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Opportunity Actions: Races of Athas – Gnomes Revisited

Here I am, once again diving into a series. I want to go back to my Races of Athas series, and clean things up a bit. I’ve had some time to think about a few of these, and I think I can improve on what I’ve written. I hope you see these as improvements, too.

I’ve decided to tackle gnomes first, since this is one of the races that really got me started on this quest. The first time around, I went for the warped right away. With some good feedback (including invaluable help from the writing/gaming genius that is Chris Sims), I’m looking at the gnomes of Athas from a slightly different angle . Submitted for your consumption, the *NEW* gnomes of Athas.

Introductory Note

What I’ve written here stands as a partial rewrite. Certain concepts were really cool, but less successfully implemented on my part, and other ideas changed once I had the time to think more about them and see other possibilities (*NOTE: As a DM/writer/creative person in fictional mindsets, this is something you should ALWAYS be doing. More than a few creative geniuses have noted that a project is never finished, simply abandoned.*)

What Happened?

Long ago, the gnomes were exterminated. The passing of the gnomes was seen as a loss of innocence for all of Athas.

 Somewhere hidden, in the dark reaches of the world, a cadre of less than a thousand gnomes performed a ritual that would transport these remaining fey to the Land Within the Wind. The Land Within the Wind, though, had been destroyed, leaving tiny slivers of the realm that once existed. With nowhere to go, the gnomes were trapped between realities, unable to return.

As time moved forward, gnome beings living between levels of consciousness caused a disruption in the fabric of psychic presence. Simply speaking, minds in this sort of psychic stasis disrupt the current of psychic ether, and it did not go unnoticed. A cadre of psions in the Gray sought the answer to this issue. Realizing that this interference was caused by the minds of creatures trapped within the psychic fabric, these psions set themselves as a beacon and psychic anchor point for whatever it was that was so imprisoned. A portal was opened, and, unforseen to those creating the beacon, thousands of gnomes spilled into area. The sudden influx of energies killed the unsuspecting psions, several of whom had grand visions of doom (some of which may well come true) before each one’s own intellect disintegrated.

Upon the return to Athas, these gnomes noticed that their skin had become different shades gray, ranging from light ash to dark grey-blues. Not being used to the Athasian sun, they sought refuge in underground caverns. It was in these dark and lonely places of the world, gnomes saw themselves born anew.

The New Gnomes

A Svirfneblin

These newly awakened gnomes were greatly changed by the ages spent on the brink of oblivion. Myths and legends of what gnomes once were would now have no meaning. Roughly half of them were too mad to be considered gnomes at all. The others were sullen, cynical creatures that were far more serious than the legends told. Gnomes split into two distinct factions. The insane gnomes became torturers and sadists, calling themselves Derro. The grim and suspicious pessimistic gnomes called themselves Svirfeneblin, the Deep Gnomes.

Both sects share the legendary gnomish curiosity, but the derro are fascinated by different forms of torture, and the svirfneblin both covet gems and show a tendency toward wanderlust that makes them frequently choose the path of adventurer, though members of other races find svirfneblin difficult to relate to.

As with many races that divert from a single strain, svirfneblin and derro absolutely despise each other. While derro are too unhinged to make such animosity readily visible, svirfneblin are so focused in hatred toward their counterparts that, at the first sign of derro activity, a svirfneblin will not rest until he or she is certain beyond any reasonable degree that the derro’s influence is completely purged.

As PCs, svirfneblin are suspicious and hard-working. In spite of natural suspicion, svirfneblin can be quite friendly to those they trust. Fierce loyalty is a hallmark of these people, but such loyalty is hard-earned.


A Derro Torturer

Derro are slavers and sadists, not the prankish tricksters of old. They do, however, still posess the old Gnomish fascination with objects, especially those that inflict pain. Occasionally, a derro will be able to pull him or herself together long enough to interact with others, but it’s only a matter of time before the frayed edges of their grip on reality give way to demented impulses.

Derro are so psychologically damaged that they really wouldn’t make effective heroic PCs. It’s likely best to avoid playing as derro.

Svirfneblin Backgrounds


Don’t trust anyone you don’t already know. Keep an eye on those you know, too. That’s worked out pretty well for you so far, and you don’t see much reason to change it. You know that your kind has been hunted before, and there’s no reason to think you’re not now. Your constant questioning of the motives of others has made you more able to reason out the truth behind people’s words. This also seems to have granted you an affinity for society’s underbelly.

Associated Skills: Insight, Streetwise


Due to the secretive and xenophobic nature of the svirfneblin, they tend to cluster together in deep caves. You came from one of these gnome clans. Over the years, you and your clan have had to deal with a great number of things that are much bigger than you. This could have made you adept at hiding. It also means you have a better sense of underground places.

Associated Skills: Dungeoneering, Stealth


So there you have it. I’ve had fun reworking this a bit, and I think I’ve gotten just a touch more twisted with it. What do you think? Is this something people can use in their games. Watch your threatened squares.

IMAGE NOTES: The Svirfneblin was found at smergel.com, and the Derro came from jonhodgson.artician.com. Any instance of metal is an unfortunate reality, since there aren’t many illustrators out there drawing Athasian gnomes.


The Opportunist (a.k.a Seamus) has been playing D&D and/or some other form of RPG for the last 24 years. For the past two years he has been at the head of the table, behind a screen, in the role of the DM. He began at Cub Scout Camp, played through high school, and still enjoys gaming today. Seamus is a graphic designer by day, a devoted husband and father of two all the time, and an all around good guy. That is, until you get him behind the DMing screen, then he can be a nightmare (in a good way, no, really!).

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