RPG Evolution: The Trouble with Halflings

Over the decades I've developed my campaign world to match the archetypes my players wanted to play. In all those years, nobody's ever played a halfling.

Over the decades I've developed my campaign world to match the archetypes my players wanted to play. In all those years, nobody's ever played a halfling.

the-land-of-the-hobbits-6314749_960_720.jpg

Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

So What's the Problem?​

Halflings, derived from hobbits, have been a curious nod to Tolkien's influence on fantasy. While dwarves and elves have deep mythological roots, hobbits are more modern inventions. And their inclusion was very much a response to the adventurous life that the agrarian homebodies considered an aberration. In short, most hobbits didn't want to be adventurers, and Bilbo, Frodo, and the others were forever changed by their experiences, such that it was difficult for them to reintegrate when they returned home. You don't hear much about elves and dwarves having difficulty returning home after being adventurers, and for good reason. Tolkien was making a point about the human condition and the nature of war by using hobbits as proxies.

As a literary construct, hobbits serve a specific purpose. In The Hobbit, they are proxies for children. In The Lord of the Rings, they are proxies for farmers and other folk who were thrust into the industrialized nightmare of mass warfare. In both cases, hobbits were a positioned in contrast to the violent lifestyle of adventurers who live and die by the sword.

Which is at least in part why they're challenging to integrate into a campaign world. And yet, we have strong hobbit archetypes in Dungeons & Dragons, thanks to Dragonlance.

Kender. Kender Are the Problem​

I did know one player who loved to play kender. We never played together in a campaign, at least in part because kender are an integral part of the Dragonlance setting and we weren't playing in Dragonlance. But he would play a kender in every game he played, including in massive multiplayers like Ultima Online. And he was eye-rollingly aggravating, as he loved "borrowing" things from everyone (a trait established by Tasselhoff Burrfoot).

Part of the issue with kender is that they aren't thieves, per se, but have a child-like curiosity that causes them to "borrow" things without understanding that borrowing said things without permission is tantamount to stealing in most cultures. In essence, it results in a character who steals but doesn't admit to stealing, which can be problematic for inter-party harmony. Worse, kender have a very broad idea of what to "borrow" (which is not limited to just valuables) and have always been positioned as being offended by accusations of thievery. It sets up a scenario where either the party is very tolerant of the kender or conflict ensues. This aspect of kender has been significantly minimized in the latest draft for Unearthed Arcana.

Big Heads, Little Bodies​

The latest incarnation of halflings brings them back to the fun-loving roots. Their appearance is decidedly not "little children" or "overweight short people." Rather, they appear more like political cartoons of eras past, where exaggerated features were used as caricatures, adding further to their comical qualities. But this doesn't solve the outstanding problem that, for a game that is often about conflict, the original prototypes for halflings avoided it. They were heroes precisely because they were thrust into difficult situations and had to rise to the challenge. That requires significant work in a campaign to encourage a player to play a halfling character who would rather just stay home.

There's also the simple matter of integrating halflings into societies where they aren't necessarily living apart. Presumably, most human campaigns have farmers; dwarves and elves occupy less civilized niches, where halflings are a working class who lives right alongside the rest of humanity in plain sight. Figuring out how to accommodate them matters a lot. Do humans just treat them like children? Would halflings want to be anywhere near a larger humanoids' dwellings as a result? Or are halflings given mythical status like fey? Or are they more like inveterate pranksters and tricksters, treating them more like gnomes? And if halflings are more like gnomes, then why have gnomes?

There are opportunities to integrate halflings into a world, but they aren't quite so easy to plop down into a setting as dwarves and elves. I still haven't quite figured out how to make them work in my campaign that doesn't feel like a one-off rather than a separate species. But I did finally find a space for gnomes, which I'll discuss in another article.

Your Turn: How have you integrated halflings into your campaign world?
 

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

Faolyn

(she/her)
1 is not a reason to go anywhere near the danger adventurers deal with.
2 that is called being too dumb to live.
You say that like players don't often come up with silly or stupid reasons to adventure and don't often play characters who are too dumb to live.

9 that get bred out of you fast in a world of dragons and giants.
Or gets bred right back into you in a world with beneficent dragons and giants.

And by this logic, nobody would ever leave their home, regardless of race, because it would be too dangerous. Instead, we have adventurers, who are unusual in their willingness to do so. Halfling adventurers are therefore no different than elf adventurers, human adventurers, hobgoblin adventurers, etc.

okay but it should really be added in as baseline, as removing is far easier than make something work.
second point what inhumanness define some options here?
They're not human, so they're inhumanity is already a baseline.

And what do you mean, what inhumanness? Do you play elves and dwarfs as being exactly like humans and expect them to have all the same likes, dislikes, social mores, and quirks that humans do? If not, then also don't play a halfling exactly like a human. If you do, then don't complain that halflings are just like humans.
 

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Mind of tempest

(he/him)advocate for 5e psionics
You say that like players don't often come up with silly or stupid reasons to adventure and don't often play characters who are too dumb to live.
whilst that does reflect the player base, a race should not be built entirely around being silly it rarely works out.
Or gets bred right back into you in a world with beneficent dragons and giants.

And by this logic, nobody would ever leave their home, regardless of race, because it would be too dangerous. Instead, we have adventurers, who are unusual in their willingness to do so. Halfling adventurers are therefore no different than elf adventurers, human adventurers, hobgoblin adventurers, etc.
aside from what the stat blocks say what do the dragons and giants do that is good? at best your their well looked after serf, not a free person.

no logically over time the horror of the world gets brutally killed by warmongering lunatics as they did on earth and true all adventures are nuts but the halflings do not have the traits needed to get to the point they can build communities, they could be remade to but then they would stop being halflings in most ways that matter.
They're not human, so they're inhumanity is already a baseline.

And what do you mean, what inhumanness? Do you play elves and dwarfs as being exactly like humans and expect them to have all the same likes, dislikes, social mores, and quirks that humans do? If not, then also don't play a halfling exactly like a human. If you do, then don't complain that halflings are just like humans.
given being human is learned not born I do not believe inhumanity as a baseline, the point is they lack well anything inhuman.

no, I do not play elves and dwarves as exact humans but given they have more to work with than halfling who the base inspiration is a metaphor for the average guy so they have almost no inhumanity by design.

show me their inhumanity?
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
What do goblins have that is the equivalent of wings and magic lasers they shoot from their eyes?

Yes, if we go hyperbole and EXXXXTRRRRREEEEEMMMEEEE!!!!!!!! Then it gets ridiculous and bad. But here is a counter example. I've made a new race called the digitus. They are medium humanoids that are exactly like humans in every way... except that they have six fingers on each hand. By removing everything else, it really focuses the attention to their obvious difference, the six fingers, right?
And on the inevitable differences such would produce between they and most other species.

Most notably, their entire arithmetic/numeric/math system would almost certainly be base-12 rather than base-10; as would everything in their society that spins off of that.
 

Mind of tempest

(he/him)advocate for 5e psionics
And on the inevitable differences such would produce between they and most other species.

Most notably, their entire arithmetic/numeric/math system would almost certainly be base-12 rather than base-10; as would everything in their society that spins off of that.
given my grandma uses a very basic version of base 12 and I use base ten it does not seem utterly alien, it would still need more as a race to get people to pick it.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
My point is that halflings are hard to build stories around and world-build with.
For you, perhaps. When it comes to building stories and-or worlds I've never had any more problem with Hobbits than with any other species. Less, perhaps, in one world-building regard: I can stick a community of Hobbits on any random piece of spare farmland on the map, where Elves generally want a forest (also usually easy) and Dwarves want mountains (not always so easy). I can also make sailors out of Hobbits, not so much for Dwarves or Gnomes.

As for stories, the rationale behind any story arc be rooted in the lore of any species; and while I usually use Human lore/history I could just as easily use Dwarf or Hobbit lore as the underpinning (or Elf, but that's been done to death).

The species that have no real lore or history to call their own are Part-Elves and Part-Orcs, and thus they can (and do) present story and world-building issues; but I don't hear any strident calls for their removal.
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
"Being silly" is in the eye of the beholder (no, not you, Xanathar! Man he has such a big ego). I might find a race of birdmen who can only speak in prerecorded sound bites to be silly. Or turtle people. Or Orcs who have super speed only so long as they are headed towards someone they don't like at the moment.

I think a lot of people play Halflings because they are grounded and relatable in a world of gonzo fantasy. They aren't giant robot men, or gorilla-armed Bugbears, or even mystical snake people- they don't stand out, and, it would seem, they have less going on for them than the bland, boring regular Humans.

But as it turns out, that's a lie. Their abilities may not be exciting as being born knowing how to cast firebolt or able to wear armor, or fly through the air, but they are just as capable of greatness as anyone else. They're underdogs in a world of fantasy, and some people like the underdog.

I mean people like to play Fighters, don't they? : )
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
okay, world spawn is when the reality is created and all the gods drop their stuff in to watch what happens.
yondalla did not make them she found them, any amount of basic realism and they die long before they are found by her.
In my lore Hobbits and Orcs arose almost simultaneously, long after most other species and both as ve-ery ancient massive-scale Hobgoblin breeding experiments gone wrong. Hobbits came from trying to cross Humans with Dwarves, while Orcs were - to quote my own world guide - "a horribly failed attempt to build a better Hobgoblin". Gruumsh took in the Orcs as his own, while Mimosa* took the Hobbits as hers.

* - my pantheon's very vague equivalent to Yondalla.
people will complain about literally everything, I could give them a million dollars and they would ask for more so frankly I do not care about what they think as if halfling makes them cheer then they have no taste.
Er...OK...you just go on thinking that; meanwhile our cheerful little Hobbits will carry on - after, of course, relieving you of anything of value you might be carrying... :)
 


Mind of tempest

(he/him)advocate for 5e psionics
For you, perhaps. When it comes to building stories and-or worlds I've never had any more problem with Hobbits than with any other species. Less, perhaps, in one world-building regard: I can stick a community of Hobbits on any random piece of spare farmland on the map, where Elves generally want a forest (also usually easy) and Dwarves want mountains (not always so easy). I can also make sailors out of Hobbits, not so much for Dwarves or Gnomes.

As for stories, the rationale behind any story arc be rooted in the lore of any species; and while I usually use Human lore/history I could just as easily use Dwarf or Hobbit lore as the underpinning (or Elf, but that's been done to death).

The species that have no real lore or history to call their own are Part-Elves and Part-Orcs, and thus they can (and do) present story and world-building issues; but I don't hear any strident calls for their removal.
okay, but what do they do other than be short humans? hells they are less than human as they build no nation or anything big scale, a world of halflings is just agrarian forever.
"Being silly" is in the eye of the beholder (no, not you, Xanathar! Man he has such a big ego). I might find a race of birdmen who can only speak in prerecorded sound bites to be silly. Or turtle people. Or Orcs who have super speed only so long as they are headed towards someone they don't like at the moment.

I think a lot of people play Halflings because they are grounded and relatable in a world of gonzo fantasy. They aren't giant robot men, or gorilla-armed Bugbears, or even mystical snake people- they don't stand out, and, it would seem, they have less going on for them than the bland, boring regular Humans.

But as it turns out, that's a lie. Their abilities may not be exciting as being born knowing how to cast firebolt or able to wear armor, or fly through the air, but they are just as capable of greatness as anyone else. They're underdogs in a world of fantasy, and some people like the underdog.

I mean people like to play Fighters, don't they? : )
no kenku are impractical to play as not being able to speak or be creative is horrible to play and drives them to extinction they also need a better explanation of what they were?

look the grounded and relatable one in dnd is the human, this is not lord of the rings where humans are all larger than life.
I am not saying they have to be gonzo just more than short presents who do not do anything, plus who made anthropomorphic animals gonzo its so old I have no idea where it came from as a concept.

one can not have a race of underdogs, no more than you can have a nation of kings it breaks the laws of nature, only individuals can be underdogs, at most a sub-culture.
In my lore Hobbits and Orcs arose almost simultaneously, long after most other species and both as ve-ery ancient massive-scale Hobgoblin breeding experiments gone wrong. Hobbits came from trying to cross Humans with Dwarves, while Orcs were - to quote my own world guide - "a horribly failed attempt to build a better Hobgoblin". Gruumsh took in the Orcs as his own, while Mimosa* took the Hobbits as hers.

* - my pantheon's very vague equivalent to Yondalla.

Er...OK...you just go on thinking that; meanwhile our cheerful little Hobbits will carry on - after, of course, relieving you of anything of value you might be carrying... :)
so you cross humans with dwarves and get an apathetic nobody who sits around and smokes and eats all day, that defies hybrid vigour which is common in most half-entites.
why did they keep making more after the first time?
 

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