Every Gnome is a potential capacitor of astonishing magical power.
They hide this from the world. Though seen as moody and irascible, their demeanour is simply a disguise, beneath it they are some of the most reasonable, rational and compassionate creatures in the Weave.
Unless, of course, they misuse their inborn power. Then they can go dangerously and manically insane.
THE FORM OF A GNOME
The classic Gnome is a medium-sized fey creature of about Goblin size. Though spry, once they hit middle age, if they are forced to carry heavy loads, or if they simply become sad, Gnomes age to an extraordinary degree. They grow hunched and crabbed, with huge noses, squinting eyes and fingers like knobbly twigs.
A Gnomes physical 'age' depends more on their mood and sense of self than on chronology.
A Gnome is truly as old as they feel. Grief, rage and loss can wither them into brown twisted knurls like the stumps of windblown trees in which the grain has curved and cramped around itself. A Gnome can die of sadness or grief, perishing under the years emotions heap upon them. But, hope, joy and love can quicken them like green shoots in spring, smoothing skin, unknotting joints and straightening the spine.
Gnomes do have a minor magical peculiarity; their ability to carry enormous loads. A Gnome can be seen labouring under a Grand Piano, a huge boulder or a massive cauldron.
This strength does not translate into combat power, or the ability to lift buildings. The Gnome must either pick up the object with their natural strength, or have it placed upon them.
But once this is done, though they are small the mass of weight they carry does not press them down into the earth.
The secret of this ability is that the weight is carried by their souls, rather than their muscles. Gnomes bent under these heavy loads are always fatalistic and depressed, crooked and aged to an enormous degree.
GNOMES AT HOME
Gnomes find it very hard to rest securely if their position is known. Few Gnome homes are obvious, and even when one part has to be public, like a shop front, there is always some hidden aspect; a secret passage, rooms within rooms, a house in a teapot or travel via a series of pneumatic brass tubes.
Gnomes in the wild like to hide themselves and Gnome tents are incredibly well camouflaged to look like tree-trunks, piles of sticks, giant snail shells, sleeping sheep or other things.
Many rumours state that Gnomes can manipulate the substance of Marginalia to create 'pocket realms', hidden citied built at Gnome size, entirely for Gnomes.
Of course these cities have never actually been found....
THE GOLDEN RULE
All Gnomes are magical capacitors; agents of material transformation. While they are famed for their crafts, learning and ability to build and make, the potential power of Gnomes actually goes much, much deeper than this.
Fundamentally, any Gnome could perform astonishing transmutations of one thing into another.
They could weave straw into gold, or freeze tears into diamonds, they could turn Time into ice, or light itself into music.
Three things limit this power, the talent and experience of the Gnome in question, their inability to affect living things, and the Golden Rule, sometimes called the Terrible Law of Equivalent Exchange.
Firstly, this power or talent is expressed through the subtlety of a Gnomes craft.
Weaving straw into gold is not simply a matter of waving your hands and having it be so. For a start, you need to know how to weave, and to a high degree too, then there is the subtlety of the act itself.
Then the Gnome must have some detailed knowledge of their desired final result. A Gnome who had never seen Gold and did not know what it was could not weave anything into Gold. A Gnome who wished to build a magical ship would first need to learn, in detail, how ships work.
So a Gnome that has no crafts (impossible thought!) would be unable to alter reality in this way at all, and for the crafts they do have, they must be truly expert in one before it can be used in one of these great transformations. Expert-beyond-expert in a way, for the change-craft of a Gnome is more like skill driven to a dreamlike excess than it is like any 'standard' magic.
So, the more crafts a Gnome has, and the more they are expert in, the greater the potential.
Secondly, it is impossible for a Gnome to craft with still-living materials. Growing plants, beating wings, pulsing skin, anything with life still in it is immune to the magic of the Gnomes. Or at least, it cannot be used by them as the substance of their craft.
Finally, the Golden Rule.
For something to be gained, something of equal value must be given. Gnomes often refer to this amongst themselves as “The Terrible Law of Equivalent Exchange”.
It is this law, more than anything else, which not only limits the power of the Gnomes, but causes them to limit themselves, to obfuscate the extent of their talents, hide their abilities and to keep their knowledge and skills secret.
Anything they do must equal-out. Everything must be paid for, one way or another.
So if a Gnome wished to, for instance, make a sword so powerful that it could kill Yggsrathaal and make them ruler of Uud;
Firstly, they would need the materials, which would be rare and impossible things, the Dreams of Dead Gods, Daemon Tears, Fallen Stars and the like.
Secondly, they would need the crafting skill to work these materials. Even for a highly intelligent and long-lived Gnome this would take a huge amount of time and effort.
If the Gnome were to slip in some microscopic way, to miss some tiny error or failure in technique, something so small that even an experienced Somon craftsman would not notice it, then the blow-back, would be proportionate to the power of the thing they were trying to build.
Finally, they would need to pay the price themselves. For when a Gnome makes something for themselves alone, they alone must pay. Not the mere price in materials, but the price of Transformation. And for an artefact of such incredible power, the price would be high indeed.
For minor magic items, the price might be memories, or a smile. Not a singular smile, but the ability, and desire, to smile at all. The price might be a sense of happiness, or a Gnomes youth, so that they can never be young again. Or their name, their ability to dream, their desires or their hopes. The price might be a mortal soul, or many such souls. The price might be the future of a kingdom, or the dreams of an entire world. The price might be the stars falling from the sky beyond Marginalia.
For there is always a price, and the price must always be paid.
THE CULTURE OF THE GNOMES
Gnomes escape the terrible weight of their inborn power in many ways.
A great many Gnomes live lives in which their natural power plays no, or little, part. They can be Detectives, Doctors, Scientists, Novelists, Wizards, Cartographers (very important for Marginalia) and Gardeners.
There are few places safer (in a moral sense) for a Gnome than in a garden. There, there is nothing they can affect. All they can do is the hard work of digging and planting and the slow work of weeding and growth.
Gnomes do love Gardens, and many suffer under a form of "Garden Hypnosis"; on entering an exceptionally beautiful garden they freeze, as if like a statue, locked in wonder. This effect is used by some evil creatures to capture and enslave Gnomes.
A Gnomes intelligence and drive can be applied in many ways which do not directly involve developing the skill of craft, or if they do, they involve them only tangentially. A Gnome can be a Thief, for instance, in which case they make hardly anything at all. Or a Theatre critic, a poet or a botanist.
Gnomes who do make use of their powers in crafting, will usually only do so on request. They may make things for others, if not themselves. For if another asks for the transformation, another must pay the price.
Of course, if a Gnome actually likes the person asking for something, and thinks they deserve to have it, they will ask for a heavy price in gold or gems. This might seem greedy, and those who are not wise in Gnome-lore often assume it to be so. But in fact this heavy, but purely material price, is a Gnomes honest attempt to help the person in question. The alternative to gold and gems is not a lower price, but a more dangerous one, an immaterial price which the customer in question might not understand. That price might be someone’s beauty, or wisdom, their skill with a sword, or their name. Or their hope.
Foolish people might be willing to pay such a price, but a decent Gnome will never take that deal.
In fact they will be proud of the high material cost of their creations, because that is proof of their honesty and good intentions, and their unwillingness to wreak havoc and madness upon another’s existance.
Finally, through Gnomes tend to be fundamentally decent, stable, conservative and honourable types (especially for Margenalia!) they often obsessively hide these qualities under the behaviours of irascible grumpy arseholes.
In part, they do not wish to be tricked or taken advantage of, if it was clear how essentially noble their motivations were, many darker beings would prey upon their good intentions.
Gnomes also wish to keep others safe from the consequences of their own desires.
Mortals are fools.
Almost all of them believe some simple material acquisition will solve all of their problems. Few of them would meaningfully understand the price of their desires. If they knew a Gnome could make this desired prize for them, hordes of greedy, stupid, often well-meaning idiots would besiege them, and throw themselves into disaster.
And those who are greedy and not well-meaning would be more dangerous still.
A Gnome would often wish to hide its abilities, skills and powers, even from other Gnomes. It is terribly gauche to show off. A Gnome that boasts is looked on as a very low thing by others of their kind.
And of course it might be the case that any particular Gnome is a little pissed-off, or a little crazed from some previous unwise adventure, and reluctant to be caught up in another.
Whatever the reasons, Gnomes hate people being able to perceive their good intentions, to an almost pathological degree. They will almost always disguise their powers, their desires and their positive emotions, always pretending they have other reasons for doing whatever they do.
They prefer to be seen as moody, irascible, easily-offended, grumpy and greedy beings.
Anything other than the truth.
Sadly, some Gnomes do turn evil and mad.
Sometimes their powers get the better of them. They might start creating magical items, perhaps for the noblest of reasons, but slowly lose more and more of themselves to the Terrible Law until all that remains is an overpowering intelligence and a driving will with no context or memories to give it shape, meaning or direction, but only an unanswerable sense of loneliness and loss.
Many powerful beings desire even-more-powerful weapons, and decide that Gnomes can produce them. A Gnome forced, or persuaded to produce some terrible weapon of doom, like the Spear of the Sun or the Sword of Infinite Bites, could fall into despair.
Gnomes can be horribly wronged by others and may seek a particular kind of revenge. Sometimes Gnomes are captured by evil Sprites, trapped in beautiful gardens and forced to carry huge piles of treasure and stone across Marginalia while being whipped with sharp thorns, or are tied with living Ivy in the court of some dark Fey ruler and made to cobble shoes into infinity.
The vengeance, or madness of a Gnome Alone, takes a particular form. A powerful Gnome will not simply organise an army and attack their enemy, or use force directly. Instead they may aid the enemies of their enemy, delivering them the power to do the hated ones harm.
Or they may deliver gifts.
Few things could be more dangerous than the un-asked for gift of an Lone, Unknown Gnome.
For everything has a price, and that price must be paid. Once the gift is accepted, it is too lage.
The demand of the Gnome might be the delivery of some impossible object or entity; the eyes of the moon, a flower fertilised from the silence of a spiders tread, a cloak made from the shadows of mosquitos, or a crown made from their stings.
If their terms are not met, the price might be the breath in a families lungs, or the beats of their hearts, or something else more terrible.
These mad and terrible Gnomes are hard to capture and harder to imprison. The most dangerous cases are held on lily pads surrounded by circling Pike, watched over constantly by hawks in daylight and owls at night, without even a pinch of inanimate matter nearby.
But they still escape sometimes via cut hair, nail clippings or broken tooth fragments.
GNOMES TECHNICAL AND FEY
Gnomes are found throughout the Tangled Land in a variety of roles but two of the strongest themes are those of Gnomes-Technical and Gnomes-Magical.
Gnomes are guardians of technology and craft in the Weave-of-Thought. Not only the workers, but the factory itself; many worked objects in Marginalia simply would not exist without them.
Gnomes do have a high theoretical tech level, if you can get a few of them working together, but, like everything in Marginalia, there is no systemisation of any kind. Everything is bespoke, with every nail, screw, fitting and plank designed for this particular project. This means that Gnomes not only control most technology in the Shifting Kingdom, but also that they hold back its development.
Guilds of strange Gnomes also find, utilise and guard the 'dark strands' which connect differing levels of the Udd-verse. Their skill at cartography allows them to trace these strands and their mastery of technology allows them to travel through them in airships or on rail-riding engines, in pressurised compartments and wearing vacuum suits. The Gnomes of the Cold Rails are one of the things that keeps the different 'levels' of Uud even partially connected to each other.
Far at the other end of the spectrum of Gnome behaviour, highly magical Gnomes are often Artifex or Viziers to Fey rulers. The most powerful are servants of the Seasons who shape the environment of Marginalia via their endless chase through its capillaries. They organise the armies of sprights and spirits who flood through the filaments painting leaves brown, building flowers, hanging icicles and constructing snowflakes in the air.