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

Lycurgon

Explorer
He did it in Ptolus first. Both gnomes and halflings (loresong and quickling, respectively) are subspecies of faen (elves) and many people in the world of Pramael can't tell gnomes and halflings apart from one another at a glance, something I've used to great effect in my campaign for years.

I think it would also be fun to have a gnome wizard fulfill the Gandalf role in a halfling town. Similar, but different enough to stand out, in multiple ways.
Arcana Evolved was published first.
The original Monte Cook's Arcana Unearthed was published in 2003, the updated 3.5 revised version Arcana Evolved was published 2005.
Ptolus was published in 2006.
 

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Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
Dwarves can see in the dark, indentify masonry, and have various resistances depending on edition that displays them being a complete race of stoney folk who live underground or in mountains, like it, and won't move by choice.

A human miner lacks these races because the mountain or hill dwarves culture is reflected in the race's very being.

Being a dwarf is telling the DM "But I have darkvision" or "Oh but I am resistant to that."

The redundant feeling some have of Halfling is that their race feels just like a culture and one that a human or gnome can easily replicate.
If elves split long ago, went underground, completely changed appearance, gained magical abilities, and even increased their ability to see in the dark....there really isn't any reason that humans couldn't have done the same...

You could literally reskin nearly every small to large sized humanoid to be "humans that changed long ago..."
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
The only thing I will say about 4E is that its Healing Surge mechanic was amazing, both as a game mechanic and as barometer of who actually tried playing the game. But this isn't an edition war thread.

In Fantasy Craft, they call them Pech (which I've taken to calling them in all my settings, halfling is a terrible name for a people to call themselves) and they lean into the Hobbit factor and make them big eaters, able to benefit from more meal buffs than other ancestries. D&D doesn't really model that aspect though, so they can't go that route very easily..

Peck comes from the Willow movie and was considered a racial slur
 



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]".
Yeah, you did. I said that something exists in D&D only because of Tolkien, not really to fulfill a narrative niche (they certainly don't fulfill the ones in D&D that Tolkien intended for them in his stories, which are very specific to his stories and don't work in most D&D worlds, which IMO, is a good enough argument against Halflings being a core race of D&D).

I have also said that I have a hard time finding a narrative niche for halflings in my world, especially to find one that can't be accomplished by another race. To me, that's important. I want every part of my race and world to be important. I want everything to have the potential to be a Chekhov's Gun. If something doesn't have that potential, like "My race likes growing plants and living in burrows!", that's not narratively interesting to me, and doesn't help me build the best stories and world(s) that I possibly can. Having races where you were crafted by master artificers to serve as war machines, or the spirit of an alien-refugee bonded with your soul, or even a race where you are designed to be good at smithing has the potential to be an interesting narrative aspect of a campaign. Halflings don't have that.

Having Halflings being a core part of the game has caused me no small amount of distress/lost time, and so on. I wouldn't dislike halflings and make a thread about that just because I don't find them interesting, I dislike them and create a thread about them because I've found how disinteresting they are to be actively detrimental to my games.
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.
So, you're saying that things that are already a part of the game are inherently exempt from criticism/possible revision because they've been successful enough to exist this long? That doesn't sit well with me for many reasons, the main ones listed below:
  1. I was literally not alive when D&D first came out. You're essentially gatekeeping people who were not alive at the time Halflings were introduced to D&D to not be allowed to criticize them/have their criticism be taken seriously.
  2. Plenty of neutral/possibly detrimental traits are passed on to later generations through evolution. The bar for evolution (both genetic and cultural) is not actually "survival of the fittest", but is instead "survival of the fit enough". I'm not saying that Halflings are awful and are actively hurting D&D in general and are useless vermin that must be cleansed from the hobby. I'm instead saying that they barely qualify for a valid excuse to exist in the game (by passing the absolute lowest bar to warrant their inclusion in the game), don't fulfill an engaging storytelling niche, and only exist because of Tradition, not because of them actually being a good/inspiring storytelling tool.
  3. Plenty of things that are a part of something's history get removed eventually. Racial Ability Scores Modifiers have been a part of D&D for a long time, but 5e recently had a direction change by not having them on future races and including an optional rule to basically remove them on previous races. The ancestors of dolphins had legs for millions of years, but they eventually became less and less useful for the species(es?) as they spent more and more time in water.
IMO, something isn't justified by them existing, even if they've existed a long time. Physical books have existed a long time, but more and more people are reading e-books and listening to audio books. Does that mean physical books will eventually be invalidated? Perhaps. However, the fact that paper books were so useful for centuries is not a valid argument against using e-books and audio books more and more in the future (a valid argument would be more about how physical books can't lose charge, or how some people are better at absorbing information from physical books than e-books or audio books, and so on).
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.
I just gave THAC0 as a specific example of something changing. You want more? Tieflings. Tieflings changed, even though there was really no need for them to do so, and they became more popular as a result. Things that sometimes change because people don't find them compelling, or just because they might be due for a change, is a valid reason to change things, and it can have good outcomes if done thoughtfully and carefully.
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.
Again, as stated in the OP, I'm not advocating for removing halflings from the game. I'm just explaining why I don't find them compelling, giving examples of how to actually create a compelling story for a race, and shown how halflings have been detrimental in certain scenarios to my table (I consider "not being the best they can be" to be detrimental when the alternative is "changing them to possibly making them better").
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).
That's also a theory. You dismiss my claim as being a theory as a rebuttal to tote your own theory.
 

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?
It is fair to say that I find "perceptive bunny-person from the feywild" and "Satyr" more compelling and beneficial to my settings/campaigns than "short human that is lucky, for some reason".

Again, I want to reiterate that I think any race that adds fun to the game is "good enough to keep on the list" of official D&D races, however, I personally don't think that halflings deserve the spotlight that they get (being a core race in D&D, practically forced into most D&D worlds, etc).
 


ccs

41st lv DM
they are defined as not caring about such things so they have no wizards or monks, rangers or barbarians are unlikely.
certainly no warlocks or most rogue subclasses as why would they want to assassinate people?
bard I have no idea, sorcerers could work for a caster, would they ever be sufficiently devoted to make clerics or paladins.
rangers and druids means sacrificing comfort so they would not naturally produce them.
not seeing a lot of class variety other than forcing them into it at which point why play a halfling.
You are confusing NPC halflings with PC halflings. Sure, most halflings (the NPCs) don't pursue such careers - but this can also be said of most NPC humans, dwarves, elves, etc .
But the PCs? They're a different breed.... You'd have to ask the players "Why is your 1/2ling a _____?"

6 of my own:
  • Warlock (pact of the Chain, Fey Patron, familiar: pseudo-dragon) - as a child she befriended an ancient pseudo-dragon who began teaching her simple, non-harmful, magic. The P.Dragons goal was to train her & once she was old enough send her out adventuring to acquire loot for him. She jumped the gun by a few years. Nothing unwilling about this adventurer. :)
  • Barbarian (Ancestral Guardian) - the warlocks older sister. Very much the reluctant adventurer. It was her own poor choices that set both her & her warlock sister on the adventuring path. She's a barbarian because she fights in a completely untrained manner (rage) & this was the class that best represented that.
  • Fighter 1/Druid +(Circle of the Land) - Before becoming a Druid he was an ordinary hobbit working as a baker & doing his duty serving part time in the towns reserve militia. Until he came into contact with a bad batch of gnomish potions, got transformed into a dog, & at the end of the adventure failed the save vs the effect becoming permanent. So he set off to seek help from the regions Druids. He's now a dog who can wildshape back to his original 1/2ling form. The only way for him to spend more time in his original form is to advance as a druid so as to increase his wildshape duration. It's more of a career change than being an unwilling adventurer. In either form though he helped defend the region during the Tyranny of Dragons.
Ranger/Gunslinger (Pathfinder) - This guy is a big game hunter. He comes complete with an elephant gun, plenty of ammo, a 1/2ling assistant (via leadership feat) & is often found in the wilds of Varisia on Safari. His goal: bag a sphinx.
* Garth, poor Garth.... He's a 1980s redbox basic edition 1/2ling (translates as "fighter with smaller HD & lv cap".). His claim to fame? Well, he doesn't have a negative modifier to his con..... And he's somehow still alive.
Other than that? Yeah, he's pretty special with negative mods on 5/6 ability scores.
* Uno - My very 1st D&D character. He started off as an '80s era Basic edition 1/2ling. So essentially a fighter - though his inspiration was Bilbo. But he's been remade as a rogue type in every edition save 4e, including via house rules in Basic.
Somewhere along the line he definitely turned evil. If memory serves he fell victim to the altar in the Caves of Chaos.
And sometime after that he became an assassin (1st as houserules in 1e) - because he's a sneaky & now evil git + nobody would ever suspect the halfling.... (because the chart in the book tells you that there are no 1/2ling assassins :))


I am not saying no small folk or halflings but why are they so common in world-building other than because we are told they should be there?
They aren't there in worlds I build/run because I'm told they should be. They're there because as the DM I like them.
And I'm the DM, so my whim is reality.

Now if I'm a player & the DM says "There's no 1/2lings in my game"? That's cool. I've got about a million other character ideas. I'm sure I can come up with something that fits. :)
we could put something better in its place and move it to say a forgotten realms book.
1) You do know they aren't unique to the FR, right?
2) Or you could just add another page to the PHB with your "better" thing. Then you're happy & everyone else is as well.
 


ModestModernist

Adventurer
In my homebrew halflings generally fill the role of innocence.

Just anecdotally, I have played a lot with a friend since 3E that only ever plays halflings so to write them out of my campaign would seem a bit rough.

In a different group I joined last year the DM has no gnomes or halflings in his world because he hates both the races.
 

Yaarel

Legend
I agree with the original poster. If one can remove a lineage from a setting, and nothing seems to be missing from the setting, then there is a problem with that lineage.

Generally, Halfling (or Hin) can be a Human ethnic group, such as who lives on an island and happens to be shorter than the global Human average. This ethnic group may or may not have also migrated elsewhere. The Halfling is Human. In other words, there are no Halflings.

The Halfling adds little or nothing to the storytelling tools.



I removed Halflings because they are too Human. I also make an effort to make the other lineages less Human. The Elf is an immaterial nature being (sunray or verdant land), and the ones who live in the material world among the Human are unique individuals. Viceversa, the Humans who live among the Elf are unique individuals. (Well, I also have Drow who immigrated as a group into the material world.) The Dwarf is animate stone and metal, whose individuals exhibit diverse gemmy appearances.

4e was great for expressing a Nonhuman flavor because its mechanics for a lineage were more substantial. For example, when a level 1 Eladrin could teleport, that felt amazing. There is a palpable sense that this is a Nonhuman and somehow relating to a spirit world. This flavor actualized mechanically during each gaming session. Even the 4e Halfling had appeal as a magical creature with a river-nomad mercantile culture, and criminal mafia contacts everywhere.

Because 5e lineage mechanics are so bare-bones, there is less design space to distinguish Nonhumans from the Human.

What I do now is give each lineage a choice of several lineage feats, whose assemblage together helps define the feel of that lineage. I love Tashas and its official customized lineage. It is a fantastic design space. Altho it is actually less power than some of the Players Handbook lineages, the free choice of a feat is potent and amazing to make one lineage feel different from an other lineage. Right now, I homebrew feats to choose from for each lineage. I expect official feats for the Tashas mechanic to choose from to eventually come out in the future.
 

To paraphrase a quote from WandaVision:

What are halflings, if not Tolkien persevering?
I believe that paraphrase comes from the boys, personally, I want the right of Tolkien to end.
You are confusing NPC halflings with PC halflings. Sure, most halflings (the NPCs) don't pursue such careers - but this can also be said of most NPC humans, dwarves, elves, etc .
But the PCs? They're a different breed.... You'd have to ask the players "Why is your 1/2ling a _____?"

6 of my own:
  • Warlock (pact of the Chain, Fey Patron, familiar: pseudo-dragon) - as a child she befriended an ancient pseudo-dragon who began teaching her simple, non-harmful, magic. The P.Dragons goal was to train her & once she was old enough send her out adventuring to acquire loot for him. She jumped the gun by a few years. Nothing unwilling about this adventurer. :)
  • Barbarian (Ancestral Guardian) - the warlocks older sister. Very much the reluctant adventurer. It was her own poor choices that set both her & her warlock sister on the adventuring path. She's a barbarian because she fights in a completely untrained manner (rage) & this was the class that best represented that.
  • Fighter 1/Druid +(Circle of the Land) - Before becoming a Druid he was an ordinary hobbit working as a baker & doing his duty serving part time in the towns reserve militia. Until he came into contact with a bad batch of gnomish potions, got transformed into a dog, & at the end of the adventure failed the save vs the effect becoming permanent. So he set off to seek help from the regions Druids. He's now a dog who can wildshape back to his original 1/2ling form. The only way for him to spend more time in his original form is to advance as a druid so as to increase his wildshape duration. It's more of a career change than being an unwilling adventurer. In either form though he helped defend the region during the Tyranny of Dragons.
Ranger/Gunslinger (Pathfinder) - This guy is a big game hunter. He comes complete with an elephant gun, plenty of ammo, a 1/2ling assistant (via leadership feat) & is often found in the wilds of Varisia on Safari. His goal: bag a sphinx.
* Garth, poor Garth.... He's a 1980s redbox basic edition 1/2ling (translates as "fighter with smaller HD & lv cap".). His claim to fame? Well, he doesn't have a negative modifier to his con..... And he's somehow still alive.
Other than that? Yeah, he's pretty special with negative mods on 5/6 ability scores.
* Uno - My very 1st D&D character. He started off as an '80s era Basic edition 1/2ling. So essentially a fighter - though his inspiration was Bilbo. But he's been remade as a rogue type in every edition save 4e, including via house rules in Basic.
Somewhere along the line he definitely turned evil. If memory serves he fell victim to the altar in the Caves of Chaos.
And sometime after that he became an assassin (1st as houserules in 1e) - because he's a sneaky & now evil git + nobody would ever suspect the halfling.... (because the chart in the book tells you that there are no 1/2ling assassins :))



They aren't there in worlds I build/run because I'm told they should be. They're there because as the DM I like them.
And I'm the DM, so my whim is reality.

Now if I'm a player & the DM says "There's no 1/2lings in my game"? That's cool. I've got about a million other character ideas. I'm sure I can come up with something that fits. :)

1) You do know they aren't unique to the FR, right?
2) Or you could just add another page to the PHB with your "better" thing. Then you're happy & everyone else is as well.

several of those highlights the problem I have with them interesting stuff happens to them they would otherwise never go out of their lane for anything.
barbarian rage is not untrained fighting, it is closer to a medical condition do not speak to me of rage as I better than most.

the big game hunter makes no sense, halflings do not care for the thrill of the hunt so they would never become one.

yes, I know fr is not the only setting as I hate that setting but never found one that quite fits and none of them really fit halflings so I as again can you justify them as a major race, gods orc are more important than halflings.
I do not have the luxury of being able to tell wotc to add what I want.
In my homebrew halflings generally fill the role of innocence.

Just anecdotally, I have played a lot with a friend since 3E that only ever plays halflings so to write them out of my campaign would seem a bit rough.

In a different group I joined last year the DM has no gnomes or halflings in his world because he hates both the races.
innocence of what crime? what evil did everyone else commit? do you mean a society with the innocence of children? those are called Eloi.

do you know what your friend likes about halflings as that would be really useful?

look the closes I get to a halfling that I do not hate make cites out of cooled magma like respectable members of society.
I agree with the original poster. If one can remove a lineage from a setting, and nothing seems to be missing from the setting, then there is a problem with that lineage.

Generally, Halfling (or Hin) can be a Human ethnic group, such as who lives on an island and happens to be shorter than the global Human average. This ethnic group may or may not have also migrated elsewhere. The Halfling is Human. In other words, there are no Halflings.

The Halfling adds little or nothing to the storytelling tools.
you have a really good point they are flat out not integrated well with most settings as their core concept is either missing or does not fit but they get stuffed in anyway.
 


Aldarc

Legend
Arcana Evolved was published first.
The original Monte Cook's Arcana Unearthed was published in 2003, the updated 3.5 revised version Arcana Evolved was published 2005.
Ptolus was published in 2006.
Ptolus was Monte Cook's homebrew setting he was using to playtest and run 3rd Edition, so it still predates AU/AE even if it was published later. Young as I am, I still remember MC talking about Ptolus even when he was working under Malhavoc Press on publishing Arcana Unearthed. MC didn't put AU/AE Litorians and Faen in Ptolus; he put his Ptolus Litorians and Faen into AU/AE.
 




Quartz

Adventurer
As for the topic of 'why have halflings,' I dunno, why have dogs?

To riff off my earlier suggestion about horses, rather than horses getting larger maybe it was humans that got smaller to be better able to ride the small horses? Humans evolving to be smaller has happened in the real world with Homo Floresiensis.
 


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