Why “Gnolgi”?

Firstly: I’m a 30-something white dude living in the middle of leafy Surrey, UK. I’ve lived round here all my life. Go a few miles north and you’re in London, where you’ll find more cultures and creeds living together than practically anywhere else in the world. A few miles south, and you’re more likely to see a hedgehog than a black person. I say this to clarify I’m no expert on the delicate matter of diversity in modern tabletop games.

Since some of my earliest PDFs, there’s been an indigenous race of gnomes. Refugee survivors from the northern mountains, fleeing some catastrophe of their own design. Technical savants, obstructive bureaucrats, and inventive little buggers. I know I’ve gotten a lot of good play out of including them, and I’m not the only one.

Mono-race cultures lie fondly (?) at the heart of the kind of old-school tabletop fantasy games Dungeon World seeks to emulate. At the same time, Dungeon World’s minimal setting, PbTA ruleset and story game sensibilities all encourage player improvisation in a way other games don’t. This can be a bit of a paradox!

So as I’ve been planning the print release of the Mirkasa Chronicles, I’ve been thinking about what it means to include ‘gnomes’ in my games, in all their tinkering, stolen-from-warcraft glory.

We have the native Mirkasans. There’s nothing stopping a PC from rolling a new character and saying they’re from Mirkasa – in fact, I’d encourage it. So we can infer Mirkasans can be human, elf, dwarf, halfling, or any ‘race’ option from the Dungeon World character classes. Mirkasa isn’t a race, it’s a culture – the result of multiple races and creeds living together and reaching consensus over decades of diplomacy, etc. By comparison, the gnomes seem rather two-dimensional.

So for future adventures I’ve redefined the gnomes as ‘the gnolgi’ – an underground culture of peoples who lived below Gnolgorroth mountain. It’s a subtle change, but an important one. The factors I’ve defined previously can still apply – skilled with technology, potent wordsmiths, refugees from their home. Physical factors, too – they tend towards shorter stature, wider eyes and paler skin. (Maybe a stretch, but justifiable as a result of centuries underground.) An individual gnolgi might display some of these traits, or none of them. As a people, they might all be human, or a mix of races living together. (You could have a gnolgi elf, or a gnolgi dwarf.) Perhaps the word ‘gnome’ is still relevant, but an insult; an insensitive shorthand that oversimplifies centuries of cultural development.

Maybe this is relevant to your games, maybe not. When I run a game, I want a space where all my players can feel welcome and have fun. That means not being too political, but also providing an opportunity for situations outside of my humble experience. Where I live, that means working extra-hard when it comes to race and culture.

If you’re reading one of my adventures, I’m willing to bet you’ll get what an average gnolgi is all about as easily as you would a gnome. But a definition of a race can be a limiting factor (“all gnomes are technical savants, because Warcraft said so.”) For better or worse, that’s what we’re used to in popular culture. I hope that won’t be the same when you introduce the gnolgi.

On the Nation of Mirkasa

Mirkasa is a cold, bleak place. A jagged mountain range dominates the northern coast. The isolated islands beyond are almost impossible to reach, being surrounded by vicious seas and dangerous whirlpools; but it is said the island of Jakabol, birthplace of the giants, can be found there.

The northern range is capped by Gnolgorroth, one of the tallest mountains in the world. An entire culture, the Gnolgi, once lived below this peak. A mysterious calamity – rumoured to be of the Gnolgi’s own making – drove them onto the surface, where they have re-settled with their surface-dwelling neighbours. The two cultures have had much to offer one another, and Mirkasa as a whole has prospered; but only the most naive would believe the two peoples exist peacefully.

The western coast is largely mountainous, with few places of safe harbour. Across the western sea lies the rival nation of Chalcedon, whose etheric sciences are a close competitor for the gnolgi’s elektrik technology. Although the two nations have a peace agreement, the Chalcedoni have a reputation for aggressive expansion. Recently, the Chalcedoni lost a costly war with the god-things of the Green Scar for magical power and resources. Although this has left the Chalcedoni as a whole weakened, it has also made them more desperate to retain fresh resources across the world.

The majority of Mirkasa’s larger settlements run along it’s gentle eastern coast. The capital, Nosjad, is a thriving trade town that has seen much expansion in the last few decades. Nosjad is in competition with the desert city of Umberto for control of the East-West trading routes. Although Umberto has existed for longer, it is further from the sea and less accommodating of airships – two facts the architects and gnolgi engineers of Nosjad have capitalised on.

From east to west the geography shifts from rolling farmland to thick forest. Despite increased logging activity, woods still cover about three quarters of Mirkasa. Often, these are broken by isolated mountains that can provide an steady stream of metals, salts, and other underground resources. The forests themselves are dangerous places, infested by heretics, witchfolk, and beastmen. “Colder than a Mirkasan’s welcome” is a popular phrase; but given the ‘neighbours’ a Mirkasan farmer has to contend with, it is hardly a surprising one!

Templar citadels are a common sight. There is one in every settlement, even the smallest of hamlets, as well as independent cathedrals nestled away from civilisation. The templar residents of each citadel are responsible for their people’s physical and spiritual well-being. Each is a small fortress in it’s own right, able to defend and equip the townsfolk in times of war. A town’s templar guardian is equal parts vicar, judge and magistrate – their authority has no equal, save another templar.

Mirkasa borders the Iron Deserts of Umberto to the south. Past Nosjad, the leagues of dense forest give way entirely to warmer, sandier scrubland. Farming potential is good here, and many an adventurer has retired here to start a homestead of their own. However, both Mirkasa and Umberto claim sovereignty over the hinterlands, and brushfire skirmishes are all too common. Many a would-be settler has found their humble farmland churned into a bloodstained battlefield, fought over by Mirkasan and Umbertoan alike.

A Clerkenwell Carol

So it’s a bit after Christmas… but if you’re still tucking into Turkey and enjoying the holiday season, you could do worse than have a go with this stocking filler, designed for all good OSR or Dungeon-Crawler titles! Ho ho ho!

…Wow. That came out a lot more sales-pitchy than I expected. In all seriousness, I had a blast playtesting this one last week. If you’re not too zonked out from the holiday season, I hope you will too!

God Save us… Every One.

Download A CLERKENWELL CAROL

Klare, the Half-Bondsman

Image credit: Knightess by Typesprite (DeviantArt)

Klare is already there when I arrive for our interview. We meet in Bryne, in a quiet cafe in the artist’s quarter. Bryne is a prominent university town, known to be suffering from a blight of mutant creatures the locals call half-breeds.

The woman’s imposing armour and the towering lance by her side stand in stark contrast to the delicate – and expensive – drink she sips as I approach. I can feel her eyes on me as I weave through the other tables towards me. As I sit down, she welcomes me with a wolfish grin. Continue reading “Klare, the Half-Bondsman”