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

I'm not sure what this type of fallacy is, but if feels like a bit of Retrospective Determinism, so it's probably some variant of it. "This thing exists, so we might as well have it" isn't that compelling of an argument for keeping that thing, IMO.
I'm not making an argument for 'keeping' something. I'm just pointing out that something does not need a narrative purpose to exist. You can have random things that don't matter in a story because reality also has random things that don't matter.

In the Cantina scene of Star Wars, the bartender's a brown-haired guy. Why is his hair brown? No reason. It just is.
 

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jayoungr

Legend
Supporter
I think a lot of this has to do with how deep one wants to get into immersion. Playing a truly non-human character is difficult, and most films and tv shows aren't really all that good at doing it.

It's not just that. High-concept races are more restrictive, giving the player a narrower range of personality types that fit the paradigm.

Your Star Trek example is a good one: each of the races you mention has a specific emphasized and/or downplayed aspect that has to be accounted for when playing the character. Some people find that stimulating and exciting (limitation encourages creativity), while others either find it uncomfortably limiting or, conversely, rely on it too heavily and never individualize the character beyond that.
 


I am confident that somewhere in the Extended Universe, someone has devoted 15,000 words to explaining his deal. Never underestimate the power of Star Wars licensed works.
Everyone in that bar has had at least one story written about them. Large stories, not small ones. Every. Single. One.

If your best argument against some part of D&D is "This is in D&D for no better reason than it's a traditional part of D&D", you have successfully made an absolute, ironclad, and unassailable argument for keeping it.
It is a valid point for Halflings as they're mostly in because "We got sued by TSR back in the day so we filed the serial numbers off of hobbits and the bare, creaking skeleton of what's left we parade around as a main race in the game"

Like, the most interesting things Halfings have are Ghostwise halflings, and they're just Elfquest elves when you get down to it. Frankly 3E and 4E had the right ideas in going away for the pastoralism with them but it managed to creep back into the race
 

see

Pedantic Grognard
You literally just used the Appeal to Tradition fallacy to try and justify a part of D&D.
No, I didn't. I declared that elements of D&D do not need to be justified by verbal explanation for the correct choice to be retention. That the burden of proof for reform has to be not "This part serves no explained purpose", but rather "This part hurts D&D [with actual evidence of harm]".

If you are inventing something new, "Can I explain what purpose this part serves?" is a perfectly useful design heuristic. But if you are curating something that is already successful, in a universe where most new things fail, it is a very good way to accidentally destroy that success.

Elements of something that is successful are justified by the simple fact of the success of the whole, whether or not anyone has a good verbal explanation for them or how they contribute to the success. This is because people are not omniscient, so an inability to explain an element's contribution does not mean it does not contribute. The argument for change accordingly needs to be actively justified.

Changing THAC0 easily overcomes this simple placement of the burden of proof; it demonstrably didn't work well. While mathematically clever, it's easy to demonstrate that real people, en masse find subtraction harder than addition and addition harder than counting, and that people regularly flubbed the calculation in play.

If you've got an argument that halflings are actually confusing to players, or cause problems at the table, like THAC0 did, then you've got a case against halflings. "I don't know of a justification for including them" is not one.

And even then, actually, your argument isn't that you don't see any justification for including them. You simply don't see the justification (supporting people who want to play hobbits from Tolkien) as personally compelling. That's an even weaker argument for excision, given Tolkien's works are popular enough they're not just still in print (in multiple editions), but actively producing spinoff media (a TV series) to boot.

Ah, no. That's what happens when you try to make D&D a video game.
That's a theory as to what exactly went wrong with that implementation, sure.

However, in any case you're applying to halflings the exact same logic that drove 4e design, as you would see if you read the books Wizards Presents: Races and Classes (December 2007) and Wizards Presents: Worlds and Monsters (January 2008). I accordingly expect applying very similar logic to the same task (revising D&D) would produce similar results (commercial failure).
 

Mercurius

Legend
It's not just that. High-concept races are more restrictive, giving the player a narrower range of personality types that fit the paradigm.

Your Star Trek example is a good one: each of the races you mention has a specific emphasized and/or downplayed aspect that has to be accounted for when playing the character. Some people find that stimulating and exciting (limitation encourages creativity), while others either find it uncomfortably limiting or, conversely, rely on it too heavily and never individualize the character beyond that.
One could argue that's a feature, not a flaw. It is a recurrent theme in science fiction and fantasy, that humans are unique in their diversity. In RPGs, this also generally seems to be the case.

This is why, no doubt, some opt for a "humans only" campaign setting, with "elfy" and "dwarf-esque" human nations or ethnicities.

Ultimately, non-human races--whether "high concept" or not--will be less complex and diverse than humans, unless of course one wants to go with "Elf World" (or something), with another race as the most populous and diverse.
 


Professor Murder

Adventurer
I think given the dearth of both PC race choices and none-pc races who can occupy various levels of civilization in various environments, It is completely reasonable to choose which ones exist and which ones don't in a personal setting. You may not be able to make room for everyone. My feeling is to keep most fantasy races and downplay cultural ubiquity of humanity. If you can't come up with a niche for halflings, its all good. If you want them, well then perhaps finding a particular environment, say artic or desert or seafaring, and build from there. I will say that mechanically Halflings are quite strong, so removing them does remove a good option for players.
 

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.


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.
I agree that halfling are there for some legacy reasons, but 5ed is solidly build on legacy, so it’s not a real surprise. And for current popularity, halfling are not the top ones, but are close to gnome, dwarf, half orc.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
I think given the dearth of both PC race choices and none-pc races who can occupy various levels of civilization in various environments, It is completely reasonable to choose which ones exist and which ones don't in a personal setting. You may not be able to make room for everyone. My feeling is to keep most fantasy races and downplay cultural ubiquity of humanity. If you can't come up with a niche for halflings, its all good. If you want them, well then perhaps finding a particular environment, say artic or desert or seafaring, and build from there. I will say that mechanically Halflings are quite strong, so removing them does remove a good option for players.

I think the cultural ubiquity of humans is what hurts halflings the most.

Dwarves, eleves, and orcs usually find themselves in an ecological niche somewhere in the environment. Dwarves can live in the mountains. Elves in the forest. Orcs in the badlands. Even gnomes can hide themselves in the mountains or forest.

Halflings live in the hills or grasslands. And so do the Humans. Fine. But halflings are basically small humans and do everything humans do. Everywhere halflings are humans are. And they do the same things. And they hate the same races. And the dress the same.

It's ike ifyou replaced the forest gnome's penchant for illusions, tinkering, gems, and small animals with archery, haughtiness, and wood magic. You just have short and tall versions of the same concept in the woods.

Because Humans are everywhere, every race kinda has to culturally, mentally, and physically run from the human idea to not feel redundant in those with keen eyes for them.
 

If your best argument against some part of D&D is "This is in D&D for no better reason than it's a traditional part of D&D", you have successfully made an absolute, ironclad, and unassailable argument for keeping it.

We know what happens to D&D when you approach it with the view of making every element positively justify its inclusion, and changing it until it did so. It was called Fourth Edition.
Not seeing the downside.
 


Mercurius

Legend
The point I've been trying to make is that it's a flaw for some and a feature for others. I don't believe either approach is superior, and I kind of feel like you're saying that one of them is.
No. I am saying that seeing it as a flaw is a misperception of it being a feature. Nonhumans are more thematic and less diverse than humans--that's just the nature of the beast.

Or let me put it another way. Dark Sun is more thematic than FR, but more limited. Is that a flaw of Dark Sun? No, it is a feature. People play Dark Sun because they want its unique vibe and qualities; similarly with playing nonhumans. Think of them as "thematic people."

If one considers the limited/thematic nature of nonhumans to be a flaw, the obvious solution is to not play nonhumans. Just play humans, then you don't have to deal with the specific qualities of a nonhuman. Just as if you find Dark Sun limiting, play something more general/kitchen sink like the Forgotten Realms.
 

ccs

41st lv DM
It is a valid point for Halflings as they're mostly in because "We got sued by TSR back in the day so we filed the serial numbers off of hobbits
No, Tolkien* sued TSR over them using the term Hobbit.
Much later WoTC bought TSR & thus inherited the D&D term 1/2ling.

* Well, the Tolkien estate actually as the man himself was dead by the time D&D was being sold....
 

I largely agree with the OP on this one. A lot of the time we put "Traditional" fantasy creatures into settings where they don't actually tell a story of any kind.

Hobbits were important to the Lord of the Rings because their simple nature and focus on country community values was something Jolkien Rolkien Rolkien Tolkien wanted to make core to his setting as the "Right way" to live. All the kings and knights, the elves and orcs, represent the bigger problems the world has had, and may fight against, so that the tiny good and simple life can be protected.

And even when it gets involved in the war, when Saruman conquers the Shire, it is rebuilt just as it was. Simple. Loving. Comfortable.

RR wanted their innocence to be the thing that succeeds in the end. All the swords of ancient kings, the elvish lords, the dwarven heirs, none of them destroyed the ring. Just the innocent boys from the Shire.

But for most settings? That's not -really- a story to carry forward. And humans can take that role for the purposes of a community or society the players return to after fighting the evil.

Some settings try to make them a part of the narrative, which is -great-. The Talenta Halflings of Eberron have a -sincere- reason to live as dinosaur riders. Dark Sun's Cannibal Halflings of the Forest Ridge as heirs to a fallen world. Things like that.

But Ravenloft? What purpose do they -really- serve in that setting?

As player characters, y'know... Whatever? But like... As -part- of Ravenloft, what are they?

Same thing with pretty much every setting. Halflings and gnomes both face that issue, while Elves, Orcs, and Dwarves are almost always written deeply into the settings of our worlds. Sometimes specifically as a subversion of tropes, like Jungle Dwarves and City Elves.

But Gnomes, Halflings, Dragonborn... Goliaths and Tabaxi and everything else are often footnotes or barely developed player-only races that don't or only very rarely come up within the story otherwise.

I think that is a disservice to the race, which lacks a role, to the player, who lacks a narrative community, and to the setting itself.
 


Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
I largely agree with the OP on this one. A lot of the time we put "Traditional" fantasy creatures into settings where they don't actually tell a story of any kind.

Hobbits were important to the Lord of the Rings because their simple nature and focus on country community values was something Jolkien Rolkien Rolkien Tolkien wanted to make core to his setting as the "Right way" to live. All the kings and knights, the elves and orcs, represent the bigger problems the world has had, and may fight against, so that the tiny good and simple life can be protected.

And even when it gets involved in the war, when Saruman conquers the Shire, it is rebuilt just as it was. Simple. Loving. Comfortable.

RR wanted their innocence to be the thing that succeeds in the end. All the swords of ancient kings, the elvish lords, the dwarven heirs, none of them destroyed the ring. Just the innocent boys from the Shire.

But for most settings? That's not -really- a story to carry forward. And humans can take that role for the purposes of a community or society the players return to after fighting the evil.

I think this is the key issue for Halflings.

Tolkien created a niche for Hobbits. Hobbits were in a narrative place, humans did not occupy. Hobbits basically were humans but since there were no humans in that spot, there wasn't a problem.

However in D&D, humans are not barred from this role and are often there. So now the hobbits turned halflings lack a point and have little uniqueness.

Gnomes had the same problem with dwarves and elves. However since there was no LOTR nostalgia, TSR and WOTC were able to shift gnomes into their own unique story niche.
 



Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
Dwarven Resilience, Darkvision, etc. Sure, humans can be miners and smiths, but the point of dwarves is that they were created to fulfill that niche (by Tolkien, the D&D game designers, and the in-lore gods in lots of worlds). They have a niche, and IMO, justify their existence in that. Halflings don't fulfill their niche as well as dwarves do, IMO.

Darkvision, innate spellcasting, damage resistances/immunities, powerful build, magic resistance/gnomish cunning, Small size, flying/climbing/swimming speeds, age ranges, Deathless/Constructed Nature, etc, etc, etc. I could go on and on. If you don't want just mechanical things, how about things like this:
  • You were made out of metal to serve as war-slaves (Warforged).
  • You're part animal (Centaur, Satyr)
  • You're an anthropomorphic animal (Tabaxi, Leonin, Owlfolk, Aarakocra, Lizardolk, Rabbitfolk, Locathah, etc)
  • You're half-(insert otherworldly/monstrous creature), and it changed your physical nature and granted you magical powers (Dhampir, Tiefling, Aasimar, Genasi, Hexblood, Kalashtar, etc)
  • You came back to life, but not really (Reborn)
  • You're half-(insert other race) (Half-Elf, Half-Orc, Mul, etc)

Be master tinkers/illusion-masters, not connected to Corellon, be curious and antisocial instead of haughty and xenophobic, etc.
So, as this relates to your OP, is it fair to say you find more value in having 10+ animal/human hybrid choices or 3+ different half this and half that's (that are distinctly different than the this or that) but cannot find one redeeming thing about halflings to put them on the "good enough to keep" list?
 

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