While I'm working on getting some reviews up, here's a short article I wrote over at The RPG Site a while back:
One of my favorite races in all of fantasy gaming has to be the gnomes. I prefer the incarnation that sees them as endless tinkerers, inventing often useless items for often invention's sake alone, keepers of strange technology, the ultimate examples of inspiration without application.
If nothing else, gnomes make it very easy to introduce some unorthodox items and weaponry to your games. If your group is getting bored of standard longswords and shortbows but can't afford/obtain those rune weapons yet, perhaps its time to visit your friendly local gnomes, who promise "Technology Indistinguishable From Magic Or Your Money Back!" (note: refund offer not good in most realms).
Here are a few of the more ludicrous items that have made appearances at my table, either as a player or GM through the years:
Idea: Don't have the room to carry a full lance, or are you a demi-human who just isn't tall enough to port one around when you aren't riding? The Switch-Lance makes porting about the lance a breeze during horseless adventure periods! Simply push a button on the handle, and watch the Switch-Lance expand!
Pros: Easy to carry, as advertised. Push-button operation also allowed for surprise impalement of enemies.
Cons: Had a tendency in gameplay, when the button was pressed, to fire out at a speed that would drag small demihumans along with it on a failed strength check. Also, a fumble roll indicated that the user accidentally fat-fingered the button, retracting his Switch-Lance in mid-melee, leaving him defenseless.
Character Deaths Caused: 1 (plus one critical injury)
The Lightning Rod
Idea: Perhaps one of the cruelest tricks ever played on a stupid player, the Lightning Rod was purchased by a non-spell user who wished to have some magic power. He mentioned control of the elements, and the Gnomes, misunderstanding, provided him with a "Lightning Rod", a slim, long metallic wand that "one only had to hold above their head in a storm to witness results". And so the very, very gullible player did. Once.
Pros: Assuming one can persuade an enemy to hold The Lightning Rod over his head in an empty field during a thunderstorm, a devastating weapon.
Cons: That didn't happen.
Character Deaths Caused: 0
Melted Eyebrow Tally: 2
The Steam-Driven Crossbow
Idea: Marketed by a gnomish alchemist who felt steam power could revolutionize the face of warfare, the Steam-Driven Crossbow was to be the ultimate weapon, sending heavy shafts shooting across the battlefield at insane rates of fire. With only one of the puppies (only 16700 gold for the prototype model), a single man could take the place of an entire company of regular crossbowman.
Pros: Devastating range, incredible power, miraculous rate of fire.
Cons: With the addition of the steam-driven parts, the crossbow weighed upwards of 420 pounds, the main part being a small boiler that had a tendency to vent steam on a fumble roll.
Casualties: 0.5 (a near-death experience during a boiler explosion).
Unhappy Human Customers: 0
Happy Ogre Customers: 1
Happy Ogre Customers After Said Boiler Explosion: 0
And the less that's said the better about such items as the Personal Backpack Airship, the Black Powder Sword Launcher, the Black Powder Sword Launcher Mark II, the Automatic Portable Sword Repair Assembly, and the infamous Heat-Seeking Caltrop.