The Gnomes of Jorth are a calm, peaceful, quiet race, who live in harmony with their environment, and with each other...with a hidden dark side.
Most people believe that the Gnomes are a race of hard working, dedicated craftspeople and small farmers. They mostly live in small communities with other Gnomes, holding property in common. A Gnome village will usually have 4-5 large houses, shared by several couples of Gnomes. Single Gnomes live in group houses, also, separated by gender. Gnomish children live in the same house as their parents until they reach young adulthood, when they move into a gender segregated house, and begin their lives as full members of the community. All of the adults of a Gnomish community have a role in raising the village children, and the children treat all of the adults, if not as equal parents, then as an extended family of aunts and uncles. Gnomes of both sexes are encouraged to find spouses from outside the Community, which helps keep their bloodlines fresh and binds the villages together in a network of mutual connections. Older Gnomes who, for one reason or another, may either find a new spouse inside or outside the community, or continue living as a single Gnome in the home kept in each village for unmarried adults.
The oldest male and female Gnome of each house (not including the Young Adult house) form the Council of Elders of the Village. This body acts as an executive committee, handling day-to-day business, and adjudicating the (rare) disputes between Gnomes. Every second week, the entire population of the village meets in Congregation in the village hall to worship, discuss matters of importance, socialize, and have a communal meal. The Council of Elders uses the opportunity of these meetings to bring decisions and suggestions before the village for discussion. There is no official voting process, though there is a lot of discussion. Once the village has reached a consensus, the matter is considered either approved, or not approved. As there is a great deal of respect for Elders ingrained in the Gnomish culture, there is usually very little opposition, and almost never any discussion that would approach the level of what other races would call 'debate'.
Some Gnomes leave their home villages, and settle in communities of other races, typically larger cities or towns. Often, these are young adult Gnomes who have just found their spouses, and feel it best to start a new community. They will go, as a couple, to all of their local Gnome villages to find like-minded associates, and will then settle in a city as a group, living in the same large building or group of smaller buildings, and handling their business just as they would in a Gnome village. These communities within cities are often the point of exchange between the outside world and Gnomish artisans, bringing the famously well worked items Gnomish craft to the world. Gnomes are well known for their woodworking skills, rustic handicrafts and long lasting cheeses, preserves, and smoked meats. The Gnomes who live in these city/villages are still part of the overall network of Gnome society, and intermarry with the residents of more traditional communities.
There are few outcasts from Gnomish society. No rebel Gnomes or bandit Gnomes have ever made a name for themselves in the world, and no notable rulers of Gnomish heritage have ever tried to conquer the world. In fact, Gnomes are known to be kind and helpful to everyone, and will provide food, shelter, and hospitality to anyone who comes to their village without bared steel or an intent to cause them harm. Gnomes will defend themselves if pressed, but would prefer to escape and hide than stand and fight. Gnomes, when under pressure from hostile forces, will most often simply abandon their villages and move along, rather than wage war.
Gnomes venerate all the gods in their quiet, unassuming way. Most villages, during their twice monthly Congregation, will have a silent period of reflection and contemplation. Any Gnome that feels moved to speak, pray, or sermonize during this time may do so. Gnome clerics, while not unheard of, are not at all common, and have no specific role in leading Congregational worship. Exceedingly rarely, Gnomes will be called to the ranks of Paladins. The Gnomish sense of community and devotion to others, combined with their reticence to engage in offensive actions has led some Gnomes to follow the monk's path. Several villages of Gnomes operate as monasteries.
Gnomes excel in the magical arts, especially in the field of Illusions. Gnome culture favors illusion and trickery over powerful offensive magics, and the heroes of Gnomish stories are most often smart, wise, crafty illusionists who use their skills and spells to protect their villages from harm.
Gnomes will defend themselves if attacked, though few become fighters. Gnome rangers are found in villages in wilderness areas, and Gnome rogues are frequently encountered in the role of scout, rather than thief or burglar. Gnome barbarians are unknown, and almost an oxymoron.
Gnomes, for all their peaceful, calm, hospitable image, do have a dark side. In the ancient past, over a thousand years ago, powerful Gnomish wizards helped bring about the downfall of the great Empire that controlled much of the eastern half of the continent. During the Empire's Last War, they worked on both sides, aiding and assisting the leaders with their magics. The Last War devastated the land, and pushed Humanity, indeed, most of the civilized races, into a dark age of barbarism and violence that they are only now coming out of. The Gnomes, feeling the guilt of having a hand in the Last War, formed their new ideal society, and swore never again to allow the world to be in danger of the fell magics they unleashed. The founders of the new Gnomish way of life instilled in their communities the knowledge of the Forbidden Arcanisms, those spells that would not, COULD not, be allowed to be discovered again.
The Elders of the first villages passed the knowledge to their successors, and they passed it to their successors, on down to the present day. Every Elder of every Gnome village knows the signs of the Forbidden Arcanisms, and is constantly on watch for them. If they discover that someone is too close to finding the key to the horrible magic, the Elders act. They send out an equal number of male and female members of their community to find the offending magic user, and observe them. If possible, they will try and capture the subject, and give him or her a choice: come with the Gnomes immediately, then and there, leaving behind all of their wealth, belongings, and personal attachments to come and live as a member of a Gnome village; or die. The Gnomes, while reticent to engage in hostility, see this as a defensive action, protecting all of Jorth, and will kill without hesitation if needed (though they will feel guilty, and probably stand to confess their actions in the next Congregation). Either way, the Gnomes will destroy all research materials related to the Forbidden Arcanisms. The ideal is for the Gnomes to complete their work in total secrecy, and leave no trace of their involvement. The most successful Gnome operations are those that leave no trace that an operation even happened, a magically adept person simply goes missing, and no one knows why.
The only things known by the outside world are: some Gnome villages have a small number of non-Gnome residents, who have taken up the Gnomish lifestyle and culture and live as fully accepted members of the community; and there are far more shallow graves filled with stabbed, poisoned, strangled, or burned wizards who mysteriously leave behind no spellbooks or notes than their ought to be.