up to 20 means you have a wide range of powerful combinations open to you. I won’t go into all of them here, as they can quickly get complicated and not all DM’s allow all feats, but as some fun examples:
    • Elemental Adept would allow you to ignore resistance to fire damage and treat 1s as 2s for fire damage rolls. This makes Fire Bolt quite a bit more powerful, as fire resistance is more common. Bonus damage is always good.
    • Fade Away, from Xanathar’s Guide, would let you turn invisible after you take damage, giving you advantage on your next attack and letting you get into position easily.
    • Medium Armour Master grants an extra AC and ignores stealth disadvantage if you also grab another +1 to dexterity somewhere.
    • War Caster lets you have both of your hands busy and still cast spells, plus you can cast spells as opportunity attacks!
    • Spell Sniper doubles the range of a cantrip and lets it ignore cover. This could give your Fire Bolt a range of 240ft and you can hit people through tiny gaps with no disadvantage.

Using Tinker Trait

A little bonus section specifically for a rock gnome eldritch knight!

Using the Firestarter: So this can become pretty handy and is probably the best of the three. Grab Control Flames as a cantrip. It requires a non-magical flame, which the Firestarter creates, and allows you to do a handful of fun and sometimes useful things. You can spread the flame to anything flammable in 5ft, you can change the colour or brightness of the flame, which means you can light a torch with an action and use it to illuminate 80ft of dim light for the next hour. With darkvision, dim light is as good as regular light, so you can illuminate most rooms with two actions, allowing you to investigate without disadvantage.

Using the Clockwork Toy/Music Box: These are more situational. You can use these to lure enemies into an ambush, where you and your group open fire as soon as someone comes into sight. If you can collect a few people, you’re in a good position to use a fireball (fireball does not effect objects so your box is fine, weirdly, but it’s important to note, since fireball doesn’t just demolish everything in a room), or some other area attack. If you’re intending to charge INTO a room anyway, luring the enemy OUT can give you the tactical advantage, if you’re sure they won’t run off and warn others.

More specifically, you can also cast Glyph of Warding on it and set the condition to be when a certain number of enemies come in range, or comes round on patrol. It’s an expensive spell though, costing 200gp.

Things to Watch Out for!

Fighters, on the whole, are straightforward and solid performers in most aspects of the game. You’re hard to hit, hard to kill and have high attack bonuses, so there isn’t anything catastrophic to watch out for. That being said:

  • You’re not optimised for level 1 and 2, since you don’t get to make use of your intelligence much in combat until level 3. You’re a solid archer though or you could wield a short sword and shield for extra defense.
  • You are low on spells and spell slots for a class that we’re focusing towards casting. If you’re taking some feats, things like Ritual Caster can go a long way to fixing this. Otherwise, you’re left to mix cantrips and weapon attacks with big spells thrown out when they’ll be optimal. Fortunately you have lots of abilities to force disadvantage on saving throws or advantage on spell attacks to make them count.
  • Most cantrips are ranged and dexterity favours using ranged weapons for more damage in this build, so you need to prepare something for melee. Carrying a shield around and using the Chill Touch cantrip is a good option for this, or a short sword and Shocking Grasp. This would fill up your cantrip retinue until level 10!

Some Backstory, For Flavour

So, what’s this Gnome’s story? Well, I think she comes from a small underground Gnomish settlement not far from the capital. Bored of living underground when there is so much of the world to see, she heads out to the capital and joins the city watch, hoping to meet new people and discover new things, especially new food. She’s fair minded and always sticks up for what she thinks is right. Sometimes that puts her against local criminals and sometimes it means she clashes with her superiors. Though it’s not usually something that can’t be fixed over several drinks.

A few reasons for her to move on from the watch come to mind:

  • She’s learnt all she can from this city and it’s starting to get a bit boring – time to move on!
  • She arrested a powerful noble. She’s sure they did it, but she’s been kicked from the watch on their request.
  • One of her clan has been framed for a crime she is positive they didn’t commit. Her own investigations have lead her away from the city.


I’ve put together an artificer-like class that felt fitting for a gnome. If you’re keen to play a rock gnome now and you want to try something a bit different, head on over to DM’s Guild and grab a copy! It’s pay what you want, but I get a record of number of downloads regardless of payment, so I can check in and keep making content that people enjoy 😊


I’m looking at Goliaths next, since it just felt right to go from the smallest to the largest playable race of the PHB. At some point I’ll come up with a real system for choosing – comments and suggestions for future posts are more than welcome!

One Comment on “Tabletop Thoughts: Playing Rock Gnomes

  1. Pingback: Chapter 25: Mr Kobold – Tabletop Tales

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