The Pathfinder Companion book series are short books of in-depth lore about a single subject. I recently read the Gnomes of Golarion, and now I know everything about gnomes, or at least the gnomes as they appear in the default setting of the Pathfinder roleplaying game.
In the Golarion setting, gnomes are artefacts of the First World. To understand that, you have to understand arcane creation myths of how reality came into being. As far as I know (and I'm no historian or anthropologist, so don't take my word for it), in some pagan traditions, the world that formed initially, or the "first world," was populated by the fair folk, or the fey. The exact details depend on your RPG setting, but generally the first world has either been scrapped by the gods or overrun by humans. In Shadowrun, for instance, there have been five iterations of reality, making this the Sixth World. I'm not sure how many iterations there are meant to have been in Pathfinder's setting (and the scholars of Golarion may not even be sure themselves), but suffice it to say that gnomes were meant to be part of a fey realm that existed early in creation's history.
During a mysterious time known by scholars as the Age of Anguish, gnomes departed the First World and ended up on the material plane. The significance of that can't be overstated when considering gnomes on Golarion. They don't "belong" on the material plane, and as citizens of it they have had to come to grips with the concept of death, disease, and suffering.
Gnomes long for new experiences. That above all else is the driving force in a Gnome's life. They want lots of change, lots of variation, and unique perspectives. This can manifest in a number of ways. For some gnomes, it inspires them to go on adventures. For others, it compels them to tinker with new inventions and technologies. For still others, it might drive them to delve into history books as they strive to become an expert on a given subject, or to explore magic, or to serve as inspiration for other gnomes who aren't sure yet what to explore.
I love this aspect of Golarion's gnomes, in much the same way as I love the idea in Dragonlance kender. As someone with a passion for learning and exploring, I identify with it on a personal level. But I also appreciate the in-game function it serves. Why would somebody go out and risk their lives in a dangerous world like Golarion to explore a dungeon that's sprinkled with death traps and haunts? Well, for some, it's just encoded in their DNA. Your character is an adventurer because they're practically hard-coded to be an adventurer.
For gnomes, though, it's not just that they're born with wanderlust and more than their fair share of curiosity. After coming to the material plane, gnomes found that they were threatened by an affliction they now call The Bleaching. This condition is physical as well as mental or maybe even spiritual, and it drains the gnome of both energy and colour. The affected gnome physically becomes pale, and frail, and eventually can even die from the condition.
The battle against the bleaching leads most gnomes to ensure they're always seeking out new experiences. But some gnomes fall prey to it, and so there's a faction called The Wonderseekers that's dedicated to ending the bleach by helping gnomes affected by the bleaching. If caught early enough, the bleaching can be reversed. The book provides two pages about the Wonderseekers faction, with faction-specific feats and traits applicable to Pathfinder 1st Edition (and pretty easily adapted for 2nd Edition.)
On the other hand, the book also suggests that what looks like a deadly curse to gnomes may in fact just be normalisation to the material plane. Gnomes suffering from The Bleaching become subdued in colour until they look more or less like a "normal" halfling. They lose their wanderlust and frantic curiosity and are able to focus on other studies. In fact, many "bleachlings" become druids, finding comfort in their newfound ability to meditate and focus on the natural world around them. In terms of game mechanics, The Bleaching is a curse, but the book acknowledges that a player can choose to play a bleachling gnome with no penalty.
Many of the racial traits in Gnomes of Golarion don't directly apply to Pathfinder 2nd Edition, but only because the character build process is different. Much of what was assumed in 1st Edition is optional in 2nd Edition, but the traits are still relevant and speak volumes about the typical gnome. What says more, though, are the settlements of gnomes described in the book. This demonstrates what lots of gnomes get up to when left to their own devices, and how many of them choose to follow a similar path until a community is formed.
The breadth of gnome culture is reflected in these towns and villages, and at 5 pages this is probably the longest section of the book. It's a great read, and provides plenty of ideas for fun locations in your next game.
There's a lot more in Gnomes of Golarion that what I've covered in this post. Most of it's equally applicable to both editions of Pathfinder, and the few stat blocks that aren't can be easily adapted from 1st to 2nd Edition. This book is as captivating as the others in the Pathfinder Companion series. Whether you're going to play a gnome or not, this book is essential for anyone who loves reading lore. Golarion, as usual, provides an intriguing spin on some old classic fantasy concepts, making it still one of the strongest settings for your fantasy RPG.
Photo by Mixed Signals. Creative Commons cc0.