Deep gnomes, called svirfneblin in their own language, are a gnome subrace that live in the Underdark. While their surface cousins are known for their boundless optimism and cheerful mischief, the svirfneblin are serious and suspicious creatures. They survive in the Underdark by maintaining wariness of others and working hard to keep their underground society secret.
Deep gnomes are wiry and lean with a body as hard as a slab of rock. Males are completely bald and beardless, while the females sport hair. Ranging from 3’ to 3’6” (107 cm) in height and weighing between 40 and 45 lbs (20.4 kg), the deep gnomes are small enough to give them a size advantage when battling larger opponents. Deep gnome complexions are sometimes described as “gnarled” and, like drow and duergar, are commonly dark in hue, with most deep gnomes demonstrating brown or gray skin, with dark gray eyes, as well as gray hair if female. Deep gnomes do not live quite as long as their kin, with a life expectancy just under two centuries. Due to this and a number of cultural affectations, deep gnome children are considered adults at roughly twenty years of age.
Deep gnome are better adapted for underground living than either rock gnomes or forest gnomes, with darkvision to help them see where there is no light. Similarly, deep gnomes have a dwarven-like affinity for stone and innately understand it on a level few other races can appreciate. Deep gnomes also lack most gnomes’ predilection for cantrip like abilities but can instead blind other beings, obscure their own presence, or shapeshift. Deep gnomes also have a great deal of resistance to magic of any kind, and can go undetected as if they were using the nondetection spell, alongside their natural affinity for avoiding danger or hiding.
Although far more serious than most gnomes, deep gnomes nonetheless exhibit the same insatiable curiosity and craftiness if put under the right circumstances. It is this trait, more than any other, which leads deep gnomes to abandon their cautious upbringing and explore the world around them. Some of these wandering deep gnomes turn upwards, investigating the surface world from which their ancestors came, particularly the case for deep gnome illusionists who hope to find further instruction in the Art that can be obtained in their reclusive homes. Others become prospectors, searching for new veins of gems or ore to mine.
Like other gnomes, deep gnomes prefer the use of illusion to other schools of magic. However, while this is simply a cultural preference among rock gnomes, it is a method of survival for deep gnomes. In addition to knowing the relatively simple invisibility spell, most gnome illusionists are familiar with a great wealth of ancient and forgotten lore, recovered from the ancient ruins that scatter the Underdark. Deep gnomes rarely understand this knowledge fully, but that hardly matters, and they are willing to use it in anyway they can. Deep gnome wizards who aren’t illusionists are frequently diviners, using their spells to locate and find materials essential to survival. Most magic items forged by deep gnomes are disguised as jewelry, which is relatively common among the svirfneblin.
Deep gnomes are a surly and cynical people, who fatalistically expect little more from life than what they have. Keeping themselves to themselves, being cautious when contacting other races and eying strangers with suspicion, it is hard to befriend a deep gnome, even if one is another deep gnome, but when taking considerable effort to befriend a svirfneblin, one can find a loyal friend who will not easily misplace one’s trust.
Sullen and hard-working, deep gnomes are wholly dedicated to any task they set themselves on, typically mining for males and housekeeping for females. Although outsiders find deep gnomes’ overly serious attitude to make for sour company, those qualities make them tireless pursuers of excellence in their metalworkings and weapon forging. These attitudes are also justified in part by the harsh environs the deep gnomes inhabit, which require a degree of stoicism and quiet suffering in order to save the greatest number. Any sounds, including voices, can attract danger to deep gnome homes and for their own sakes deep gnomes have learned to keep a grim demeanor and low profile. Their seriousness and pessimism fades when admiring the gems which fascinate them so much.
Svirfneblin culture and cities
Deep gnome culture is largely defined by the environment in which they live. Deep gnome cities are usually centered in a single large cavern, surrounded by an interlocking set of tunnels and other caverns into which the city spreads. These cities are usually large, but not particularly so, often around around one thousand gnomes in number. Frequently cut off from all outside contact, even from other deep gnome cities, the inhabitants of these communities may never venture out of their havens, instead crowding together for protection. Population density is extremely high and most families share a single, small room for their living space, with children living with their parents until they themselves marry and have children.
Deep gnomes rarely wander far beyond their hidden cities but when they do it is usually as bold prospectors, youthful illusionists, or exploring warriors. All deep gnomes who wander beyond their cities share the deep curiosity that allows them to overcome their hard-bred caution and shyness, although other motives such as economic drive or a desire to find aid to fight a threat the deep gnomes cannot conquer on their own may also play into their departure. Those deep gnomes who do become adventurers most frequently are fighters, rangers, rogues, or wizards, particularly of the illusionist variety. Although deep gnomes are well suited to the arcane arts like other gnomes, they are also particularly well suited to becoming rangers or rogues, adapted as they are to hiding and navigating the labyrinthine caverns of the Underdark. Deep gnomes who survive their adventures to grow in experience and power might, if particularly durable, become breachgnomes, elite warriors trained to defend the hidden deep gnome cities from enemy attack.