Did you know we have a Patreon that funds a zine about Midgard every month? It includes Warlock Lair, a new adventure every month too!
Here’s a an excerpt from Warlock 34, written by kobold-in-chief himself, Woflgang Baur. It’s about gnomes. But Midgard gnomes are not all the goofy know-it-alls that D&D often delivers. . . .
Niemheim: Notes on Gnomish Diabolism
The gnomes of Niemheim are not the only gnomes of Midgard, but they are by far the best known. Mostly, this is because they are particularly dangerous and entirely willing to kidnap, murder, and steal as needed to protect their strange woodland realm.
These evil gnomes are justly infamous for their troubles with Baba Yaga and their tightly entwined relationship with the hells. And they are closely allied with the one they call the Master of Knives—better known elsewhere as the arch-devil Parzelon, the Lord of Secrets.
Recent Gnomish History
While most know the story that a gnomish prince named Vander Steingau broke a sworn blood oath to Baba Yaga 200 years ago, rather fewer know that Prince Steingau did so in order to steal magical power from Baba Yaga to fuel his own ambitions. He stole two items: one being the Ebony Star, a magical gemstone said to contain the soul of Baba Yaga’s grandchild, and the other being a book of her secrets, sometimes called Grandmother’s Grimoire or the Oxtail Libram, after the oxtail that the tanner left on the book’s leather cover. Neither item is well known outside of gnomish arcanist circles.
To recover them, Baba Yaga sent her ala hags and strigoi, her vila, her psoglav, and her ravens to capture and question and destroy gnomes to punish them for Steingau’s betrayal. The prince took the book and black gem to the Eleven Hells where Baba Yaga couldn’t find him—and Niemheim suffered until King Redbeard made his pact with Parzelon (see Creature Codex).
In Service to the Lord of Secrets
Because Parzelon is the Lord of Secrets, he prizes secret knowledge highly and always seeks to acquire more, stealing them so that they are no one’s but his. Thus, when Steingau raised such ire from Baba Yaga and made off with prized treasures, well, the possibility of protecting a few gnomes and gaining priceless information from Baba Yaga was rather irresistible.
As a result, Parzelon has expanded his cult widely among the Niemheim gnomes, though his name is not known to those who do not traffic in diabolism. The Lord of Secrets granted the gnomes spells to summon alliesand to hide gnomish travel and activities from others. At the same time, Parzelon is cautious of devoting too much attention to Niemheim: he has rivals in Chernobog and Mammon, and each seeks the gnomes’ devotion for themselves. And while the gnomes are fearful, they are also clever, and their king seeks to end their reliance on infernal aid.
In practical terms, Parzelon sends various fiends to Niemheim (spree demons, see Creature Codex, bearded devils, and others) to protect the gnomes, and in return, the gnomes provide a steady supply of sacrifices and learn all the secrets they can with spies, arcane scrying, and outright theft from humans, undead, and Baba Yaga’s allies—all while keeping his own name hidden insofar as possible. Most gnomes, even members of the Eleven Knives and affiliated tinkers and scouts, simply refer to him as Our Patron, the Master of Knives, King of the Eleven Havens, and similar circumlocutions. Their gratitude is quite real though, and stories tell of the “lost generation” of gnomish children, thousands and thousands of them, taken into Grandmother’s stewpots and never seen again.
Cult of Chernobog and the Dark Five
The older faith among the gnomes included worship of Yarila and Porevit as well as Hecate and Rava—with some attention paid to Lada as gnomish goddess of healing, light, and luck. All of that worship though (except for Lada) is long gone, referred to as the Ancient Five but rarely. Lada alone retains some minor attention in temples otherwise given over to Chernobog, the Goat of the Woods, Mammon, Marena, and Parzelon: the Five Dark Protectors.
The faith of Chernobog, the god of night and murder, was always part of the darkness under the deep shade of the Wormwood Forest, but in times past, it was rooted out and extinguished by brave gnomish heroes. At best, it was a cult for bandits and necromancers. For 200 years though, it has served as a cloak of darkness over the gnomes of Niemheim, for Chernobog was the gnomes’ first protector—before the bargain with Parzelon was struck.
Now, there is a high priest of Chernobog in the city of Königsheim, with his hellspur cavaliers to carry out his orders, and his priesthood is in every village, ready to blind the eyes of Baba Yaga’s servants—or indeed the eyes of the undead of Morgau or the centaurs of the Rothenian Plain. Unlike Parzelon, the priests of Chernobog require far less blood and sacrifice, only fervent prayers and the annual soul of a young gnome or human brought to the Black Spire of Chernobog in Königsheim at midwinter.