Midgard: the Gnomes of Niemheim

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Gnome of Niemheim with Skull and ScrollsSome creatures of Midgard are gentle, loving, and brave. The gnomes of Niemheim are none of these things. They are servants of Hell.

It was not always so. The gnomes lived among the people of Krakova for many years as friends and allies, teaching humans the arts of fey sorcery, weaving, and gardening. They were a kindly people, always eager to discuss the finer points of pottery, alchemy, tanning, and the illumination of manuscripts. Their hats and noses were sources of mirth, but their wisdom was valued and respected.

Then, 200 years ago, a gnomish prince betrayed a promise made to Baba Yaga. A blood oath of loyalty and service was foresworn. The prince died swiftly, but his people’s suffering was slow.

Ever since, it is said, she has sought to use their beards for her pillow-stuffing. The gnomes lived in fear of night-haunts, strigoi, the ala hags and the psoglav demon-dogs— all servants of Baba Yaga. The gnomes lived in perpetual pants-wetting terror, knowing their children would be grist for Baba Yaga’s mortar, and their villages kindling for her fire and her hunting drakes. Village by village, the gnomes disappeared.

Until one day, a devil of the Eleven Hells made the King of the Gnomes an offer. A generous offer, kind and yet sly…

The Devil’s Offer

The devil swore he would hide the gnomes deep in the Krakovan woods in a dozen far-flung villages, and furthermore the demons and devils of the Eleven Hells, the erinyes and barbed and bearded devils in their many varieties would encircle those villages as warden against Baba Yaga. The creatures of Hell would protect the entire gnomish folk—for a small price in blood and souls.

It says much about the terrors that Baba Yaga brought down upon the gnomish folk that they considered this a bargain worth making. In their defense, their only other choice was gradual extinction in Baba Yaga’s stewpots. And so they swore themselves to Hell, and they made the best of it.

The Infernal Gnomes Today

Once a month or once a year, the gnomes make blood sacrifices. If no stangers come to their tidy little towns, then they must offer one of their own. Gnomish thugs and illusions and enchanters ply the roads and taverns, amusing travellers. Some of those travelers, it is whispered, follow a kindly gnome to the forest, or hear rumors of wealth and fame. They grow curious about the silent land beneath the pine boughs. Someone always grows curious, when the gnomish bards spin a tale.

Visitors have grown exceedly rare, and indeed few bother the gnomes in their deep piney woods these days. They hold a dozen villages or towns east of Krakova, all well-ordered, with pretty gardens and neat central squares and half-timbered houses. They work hard as tanners of calfskin and hunting leathers. Gnomish wives do weave clever woolens, and the gnomish charcoal burners make the fuel to light the dark nights and the hottest kilns of the Ironcrags. Potters fight each other for bright gnomish glazes, and housewives prize small kitchen knives of Niemheim steel. The gnomes produce suspiciously fine vellum in inordinate quantities, enough to fill the scriptoria of the magocracy. None question their source or methods.

The gnomes still have enemies, but Baba Yaga’s eyes are blinded in their lands. In spring, raiding Krakovan hussars may ride in with a half-drunk Kazzaki scout and steal some sheep. But those hussars and the riotous centaurs who enter into Niemhiem without permission and stay overnight—these armies vanish into the forest. Not long after, a new shipment of fine tallow candles, and finely honed knives, and neatly-repaired tunics is loaded on a dwarven muletrain to Vidim or Morgau, and the gnomes grow a little richer.

‘Tis the way of things, under the dark branches of the forests of Niemheim.

The Midgard campaign setting is an expansion of Wolfgang Baur’s home campaign, and an exercise in collaborative worldbuilding. If you like these gnomes, perhaps you’d like to join us. If you don’t, tell us why they should not be included. Either way, consider joining us as a patron of the Midgard campaign setting.


  1. Oh, the flavor!


    February 3, 2011

  2. [backseat editor: “Gnomish thugs and illusions” meant to be “Gnomish thugs and illusionists?”]


    February 3, 2011

  3. Umm… So, why would an adventurer visit there?


    February 3, 2011

  4. Elucidarian, good eye, definitely illusionists.

    UHF, good question. I think it’s either a stealth mission, a trade mission, or a chance to loot Mammon’s vaults. If the gnomes are as rich as everyone thinks, and raiders can get away with loot some of the time; chaotic greedy would be its own reward.

    The practical parts of this one will definitely get hashed out, though.

    Kobold Quarterly

    February 3, 2011

  5. Rival merchants might dispatch raiders not only to steal, but disrupt their communities to get rid of an industrious competitor.

    Jim Groves

    February 3, 2011

  6. @UHF

    When I read this over, I imagined my PC’s on their way somewhere else, stopping at an Inn for the night and being taken in by a kindly gnomish bard spinning tales of great riches hidden under his village, if only some great heroes could find it…

    Little do they know they’re walking into a trap where they’ll have to fight much worse than gnomes.


    February 3, 2011

  7. I think they make great villains, but not necessarily a great location.

    And that’s ok! It’s not like you have to go to Thay to get a lot of use out of the Red Wizards, for instance.


    February 3, 2011

  8. Uhf – to lift the curse(s)?


    February 3, 2011

  9. You’ve tapped the fairy tale groove for sure Wolfgang. Your tale drew me in. Get’s me excited for the next Margreve project!
    I’ve got a great location name for the gnome weavers: Village of the Darned! Come to the hidden village and lose your soul to Hell.
    Two points on the Pett Scale! :)
    Three points if you told your friends to come looking for you if you’re not back in 3 days.

    James Thomas

    February 3, 2011

  10. @UHF – Adventurers think that crawling through caves full of lethal traps and monsters is a good way to make a living. They’re nuts, frankly, and if you tell them that a village full of damned gnomes might have some treasure in it, they’ll probably start packing for the trip immediately.

    Wade Rockett

    February 3, 2011

  11. What Wolfgang just said is just what I was thinking; adventures probably won’t go here, and they probably shouldn’t, but that’s okay. It’s important for a setting to have places which one does not simply walk into.

    Exceptions to this good sense may result in crazy escapades, total party kills, and/or killer bragging rights (as exceptions-to-good-sense are wont to do).

    Nic Quimby

    February 3, 2011

  12. Also, there’s the fact that the gnomes so desperately want people to go there; there are tons of adventure hooks in that one, from gullible tresure-hunters to kidnapped victims to disgruntled adolescents who think they’re off to Never Never Land.

    This is really cool, and makes me wnat to know more about gnomes in Midgard.

    Nic Quimby

    February 3, 2011

  13. I’m thinking that Baba Yaga might appear to a group of gullible adventurers and hire them to scout the gnome settlements.

    Tom Allman

    February 3, 2011

  14. I’m thinking about Gnomish Evil (an alignment unto itself) pied pipers stealing children.


    February 3, 2011

  15. This is grade A stuff, right here. Fantastic!

    The Wizard of Celn

    February 4, 2011

  16. hehe i always loved gnomes and for some reason goblins. There’s something about them. It items like this tht have convinced me to join up under the patronage. Looking forward to seeing more gnome-related shenanigans!


    February 4, 2011

  17. This is a very good write-up for gnomes.

    (And as said above it has a bit of a Margreve feel to it too.)

    Ask a Shoanti

    February 4, 2011

  18. Adventurers go there because I tell them too!

    No but seriously, why do people go to Carceri? What a horrible place to visit. Which is why its the perfect place to put the really important thing the PCs need to finish the quest of epic importance.


    February 4, 2011

  19. Just finished reading D1-2 Descent into the Depths of the Earth. (inspiration) One of my favorite names and monsters was the Svirfneblin or “Deep Gnomes”. Ahhh Good Times!

    Tom Allman

    February 6, 2011

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