The Complete Book of Gnomes and Halflings
The Complete Book of Gnomes and Halflings Capsule Review by Gilbert Pili on 18/08/02
Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 3 (Average)
For people who haven't read much fantasy literature or who are first being introduced to roleplaying, The Complete Book of Gnomes and Halflings gives a nice overview of small folk society.
Product: The Complete Book of Gnomes and Halflings
Author: Douglas Niles
Company/Publisher: TSR, Inc.
Line: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
Page count: 127
Year published: 1993
Comp copy?: yes
Capsule Review by Gilbert Pili on 18/08/02
Genre tags: Fantasy
This review was originally written in 1993. It is being republished "as is."
Many roleplayers got their start with Tolkien's hobbits. Bilbo, Frodo and Sam, Pippin and Merry. Who can forget them? They were the definitive underdogs. Too small and seemingly insignificant to notice at first, they emerged from the War of the Ring as absolute giants. So it was with a good deal of skepticism that I opened this latest AD&D rules supplement to the Player's Handbook. What more could be added? Will it be a rehash of things I already know? Is the book even necessary? Well, yes and no. The 127-page book does nothing to thwart stereotypes of gnomes and halflings, but it does manage to expand on them.
The supplement begins with an in-depth treatment of gnomish culture. Barring Gimm's Fairy Tales and Brian Froud and Alan Lee's Gnomes, not much has been said about these subterranean people in game terms. The shorter portion of the supplement details the various gnomish races within the AD&D context and explores their society, mythology, even their sense of humor. The various subraces are explained, including the mysterious Svirfneblin or "Deep Gnomes." A chapter dedicated to "character kits," special roleplaying packages designed for players who wish to customize their PC, and another chapter depicting a typical gnomish settlement complete the first section. It's not nearly as informative and entertaining as Froud and Lee's pictorial tour, but it does provide a framework for gnomes-as-PC in the AD&D universe.
The second--and longer--part of the book examines halfling culture using the same format, although the character kit section is much longer, and the depth of material more comprehensive. Bilbo's "Burglar" is included in the kits, and Frodo would probably work as the "Squire," a halfling who befriends a knight or ranger for a period of time. The other kits give such options as "Tunnelrat," "Cartographer," "Merchant," and "Oracle(?!)."
The chapters on halfling culture are probably the most solid in the book, although there are no particularly surprising insights to halfling society. The character kits do provide some variety for those playing halfling PCs, and reasons why the halfling is leaving the comfort of the community are furnished, giving the DM a few hooks on which to base adventures.
A short, two-page appendix provides a list of suggested adventures specifically designed for the small folk. This was the most inspired section, and each of the scenarios seemed fresh in light of the well-trod material on the races themselves.
I had mixed feelings about this supplement. On the one hand, there is not much here that is really new. Most people know that gnomes like gems and are good at digging tunnels; they know that halflings like their comfort. On the other hand, there are some nice details here that are not completely apparent. For example, the Svirfneblin, due to perpetual underground existence, have no sense of time. Halflings have difficulty expressing sorrow while gnomes do so easily and openly. I would have appreciated more of this sort of close scrutiny. Truly new and imaginative details seemed sparse.
The author did pull together information that is scattered throughout fantasy literature and present a package that is clear and easily understood. However, it lacks any real weight; he uses broad strokes--with a few exceptions--and glosses over the races' more subtle and complex aspects. For people who haven't read much fantasy literature or who are first being introduced to roleplaying, The Complete Book of Gnomes and Halflings gives a nice overview of small folk society. For those who've read a lot about these races, it reinforces what you already know and puts it in an encyclopedic format. Whether or not you prefer this style or would rather extrapolate gnomes and halflings from the stories you've read, depends on your approach to gaming. Those who don't use the AD&D system will find better sourcebooks at the library or at a good book store.