Editor's note: This piece represents the author's thoughts and beliefs, not the thoughts and beliefs of Physiognomy Today or its editors.
The existence of gnomes is well-attested in the historical record, but no confirmed sightings have been made since the Cataclysm 210 years ago (despite rumors of adventurers having seen some in an Old Imperial research facility. After all, everyone knows adventurers make up crazy stories.). Who were gnomes? Where did they come from? Why aren't there any more since the Cataclysm? Scholars have debated these questions now for centuries.
In this article I will review the current theories on the matter and show why they're wrong. I will then give a definitive account of the matter, settling once and for all the Gnomish Question.
Current Theories about the Origin and Nature of Gnomes
Two main (incorrect) theories are prevalent among scholars. We might call these the "mutated dwarves" theory and the "halfling precursor" theory.
The dominant theory is that gnomes were merely a subrace of dwarves, altered by ancient aelvar mages much like dragonborn were created by the Old Empire. This theory gains strength from the common association of gnomes and dwarves--both were known to favor underground habitats, both are involved in pursuits of smithying and mining and both are small races. They claim the aelvar influence because the gnomes were known to be more inclined to the arcane than dwarves are, which fits an origin with the wizardly aelvar.
This theory tries to account for the forest-dwelling, animal-loving branch of the gnomish race (also well attested) as being merely an aberration, just like the wood elves were an aberrant group of aelvar in the beginning.
Of course this theory is patent nonsense. Dwarves are traditionalists to their core, gnomes were inventors and always trying new things. Furthermore, dwarven records go back for thousands of years and contain no evidence of a gnomish branching. Gnomes are also not prone to runic magic, something characteristic of all branches of genus Tyrannis. It also fails to explain why all of them are gone. So we can safely say that gnomes are not mutated dwarves.
An older theory (now superseded) was that halflings are an offshoot of gnomes and that gnomes were the descendants of an otherwise extinct primordial species. As we know know that halflings are descended from proteus multiplex (common goblins), this theory can be dismissed without further examination.
The Truth about Gnomes
Gnomes are, in truth, another branch of proteus multiplex. More specifically, the two sub-races (commonly termed "rock gnomes" and "forest gnomes") are properly named proteus multiplex terrae and proteus multiplex animi, rock goblins and spirit goblins. They are born in small numbers whenever a goblin tribe is exposed to large quantities of elemental-aspected (especially earth-aspected) anima or to strong influences of the local animal and plant kami. P. multiplex terrae is also susceptible to the fey influence associated with curiosity and inventiveness, resulting in their common image as inventors and mad scientists. This is magnified when many P. multiplex are in a small area, resulting in the spontaneous production of P. multiplex terrae and P. multiplex animi, often at the scale of whole tribes.
Why haven't they shown up since the Cataclysm? Like most sophonts, P. multiplex populations took a severe beating in the destruction attendant to that event. With their numbers only now approaching normal, there haven't been the critical mass of them needed to create noticeable populations of "gnomes". I fully predict that in the next few decades there will be a resurgence of them especially in the Remnant Dynasty's southern region.