Last Updated: November 16, 2021
Gnomes have changed a lot throughout the history of Dungeons and Dragons. At times they’ve been monsters. At times they’ve been fey. In general, DnD has always had trouble pinning down gnomes thematically in a way that distinguishes them from halflings, but I think 5th edition may have done the best job of any edition to date. Gnomes have subraces which are very distinct from one another, and their traits offer some unique an interesting options.
The Gnome’s biggest challenge is their ability score increases. All gnomes share an Intelligence increase which predisposes them to being artificers and wizards, but generally you’ll only have one or two viable subraces for any other class. Under the default rules, Gnomes are generally a niche option that works well in specific builds, but the Gnome simply doesn’t have the right ability score increases to fill a broad range of character options.
As with many similar races, the Customizing Your Origin rules introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything did a lot to open up the Gnome’s build options. Gnome Cunning is a powerful defense, especially for martial characters who are often vulnerable to mind-affecting hazards like spells, so suddenly the gnome went from a passable short wizard to an interesting option for mentally resilient martial builds in addition to being a good spellcaster. Unfortunately the Rock Gnome and Mark of Scribing become extremely niche options, but the Svirfneblin (deep gnome) is good for stealthy builds and the Forest Gnome makes a good base for almost anything else that can put Minor Illusion to good use.
Perhaps the Gnome’s biggest problem under the custom origin rules is that there’s very little diversity. You’re either a sneaky gnome (svirfneblin) or your only distinguishing active trait is that you can cast Minor Illuson (forest gnome). That can feel like an unsatisfying reward for picking gnome as your race. Of course, I absolutely love Minor Illusion, so I’ll happily take it on any character that can get it.
Table of Contents
- Classes (Customizable Origins)
- Classes (Default Rules)
RPGBOT uses the color coding scheme which has become common among Pathfinder build handbooks, which is simple to understand and easy to read at a glance.
- : Bad, useless options, or options which are extremely situational. Nearly never useful.
- : OK options, or useful options that only apply in rare circumstances. Useful sometimes.
- : Good options. Useful often.
- : Fantastic options, often essential to the function of your character. Useful very frequently.
I will not include 3rd-party content, including content from DMs Guild, even if it is my own, because I can’t assume that your game will allow 3rd-party content or homebrew. I also won’t cover Unearthed Arcana content because it’s not finalized, and I can’t guarantee that it will be available to you in your games.
The advice offered below is based on the current State of the Character Optimization Meta as of when the article was last updated. Keep in mind that the state of the meta periodically changes as new source materials are released and this article will be updating accordingly as time allows.
RPGBOT is unofficial Fan Content permitted under the Fan Content Policy. Not approved/endorsed by Wizards. Portions of the materials used are property of Wizards of the Coast. ©Wizards of the Coast LLC.
Classes (Customizable Origins)
This section assumes that you’re using the option “Customizing Your Origin” rules presented in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. If you’re not using those rules, scroll down to the next section.
Minor Illusion isn’t on the Artificer’s spell list, so the Forest Gnome feels like an obvious choice here. If you want to be stealthy, an armorer in infiltrator armor will make the Svirfneblin’s camouflage obsolete, so the Forest Gnome is really your best bet. Gnome Cunning adds another layer to the Artificer’s already incredible durability, so the whole combination procudes an extremely durable, versatile spellcaster. Rock Gnome obviously fits the theme better, but from an optimization perspective it’s hard to compete.
The Barbarian’s biggest vulnerability is mental saving throws, and Gnome Cunning does a lot to address that critical weakness. Any variety of gnome will work fine here. Forest Gnome and Mark of Scribing might seem like odd choices here since you can’t cast spells while raging, but neither subrace’s spells are typically useful in combat, instead offering interesting tools to use outside of combat, where the Barbarian frequently struggles to make themselves useful.
The biggest limitation is that small races can’t use weapons with the Heavy trait effectively, so the Greataxe isn’t an option. You’ll likely need to settle for using a Versatile weapon like a longsword two-handed, or you can go Path of the Beast, which doesn’t care about your size.
The Gnome adds very little to the Bard beyond Gnome Cunning. Minor Illusion is already available to bards, so Forest Gnome’s big selling point doesn’t matter much. The Svirfneblin’s Superior Darkvision is nice, but Stone Camouflage is less interesting once your can cast Enhance Ability and get Advantage on all Dexterity checks without worrying about terrain.
Minor Illusion isn’t available to clerics, so the Forest Gnome offers and exciting new tool. Gnome Cunning is also a great way to keep your party’s primary healer from being mind-controller or banished or whatever else.
The Forest Gnome’s Speak Small Beasts feels like a natural choice for the Druid, but remember that it’s not a subsitute for Speak with Animals. But don’t let that deter you: Minor Illusion is amazing and it’s not on the Druid’s spell list, and Speak With Small Beasts is still a fun thematic element for a druid. Gnome Cunnin likely applies while using Wild Shape, which is a great defense for Circle of the Moon.
The Fighter’s biggest weakness is mental saving throws, so Gnome Cunning is a huge benefit for the Fighter. Unless you plan to use weapons with the Heavy property, being small has no impact on your capabilities, so the full range of fighter subclasses is available to you. You can even take Rune Knight and go from Small to Large (or larger!).
Gnome Cunning provides an additional layer of defense for a class that sorely needs better defenses at low levels, but saving throws aren’t the Monk’s biggest defensive issue. Picking a subrace can also be difficult. Forest Gnome is good becuase Minor Illusion is good, and Svirfneblin is good if you plan to be your party’s Scout.
Gnome Cunning on top of Aura of Protection makes you fantastically resilient to mental effects. Basically any subrace will work. A Dexterity-based svirfneblin build could make a decent scout.
The Svirfneblin is a great choice for stealty classes like the Ranger, especially in subterranean campaigns where rocky terrain is abundant. The Forest Gnome also makes a fine ranger, offering Minor Illusion as a useful tool to expand the Ranger’s capabilities.
The Svirfneblin is a great choice for stealty classes like the Rogue, especially in subterranean campaigns where rocky terrain is abundant. The Forest Gnome also makes a good rogue, offering early access to spells which might normally only be available to the Arcane Trickster.
Sorcerers already get more cantrips than any other base classes, and while the Forest Gnome’s and Mark of Scribing’s extra cantrips don’t hurt, they also don’t add anything that you couldn’t already get. Svirfnebling is a good choice, allowing you to fight in the dark with better range than most creatures and allowing you to match the stealth capabilities of your party’s Scout, provided that you’re in a rocky environment. Of course, you can learn Enhance Ability and make Stone Camouflage irrelevant.
Warlocks get just as many cantrips as most full spellcasters, but they’re generally locked into Eldritch Blast, which limits your options for options which can’t be solved by shooting them, so the Forest Gnome and Mark of Scribing offering additional cantrips is appealing.
Gnome Cunning is a great defense, especially paired with the Wizard’s proficiency in both Intelligence and Wisdom saving throws. Unfortunately, that’s the biggest benefit. Wizards can already learn Minor Illusion, and Enhance Ability makes the Svirfneblin’s Stone Camouflage obsolete. Getting an extra cantrip from the Forest Gnome or Mark of Scribing is nice, but it doesn’t solve any problems for the Wizard.
Classes (Default Rules)
This section assumes that you’re not using the option “Customizing Your Origin” rules presented in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. If you are using those rules, scroll up to the previous section.
Gnomes get the crucial Intelligence increase as a core gnome racial trait, so any subrace works fine. Rock Gnome fits thematically because of the Tinker trait, but you don’t need it to succeed, and the benefits of Tinker are extremely minor. Forest Gnome’s access to Minor Illusion is extremely useful, even if the ability score increases aren’t quite as helpful.
No Strength increase.
Mark of Scribing offers the crucial Charisma increase, plus some additional spellcasting. The new spell list options aren’t great and you still need to spend spells known to learn them, but you get a free cantrip and some innate spellcasting.
No Wisdom increase.
No Wisdom increase. Forest gnomes seem like they would make a natural Druid, but the ability scores don’t work and Speak With Small Beasts is more amusing than useful.
The Fighter is your best bet for a front-line melee gnome. Deep Gnome and Forest Gnome both get Dexterity increases, and between a Dexterity increase and Intelligence increase the Eldritch Knight is an obvious choice. Gnome Cunning provides a powerful defense against spells which target your mental saves, which are frequently a problem for front-line martial characters.
Forest gnomes get the crucial Dexterity increase that you need to make the Monk work, but you don’t get much else.
You can argue that the Forest Gnome’s Dexterity increase is enough to make a paladin work, but on its own that’s not going to be especially effective. Paladins are very MAD, so you really want increases to two important ability scores.
The Deep Gnome and the Forest Gnome both provide Dexterity increases, which is crucial for the Ranger. Unfortunately, the Ranger benefits very little from the Gnome’s other traits.
The Deep Gnome and the Forest Gnome both make great rogues of any kind, but Arcane Trickster is a natural fit thanks to the Intelligence increase and the Forest Gnome gives you Minor Illusion so you can get a taste of magic before you hit level 3.
Mark of Scribing offers a Charisma increase, plus some additional spellcasting options. Wizard is typically a better option due the Gnome’s base Intelligence increase, but a +1 Charisma increase is technically the only thing that the Sorcerer absolutely needs.
Mark of Scribing offers a Charisma increase, plus some additional spellcasting options. Wizard is typically a better option due the Gnome’s base Intelligence increase, but a +1 Charisma increase is technically the only thing that the Warlock absolutely needs.
An intelligence increase as a core racial trait means that any gnome subrace can make an excellent wizard.
A great defensive option, especially for frail classes like the Wizard. If you use this early in an enemy’s turn, they might be forced to make attacks against you while you’re invisible, potentially causing them to miss. You can then spend your turn to get somewhere safe.
Only useful if you’re extremely worried about being grappled.
An interesting choice for the Svirfneblin. Already the go-to sneaky gnome, nondetection protects you from divination spells like See Invisibility, so if you can also cast Invisibility you’re very hard to detect without something like truesight or blindsight. Since one of the other spells provided by the feat requires a save from the target, I recommend only taking this on Intelligence-based builds like the Artificer, the Wizard, and possibly the Arcane Trickster Rogue. Those classes will also benefit from the defense provided by Blur, and having Disguise Self available from the feat removes any potential desire to learn and/or prepare it.
Dragonmarks are detailed in Eberron: Rising from the Last War. Gnomes treat dragonmarks like a subrace, adding its traits to the core gnome traits.
Mark of Scribing
A Charisma increase and an Intelligence increase are unusual to find on the same race (Tieflings are notably the only other race with the same increases), and granting a Charisma increase doesn’t do anything to broaden the Gnome’s appeal beyond classes that depend on casting spells. Sorcerer and Warlock become viable options for the Gnome, the Paladin can work with Fighting Style (Blessed Warrior).
Even with the benefits of the custom origin rules, Mark of Scribing is a hard choice for an adventurer. For a person in Eberron with a day job it’s excellent, but for adventurers fighting dragons and crawling dungeons there’s very little here thats useful enough to make Mark of Scribing your subrace. You technically get more spellcasting than the Forest Gnome, but Message is such a limited and situational spell compared to Minor Illusions that the Forest Gnome is still more broadly appealing.