Gnome 5e | Building a Gnome Character in D&D

gnome 5e

Out of all of the races in Dungeons & Dragons 5E, the gnome might be the most quirky. These fey-born fellas have a ton of personality and energy, all in a little body. They adore color and nature, and are always keeping themselves busy. Every single one of them find something to do with their lives, from adventuring to tinkering to making plans. If that sounds like a fun character design, or you’re interested in a highly intelligent and motivated race, then this might be the right place for you! Check out our Gnome 5E guide to make the most out of your little bundle of joyful energy!

Gnome 5E Lore

Gnomes are one of the starting races offered in Dungeons & Dragons 5E. Introduced in the Player’s Handbook, they may be one of the most specialized (and fun) starting races a new player can choose. Gnomes are long-lasting people, living between 3 to 5 centuries, but this is far too short for most gnomes. Their fey brethren can live a lot longer, and almost all Gnomes enjoy all aspects of life. So, each of them try to make the most out of it however they can, since there’s so much to do in the world! Gnomish adventurers want to see as much of the world as they can, and experience as many things as possible, before their centuries are up.

Because of this, the bright and happy lifestyle experienced by most gnomes can be jarring to unfamiliar races. Gnomish communities are called burrows, where they live almost underground. Their homes are well-placed in nature, and hidden by some illusions. If a gnome doesn’t want you to find their home, you’re not likely to find it!

If a gnome travels, they are likely to be taken in by almost all friendly races, since they’re so useful as builders, gemcutters, and even tutors! Gnomes make for the most fun teachers that a rich family can ask for, and a gnome – with personal freedom – will work for a family for generations.

Gnomes are creatures that love names, and understand that every single person has a different perspective of them. A gnome that is comfortable with a party might name every party member differently, and ask that every party member do the same to them. They do have a traditional name, but find that taking only a single name that everyone uses to be a bit stiff. Out of all of the races, expect a gnome’s name to change a lot over time!

Not all gnomes need to be happy-go-lucky; some are miners or guarded, and gnomes aren’t immune to corruption. Even so, if you want your gnome to be authentic, it’s useful to think about where they come from.

Gnome Traits

All gnomes, regardless of their archetype, receive a few benefits that are fairly unique to them.

  • +2 Intelligence. An extremely rare stat to have for an ability score increase! Intelligence isn’t too handy outside of saving throws and some knowledge-based ability checks. In order to make good use of this, you’d need to have a class that benefits from Intelligence.
  • Small Size. Gnomes are Small, which won’t come up too often. It does mean that your Gnome is going to have trouble with Heavy weapons, which stinks. However, most DMs will allow smaller races to sneak into smaller areas more effectively, or have easier access to cover. Try to use this size to your advantage!
  • 25 ft. Speed. Ouch! That’s slower than average, by an entire 5 feet. That means that the rest of your party will be 5 feet faster than you in a footrace, which can leave you in the dust. It also means it’ll be harder for you to reposition during combat – a huge drag, no matter what role you are.
  • Darkvision. Being able to see in the dark without any sort of torch is very useful. Not needing a torch means that you don’t reveal yourself to enemies, and can stay stealthed from non-Darkvision opponents for much longer. You may still need some torches in case you need to deal with color-based puzzles, but these will be few and far between.
  • Gnome Cunning. An absolutely absurd benefit! Spells can be crippling to anybody in any party, so the ability to have permanent advantage against spellcasting is extremely useful. For example, imagine that you’re fighting a Necromancer and it uses Hold Person against you. You have two chances to avoid the paralysis instead of one! That can be life-saving!
  • Languages. You get two, Common and Gnomish. That’s nice, but Gnomish isn’t overly popular (unless you’re doing a Gnome-based campaign!).

Gnome Subraces

There are three gnome subraces in 5E; four if you count Dragonmarks.

Deep Gnome/Svirfneblin (Legacy)

Please note WOTC no longer publishes the deep gnome subrace. It is considered a legacy option.

Deep Gnomes live underground and are slightly less energetic than your typical Gnome. They still are bound with joy, but tend to be hardier and more muscular than gnomes. They also tend to stay hidden whenever they can.

  • +1 Dexterity. Great skill boost; Dexterity is good for a lot of skill checks, AC, and the damage-dealing spells of most classes.
  • Superior Darkvision. Rather than 60 feet of Darkvision, you get 120 feet. This won’t come up too often, but tends to be good if you’re delving in caves. You’re much more likely to get the jump on things, since you out-range Darkvision!
  • Stone Camouflage. You’re more stealthy in rocky terrain. Comes up more often than you think, but still not often enough to make this consistent.

Forest Gnome

Forest Gnomes are your typical fey gnome. They have an inherent connection to nature, and thus love animals. They tend to have the highest energy of all gnomes, though are slightly less disciplined as a result.

  • +1 Dexterity. Again, awesome skill. Dexterity is a pretty great stat in 5E, for defense and offense alike.
  • Natural Illusionist. A free cantrip (Minor Illusion) is always wonderful, though illusions have their limits in 5E. Still, a great way to entertain others, and can occasionally get you out of tight situations if you’re creative enough.
  • Speak with Small Beasts. You can communicate simple ideas with small animals. This can be okay for problem solving, and even more useful for finding a cute mascot for your party! See our speak with small beasts 5e guide for more details.

Rock Gnome

Rock Gnomes are the other typical gnome race. They tend to be a bit more controlled than Forest gnomes, and thus are slightly more likely to be the Gnomish tutor that might be seen in Gnome towns.

  • +1 Constitution. Every +1 to Constitution gets you closer to more health! Constitution is a great stat for every class in the game, but is strictly defensive.
  • Artificer’s Lore. If only this was Arcana! History tends to be harder to justify rolling for these items, unless they are legendary or something. You might get away with alchemy or technology consistently, however, so that’s nice! You’ll also tend to be good at checking for curses.
  • Tinker. Really fun, really hard to use. Great for entertaining peasants or kids, but it’s hard to get into situations where throwing a little clockwork frog into a hallway is going to help you. If you’re creative, this could actually be fun to play with, but will rarely come up.

Mark of Scribing (Eberron: Rising from the Last War)

Gnomes gain access to the Mark of Scribing, which enchants them with the abilities of diplomacy. Talk with your DM before accepting this subclass, since it might be hard to justify in all campaign settings. Dragonmarks are pretty specific to Eberron, after all!

  • +1 Charisma. Really hard to use, if you also want to utilize the +2 to Intelligence. Charisma is alright for saving throws, at least.
  • Gifted Scribe. Really specific. History checks are fairly rare, and calligrapher’s supplies are basically only for forging passports and such.
  • Scribe’s Insight. Three good spells, especially for the early game. Magic Mouth isn’t too useful, but can make for some fun moments.
  • Spells of the Mark. A handful of alright spells, though having Sending and Dream on the same spell list might be a bit overkill. Make sure you aren’t overdoing it with the messaging effects!

Class Options for Gnomes

The Gnome is in a pretty unique situation… Which isn’t necessarily a good thing. +2 Intelligence kind of pins it between two classes, if you want to build optimally.

What is the Best Class for a Gnome?

All four Gnome subclasses make absolutely absurd Artificers and Wizards. Both of these classes rely highly on Intelligence for spellcasting. Gnomes, being one of the few races that can get a +2 to Intelligence, make them really good for these casters.

If that wasn’t enough, your Darkvision makes it so you won’t have to worry about being the torchbearer. That means you’ll be safe from showing enemies where you are, a good safety measure for these classes. If you’re a Svirfneblin, your extended Darkvision will allow you to snipe enemies with strong magic before they can even begin to notice you.

Artificer and Wizard are pretty great at avoiding magic due to their saving throw proficiencies. However, having advantage on the saving throws is critical, especially for Wizard. Say, for instance, your entire party is subject to a spell that paralyzes them. Because of your advantage, you’re extremely likely to succeed on the save. Then, you can Dispel Magic to save your party from their imminent doom. That’s really good!

The only real problem with being a Gnome Artificer/Wizard involves your movement speed. Waddling away from danger at 25 ft per round is going to be an issue early on. If you want to be a Gnome Caster, make sure you’re either using your Artificer’s armor effectively, or have a good frontline to protect you. Otherwise, you might find it hard to keep yourself safe during early levels. Once you get to Fly or other movement-based spells, your 25 foot speed will never be an issue again. Look forward to that!

These aren’t the only two classes that gnomes can be, of course! Deep and Forest gnomes can use that +1 Dexterity on Fighters and Rogues, for instance. They may want to consider Eldritch Knight and Arcane Trickster if they take that path, but then they can use their Gnome Cunning on magic without proficiency in mental saving throws. That might be a bit of a hail-mary strat, but it’s certainly better than nothing! These two classes suffer a bit more from the speed penalty, but a sneaky Deep gnome can just sneak up before the fight begins and be in a good position. With enough strategy, it shouldn’t be too bad!

See Our Gnomish Naming Guide

Bad Classes for Gnomes

While I hate to be the kind of guy to say “don’t be a class that doesn’t have Intelligence reliance”… Gnomes really benefit a lot from Intelligence-based classes. Their size is an issue for any class reliant on Heavy weapons. Gnomish Barbarians suffer greatly from the Small size, since Heavy Weapons are so useful for barbs. You’ll need to use two melee weapons, and Barbarians aren’t the best at two-weapon fighting. Gnomish Rangers are similarly threatened by their inability to use Longbows effectively, limiting their Ranged builds. You can still go melee, but rangers tend to be better suited to ranged combat, and a shortbow hardly counts as ranged combat.

Gnome Paladins suffer a similar fate, though for a different reason; the 25 ft movement speed is a problem for Gnome paladins, since it limits how quickly you can get to the frontline and deal damage. The lack of a good Strength bonus hurts a bunch too. Monk can be effective, since some gnomes get a Dexterity bonus, but you’ll get your butt kicked early on since your Wisdom won’t be too high.

Without any method of boosting their Wisdom, Gnome Druids are going to be less effective than other races; besides, you can get a bit of druidic flavor with Forest Gnome! Gnomish Clerics are in a similar boat, though if your party needs a cleric and you desperately want to be a gnome… Then I guess there are worse races out there? There are much better ones, though.

Because of the Mark of Scribing, you could get away with being a Bard, Sorcerer, or Warlock, but there are much better alternatives; there are a ton of races with boosts to Charisma that aren’t as niche as the Dragonmark. The big problem with a lot of these alternative class options is just how niche Intelligence is. Intelligence is not a popular saving throw, there aren’t a lot of skills that rely on it, and there are no other benefits. 

The last nail in the coffin for most of these other options is just how strong Wizard is as an option. Wizards are a fantastic source of damage, crowd control, summoning… Since Gnomes have such high Intelligence, then why wouldn’t you want to be a Wizard instead of most of these other class options? And if you want to be a support caster like a Cleric or Bard, why not be the Artificer and be a support class that uses the Gnomes’ big brains? 

The +2 to Intelligence is just too alluring. Gnomes can be other classes. But, the Artificer class and Wizard make the best use of the Gnomes’ bizarre and fun racial abilities, to the point where the other classes would just be imitation.

Gnome 5E FAQ

How good is Gnome Cunning in 5E?

Gnome cunning is a fairly strong defensive option, especially in a campaign full of hostile casters. It gives your character advantage in Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saving throws, but only against magic. This is fairly specific, but that will cover a large portion of spells that don’t rely on attack rolls.

What is the Lifespan of a Gnome?

Gnomes are known for living much longer than humans-as well as most creatures in the D&D multiverse. They typically live between 350 and 500 years. Gnomes generally enter adult life around age 40.

Conclusion – Gnome 5E Guide

Gnomes are hilarious, energetic, and extremely powerful creatures. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better Wizard race. The Gnome 5E will not only surprise you with it’s simple but strong racial benefits, but if you’re in the mood to joke around, you’ll never find a gnome character that you won’t grow to love.

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