Oh, Gnomes. Often the butt of any joke involving punting, Gnomes have the distinct displeasure of being awarded a bad reputation. Nobody takes a Gnome too terribly seriously, and nobody really considers Gnomes an awe-inspiring source of lore. Gnome roleplayers generally choose the tactic of embracing a Gnome's fun-loving and amicable nature without thinking too much about how to roleplay one in a serious context. Why bother? Gnomes are just kind of fun and silly, right?
Well, they can be. On the other hand, one of the best roleplayers I have ever had the pleasure of encountering played a Gnome that was by all rights typical, until you stopped for a moment and took a closer look. Serious to the point of being psychotic and downright twisted in her experiments and tinkering, this character was the antithesis of everything a Gnome ought to be. It was like having every horrible nightmare about childhood dolls going on a murderous rampage suddenly coming to life. And it was brilliantly done.
Why mention her? Because it's an awesome example of how Gnomish roleplayers need not feel pinned down to a stereotypical backstory when roleplaying a Gnome. In fact, Gnomes have plenty to think about in Cataclysm, and you can choose to take those situations lightheartedly, or you can choose to take them seriously -- or heck, you can choose to take them into dark places you never thought a friendly creature like a Gnome would ever go. Sky's the limit!
For Gnomeregan! ... almost
What happened Just before the Shattering, High Tinker Mekkatorque led a brilliant planned assault against Sicco Thermaplugg and the Troggs that infested Gnomeregan, the lost and irradiated home of the Gnomes. Though the Gnomes fought valiantly and even had other races from the Alliance on their side, they were unable to fully retake the depths of their beloved city.
How this affects your character Every Gnome was affected by Thermaplugg's coup and the irradiation of Gnomeregan. Many may have lost family, friends or loved ones in the attack. Reclaiming Gnomeregan has been a long, long time coming -- and until Mekkatorque put forth the effort, the Gnomes were stuck living in a corner of Ironforge.
What to consider How does your character feel about the effort put forth? Is he upset that his home wasn't fully reclaimed? Does he feel that the assault was a success, or does he think there wasn't enough effort put forth, that the Gnomes and Alliance gave up far too quickly? How does he feel about Mekkatorque -- does he view Mekkatorque's plan as brilliant, or does he think it could have used more thought before being implemented?
What happened The Gnomes are, for the most part, no longer living in Ironforge. Due to the instatement of the Council of the Three Hammers, the Dwarves suddenly have both the Wildhammer and the Dark Iron to think about -- and the resulting tension has made Ironforge a less than hospitable place for Gnomes to stay. This is really no surprise, as the Dark Iron had a presence in Gnomeregan and were actually assisting Thermaplugg, back in the day.
How this affects your character If your character is a new Gnome as of Cataclysm, he really hasn't had much time in Ironforge. However, if your character was around for Gnomeregan's fall and the Gnomes' subsequent move to Ironforge, this may be a little disheartening. Dwarves and Gnomes have long been allies and friends, and the unfortunate side affect of the Council of the Three Hammers has been the fading of that close friendship.
What to consider How old is your Gnome, and when did he make his way out of Gnomeregan? Was he a recent refugee, or has he been living in Ironforge for a while now? How does he view the Council of the Three Hammers? Is he unhappy with the sudden less than friendly reception in Ironforge? Or is he of the opinion that the Dwarves rightfully have much bigger things to worry about at the moment?
What happened In Wrath of the Lich King, the Gnomish race was suddenly and abruptly introduced to their origins in Borean Tundra. Though Gnomes haven't really had much interest in their history, it is now known that Gnomes were originally Mechagnomes -- robots. It was the Curse of the Flesh, placed upon them by the Old Gods, that turned them into the race they are today. More importantly, the Mechagnomes that remain seem to almost pity the Gnomish race and view them as somehow "inferior."
How this affects your character Racial origins are something that was never really important to the Gnomish race. Gnomes as a rule are far more interested in what they can do to improve the future than what happened in the past. However, this is a different kind of revelation -- it turns out that at one point in time, far, far in the past, the Gnomes were mechanical creations that were far more adept at creating inventions and technology than they are today. And that's the kind of information that can have a direct affect on a Gnome character.
What to consider How does your Gnome feel about his origins? Does he wonder if the Gnomes of today would have been far better if they'd remained mechanical constructs? Did the revelation have an affect on him? Is he now plagued with thoughts of self-doubt? Does he view the Curse of the Flesh as something that made the Gnomish race less than what it could potentially be or a blessing, an opportunity to experience what life is all about?
What happened Gnomes have had healers before -- medics that used various technology for the purposes of healing. But in Cataclysm, some Gnomes have begun to study the ways of the Light, which is a dramatic departure from their previous way of thinking. This sudden adoption of theology could be a response to the discovery of their origins, or it could just be typical Gnomish ingenuity at work.
How this affects your character If you are playing a Gnome priest, you can play it a couple of different ways. You could play your Gnome as a medic who happens to have Light-harnessing technology. Or you could play him as a Gnome who has taken an interest in the Light practiced by other races of the Alliance. If you aren't a Gnome priest, the emergence of priests in Gnome ranks still may hold some interest, even if it's just from a purely scientific standpoint.
What to consider If you are playing a Gnome priest, how does he feel about the Light? Does he view it as a technological marvel, or does he think that maybe there is something more to be learned? If you are not playing a priest, how does your character feel about his fellow Gnomes that have started working with the Light? Does he consider it foolhardy, or does he think it's an interesting practice that may have practical technological applications?
What happened This is a little more introspective, and a little less current events. Ever since the Gnomes were introduced as a playable race, a large population of the Alliance has viewed them as friendly, nice, and somewhat annoying ... less as people and more like sweet little precocious children, in some circumstances. Gnomes tend to not be taken too seriously, and in some cases, they are openly mocked for simply being what they are.
How this affects your character It's a matter of how you play your character, really, and how your character interacts with the players around him. In this case, you don't want to look at the NPCs of the world; you want to look at your fellow roleplayers. How do other characters treat your character? Do they treat him as an equal, a fellow warrior of the Alliance, or do they treat him as someone who should be coddled and protected by a child?
What to consider This all boils down to how you want to roleplay your Gnome. Do you want to play into that nice and amicable, sometimes scatterbrained stereotype and play it to the hilt for laughs? Or do you want to play your character as a Gnome who resents the stereotypical impression of his race? If other characters treat your Gnome like a child, does he laugh it off, play it up, or quietly file it away for later, putting that other character's name on a list of people he'll take his revenge on someday? Is your Gnome a cheerful inventor, or a Gnome who is quietly seething with resentment?
The Gnomes of Azeroth haven't had a whole lot of plot progression since the attempt to retake Gnomeregan, but that doesn't mean your character needs to live in stasis, too. Whether contemplating his origins, inventing new and creative ways to make life a little easier, or simply fighting alongside his Alliance brethren, roleplaying a Gnome can be just as entertaining and engaging as playing another, taller race. Don't let the size fool you -- for a small race, Gnomes have huge amounts of potential.
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