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What is a Gremlin? Is there a conventional, standard-issue portrayal of Gremlins in fantasy settings, much like there is for Dwarves, Elves or Orcs?

What games include portrayals of Gremlins?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

No, there's no standard. (Arguably there's no set standard for dwarves, elves, or orcs either, but the D&D juggernaut says otherwise.)

Gremlins are small, destructive, and malicious. They break and disable complicated things in subtle or obvious ways. The most plausible account of their folklore origin is rather recent, dating to World War II. There's no standard-issue portrayal of them because there was never a standard understanding of them in their original folklore—they are nearly impossible to catch in the act, and so they are more defined by the damage they cause, leaving their actual nature vague.

In AD&D 2nd edition gremlins are flying things that pester their victims and are nearly impossible to hit. They act in groups, and are about a foot tall. They like stealing things and destroying property. Other than that Monster Manual entry, I haven't seen gremlins in an RPG.

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+1 for the first line alone. –  LeguRi Nov 5 '10 at 3:59
    
... and is it really the D&D juggernaut, or is it the Tolkienian juggernaut? –  LeguRi Nov 5 '10 at 4:04
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Tolkien elves are taller than humans. That should tell you something about which one is the bigger juggernaut. ;) –  SevenSidedDie Nov 5 '10 at 4:14
    
@SevenSidedDie - We need to use a different word; I keep imagining the word b*tch in these comments about juggernauts. –  LeguRi Nov 5 '10 at 6:16
    
@LeguRi Wow, that meme totally passed me by. –  SevenSidedDie Nov 5 '10 at 6:30

Gremlins originate in the RAF around between WWI and WWII.

The Wikipedia Entry notes this:

Origins

The word "gremlin" originated in Royal Air Force (RAF) aviators' slang in Malta, the Middle East and India, with the earliest recorded printed use being in a poem published in the journal Aeroplane, in Malta on April 10, 1929.

The typical depiction from that era is a small, horned, tan or brown skinned homind, sometimes with wings, often wearing aviator goggles and leather helmets (presumably stolen).

Disney typified the imagery in several shorts, and so did Warner Brothers.

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The Online Etymology Dictionary (a wonderful place, worth visiting indeed) adds that the word gremlin comes 'Possibly from a dial. survival of O.E. gremman "to anger, vex" + -lin of goblin; or from Ir. gruaimin "bad-tempered little fellow."' (Source: etymonline.com/index.php?search=gremlin ) –  OpaCitiZen Nov 6 '10 at 14:58
    
There's a well-known episode of The Twilight Zone where the plot revolves around a gremlin sabotaging a plane: Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. However, I don't know how well their portrayal of the gremlin kept with the origins of the myth. –  DaoWen Jul 24 at 4:46

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