Dwarves do not always live in caves. The Empire of Kradh’Ke-zun, the Open-Skiers, suffered terrible losses during the Age of Ice precisely because they, as opposed to their cousins the Khazad, had adapted to a life on the surface and forgotten the secrets of the subterranean world. Fantastic craftsmen, cunning artificers, and proficient enchanters, the Kradh’Ke-zun were creators of some of the greatest artifacts of the Age of Magic, not least of which were the golems. Golems for war, golems for transport, golems for farming, for mining and for industry. Life was good for the Open-Skiers with their endless supply of infallibly obedient servants. The people thrived.
The new reality of the Age of Ice was harsh on the Open-Skiers. Mulcarn’s glaciers rolled forth, strangling life, isolating populations, and crushing cities beneath tons of grinding blue ice. The Kradh’Ke-zun watched helplessly as their cunning devices succumbed to the long winter.
Three-foot-tall city dwellers are not well-adapted to the rigorous, marginal, nomadic existence of Ice Age hunters. Few survived for long. Of the once mighty Empire of great cities, thriving farmlands and millions of contented citizens, only one particularly hardy clan survived: the Luchuirp. Though weakened by the dominance of Mulcarn, Kilmorph still managed to hold a warding hand over this little tribe of surface-dwelling dwarves. She came to the leader, the now-legendary Graoin the Delver, and taught him the things his people had forgotten: how to dig, how to build homes under the mountain, how to fight. Combining this with what little remained of their incredible artistry and craft, the Gnomes fashioned a society of sorts in the caves beneath the Ice. They waited in the knowledge that one day the clan of Luchuirp Gnomes, heirs of the Open-Skiers, would again walk under the sun.
Beeri Bawl is a true heir to Graoin the Delver, not only in blood, but in spirit. He is a survivalist by nature, organized and effective, but he has never forgotten his roots or his ancestry. His highest goal is to reclaim a kingdom on the surface, but that does not mean he intends to repeat the mistake of neglecting the lower reaches of the world. His approach is a symbiosis of the refined craftsmanship of the old Empire and practical survival arts learned during the Age of Ice.
90% Rock Gnome
< 1% Other
45% Neutral Good
15% Lawful Neutral
10% Lawful Good
< 1% Other
Adult population Lvl 1 or higher: 20%
Gnome population is around 1/4 that of equivalent human-settled areas, but their longer lifespan (250-350 years) and corresponding wealth of experience gives them an edge out of proportion to their numbers
Other: < 1%
The novice Luchuirp crafters at the start of the Age of Rebirth often lacked access to metallic ores and exotic raw materials needed to construct and enchant the powerful golems of yore. Golems constructed of wood filled the gap and are still common in the outlying provinces. A wood golem has the strength of many men, but is quite vulnerable to fire.
Being small is perfect for living in caverns and surviving a harsh unending winter. Upon leaving their burrows to reclaim their place on the surface, however, the first project the Luchuirp engineers and enchanters began was constructing clay golem workers. With unlimited endurance and the strength of an ogre, such constructs can labor day and night without complaint.
Stone Golem (Gargoyles)
Most gnomes, like their practical dwarf cousins, value function over form. Stone golems designed to function as statuary when not defending a city are a major exception. Showing off the intricate detail the gnome sculptors are capable of, stone golems are carved into a variety of forms such as lions, chimeras and gargoyles. A city is both beautiful and well-defended when protected by gnomish statuary.
Many iron golems were created during the Age of Magic. They remained the most common Luchuirp golem late into the Age of Magic when pestilence and plague made metal more reliable than flesh. Even in normal times iron golems were superior to most fighting men, fusing craftsmanship and enchantment with a sturdy, dependable metal.
The Age of Rebirth saw the first appearance of the bone golem. Each part must be carved entirely from one piece of bone or ivory. Only dragons or elephants descended from the mammoths abundant in the Age of Winter can provide adequately raw materials. Curiosity led the Luchuirp craftsmen to attempt these creations, however it was soon discovered by the gnomish enchanters that bone absorbed magic as no metal could. Bone golems are enchanted to reassemble themselves unless completely destroyed.
It takes the fine tools of a machinist shop and a sturdy metal such as iron or mithril to produce this masterpiece of Luchuirp engineering. Complex arrangements of enchanted springs and gears give the clockwork golem reflexes rivaling even a wild beast. The mighty machines of destruction spout fire and explosions, damaging enemies in a wide area. Battle damage is not covered by warranty, however, so it is advisable to bring along a gnome adept in the event repairs are needed.
The nullstone golem represents the highest craft of the gnome artificers and enchanters. This 3-storey tall behemoth has the physical strength of a dragon and is resistant to not only most forms of physical damage, but magical energy as well.
“Come now, people, come behold the midget as he digs for gold!”
The shout made Beeri stir from his uncomfortable sleep on the cage floor. He grudgingly got to his feet. In the first days of his imprisonment he had attempted to resist when the show was announced, stubbornly maintaining a prone position, but quickly discovered this only made things worse.
Beeri blinked against the brilliant light of the many magic lanterns lining the throne room of Perpentach, that thrice-damned carnival clown who’d taken him captive just a few weeks ago. A raiding party of ‘merry-men’ had assaulted the outlying border town he had been visiting, confounding everyone with their strange dance-like fighting, and subsequently hauling Beeri off like a sack of potatoes, singing and laughing as they went.
Laughter had become his worst adversary these past few days. He sometimes wished that Perpentach would order him killed, or even haul him down to some dark dungeon for torture. The harlequin seemed determined to break his spirit, and had skillfully assessed the most effective way of doing this. Or perhaps the clown-king he was merely bored. Beeri could not comprehend Perpentach’s motivations. But Beeri was completely certain of the one thing that mattered—he wanted to kill the man, to wipe that grotesque smile off his face once and for all.
The show was about to begin. “Kilmorph, give me strength,” he muttered under his breath, as Perpentach went on with his announcement:
“A brilliant light in darkness shines, a piece of gold in muddy mines!”
Perpentach had risen from his throne and addressed the many noblemen assembled before him, all garbed in clothes of the most bizarre shapes and colors, and most wearing many-colored masques to hide their faces. Beeri suspected that their real faces might not wear expressions quite as happy as those of the masques—like him, they were just playing along to avoid the wrath of their insane ruler.
At the far end of Beeri’s cage was a circular hole in the floor, filled with viscous mud. Perpentach’s preferred way of torturing him involved his diving head-first into the hole to recover a small gold-piece hidden there, usually near the bottom.
Beeri quickly walked towards the puddle, he wanted to get this over with as fast as possible. He knelt down and plunged into the mud. At least this shut out the laughter and applause of Perpentach’s court. Beeri quickly got hold of the familiar round shape. As his hand closed around the coin he froze. Something was moving in the mud. Many slithering shapes. With a sputtering roar he threw himself backwards—still clutching the coin—seconds before the viper would have sunk fangs into his neck. The snake slithered back into the hole.
“Danger in the mines it seems, a terror from the darkest dreams.”
Beeri’s heart was pounding. Perpentach had been creative before, but usually not in such a potentially fatal fashion. Perhaps it meant the King of Jokes was getting bored with his new toy and sought to dispose of him. Death seemed almost welcome at this point. The only thing keeping him from jump back into the mud with the snake was the thought of the laughing bastard just outside the bars, and of all the creative things he would do to him given the chance.
The show was not over yet, however:
“The midget keeps his gold you see, if this foul beast will let him be…”
Beeri whirled around as a section of wall in his cave slid away, opening a passageway he hadn’t known existed. His eyes widened as he beheld the enormous hill giant that stood there, grunting furiously, and holding a club five times as big as Beeri’s own body. He was most certainly meant to die now.
Still, something deep within Beeri was not prepared to give in and die. He did not think of his friends and family back in the mountains, nor of his people who would most certainly be lost without him. All he could think of was that Perpentach meant for him to die, would draw pleasure from his death—and so it should not happen.
Beeri ignored the lumbering giant and instead plunged his arm into the muddy hole. He quickly found and grasped the writhing body of the viper. He then proceeded to fling the snake towards the giant with all his might. It landed by his left foot and immediately struck out. The giant roared with pain and fury and cracked the viper’s skull with its club, but within moments the huge humanoid went into convulsions, and soon it fell flat on its back, greenish foam dripping from its mouth. Perpentach had obviously chosen a viper with a very potent venom. Ironic that it should be the gnome’s savior.
The crowd in the throne room applauded again, but Beeri was merely waiting for Perpentach to initiate the next death-trap. What followed surprised him:
“The midget won the greatest prize, he proved to be both brave and wise.
The game is won, the midget’s foes shall all applaud him as he goes.”
Perpentach gracefully walked to the door of his cage, unlocked it and opened it wide, a mysterious smile on his lips. Beeri couldn’t believe his eyes. Was this another trap? He heard some of the noblemen muttering angrily, “…wasting a valuable hostage” and “One of his absurd fancies…”
Slowly Beeri started to walk. For a moment he considered assaulting Perpentach, grabbing his throat in an attempt to strangle him before his guards could rush to his aid. As the adrenaline rush of the battle faded, however, he started to think more clearly and realized that it would be suicide. If Perpentach was really serious about letting him go he could return in force later, and the thought of a mighty clockwork golem mashing the harlequin underfoot was enough to speed him on his way.
He started to run across the floor of the throne room, looking backwards a few times. No one made any attempt at stopping him. Perpentach just stood by the open prison door and smiled.
Well out of Perpentach’s palace, Beeri shook his head at the insanity of the place, and started to make his way home.
Ten years later, Beeri did indeed return at the head of a Golem army. Perpentach’s rule was toppled with the help of the Gold Dragon Eurabatres and allied Malakim armies. Unwilling to submit to the rule of the gnome kings or the Malakim empire, many of the citizens of Perpentach’s empire fled west across the mountains to Sheaim lands.
Garrim looked at the crystal that lay on the table before him. It had been brought in by the miners yesterday; at first mistaking it for silver, they had lost two of their number to its power. It had yet to be explained why. According to the disturbing tales of the other miners, the workers had simply died when they touched the substance, without it inflicting any visible wound on them. They’d merely fallen to the ground without a sound, their lifeforce disappearing completely. Finally, the miners realized the source of the threat, and one of them, unusually courageous, attempted to pick up the crystal with a piece of cloth, and so it was that they had brought it to him.
He was about invoke a basic spell of scrying when his apprentice, Haeris, walked into his study.
“What have I told you about knocking?!” Garrim yelled, with a fury more motivated by his tension than by actual irritation. Haeris seemed quite startled at his master’s unusual display of temper.
“Sorry master, but you’d just sent for me, I thought…” he trailed off.
“Hmpf… well, now that you’ve come, you might as well stay. Who knows, you might even learn something from this. But please be quiet!”
Haeris walked closer to the table in silence, but he appeared a bit sullen.
Garrim ignored him, and returned his attention to the crystal. It was quite beautiful, and he fully understood why the unlucky miners had felt compelled to pick it up. Lights sparkled within its surface, red, purple and blue. Perhaps it would have been wiser to dispose of it, to take it to one of the deep mineshafts that were scheduled for closing soon, but Garrim had always been very curious about magical artifacts, whether they were benevolent or harmful.
He raised his left hand, and started to invoke the spell of scrying. Surprisingly, there was no reaction whatsoever from the substance, he might as well have used the spell on a common rock. Puzzled, he looked closely at the crystal. It still sparkled with light… but it seemed the colors had grown darker while the light grew more intense… a truly unusual phenomenon to behold. As he watched, a dark mist suddenly started to emanate from the crystal, making a hissing sound somewhat akin to that of sulfuric acid liquefying metal. The mist started to approach Garrim, and soon it had surrounded him completely. The hissing sound became louder, and he realized it was actually a chorus of whispers: “You… binder of spells… we need you… you need us… power… power beyond imagination… follow us… follow us…touch the relic… and you shall be free at last…”
Garrim felt himself drawn towards the crystal, and he was about to reach out and touch it when he suddenly pulled himself back through a sheer effort of will. His ears away from the whispers and his head clear once more, he suddenly realized what he was dealing with here. “Mammon…” he muttered under his breath. He leapt backwards as the mist approached again, made a complicated hand-gesture and invoked the most powerful defensive spell he could remember. A pillar of brilliant light appeared before him, and the mist moved backwards, the whispers now more furious than compelling. Garrim drew a breath of relief. That had been close.
Relief quickly gave way to terror, as Garrim suddenly saw Haeris on the other side of the barrier, and the mist that was rapidly closing in on him. It enveloped Haeris in much the same way as it had enveloped him moments earlier, but Haeris proved less resilient. He leaned forward and touched the crystal while Garrim watched, stunned by the sheer horror of the events taking place behind the wall of light.
Haeris let out a scream of anguish, as a shaft of light from the crystal struck him in the chest. It lingered on as a pulsating beam seemed to be sucking the life away from him. Haeris’s face became increasingly distorted, his flesh was slowly drained of all color, and his eyes gained a bluish hue. But suddenly the shaft of dark red light subsided, and the mist dispersed with it. Garrim regained his senses, quickly dispelled the wall of light, and rushed to the side of his apprentice, who stood with a blank stare in his eyes.
“Are you all right? Haeris, speak to me!”
At first he merely stared blankly at the crystal in front of him. Then he eyed Garrim, and his pale face was distorted by a sudden sneer.
“I am perfectly fine, master… I can see clearly now…” Garrim was shocked to hear the contempt in the voice of his previously amiable apprentice. But what came next would prove even more horrifying.
The battle had been rough. Garrim doubled over and coughed up blood, but managed to stay on his feet. Before him lay the burnt and disfigured corpse of his apprentice and friend, burned—and this was what hurt the most—by Garrim’s own spells. Yet he had had no choice. The crystal still laid on the table, its surface deceptively calm. The idea of throwing it into a deep mineshaft seemed much more compelling now. That thing had never been meant for daylight.
Barnaxus was beautiful, perfect. The pinnacle of years of work, of finding the right words to power him, of selecting just the right pieces, of lovingly sculpting every little detail of his joints and his features. Barnaxus was more nimble, more exact, more careful and more effective in everything he did than any of the other golem built in the time of the Khrad’Ke-zun. For many hundred years, this giant did as he was told, when he was told, and always did it better than anyone else, gnomish or golem. Barnaxus’s works were the pride of the Empire, and, when the ice sheets smothered the world, the name and reputation of Barnaxus passed into legend.
Perhaps it was this legendary status that meant that when, years after the Ice had pulled back and the Luchuirp embarked on their mission of rebuilding the Empire, a tall, weather-worn golem appeared at the gates of the capital, he was instantly recognized as the long-lost Barnaxus. For, surely, only a golem of such perfection and brilliance as Barnaxus could have survived so long without maintenance and protection?
It quickly became clear that Barnaxus was unlike any other golem. Barnaxus did not “take orders.” He cooperated, he discussed, and he made suggestions. Barnaxus was a thinking golem, a learning golem. No one could guess how he had managed to break the magical ties that bind a golem to the two-dimensional world of “order and execution,” and nobody really expected that they would ever find out. When asked, Barnaxus merely said: “A man spoke to me in the wastes and I awoke,” he would say no more.
True, Barnaxus could do what he wished, but what he wished was to help the Luchuirp. He wished to help them rebuild the Empire, to recall what was forgotten, and to perfect what was remembered. He appeared to harbor a love for the Luchuirp that mirrored that of a doting father, with a hint of a patronizing air to some of his advice. And the Luchuirp, amazingly, instead of rankling at being “taught” by a golem, loved him back. He was their link to the past and an amazing store of knowledge. Golems, after all, never forget. But most important of all, Barnaxus also taught the golems. What Barnaxus learned, the other golems soon copied.
And so it was that Barnaxus went from being the “King of the Golems” to a true leader of the gnomes.
“When ice melts only I will remain to see another father killed and brothers destroyed. This
is the curse of metal, the power to remain alive while taking life from those that deserve it more."