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On Roleplaying as a Gnome
comment 15 Written by on September 3, 2010 – 9:37 am

Krizzlybear, over at Frost is the New Black, made a post recently about how Gnomes are treated in WoW. It’s loosely referenced to the gender/feminism discussion that’s been circling the WoW blogosphere, but takes a very Azerothian twist. One that, I have to admit, comes very close to my own roleplay.

This is probably going to be a scattered sort of post, so bear with me. There’s a lot to unpack, and not all of it is really easy to explain.

Krizzly’s three points are that, in WoW and according to the official Lore, Gnomes are presented as nerds, asexual children, and avatars/footballs/comic relief. All three of these can make it difficult to roleplay as a Gnome in serious situations, because people are expecting one of the three. Annie Mae and Duugvilder both challenge those conventional ideas, as do several of the Gnomes in The Boomstick Gang (A Gnome/Dwarf RP guild on Feathermoon). It can be difficult to skirt the stereotype lines, especially when you have a character who has quirks and a sense of humor.

Finding the balance between being true to the race and class of the character while still being strong enough to stand alone as a character is hard. Why?

Because stereotypes are easy to roleplay… at first.

It’s easy to roll up a Gnome Warlock, make him super eccentric and crazy, a tinker in his spare time, give him a speech affectation, and show up to RP night for laughs. But that Gnome Warlock will be boring after a few nights. Without a story, a personality, or something that makes the character more than just a stereotype, you’ll eventually get bored. (And other people will get bored too.)

The same can be true for other races, but I rarely see another race whose stereotypes are so pervasive that you can quite literally make an entire character solely based on the race stereotype – evidence that the WoW Lore is pretty consistent about how all Gnomes are a certain way. An inebriated, beer-loving Dwarf is a start, but it doesn’t get you very far… and Dwarves are diverse enough in game that you can really branch out from there (adventurer Dwarves, mining Dwarves, historian Dwarves, hunting Dwarves*). Same goes for a nature loving Tauren – you can’t RP for much more than an evening just being nature loving. You can, however, RP for quite a long time just being a nerdy, tinkering obsessed, eccentric, socially awkward Gnome.

One of Krizzly’s commenters makes the following statement, and I think it’s pretty representative of how Gnomes are viewed in RP environments as a whole. Syl says:

They’re the race I can identify with the least, even though I think they’re a lot fun as NPCs.

What makes Gnomes fun as NPCs is their eccentricity. They’re funny. The Gnome living in the turtle shell in Northern Bloodmyst is funny. The first Gnome NPC you meet as a newly minted Gnome or Dwarf sends you out to find the tools he lost when he got attacked by Trolls. When Hallow’s End comes around, people will get turned into Leper Gnomes.** Even the in-game music associated with Gnomes is comical and lighthearted, and obviously mechanical (Tinkertown, Gnomeregan). The Stormwind, Ironforge, Orgrimmar, Darnassus, Thunder Bluff and even Undercity themes all have elements of heroic or grandiose themes (even when they’re being spooky), and are often warlike and percussive. Even Troll music is known for the drums and really cool, unusual instruments (Zandalar Island, Zul’Aman).***

In a story, it’s easy to toss in a Gnomish NPC – there’s a formula to follow and you can create a humorous character interaction quickly without having to invest much time into actually playing as that character.

However, once you start actually playing Gnomes, you realize there aren’t a lot of actual Gnomish characters to look to for inspiration, and all of the lore centers around their being nerdy, eccentric, comic relief (Wilfred Fizzlebang, Millhouse Manastorm).

Gnomes are relatively new to the Azerothian scene, and they don’t have any historical references like Trolls or Elves, or even Draenei (who have a similar problem with lack of background info). There are no Ancient Gnomish Civilizations – or even current Gnomish civilizations, the Gnomes are a scattered race, living in another city’s capitol. High Tinker Mekkatorque certainly seems to imply that he’s a badass… but we just haven’t seen that yet (Operation Gnomeregan, please!). When you add in the Gnome-punting, silly voices, and Gnomes-as-food jokes, it starts to get kind of discouraging.

So what is an aspiring Gnome roleplayer to do?

The only way to manage, long term, is to branch out.

You create characters that touch lightly on the mold without being so close as to be carbon copies. Duugvilder makes jokes with Tarquin constantly any time Tarquin makes kick, throw, or punt references in casual conversation. Annie Mae isn’t really that fond of tinkering, and she’s distrustful of most magic… but she can take care of her guns, and she’s an excellent blacksmith. The Boomstick Gang Gnomes that I’ve interacted with each have their own take on what it is to be Gnomish, while still having distinct personalities and backgrounds.

Of course, there is the element of size.

Annie Mae is a Gnome Warrior – and she’s about 3 feet 6 inches tall. How does that work? Well, for her, it means she relies on her horse (Nutmeg) a lot, and it also means that she’s pretty acrobatic when she needs to be. She’s small but strong, aware of her own limitations, and not afraid to figure out how to use her size as an advantage. She even makes short jokes about herself – but that’s as much a defense mechanism as anything else.

But a Gnome Rogue could easily be incredibly sneaky. A Gnome Warlock might have a stand off with one of the larger summoned entities that a Human Warlock would have less trouble with.

There are definitely obstacles to Gnomish RP – not least of which is the heavy-handed lore trends that seem to push Gnomish characters into a particular box. And that doesn’t even touch on the general awkwardness that surrounds playing an adult Gnome who has the potential to be in an adult relationship.

It is possible though, with a healthy dose of creativity and a willingness to explore/push the boundaries, and ultimately very rewarding. Annie Mae is one of the best characters I’ve created, and I’m looking forward to some of the new events (Operation Gnomeregan, Please!) to see how she reacts and responds.

anniemae

*Typing Dwarves that many times in a row makes it not look like a word anymore…
**Of the other costumes, “Human” is the racial default – for pirates, ninjas, and ghosts. Even if you’re a Tauren,  you have a Human Ninja form. The “Cool” costumes are Human. This is largely a “it’s easier to make them this way and just have one form” thing.
***Neither Gnomish nor Trollish thematic music has made it onto any of the WoW soundtracks so far either, BOOOOO.

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15 Responses to “On Roleplaying as a Gnome”

  1. I think it’s because there’s so little detail regarding gnomish lore, that those who do take the time to creatively fill in the character gaps end up with such amazing characters with such limitless potential with regards to character development. Annie Mae is one such character, and I for one feel so glad to contribute to her formulation.

    While a part of me wishes that I had used that idea myself, I am even happier that you of all people would use her story instead, and actually committing to her character to the degree of actually leveling to the cap, and the whole shebang. You’ve done more for Annie Mae than I ever could, and I couldn’t be anything other than appreciative. She is very much alive, and carries the gnomish spirit that I aim to embody in every gnome I play, in-character or not.

    By krizzlybear on Sep 3, 2010 | Reply
  2. As a long-time staunch Gnomish RPer, this hits so close to home I can taste it. I think I have a new blog entry to write! :D

  3. My gnome has mouldered since the husband stopped playing. Picklewisp was a very traditional style gnome. A warlock who was more than a little crazy and a mad tinkerer. (He was going to make up and orc suit to look like thrall, kidnap the warchief and take over the Horde so gnomes could have their rightful place in the world. Need I mention that he managed to sway the gnome congress to support his idea with a brilliant speech.)

    My rogue was always the more level headed one of the two, but while we did play the edge of comic relief, there were also some great moments that were not at all funny.

    To this day, I still regret having QQ take the path of the heavy in the storyline surrounding Maunt, since I had always intended for her to be in the Wildfire riders.

    Guess it doesn’t matter that much anymore, since I barely have time to be Aside to even say hello.

  4. It’s funny. Gnomes are the race with the least history and depth, so often relegated to comic relief, and yet Corise is doubtlessly the most complex, multi-layered, realistic character I play. She’s also definitely not a comic character (although she’s got a sense of humor in her own right).

    I think that’s because when I was piecing together her backstory (which definitely didn’t happen overnight!), the one thing that really stood out for me was how seriously traumatic an experience the trogg invasion must have been. It’s treated so lightly in the game, with funny quests about trying to find a cure for radiation sickness that turns leper gnomes into chickens instead – but for Corise, what happened was no joke. She lost her home, she nearly starved to death in a refugee camp (she had to resort to stealing food just to keep herself and her sisters alive), and she watched her mother die a slow, agonizing death to radiation poisoning.

    All of these experiences and more left some pretty bad scars on her psyche, and her character development has always revolved around her slow emotional healing process.

    Also, I can’t say I’ve ever agreed with the infantilization and de-sexualization of gnomes, especially gnomish women with their cute, curvy figures – for one thing, it’s always seemed to me that gnomes would apply their stereotypical curiosity and propensity for invention in the bedroom, as well. Corise is a mother and an unabashedly sexual character, and I very rarely play that for laughs. More often, her sexuality has been a medium through which I’ve explored some of the psychological issues she has (fear of real intimacy and commitment, need for control, etc.).

    By Corise on Sep 3, 2010 | Reply
  5. The first real roleplayer I befriended on Feathermoon was a gnome warlock. I don’t know what happened to him, but he was awesome. Very successful at making a gnome that nobody would mistake for anything else, but was also not a walking cliche.

    By Lilivati on Sep 4, 2010 | Reply
  6. I have said it before, I’ll say it again: The essential stat for understanding how to play a gnome is 80%.

    Why?

    “In the end, nearly 80 percent of the gnomish race died, and many of those who survived were mutated into deranged leper gnomes.”

    That’s from Blizzard, directly. http://www.worldofwarcraft.com/info/underdev/3p9/gnomeregan.xml

    We don’t know how many of the survivors were mutated. But it’s many, not most, so let’s run with another 20% of the survivors. So that’s 85% of the gnomish race, effectively, gone. In a single stroke.

    Guys? Imagine what it would be like to lose four fifths of your friends, family, and acquaintances. In one shot. That’s what the gnomes have lost. And, here’s the kicker: They lost this rather than ask for help of the Alliance, knowing the Alliance’s hands were tied.

    That’s nobility. That’s an unbelievable sacrifice. Those are virtues to embody for a gnome. It’s why “For Gnomeregan!” is such a passionate cry for the gnomes: It’s a reminder of who they are, and what they’ve suffered.

    Use this. It’s brilliant mood whiplash: Everyone gets used to you as a crackup comedic relief right up until they realise how deep the grief goes.

    A few points for any gnome I always like to stress:

    1. Gnomes are very community oriented. Whenever I’m around another gnome, I immediately switch to Gnomish to chat with them. Why? Because it’s their heritage, and their tongue, but also because gnomes are very close knit social creatures. Gnomes live together in cramped spaces, often with numerous families to a single house. Their boundaries between friend and family are likely more blurred than humans, and anyone they spend a lot of time with and care about is likely to cross that boundary. Ever wondered why gnomes are so often friendly? Well, this is a big part of the reason.

    2. Gnomes are rational, often to frightening lengths. Being rational sounds like a good thing, and it often is. But it often means they’re blind to emotional foibles. Imagine this scenario: A village is under attack from a large scourge force. Unless an intervention is made, the village will be slaughtered. Can you imagine a human, an orc, or a dwarf simply adopting a position of “Let it happen; we have a golden opportunity to attack their fortress right now and end this threat forever!”… with a smile? A gnome _will_. Why? Because simply put: The village might be saved, but only at the cost of MORE soldiers lives that the villagers saved. There’s no inherent reason to value the villagers lives more. Meanwhile, if they waste their force here, the scourge may attack another village tomorrow. No, attack their base while their forces are engaged elsewhere, deprive them of a strategic advantage, and finish them off!

    A human, dwarf, elf or any other race may make such a decision with grim determination, bloodlust and bravado, or cold calculation, sure. But a gnome will do it in the same way he’d discuss how he enjoys his morning coffee. That’s what total rationality will get you.

    In smaller ways, a gnome may often be blind to the forces of sentimentality, fail to understand why someone might be defensive about their past, or cheerfully create a device to perfectly instantly replicate the delicious feast that person slaved over for hours… and fail to understand why the person is upset by it. I tend to be cheerfully inconsistent in this — The curse of flesh puts gnomes as both robot and animal all at once.

    3. Gnomes may be comedic or difficult to imagine sexually, but romantically is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. A gnome can be lovelorn or giddy in love. They can pine for a soulmate missing. They can wax poetic about the virtues of their beloved. A gnome can, and will, spend days creating a massive clockwork contraption that, when fired, moves to create a single massive heart of brass, just to make someone happy. Yes, there’s some comedy there, but it’s sincere. Love is wonderful, and a gnome can definitely be in love.

    4. Gnomes don’t squick. The horrible gooey undead thing with its guts on the outside? Yeah. The human might throw up, the dwarf mutter a repulsed oath, a Night Elf desperately want to look away. The gnome is going to go wide eyed and ask loudly, “Woah! Look at it! You can see the heart pumping as it goes! Look, the circulatory system is wholly visible, you can see how the veins constrict to help push the ichor around! I’m taking notes.” Gnomes don’t squick. :)

    5. The only sin of gnome is willful ignorance. I think it’s fair to say that the defining trait of gnomes is curiosity. No gnome worth his or her salt is going to find a mystery and be content to accept that it is mysterious, but we must accept it. (Which is, indeed, why I’m curious to know how gnome priests will be justified: No gnome will ever accept that the Light is, and that it always was, and so it shall ever be. They’re going to want to know WHAT it is, HOW it started, and WHY it endures. A gnome confronted by god will take measurements, begin an interview, or simply start theorising.) That doesn’t mean you need to be a tinker. A gnome artist would be a wonderful concept, but like Michaelangelo, this would also manifest as an intense interest in anatomy — perhaps to the point of dissecting fallen foes to discover how they work! (This may or may not be the same gnome fascinated by undead circulatory systems.)

    But beyond curiosity? Gnomes should run the full spectrum of personality. They can be grouchy (“Get out of my workshop! I am WORKING HERE.”) or friendly (“Oh, come in! Look at this! I’ve made a perpetual motion machine! Of course, it’s stopped working right now, but I’m on the right track!”). Perky (“Ooooh! Look at these rocks? Why do they glitter? Here, help me collect a few hundred of them for analysis! So excited!”) or slothful and monotone. (“Oh, those are some shiny rocks. They probably have silver veins of some sort in them, I’m guessing. I have a magnifying glass here. Hold on. Hold on. Don’t rush me. Hold on. I’m almost done.”)

    This got longer than I’d planned, but DAMN I do love playing gnomes. Thanks for the discussion, Anna. :)

    By Sean Riley on Sep 4, 2010 | Reply
  7. @Sean – all that is very effective for playing a gnome that’s descended from Gnomeregan – but there are a number of Gnomes throughout the world as well, probably due to their involvement in the 2nd war. The huge death toll and subsequent radiation poisoning of many Gnomes is one of the reasons I didn’t want a Gnome from Gnomeregan. I have one character with post-traumatic stress issues, and really didn’t want to have to work through another!

    So yes, all that is very important Gnomish history – if your Gnome is from Gnomeregan or the Greater Ironforge Area. Not all Gnomes have to be though!

  8. @Anna — Very true, and good point. While most gnomes are probably Gnomeregan descendents, not all will be by any stretch.

    That said, I guess one of the things I admire about gnomes is how resilient they are! To go through all that, and still come out with a sense of humor intact is pretty remarkable, and a lot of fun to play.

    By Sean Riley on Sep 4, 2010 | Reply
  9. As someone who RPs a Night Elf married to a Gnome and even has a (somewhat stereotypical but not quite solely comic relief) Gnome Warrior, I absolutely love this piece. It’s always bothered me how much gnomes are treated solely as comic relief, especially when the fall of Gnomeregan probably puts them right up there with the Forsaken and Lordaeron humans as far as “PCs who have canonically been through way too damn much in their past.”

    We need more “serious” Gnome RPers and RPers who can take a gnome seriously, because there is a LOT of potential in a gnomish backstory, and I’m tired of seeing them regulated to comic relief characters with outrageous accents and the intellect of a 2-year old. It’s just not what follows from the lore.

    By Enabrin on Sep 4, 2010 | Reply
  10. Warning: NWS *redacted link to a topless, hyper-sexualized female gnome making comments about her breasts, each of which is bigger than her head*

    Anna Note: I removed the link (I don’t need any help getting myself on the wrong end of people’s Content Filters), and I really have to ask… what was the point of this anyway?

    By Kat on Sep 5, 2010 | Reply
  11. …huh, my apologies?

    By Kat on Sep 6, 2010 | Reply
  12. None needed, really – I just wasn’t sure what the picture particularly contributed to the discussion.

  13. GNOME POST *bite*

    Thanks for this post, Anna! Duerma’s been my main for the last 5 years. It’s hard to find a good balance between stereotype and, well, not-stereotype. Duerma is zany and is often comic relief, but she also is a former medical professional rather than a tinker, a mother, and a person so scarred by Gnomeregan that she can’t even remember most of her formal life. Honestly, I think gnomes have some of the greatest potential for well-developed characters, since they have such a horrible past to draw upon and yet are generally optimistic as a race. Even if your gnome isn’t from Gnomeregan and didn’t experience the disaster, it can still affect them (ie, maybe they feel guilty that they weren’t there with everyone else).

    And I’ll fess up – I have roleplayed Duerma in an adult, sexual relationship with another gnome (Pizmo).To be honest, I felt MORE comfortable doing that with Duerma than I did any of my other characters – the other Warcraft ladies seem so hypersexualized that moving into relationship territory felt like acting out a porno, whereas with Duerma, it felt like I was roleplaying a real woman within a real relationship. That’s all I’ll say about that publicly. ;)

    By Duerma on Sep 6, 2010 | Reply
  14. Sean’s post above is absolutely outstanding in defining the gnome psyche. Most of the real issues are not with gnome players, but with how everyone else reacts to them.

    <3's Duerma. You've not lived until you have rp'ed an instance with Duerma. Could well be the most fun I've had in this game EVER, and I've never forgotten it.

    Unlike all the other races who had their home cities leveled, or were overrun, or fled, or moved…the gnomes, rather than yield to an attacker, DESTROYED their own rather than give up. Gnomes live by what my friend would call "the broken cookie" philosophy. Let's say you have a cookie and someone bigger comes by to take it. You could run, but you would be caught. You could fight, and you would lose. Or you simply give up and hand it over, trying to avoid harm. Those are the reactions of other races. Gnomes would smash the cookie. If they cannot have it, neither will you.

    Gnomes are dangerously smart and (to use a line from Serenity) they will come at you sideways. They are tougher because they have to be, because everything assumes their size makes them easy prey. Bigger races will use brutality, gnomes are their worst will come with the most sadistic intent. Other races will beat you, a gnome will clobber you with style. Gnomes would turn revenge into an art form as they have done with their engineering.

    And they mask that behind a happy-go-lucky, friendly, optimistic demeanor. People assume they are weak, they learn that's a mistake if they live to tell it.

    The Naaru giving the Light to blood elves explains that whole story much better. Because if anyone could access the power of the Naaru without their consent, it would be a gnome.

    By Fjuinen on Sep 7, 2010 | Reply
  15. Hi have a gnome, his nickname is Spitball.. he’s bald and has a very very big chip on his shoulder. His opening line is usually “Oi you shorty” used especially to the taller races and he is immense fun to RP.

    As Sean said in his excellent reply, all of his family is dead.. gone., killed.. and his people suffered but didn’t call on the alliance as they were stretched. he’s no comic relief and he makes sure any smart alec alliance character remembers that…

    For Gnomeregan!

    By Anna (another Anna) on Oct 11, 2010 | Reply

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