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D&D General My Problem(s) With Halflings, and How To Create Engaging/Interesting Fantasy Races

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AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
I know there have been discussions similar to this in the recent past on these forums, but I felt the need to explain things freshly from my point of view. Keep in mind, I'm not saying that halflings shouldn't be a part of D&D, or that people who play/like halflings are having badwrongfun, I'm merely explaining why I have always been turned off from halflings and tend to prefer other small races (gnomes, goblins, kobolds, even dwarves).

I should probably start out by giving some of my background in the hobby. As a few of you are probably aware, I am fairly new to the hobby, and younger than most of the active posters on this site (from my experience, anyway), being 19 years old (turning 20 in September). I have been playing D&D since just after my 15th birthday, so about 4.5 years now. D&D 5e was the first edition of D&D that I've ever played, and is still the only TTRPG that I have ever played/GMed for (although I know a bit about Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu, Warhammer 40k, and Star Wars: Edge of the Empire). I have also researched a bit of how previous editions of D&D were different mechanically and lore-wise from 5e in order to understand its background, and consider myself fairly well versed in the lore of the Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Exandria, and decently knowledgeable on the lore of Dark Sun, Theros, Ravnica, Ravenloft Dragonlance, Greyhawk, and a few other settings. I also own every official D&D 5e book except Candlekeep Mysteries, and have read all of the books that I do own. I am a huge fan of the hobby (even though I am relatively new to the game), believe that D&D 5e is a great game, and cannot foresee myself ever stop playing D&D in any part of the near or distant future. I am heavily invested in the game and its future, and want to see the hobby that I love improve as much as it possibly can.

As I've shown above, I know quite a bit about D&D. I have dozens of playable races available in my homebrew world, and learn as much as I can about the lore of different worlds in order to improve my world by inspiration brought by that lore. I have created a ton of lore for tons of playable races for my world, and I find most of the lore that I've created for these to be fairly engaging and drawing concepts (and I do not mean to brag by this. I am a strong believer in "I just write the thing" mentality that some writers have, and find myself incredibly lucky and thoroughly surprised whenever my limited human brain comes up with something I find cool). I've created an intricate society of Vecna-worshipping death-touched, called the Vezyi. Their whole society revolves around the idea that life is a fleeting gift and that they must do whatever they can to preserve the lives of their people, having their culture being based off of worshipping the god of undeath in order to get "free" resurrections from clerics of Vecna (the price of these resurrections is having your body becoming a nameless member of Vecna's undead army, and quite possibly having your soul being devoured by Vecna's Mega-Phylactery). I've also created the Felshen, which are a psionic race of people descended from a flesh-golem race created by artificers and fleshmancers that had the goal of creating a fully-reproducing and sentient race of people, just to see if they could. They've had a centuries-long conflict with the magic-worshipping Yikkan Goblinoids, as the Yikkan Goblinoids view them as unnatural aberrations that's mere existence is actively hurting the universe, and the Felshen have an understandably negative opinion of a society of people that have systematically oppressed them for as long as their race has existed. Again, not to toot my own horn, but I think that both of these examples that I have given are good, compelling, and interesting races. They have a clear niche and purpose (the Felshen for being a psionic race, the Vezyi for being death-touched), are given in-depth and sensical lore-based reasons to exist, and are strongly rooted in the identity of the world. I feel the same way about Kalashtar and Warforged for Eberron, Thri-Kreen for Dark Sun, the Kryn Dynasty's races for Exandria/Wildemount, and so on. There are tons of examples, but these are the ones that come to mind at the moment.

And this takes me to halflings. What's their niche? Short-person. Are they the only race in that niche? Only if you don't count gnomes, dwarves, kobolds, and goblins (and Fairies if you count UA, and I'm not even counting the Lineages/Races that can be small or medium, including Verdan). Are they strongly rooted in the identity of most worlds that they're included in? Not really. If you take Halflings out of the Forgotten Realms or Exandria, it doesn't really change anything important/major about the settings. If you remove them from Dark Sun you don't have cannibal halflings, which are a cool tidbit about the setting, but certainly not essential to its identity, IMO. Eberron probably changes the most noticeably of any of these listed settings, as it has Talenta Plains, Dragonmarked, and House Boromar Halflings, but even then, you could just as easily replace all halflings with Gnomes (or possibly even Goblins) and get practically the same outcome. What is their lore-based reason to exist in most D&D world's? There's rarely actually ever one of these, and even if there is, the explanation is lacking (cause this god I just came up with to create halflings created halflings), and/or could just be summed up by "Halflings are in this world because they exist in D&D". And why do Halflings exist in D&D as a whole? Because Tolkien's works (a huge part of the inspiration of D&D) included Hobbits.

And that's where the issue (for me) comes down to. Their existence is circular. They exist for no real narrative or plot-driving purposes, but because Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit had small-folk as a race for some of its most prominent characters. And that's not a "bad" reason to warrant their existence in a fantasy game where quite literally anything can exist, but it's just not a "good" one, either (and by "a good reason to warrant existing", I meant it as in a reason that empowers creative thought, drives/inspires plot points, and motivates players to think a bit more about the identity of their characters). Warforged exist for a good reason (to provoke discussion and tropes of "what measure is a non-human") and give a lot of inspiration for both character backstory and plot points. Felshen exist in my D&D world to create plot points about the Felyik Conflict (shorthand for Felshen-Yikkan Conflict/Wars), to give players ideas on how their character(s) feel about major parts of the world (the magical goblinoid and psionic humanoid societies), and to drive discussion on who the "good" and the "bad" in the conflict are (it's neither, all shades of gray, but some individuals and mindsets are more wrong or right than others). The Kryn Dynasty exists in Exandria to drive discussion on essentially the same issue as Paarthurnax's famous question of "What is better - to be born good, or to overcome your evil nature through great effort?" The Warforged, the Felshen, the Kryn Dynasty, (and endless further examples), all exist for what I define as "good" reasons. They exist for story-driving reasons, while Halflings just exist to be "short people that are humans . . . but short".

I guess this is one of the rare cases where I find "Humans in silly hats" to be a valid complaint about a player race. Warforged can't be replaced with humans, as their story is unique and specific to their physical nature and history. The Kryn Dynasty's story would be far less compelling if they weren't gnolls, orcs, and goblinoids and were just cursed humans. My world's stories for Felshen and Vezyi are highly dependent on how they came into existence and their inherent genetic and magical nature, even if they are roleplayed very similar to humans (because, you know, we humans are the ones that will be roleplaying these races). However, if Halfling villages were just replaced with bog-standard human peasant villages, the story wouldn't change at all. If the dinosaur riders of the Talenta Planes were just primitive gnomes, goblins, or even humans that ride just slightly larger dinos, would anyone really notice or care? If the Halfling cannibals of Dark Sun were just human or elven cannibals, would that really change anything important about the world? If the Kender were just Thanos-snapped out of existence, would the cries in response to this be more made in protest against removing the endlessly-annoying kleptomaniacs, or would they be in celebration of their ultimate demise?

tl;dr - Halflings don't fill any important narrative purposes in the game (and even the ones that they do fill heavily overlap with more story-driving races). They exist just to exist, mostly because people like Bilbo/Frodo Baggins, and just aren't an inspiring character race. They're just "short people", and even the settings that try to make them matter fail to do so in a way that couldn't be at least as easy to emulate with one of the other similar races in the game that actually have story connected to their existence (gnomes connected to fey, humans being humans, etc).

Thoughts? Who agrees with me? Who disagrees with me? If you agree with me, are your reasons for agreeing the same as mine, or are they different. If you disagree with me, why?
 
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AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
Like in lord of the rings halfling are suited for the accidental adventurer niche.
“I should have stay home” is their credo, but push to their limit they can be resourceful.
Useful for antiheroic, underdog character and thematic.
I mean, sure, but that's such a broad "niche" that it can be filled by practically any character class or race. A Human Peasant that gets lost in the woods could be an accidental adventurer. If you want a short accidental adventurer, be a gnome, goblin, or kobold. If you want "I should have stayed home/I really like my home", be a Gnome or Dwarf, or even just an antisocial human/anyone with the Hermit background. A Sorcerer that was born with their powers, a Warlock that accidentally made their pact, a Monk that just wanted to find peace of body and mind, and so on. Anyone and anything can be an "accidental adventurer" in D&D. IMO, good reasons to warrant existing should be fairly specific to that race (like Warforged being the only constructed race, etc).

I just don't find that to be a motivating "niche" to warrant their existence.
 

Liane the Wayfarer

Frumious Flumph
I like the way they've flavored halflings in the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th edition materials. In earlier editions they were tacked on as comedy relief. But in this edition they're more like the superficially friendly types who are fine to get along with until you make enough trouble for them and then they secretly murder you in your sleep and hide the body. You know, neighbors.
 

I just don't find that to be a motivating "niche" to warrant their existence.
So don't play one?

Eliminating the race means a rejection of the only race that encompasses the pastoral and non-magical. The zero-to-hero trope is strongest in hin/halfling/hobbits because their normality is so bland. That tale is important.

Plus, embracing shortness as normal is good.
 

Like in lord of the rings halfling are suited for the accidental adventurer niche.
“I should have stay home” is their credo, but push to their limit they can be resourceful.
Useful for antiheroic, underdog character and thematic.
I have seen the niche done better in other media and honestly, it is not a very good one for dnd as it does not fit the rest of the mechanics or basic drives of the consumers.

I honestly suspect halfings are kept around out of nostalgia more than need, gnomes fit better and you can Thanos gnomes and few would care.

then again I think of that for most of the classic races aside from human as I know why we are forced to have them.

So don't play one?

Eliminating the race means a rejection of the only race that encompasses the pastoral and non-magical. The zero-to-hero trope is strongest in hin/halfling/hobbits because their normality is so bland. That tale is important.

Plus, embracing shortness as normal is good.
I believe this point is that we have better options for all those reasons especially the shortness with goblins and kobolds have more wight and all around being better.
 


jayoungr

Legend
I have seen the niche done better in other media and honestly, it is not a very good one for dnd as it does not fit the rest of the mechanics or basic drives of the consumers.
How so? It seems like this statement encompasses a lot of assumptions about how other people play.
 



billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
I believe this point is that we have better options for all those reasons especially the shortness with goblins and kobolds have more wight and all around being better.
Whether or not you have better options for those reasons is nothing more than a matter of taste. If you prefer a goblin or kobold in that niche, then that's fine. But there will be other players/DMs who won't and will prefer a halfling. Personally, I'm halfling all the way. They're one of my favorite races - all mundane and pastoral, whose ambitions are more directed around food and beer than power or politics - but with a surprising grit under the surface.
 

Halflings are the most boring of the small races, in just about any setting except for Dark Sun.

I think the problem is being too strongly tied to Hobbits at the beginning of the game. When the D&D started to expand in a bunch of directions, Halflings mostly stayed the same. There's occasionally a subrace where they try something different, like the Ghostwise or controversially the Kender.

It's possible the introduction of Gnomes have kept Halflings roughly where they started, as Gnomes got into all sorts of interesting directions across editions. As they sort of have that fey and artificer niche.

Goblins have their own niches too that's certainly distinct from Gnomes.

But Halflings are basically "short humans". Too much about them is basically about how they relate to Humans.
 

payn

Hero
It might have been Golarion, but perhaps another setting, but Halflings were a big sailing ancestry. Since they are smaller they take less space and theoretically eat less. I've kinda liked that idea when I came across it.

Didnt Halflings ride dinosaurs and eat people in Dark Sun?
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Neither goblins nor kobolds are pastoral
So human farmer? Gnome?
Pastoral is a social background not a race trait.

Yeah Halflings from their inception were set up as being just half-sized humans with nothing to define them beyond being simple pastoral folk. It works fine within Tolkiens story but as a race option in a broad menu of other races they are just a little too bland and fail to find a good niche of their own.
IMC I pushed them into the fey to become all those child-like fey trooping around behind Oberon and Titania
 
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Whether or not you have better options for those reasons is nothing more than a matter of taste. If you prefer a goblin or kobold in that niche, then that's fine. But there will be other players/DMs who won't and will prefer a halfling. Personally, I'm halfling all the way. They're one of my favorite races - all mundane and pastoral, whose ambitions are more directed around food and beer than power or politics - but with a surprising grit under the surface.
look hobbits were made as an audience surrogate for children and merry england, the audience surrgate for most people is the human given how little they are idealised, halflings should at least not be in the major race category in phb given their lack of goals or real history.
they should have a rework to be a better suited for dnd.
It might have been Golarion, but perhaps another setting, but Halflings were a big sailing ancestry. Since they are smaller they take less space and theoretically eat less. I've kinda liked that idea when I came across it.

Didnt Halflings ride dinosaurs and eat people in Dark Sun?
You're mixing darksun and eberron together.
 


It's at this point, I use various lore bits from the different versions of DND when it comes to races that need to be a bit more interesting in the game for lore reasons. So my Halflings follow in this regard.

IIRC in 4E, the Halflings actually had an expansive River Boating network so they were quite handy for getting around places when need be, aside from the usual Halfling stuff they were known for. And then in, Basic or another early edition, they actually had a whole expansive country/pocket nation called the Hin Dynasty, I believe and it was located within an expansive Halfling territory known as the Five Shires. And said members of the Hin Dynasty, certain ones, knew the application of a particularly nasty sort of thing known as Blackflame which meant that certain Halflings were actually Black Flame Zealots. Also, to add on to their River Boating nature, there were Halfling Pirates in the Five Shires as well.

And yeah, I used to feel the same way about Halflings or what exactly made them different from Gnomes, and vice versa. Thankfully, 4E helped out ALOT with that distinction.
 

The lore or background is optional. We can remember the races from Dark Sun. In my opinion the problem is when their racial traits are designed in the way they become typecasted into certain classes: fighters, spellcasters or stealth. I guess the solution is the used in Pathfinder, offering options, the racial feats and to choose the bonus to abilities scores. Like this the typecasting is avoided.
 

Almost every racial trait in D&D could be a social background.

The fact of the matter is the hin/halfling/hobbit racial trait is pastoral. They are enjoyers of fine things, a pleasant life. Yes, other races can do that.

Anyone can be a miner and stoneworker too. No one suggests eliminating dwarves because of that.
dwarves have the decency to build grand mountain halls, and a utterly inhuman need to craft things and they have goals the average escapist player identify with which is gaining glory.
The lore or background is optional. We can remember the races from Dark Sun. In my opinion the problem is when their racial traits are designed in the way they become typecasted into certain classes: fighters, spellcasters or stealth. I guess the solution is the used in Pathfinder, offering options, the racial feats and to choose the bonus to abilities scores. Like this the typecasting is avoided.
you have a solid point on race design but that is not the problem with halflings.
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
No Halflings means no Kender, right? ... so there's that.

But seriously, I'm with @Rabulias on Gnomes being part of what makes Halflings seem redundant. Part of that is probably just be my personal experience. Most of my class read Lord of the Rings in 5th grade, and then Moldvay came out while I was in 6th grade, and of course it had Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings as the three non-human options, and so my first two characters were a Dwarf and a Halfling.

The core Appendix N books seems to guide a lot of what made up the early D&D (Rangers, Barbarians, Law vs. Chaos, Paladins, Dwarfs, Elves, Halflings, etc....), and now it's baked in. And then fantasy exploded. For someone coming to D&D from WoW or MtG or Harry Potter or Percy Jackson, I can see them being completely befuddled about why this is the default setting. Whereas for someone coming from the beginning the question is why are WoW and MtG so far afield :)
 
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