Forest gnomes in Dungeons and Dragons 5e are some of the most cunning and intelligent characters to play. Therefore, they make fantastic wizards, arcane tricksters and arcane archers. With a +2 bonus to Intelligence and a +1 bonus to Dexterity, this fun-loving character packs a magical punch with an elf-like ability to hide and commune with nature.
Consider these aspects to building and playing a forest gnome character:
- Forest gnome culture
- Forest gnome abilities and how they influence gameplay
- Any kind of wizard build—especially School of Illusion or Evocation
- Build an arcane trickster with a bonus minor illusion cantrip
- Build an arcane archer with resistance to spell effects—Gnome Cunning
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Forest gnome culture
Charming, intelligent and cunning, forest gnomes have much to offer the player who wants to be effective, yet fun. Sometimes, I’ll take a character that would be played seriously as an elf and see if it fits a forest gnome instead. Many of the same principles of a wood elf can be transcribed to the forest gnome, with wizard-favoring Intelligence instead of Wisdom.
People don’t inherently take this character seriously, which is exactly the fun of it. One minute, a silly little man is saying clever quips and cracking jokes. The next, he’s igniting the battlefield in a blazing inferno.
As beings of the feywild, gnomes live in secretive earthen huts. It is this secrecy that gives the gnome a magical edge—both as a function of hiding and sense of mystique. We can think of these communities in terms of The Shire in The Hobbit or the Nelwyn village in Willow. These are people who appreciate simple pleasures and the freedom of a natural life.
Forest Gnome abilities and how they influence gameplay
After receiving the +2 Intelligence modifier as a gnome, the +1 Dexterity bonus is a nice compliment for this character build. Wizards aren’t often built for melee, so why not lean into Stealth and ranged weapons as a small character? While we’re at it, why not go further with Dexterity-based classes that use magic?
Darkvision gives these gnomes the ability to see through tunnels and burrows where they live. Obviously, this comes in handy in dark dungeons or deep forests.
Gnome Cunning gives all gnomes advantage on Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma saving throws. These anti-magic effects are like icing on wizard or arcane class cake.
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Forest gnomes also come complete with a bonus minor illusion cantrip. This innate spell is connected to their ability to hide and throw foes off their trail. Plus, a bonus cantrip only adds to the arcane classes the forest gnome is so well suited for.
Finally, Speak with Small Beasts gives this race the ability to commune with squirrels, rats, birds, badgers, etc. In fact, they often keep small woodland creatures as pets. So, go ahead and grab a pet squirrel to steal the keys you need or find a hidden entrance.
Any kind of wizard build—especially School of Illusion or Evocation
Gnomes are possibly the best race for wizard characters—the +2 Intelligence bonus is undeniably perfect for a powerful spell-crafter.
Naturally, forest gnomes have an affinity for the School of Illusion. I’ll already have minor illusion as a racial spell, so I can choose another bonus cantrip for my spell list. Also, my minor illusion spell will be enhanced with both visual and audial elements. This type of wizard character will be highly knowledgeable, with a hint of a trickster.
However, the School of Evocation can make my little wizard an absolute magical weapon. This school focuses on the elements, the fire and lightning spells that explode across the battlefield. Being such a cute character, this duality will bring fun roleplaying moments. My gnome will be able to Sculpt Spells to avoid hurting allies, while increasing damage output against enemies.
Build an arcane trickster with a bonus minor illusion cantrip
An arcane trickster build takes the stealth and cunning of a rogue and blends in wizard spells—primarily from the schools of Illusion and Enchantment. With the forest gnome’s racial bonuses and resistance to magic effects, they are already set up to be effective in this class.
However, the fact that forest gnomes come pre-equipped with minor illusion gives even more leverage to this class/race combination. Arcane tricksters are allowed to choose mage hand (the class’s specialty) and 2 other cantrips of my choice. I like having a bonus cantrip from the school of Illusion because it fits the build perfectly. Plus, I can choose 2 other cantrips from any wizard school I want.
As I level, my options for expanding spells past Illusion and Enchantment dwindle. Therefore, my choices for damage-dealing spells are mainly in my cantrips.
Build an arcane archer with resistance to spell effects—Gnome Cunning
Building a forest gnome fighter might sound counterintuitive, but the arcane archer class can use the +2 Intelligence/ +1 Dexterity to devastating effect.
I would argue this class fits forest gnome better than a ranger. My racial ability to speak to small animals already gives me a fun ranger flavor, but I’m not exactly built for Wisdom. Why not lean into gnome Intelligence scores for my woodland archer?
Arcane archers receive a list of special arrow shots that relate to a school of magic. Therefore, I can choose a cruel arrow that weakens my foe with necromancy. Or I can shoot a cupid arrow from the school of Enchantment to make a target fall in love (or just become friendly). Seriously, I could build a cupid-like cherub that also has devastating damage output. Tell me that’s not a fun character.
On top of these creative play options, my arcane archer would have Gnome Cunning to defend against magic. As a protector of the feywild, this kind of arcane archer would naturally want advantage against being charmed, frightened or psychically damaged.