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

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So... why didn't you? It was kind of an invitation for you to do something.
I can make halflings that are interesting to me. I probably can't make halflings that are interesting to you.

Instead you just keep saying that clearly I think my preferences are universal (when I've said I don't) and that if I just stopped thinking about myself I'd realize other people like other things and they can be just as interesting.

I know other people can like other things. I've said that a few times. But you seem to not be hearing me.
Then what are we discussing here? You don't care for halflings, we know. So what?
 

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Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
okay you know people who like halflings, right? do they ever note how halflings have no real connections to big stuff like history and cosmology do they ever complain about their lack of connection?
In my campaign world all the different humanoids have just as much history and cosmology as required by the players actions. I didn't have to invent any more history and backstory than I needed to set up the current events in the land. This applies blanketly to all the humanoids.

As far as prepwork, I have humanoid areas the players never even visited (giantlands and lizardfolk) and have other areas the players gravitated to where I developed way more backstory that WotC would ever think of (bulkywugs).

Maybe this is why I don't see halflings as lesser than any other of the PHB choices, because I just take the simple into description from the PHB and then build on it for my own campaign.
 

Maybe this is why I don't see halflings as lesser than any other of the PHB choices, because I just take the simple into description from the PHB and then build on it for my own campaign.
How they're presented in the PHB and other official books is 100% the issue. Yes, you can do whatever you want with them once you're at your own table; that's true, but irrelevant. The point being disputed is whether the starting point we're given in official material is compelling enough.
 
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How they're presented in the PHB and other official books is 100% the issue. Yes, you can do whatever you want with them once you're at your own table; that's true, but irrelevant. The point being disputed is whether the starting ooint we're given in official material is compelling enough.
I mean it is not particularly compelling. But neither are any of the others. They're all pretty damn bland. 🤷‍♀️
 


doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
@Yaarel dude I’m not going to play this game with you. I’ve literally never seen you not insist on anything remotely related to Norse myth only being the way you see it in your very idiosyncratic view that isn’t shared by any Norse scholar I’ve ever met, regardless of what anyone else says.

The point remains for anyone who wants to know. There are many stories about dwarves, and they range from holding up the sky to making jewelry for Freja to being confused with alfar to all kinds of other stuff.

It isn’t accurate at all to say that “the mind of a feature of Stone” is more accurate than a physical creature walking around. It’s just your interpretation of animist interpretations of folk lore.
 

Yaarel

Mind Mage
@Yaarel dude I’m not going to play this game with you. I’ve literally never seen you not insist on anything remotely related to Norse myth only being the way you see it in your very idiosyncratic view that isn’t shared by any Norse scholar I’ve ever met, regardless of what anyone else says.

The point remains for anyone who wants to know. There are many stories about dwarves, and they range from holding up the sky to making jewelry for Freja to being confused with alfar to all kinds of other stuff.

It isn’t accurate at all to say that “the mind of a feature of Stone” is more accurate than a physical creature walking around. It’s just your interpretation of animist interpretations of folk lore.
Exactly how many Norse archeologists from Scandinavia have you met?
 

jayoungr

Legend
Supporter
You know, it occurs to me that halflings may have the Champion Fighter "problem". There has been lots of discussion here about how the Champion Fighter is terrible design because it's so simple. People come up with all sorts of fixes to stop it from being terminally boring. When others point out that some players like the Champion Fighter because of (rather than despite) its simplicity, this does not convince the detractors.

An unrelated thought: if Dragonborn and Tieflings are so popular, that's actually a reason not to make either of them one of the "big four." The purpose of the free rules is to whet people's appetites and make them want to buy the full PHB, so holding back on some of the more popular options is a sound strategy.
 

Coroc

Hero
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?
whew that's a difficult one.
halflings aka hobbits are from lotr and there they are the guys who do not want to go on adventures at all. That's for a start. And if they are forced to, then they are the ones who often have to be protected by the bigger folks. Otoh they are far kess likely to get corrupted, far more pure and simple than other races. To play them as miniature versions of the equivalent human is what gives me problems. I only allow them if there is a purpose in the game world
 





I have to chuckle. There is now this bizarre concept that a race that supposedly never goes to war, and is the only one, is worthless. Not even worthless, but completely unworthy. The idea is that this supposed people is so pathetic that they don't deserve to exist -- again, the affront is that they are the only race that believes in peace, tranquility, joy, happiness.

Holding this position is unfathomable, because believing both of these thoughts means that you feel that stories of peace and happiness cannot and must not exist. Holding this position is hypocritical, as you claim there is no story -- and yet you constantly repeat the story.

Heroes come from all walks of life. And if your table only has room for those who are constantly full of tragedy and violence I'm glad I don't play at it.
 



Faolyn

(she/her)
I agree with Eberron and Athas, but I will also note those are two settings that went out of their way to alter races and make them different than normal. And in "general" DnD lore, the halflings are still just homebodies. So our "generic" lore is the same as Greyhawk and the Realms as well.
OK, and? It shows that races can be changed and still remain those races. Of course the basic game has to be generic. It's up to specific worlds to make them different and interesting.

And yet each time you take a race out of the area, you put a similar race in. You took out dwarves and put in another underground race, like kobolds, goblins, or gnomes. When someone mentioned taking out the elves, they offered gnomes or firbolgs.
Because you kept saying that there "had" to be a race that fit that area. And so examples were given.

And you can replace halflings with other races as well, either as the Small race or as the pastoral race. While they're not a typical race, loxodon are described as "oases as calm" who "believe in the value of community and life."

I'm not making up these gaps. Sure, you can not fill them, but almost every world DOES fill them. Sure, maybe it is dwarves living in the jungles. But SOMEONE lives in the jungles and forests. Maybe it is fey monsters, maybe it is elves, maybe it is dwarves, but there is someone there. But Halflings are...living in the human cities and the human farmlands. They don't fill a natural gap, they are just attached to humans.
Halflings only live in human cities in the Realms and Greyhawk. Which are both very old settings. As I pointed out, they don't in Dark Sun or Eberron. Why? Because, as you said, those two settings went out of their way to actually do something with the races instead of having them be boringly generic. Any setting where the writers spend a few minutes actually thinking about what to do with the races rather than just taking them, unchanged, from the PH can have interesting halflings.

Basically, your argument is:

You: Haflings are boring. They just live with humans and have no role.

Others: Here are examples from other settings where the halflings are very distinct people who aren't boring and don't live with humans.

You: Those don't count, because those halflings aren't boring.

Others: So what are you complaining about?

You: That halfings are boring and live with humans.

(Also, a hook: halflings live with humans. Why? Were there lands taken away from them, and now they're forced into Little Hobbiton ghettos? Are they happy about this?)

I didn't see some of this the first time, so let me look again.

1) Anarchists is a really bold claim. They don't do anything, they just ignore claims of kings and sovereigns. And, weirdly, the kings and sovereigns... don't do anything about it. No body seems to care that the halflings are ignoring them, so what is the point of having them ignore them?
Well, that's a hook in and of itself, now isn't it? Halflings could do a lot to affect the way a nation works and nobody pays them any mind.

2) I'm guessing you are pulling lorekeepers from the part about halflings having stories and this point that they sometimes inadvertently have lore about ancient things. But that isn't their role in the setting. There are actually organizations that are lorekeepers, like Candlekeep and the like. Sure, more than one group can do the same thing, but the Halflings keeping lore almost seems accidental to a degree.
That isn't their role in the Realms because it's an old setting that didn't think about how to make halflings interesting. You can take that bit of info about them and actually make them important.

3) And so is everyone else. Seriously, this is a non-point. Every PC race is an adventurer.
No. Every PC is an adventurer. Most are outliers. Most elves and dwarfs don't go seeking out trouble. Most humans don't, either. But most halflings do.


4) You are going from a single line of text. It literally only states "Halfling children were known to fish for bats using a light, durable twine string, and bait of live moths." and seems to be from the novel Azure Bonds. Are being bat fishers an interesting detail? Sure. Is it something that is ever utilized or mentioned anywhere else? Nope.
So? That's the fault of the writers for not exploring this interesting concept.

5) Being chefs and brewers are... again not much of a thing for their entire race. Dwarves and Elves are known brewers too. Humans are brewers and chefs. The article doesn't even say anything more than that they cook food and make alcohol. They aren't even well known for it in the world, or making delicacies that other races like.
So, being a miner is a big thing for a race, but being a chef isn't?

6) Maybe this is pulled from the fact that it says they are dominated by other races and don't live in their own communities. Otherwise... they are extra friendly. That is fine, but "we like outsiders" isn't something I can build off of. They don't have anything of their own to actually make them different.
It isn't? That immediately brings to mind the idea that halflings are diplomats and peace-keepers, capable of bridging the gap between any two races, no matter how different they are. That is a really important role, especially in a setting as violent as D&D.

So, we are seeing a lot of very reaching things.
Yes. You seem determined to give a line of description a once-over, shrug, and toss it, without spending even a moment thinking about the implications of it.

I mean, you want to include a single line about bats and the fact that they go on adventures as part of defining the race. And yes, it is perhaps the fault of the writers for not doing anythign with them. But... that is our point. Nobody seems to ever do anything with them. We are told again and again that they are subsumed by the other races.
Only in the Realms and Greyhawk. Not in every setting.

And let's say that was universal. That every single setting D&D has ever produced has halflings who do nothing. What are they then? A small, easily overlooked race with incredibly luck who has managed to infiltrate other humanoid races. Dude, forget the lizard people--here are the true global masters!

No, you aren't understanding what I am saying.

Let us say that you make a world with elves in the forest. Then let us say that you make a world with Firbolgs in the forest. Those two worlds are markedly different. There is a big difference between using Elves and using Firbolgs. It makes a noticeable change to make that swap. Yes, you can make two different worlds, but they are obviously not interchangeable.
If that was the only real difference between the worlds? No, they wouldn't be that much different. Because neither wood elves nor firbolgs have the kind of society that makes big changes in the world around them.

But anyway, so what? You can replace halflings with loxodon, farming goblins, or humans and say the exact same thing. It's similar but not exact.

But Halflings... don't have a role like that. They are just "we are short humans that live with humans". And if you swap halflings and humans... there isn't a super noticeable difference.
If halflings have no role or ambition, does that mean humans have no role or ambition either?

That's great for him, but doesn't answer any of my questions. At all.
No, because you are determined that halflings are boring and refuse to even think about anything other than that conclusion. Heck, you haven't even said how you would officially change halflings to make them more interesting.

I'm familiar with that comic. I get the joke. Because it is a comic that doesn't take these things terribly seriously.

Because, let me ask you this. Your first answer was that farmers need to live in the human farmlands. Doesn't that mean... humans?
So let me ask you this: humans are, in D&D-land, most commonly found in cities and towns and their suburbs. But they still need to eat. Halflings make for good farmers and seem to enjoy it, and don't have any particular desire to live in the Big City. Why on earth would humans not simply employ--or exploit, or enslave--halflings to do the farming while they, the humans, enjoy the big city life?

So the race that lives in human lands is... humans. And for some reason halflings. Who else would you have live in the human lands and be basically humans with human culture, other than halflings? That seems to be their role.... but why does it exist? Why do we need two human races in the same lands sharing the same cultures?
That's... a bit like saying that if one group of humans was forced to adopt the customs and lifestyle of another group of more dominant humans, then you don't need that first group of humans.

It is wonderful that you homebrewed them like that. Truly.
So what you're saying is, you won't accept halflings that are officially non-boring (Eberron, Dark Sun), and you won't accept extrapolations from their official FR/GH lore that makes them non-boring (infiltrators, loremasters, peace-keepers, master chefs, exploited workforce), and you won't bother to come up with your own lore for them. Because... you need the PH to tell you what they're like? Do you play all of your races exactly the way the PH says?

So I think you should just up and admit that it's not that halflings are bad, it's that you don't know what to do with them.

But that does nothing for official materials. Nowhere in any official material does it say that humans only live in villages and halflings live in towns. Or that halflings are the only ones who mint coins or that I'm assuming dwarves.

And yes, that matters because we are talking about the official halflings of the official game.
The "official game" is PH only, which has minimal lore on all of the standard races.

I could make a world where all halflings can walk into the land of the dead and are the spirit guides for all souls. But that doesn't make that what halflings are in the larger game, because that is just my own made up lore.
All D&D, including that of the actual settings, is made up lore.

Which is fine for my own personal game. But I'm not the type of person to get on a soapbox and start demanding that people change everything to match my personal homebrew ideas, and since my ideas don't like this thing then no one can do anything with them.
Uh, you kind of are by dismissing the idea that halflings can be anything interesting and shouldn't be a main PC race.

But, again, you would notice it. You would have that thought.
Yes, because I would be establishing what was canon in that particular game and what wasn't. If you say "in this world, X lives here and Y lives there," that doesn't exclude all the other races. If you say "these are the only PC races in this world," that does.

I literally did not have that thought with the missing halflings in the game I mentioned. I literally noticed today that a 4 year campaign didn't include any halflings. That is what I am talking about. Not some sort of worrying about them every session or whatever people are responding with. The very concept of "there are no halflings?" didn't even cross my mind.
That's a you issue, not a halfling issue.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
Y'know, thinking on how to do stuff with halflings... Just keep going with the underground theme. Give 'em claws. Just make them all live underground. Squint in the sunlight.

Just, make 'em molemen.
One of the halfling gifts in Level Up does exactly that. Well, not the sunlight thing, but the claws and digging.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
You’re on the Internet.
When someone asserts something that isn't self-evident, without providing anything to back it up, they're the ones who've run afoul of Hitchens's razor. The onus lies on them to prove their assertions, not the ones calling them out for their lack of evidence.

christopher-hitchens-quote-lbx7h7a.jpg
 


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