Won't You Have a Brownie?

Brownies: A Fun New Fantasy Race For GURPS

by Andrew J. Shelden

Since time immemorial people have seen little folk in their homes and in the woods: Gnomes, Leprechauns, and more. In the misty hills of Scotland there dwelt the Brownie. Small and quick, sometimes hairy, sometimes brown, always helpful, Brownies were found in the homes and barns of Scottish farmsteads. They would come out at night and tidy up, helping with chores and so on. But if the humans dared criticize their work, they would make nasty mischief, like destroying crops, making livestock ill, or fouling food stores. Legends hold that Brownies are a happy folk, cheerful and helpful, and that they love children. They love to play with kids, tell them stories, and teach them to make garlands of wildflowers. The only gifts they would accept would be gifts of food and ale (as they would sometimes help with any brewing going on nearby). It would never do for a human to pay undo attention to his Brownie helper, or give gifts other than edibles, because the Brownie might take offense. An offended Brownie might just abandon his human neighbors, or might bring down the wrath of the Faerie folk on the offending humans and their livestock, but they would never harm a child, nor allow one to come to harm at the hands of a human. What happens when a ticked-off Brownie moves out of his farm-home? He goes to the woods.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, like all of the Wee folk, Brownie legends were sanitized and romanticized, with the initial insult being Palmer Cox's The Brownies (first published in the magazine "St. Nicholas" in 1883, the art of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones, and finally culminating in the 1930s with the book Jolly Old Santa Claus written by somebody known only as "Sparky," complete with whimsical paintings of Santa Claus and his merry goof-offs, the Brownies, by painter George Heinke. Much of their nature has been "cleaned up" to make them less frightening to (human) children. These were further sanitized in a recent reprint, but that's a different matter altogether.

Brownies are tiny humanoids of an extremely magical nature. They are capricious and playful, and always ready to party. Brownies can be a blast to play, and make intriguing NPCs. Like Leprechauns and other "faerie folk," Brownies are prone to playing practical jokes, some of which can be extremely destructive -- even deadly -- without actual malicious intent . . . which could make a forest -- or even a farm -- full of Brownies a dangerous obstacle for the unwary.

To determine height, take the normal for ST (after racial modifiers, double it and read feet for inches. They can be of any build found in humanity, but due to their small size, weight is negligible -- 6-10 pounds. Brownie hair is wiry and unmanageable in many cases. It can be blond, brunette or red, with brown being the norm. Many Brownie males wear full beards. Their hair and beards usually turn white or silver in their advanced years. Baldness is not uncommon among the older males. Traditionally, males and females wear their hair long -- shoulder length or more for the men and sometimes down to the floor for women. Their eyes are usually brown or blue.

Brownie dress is usually flannel shirts of white, red or green, brown trousers held up with suspenders and soft leather shoes in Elven styles. Particularly in colder areas, Brownies are frequently seen in long stocking-caps which match their shirts. Brownie women dress in similar fashion to their men, with the primary differences being long skirts rather than trousers and close- fitting knit caps. Since they mostly live in colder climes, Brownies generally keep their heads covered when outside.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Brownies have ST -4 (-30 points), DX +2 (20 points) and IQ +2 (20 points). They have the advantages Longevity (5 points) and Magical Aptitude (15 points). Brownie disadvantages are Decreased Hit Points -2 (-10 points), Inconvenient Size (-15 points) and Compulsive Behavior­Tidying (-10) All Brownies have a Racially Learned Skill in any craft -- e.g. Woodworking, Clock making, Sewing, Brewing, etc. -- at IQ +2 (6 points), and have the Racial Skill Bonus +1 for Engineering or Design skills (4 points). All Brownies have the Quirks Fond of Children (-1) and Practical Joker (-1).

It costs 2 points to play a Brownie.

In addition, any Brownie may take up to two spells as though they were racially innate, provided that they are not Mental/Very Hard spells, they do not require Magery 2 or 3, and no spell has a higher energy cost than 3. As with any innate spells, the GM may declare any spell or group of spells "off limits," for either the entire race of Brownies or for an individual in order to protect the balance of the campaign.

These spells are bought at skill level 13 or the Brownie's IQ, whichever is higher. Brownies are not required to have spells, but if spells are not purchased at initial character generation, they cannot be added later. All other rules of racially innate spells apply.

Brownies are a merry folk, far more out-going than their reticent cousins, the Leprechauns. They are, as a race, hard workers and hard players. They work at their tidying (or, in the woods, their craft -- generally toy making or gadget designing) for hours on end, then party hard until they drop.

Brownies are sort of reverse Gremlins in that they are magical beings which are benefactors of technology unless crossed, in which case they can be very destructive to machinery). This magic-technology paradox cannot be explained except by saying that Brownies love tinkering with and designing gadgets. Their spells often lean toward assisting in this tinkering. They tend not to enchant their creations; but carvers might have Shape Wood, for example.

Brownies are not by nature gifted merchants. They will sell their wares to any one who passes by and offers money, but are just as frequently known to simply give their creations away, particularly to children of any race. "Big Folk" who live near Brownie lands often venture into the woods specifically to see if they can find a Brownie and receive a gift. Many give baskets of bread, cheese, ale and meats to leave. Humans living near Brownie lands have been known to leave gifts of food near the edge of the forest in the evening and return the next day to find a toy for their child, or a set of hand-crafted wooden bowls, a new broom or some other helpful household items. Because of this, Brownies rarely have need to hunt or seek out food of any sort. Most humans in near Brownie lands know not to overdo with gifts of food and ale, lest they lose their helpers.

Despite their deeply magical nature, Brownies rarely actually study magic, and Brownie wizards are extremely rare. Like Leprechauns, Brownies are frequently born knowing some small spells and have them mastered before they reach puberty. They can learn spells later in the usual manner, but they are generally uninterested in doing so. If asked, a Brownie will share his magical knowledge with another Brownie, but they are usually unwilling to give up time from either their work or play, so asking is infrequent. Work is play to the Brownie, who takes great pride in his accomplishments. No human has anything bad to say about the Brownie's work (even if he thinks the Brownie won't hear) because the consequences of such criticism can be trivial (broken eggs) devastating (lost crops, sick cattle or chickens), and even deadly (sabotaged plowing or other equipment) depending on the severity of the insult.

Brownies are peaceful and generally non-violent. They abhor war, but are not willing to be over-run. They will defend themselves, their families and homes, and any innocent -- particularly children -- against attack. Their weapons are tiny versions of the missile weapons found among the "Big Folk" in their given Tech Level. They do not envenom their weapons except with paralytic or narcotic agents. Brownie combat is a sight to behold; they rarely show themselves, preferring to fire their weapons from ingeniously concealed bunkers in trees, rocks, and hillsides. Brownies generally welcome any race into their homeland with open arms but Orcs, Goblins, Minotaurs, Ogres and Trolls are not tolerated and will be driven off if the Brownies can manage it.

Brownies work in any medium; their skills and spells generally focus on one type of craft, giving Brownie creations exceptional quality and durability. They have no art except their work, which can be of great beauty and frequently of great function.

Brownies love music and dancing. Unfortunately, they do not tend to be skilled musicians. They turn to their cousins, the Leprechauns, and other sylvan folk for their music, often dancing the night away in the presence of Fauns who might live nearby.

Brownie names are often based on Elvish naming practices found in their region, sometimes taking names symbolic of their work on a particular farm. (No self respecting Brownie would call himself, say, Sparky unless he lived in a smithy . . . .and probably not even then.)

Most Brownies learn to read and write. They don't keep extensive historical records, however, and they don't generally read or invent stories. Their desire for literacy seems to stem from the need to take notes on their tinkering so they can resume in the morning where they left off the night before, regardless of the magnitude of their hang-overs.

Brownie religion is a form of Mana/Nature Worship. They do not seem to have a named god per se, but rather appear to hold mana in high reverence. There are no known Brownie priests; each individual communes directly with their god.


"Domestic" Brownies can be found in virtually any cool, moist clime where there are farmers and children. A woodland people, "Wild" Brownies can be found in virtually any forest. They do, however, prefer cooler climes and mountain terrain, where ancient oaks, evergreen trees and winter snows abound. Brownies have no idea from whence they came. The suggestions that apply to Leprechauns are valid here as well: some think Brownies are the result of a cross between Halflings and Faerie Folk, but Brownies, like Leprechauns, have been known for millennia before anyone even knew what a Halfling was.

Brownie diet is rather similar to the tastes found in whatever Big Folk live in their region, largely due to the fact that the Big Folk bring food to exchange for crafts. Brownies do not generally hunt or farm, nor do they tend flocks (except the "Domestic" Brownies who help with their human's chickens, sheep, or cattle.)

Brownies are very family oriented, and most have a strong Sense of Duty to their families. It is easy to see why. Brownie couples mate for life, and generally only produce two or three children during their 30-40 year reproductive years. Children are the greatest treasures of the Brownies, and many a Brownie has fallen protecting children -- regardless of race. Brownies reach adolescence at 18 and are considered adult at 30. They begin aging around their 65th year, but do so far more slowly than humans. Most are active well into their second century and the average life expectancy is around 220.


"Domestic" Brownies live in abandoned rat holes or in the hay lofts of barns. "Wild" Brownies build their forest homes into whatever natural shelter is available. It is not uncommon to see a Brownie's front door over a knot-hole in a hollow tree or atop an abandoned fox borrow. Inside, the homes are tidy and quaint echoes of rustic human or Elven dwellings. Occasionally an eccentric Brownie will build a miniature castle, complete with tiny hewn stone blocks, a working drawbridge and four- or five-foot towers. These castles are rarely designed for defensive purposes, but are rather the expression of the builder's innate stone and masonry skills and spells.

The community unit in Brownie culture is the tribe. They have no leaders, and what little rule making goes on is decided by tribal consent. Brownies tend to be too busy for such trivial things as governing. They prefer to tinker and leave the ruling to the Elves or other sylvan authority-types. They don't require a lot of governing, however, and participate only to the extent of sending gadgets or other creations to the liege lord as tribute. They are, as a people, almost useless on a battle-field, owing to their small size, but some are employed as perimeter guards or forest sentinels.

Brownies who misbehave are dealt with by the entire community. Criminal behavior is not tolerated, and wrongdoers are usually banished to a low- or no-mana area for periods not exceeding two years. Only the most serious offenders are sent to the local Big Folk lord, and in those cases the Brownies accept whatever fate is assigned to them by their ruler.

Brownies have a well-developed sense of community and family. In the woods, their homes are frequently clustered in tiny "neighborhoods" of six or eight families, with each neighborhood occupying about an acre. Brownies tend to like virgin forests; there are no known Brownie cities.

There are two festivals annually which require the presence of all Brownies in any given forest: Midsummer's Eve, when they gather at the "faerie mounds" to party with Leprechauns and the Faerie Folk 'til sun-up, and the Winter Solstice. The Brownies call the latter the "Festival of the Bonfire," and, as the name implies, they light numerous massive piles of wood in snow-covered clearings. Leprechauns and Fauns are invited to this winter party, as are other sylvan folk, but one usually will find only Fauns and an occasional Elf or Ellyl cavorting with the Brownies in the cold night air.

"Domestic" and "Wild" Brownies are generally too busy with their tinkering to go gallivanting about outside their farms or sylvan woods, but on rare occasions one might venture out -- to visit a favorite or ill child of the Big Folk, or even to explore the world. Explorers are rarely seen again in the Brownie community. The reasons for this are unknown, and the return of a wayward Brownie is cause for a week-long celebration for the entire tribe. The Brownies that do venture out soon find that they can either be heroes or stepped upon by the Big Folk, and usually wind up standing up for the innocent in some far-off land.

Brownie women generally remain in their homes, working on their crafts and tending the next generation of Brownies. Big Folk who actually see Brownie women outside the confines of their farmhouses or sylvan woods are one in a million.


Brownies are among the more friendly of the sylvan races, but tend to stay put. When they meet others, it is usually the others who come to the Brownies, and the Brownies cheerfully welcome most with open arms. They get along well with Dwarves and Gnomes, and of course, all the sylvan peoples are welcome in Brownie lands. Halflings often venture into the woods with gifts of food to exchange for crafts and wind up partying the night away with the Brownies. The coarser races, Goblins, Kobolds and Gargoyles, are objects of distrust and the Brownies will generally hide from them or torment them into leaving. This frustrates Goblins greatly, for they would love to have mercantile access to the wonderful gadgets of the Brownies. Brownies enjoy humans as individuals, but prefer not to have them settle in the woods. Brownies believe that when one human comes, the rest cannot be far behind. Orcs, Minotaurs, Ogres and Trolls are the only true enemies of the Brownies, but contact is mercifully rare.

They're quirky, they're lively, they're fun. For an added element of whimsy, try a Brownie for your next fantasy adventure -- as a sniper or a scout or comic relief. As a GM, you could pepper your woodland campaign with mischievous Brownies to hinder or help your players. And to keep the campaign all neat and tidy . . . .

Article publication date: August 17, 2001

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