The 3.5 gnome is by far the worst player character class in the Core Rulebook. Consider some of the following problems:
The Gnome’s Ability Adjustments Do Not Assist in the Race’s Favored Class
Dwarves get a +2 bonus to Constitution, which helps them as fighters, because they can take more hits in combat. Elves benefit from a +2 bonus to Dexterity, which boosts their low armor class as wizards. Half-orcs get a +2 bonus to Strength, which helps them hit things harder as barbarians. Halflings get a +2 bonus to Dexterity, which helps them stay nimble and stealthy in combat. Gnomes… well I guess the +2 to Constitution boosts their hit points, but what about that hit to Strength? That’s a pretty big hit for a character that’s supposed to be a light fighter. Now combine that with the lower weapon damage that Small creatures deal and you have a character who might as well not even engage in combat.
Now granted, halflings take a hit to Strength and that sucks for them too. As rogues, though, they can make up for this loss in weapon damage with their sneak attack. Gnomes, on the other hand, are the only race whose best ability score doesn’t even show up in the list recommended for their favored class. In fact, there’s no class that lists Constitution as a primary ability score. Granted, there are a few that list it as a secondary ability score, but even then, there’s always another race that can do a better job playing that class. This leads me to my next problem with 3.5 gnomes…
3.5 Gnomes are Second Best in Every Class
No matter what class you name, there is another race that outperforms the gnome in that class. Just using the core races and classes as an example:
- Barbarian: Please! What’s a +2 bonus to Constitution going to do for you when you already have a d12 in Hit Dice? The only advantage a gnome barbarian has is that he’s Small, which boosts his Armor Class, and even there, the halfling’s got you beat. Your only hope for survival is if you put down your club, hide under a rock, and hope that no self-respecting barbarian comes looking for you.
- Bard: Elves and halflings, with their +2 to Dexterity, will have a higher Armor Class and will be better able to wield your Dexterity based weapons than you. Heck, even a half-orc, with a -2 penalty to Charisma, would make a better bard, because he’s more likely to hit things with his +2 Strength bonus (or are you going to overpower him with your silent image spell that has a +1 DC on its saving throw)?
- Cleric: This seems like a class much more suited for a gnome, since it lists a high Constitution as a recommended ability. However, remember that a cleric relies on Medium and Heavy armor in order to resist taking damage, which means that your base speed of 20 feet is further reduced to 15 feet. When the party is running away from the goblin horde, that means your ass is getting left behind.
- Druid: This isn’t a bad class for a gnome. Granted, you won’t be using that scimitar of yours for much of anything other than cutting up meat, but you can stand in the back and summon animals all day. That said, I bet you’ll be wishing you could trade out your speak with animals ability for something more useful, particularly since speak with animals is on your class’s spell list. In fact, I’m guessing , the elf’s immunity to magical sleep effects will look particularly appealing right around the time your character first comes into contact with a group of pixies.
- Fighter: Even though a dwarf has no bonus in Strength, he will still outperform you as a fighter simply because he does not take the size penalties to damage that you take for damage. Also, he won’t be taking up the rear like you will, thanks to his ability to maintain his base land speed in medium and heavy armor, so you’d best just hope that the dragon tracking your party doesn’t like gnome.
- Monk: Strength helps your unarmed combat ability, huh? Too bad you take that -2 penalty. It really sucks being a gnome.
- Paladin: Oh so you want to play a paladin; riding around the countryside on the back of your trusty, riding dog steed? I guess that’s fine, so long as you don’t mind spending the entire campaign having your character compared to this guy.
- Sorcerer: This was the class you were born to play. In fact, it was your favored class in a previous edition. Alas, it’s not your favored class anymore and if you want to multi-class into anything that makes sense for your character (druid/sorcerer perhaps?), you have to take an experience penalty. Bummer.
- Wizard: Yeah, this isn’t a bad class for you. However, imagine how much cooler you’d be if you could use a longbow too. Elves can do that. You cannot. Also, with all of your innate, spell-like abilities, you’re only resistant to illusion spells? Really? A dwarf has no spell-like abilities and yet he gets a bonus to all his saves versus magical effects. What the hell’s wrong with you, gnome!
With all of these downsides, there’s really no reason that you should ever want to play a gnome. That is, unless you want to show the rest of the party just how badly a character can suck at doing just about anything.*
Reimagining the Race
So now that we’ve laid out some of the problems with gnomes, it’s time to talk about some of the changes I’ve made to the race. First, I dropped the Constitution bonus and replaced it with Charisma. While this makes gnomes the only race to get a bonus to a mental ability score, there isn’t any physical ability score that I can think of that would make sense for the race and make them better at their class. Giving gnomes a +2 in Charisma gives them something that no other race has and I feel it’s essential to making them a playable race.
Another change that I’ve made to gnomes is that I’ve given them many of the abilities of dwarves. For example, the gnome now has the same ability to wear medium and heavy armor that the dwarf does while still maintaining his base land speed of 20 feet. I also gave gnomes the same resistances to magical effects that dwarves have. I feel that these changes are in keeping with the flavor of the races, both of which live underground, and have an affinity for gems and mining. I also think that these changes give gnomes advantages playing classes like cleric, druid, and maybe even paladin that other Small races do not enjoy.
In addition to these changes, I’ve transplanted some of the abilities given to Pathfinder gnomes to my own, reimagined race. For example, instead of a +2 racial bonus to Craft (alchemy), gnomes can select one of any of the Professions. They can also use speak with animals on all animals and not just burrowing ones. Finally, gnomes can use their spell-like abilities, regardless of their Charisma score.
Last but not least, I’ve listed the favored class of the gnome as either bard or sorcerer. Granted, it’s not entirely in keeping with the other races, which typically only have one favored class from which to choose. However, humans and halflings can choose any class as their favored class, so I don’t feel like it’s too much of a stretch of the imagination to allow gnomes to select one or the other, since quite frankly, they would make excellent versions of either.
I feel that these changes make gnomes playable and not the pariah character race of 3.5.