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.

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?
 
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad

Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

Chaosmancer

Legend
Hmm..how to respond to a post that begins with "why do you always do this"

I feel no need to prove what humans are in D&D. The designers have already done so in the section labeled 'Races' in the PHB.

I feel no need to prove what halflings are in D&D. The designers have already done so in the section labeled 'Races' in the PHB.

As far as your "Well-researched, well-founded opinion"..

I find your research silly from end to end..

I find the exercise silly.
I find the chosen "evidence" silly.
I find the interpretations of that evidence silly.
I find the conclusions that you are willing to draw from it silly.

As such I choose not to engage with it.

I do apologize for "all my cussing". I did not anticipate the level of offense that could be taken from the one-time use of a word that appears in the King James Bible. I will strive to do better.

It doesn't matter if it is in the King James Bible, the site rules are the site rules.

And I guess I am just left confused. You don't feel the need to engage in the discussion... except to tell me I'm wrong. You in fact find it all "silly".... except to continually tell me I'm wrong. You choose not to engage with my argument.... except to tell me I'm wrong.

Instead of attempting to, in any way, address my points about humanity is depicted in the Adventures and has been depicted for decades in Dungeons and Dragons... you just refuse to engage, call it silly, and tell me I'm wrong. So, on one hand we have evidence and an argument, and on the other hand we have... nothing but you telling me I'm wrong. So, after a deep consideration of all your myriad points (zero points) I have decided I'm going to continue along the path of actual evidence.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Chaosmancer

Legend
halflings could probably have something like this and really benefit from it

Halfling small weapon mastery: you have proficiency with daggers, handaxes, lighthammers, javelins and slings, when attacking with any one of these weapons you deal a crit on an 18 or above, the range you can make ranged attacks at without disadvantage is increased by 50%(20/60 becomes 30/60, 30/120 becomes 45/120), additionally you can load your sling as part of any attack made with it and make as many attacks as you are able to.

I don’t think this is excessive really, none of these weapons are over a d6 and considering halflings cant use heavy weapons without disadvantage i think it balances out all things considered, plus it’s nonmagical.

Edit: would the spear be too much to add to the list of weapons there?

So, why throwing?

I'm just consistently puzzled why this is presented as something that fits halflings really well. Nothing about them has ever really seemed to be about throwing things and it doesn't seem to really change their flavor in any way except to give them a mechanical boost. I agree they need more active and more interesting abilities, but "good at throwing things" and critting with daggers on an 18 in melee is just... a bit flavorless to me.

Powerful for sure, rogues would love to have more crits and might be willing to stick with dual-wield daggers to get it, but I don't see the flavor here of what that does for halfling lore.
 

Oofta

Legend
So, why throwing?

I'm just consistently puzzled why this is presented as something that fits halflings really well. Nothing about them has ever really seemed to be about throwing things and it doesn't seem to really change their flavor in any way except to give them a mechanical boost. I agree they need more active and more interesting abilities, but "good at throwing things" and critting with daggers on an 18 in melee is just... a bit flavorless to me.

Powerful for sure, rogues would love to have more crits and might be willing to stick with dual-wield daggers to get it, but I don't see the flavor here of what that does for halfling lore.

Throwing things goes back to the source inspiration of halflings. Hobbits were said to be particularly good at throwing stones.
 

bedir than

Full Moon Storyteller
I don't think the spear would be problematic, but some people might, because of Polearm Master (though we don't yet know what the future holds for that Feat). This would make Halflings quite nice as Paladins or Rogues (at least, with the current critical hit rules), and be pretty decent with the proposed upgrade to two weapon fighting.

That having been said, I'm sure someone would say this is too strong because it would make Halflings "the best" at certain builds, no matter how niche. I think that's a little silly, because you can't make all races equal at everything, so someone has to be the best choice, but I suppose the logic comes from the optimizer mindset, where you can feel "forced" to play something you don't want to, because the other choices are a complete downgrade.

I don't personally mind, because I like playing Halflings, but YMMV.
Crit expansion is very rare and high level in 5e. It wouldn't make sense for a halfling sorcerer to crit more frequently than any champion fighter
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
Crit expansion is very rare and high level in 5e. It wouldn't make sense for a halfling sorcerer to crit more frequently than any champion fighter
As far as that goes, however, the Champion really doesn't get a lot out of their expanded crit range. It's not like they get tons of bonus damage when they crit, like some other classes do. You're talking what, an extra 6.5 damage from a greataxe crit?

Oh sure, there's Half-Orcs (Orcs, now?), but the way I see it, the extra 6.5 damage on the critical hit just makes that a superior race for Champions?

Anyways, I don't think "but think of the Champion!" is a good reason to worry about expanded crit ranges in of itself- but thinking about how Paladins and Rogues might benefit from an expanded crit range is. If we're talking about having a higher chance to crit with a light weapon, that's not particularly bothersome. Oh no, you get an extra d4 or d6 damage!

But Elevating Halfling to top-tier for crit fishing Paladins (which, btw, I despise. If you're going to be a Smite machine, Smite on all your attacks, don't wait around until you luck out and roll a 20, jeez) and basically almost all Rogues might be a better reason to worry. Not that I think a 10% better chance for bonus damage is a big deal. It's not even a full 10% damage per attack increase.

The crux will be how D&D One would change critical hits. If Rogues are still permitted to double all their Sneak Attack dice (and ditto for Paladins), then sure, maybe it's a problem.

There are a few other classes that get a bonus die of damage here and there, like Warlocks or Rangers, but it's really not worth worrying about, IMO.

Personally, I'm not even sure why WotC is so stingy with critical range expansion; this reminds me of the 3.5 devs kiboshing the 11-20 crit range with a Rapier, not because doubling the d6 plus mods was problematic, but simply because "crits should be special, this makes them feel less special".

Thing is though, if your critical hit can manage to deal less damage than a regular hit, that doesn't feel all that special to me.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
On Halflings and throwing things: Yes, this is part of Halfling lore, but so are Halfling infantry and archers. Here's some quotes from the Professor himself.

To the last battle at Fornost with the Witch-lord of Angmar they sent some bowmen to the aid of the King, or so they maintained, though no tales of men record it.

– The Fellowship of the Ring, Prologue: ‘Concerning Hobbits’

...apart from many younger lads, more than a hundred sturdy Hobbits were assembled with axes, and heavy hammers, and long knives, and stout staves; and a few had hunting bows.

– The Return of the King – ‘The Scouring of the Shire’, Chapter VIII


So here we see that Halflings use a fairly large assortment of weapons in times of war, not just light weapons, or those that can be thrown. Yet D&D chose to focus on throwing rocks and using slings- not that I'd mind Halfling slingers, since in real life, the sling was an effective weapon of war, but D&D, as I've mentioned before, seems to think the sling is a fairly pathetic weapon.

Also, curiously, it turns out there's a reason the Shire is relatively peaceful. Only twice in history did war ever come to the Shire, and both times, the Halflings booted the invaders out. The Battle of Bywater, during the Scouring of the Shire, and the Battle of Greenfields in 1147, when a band of Orcs moved too far west and entered the Shire. The Thain at that time, Bandobras "Bullroarer" Took was an exceptional military leader, who lore tells us could ride a pony, and decapitated the Orc leader.

I find it a remarkable fact that, although Tolkien tells us halflings were not warlike and did not have particular skill in arms, they managed to overthrow a band of orcs – who were significantly larger and more efficient in combat!
 


Faolyn

(she/her)
halflings could probably have something like this and really benefit from it

Halfling small weapon mastery: you have proficiency with daggers, handaxes, lighthammers, javelins and slings, when attacking with any one of these weapons you deal a crit on an 18 or above, the range you can make ranged attacks at without disadvantage is increased by 50%(20/60 becomes 30/60, 30/120 becomes 45/120), additionally you can load your sling as part of any attack made with it and make as many attacks as you are able to.

I don’t think this is excessive really, none of these weapons are over a d6 and considering halflings cant use heavy weapons without disadvantage i think it balances out all things considered, plus it’s nonmagical.

Edit: would the spear be too much to add to the list of weapons there?
Yeah, I think the spear would be too much. I'd limit it to weapons with the Light property.

For the very similar halfling gift I included in my Handbook of Heritages that I published for Level Up, I also said that at 5th level, the weapons counted as magical for purposes of overcoming damage resistance. Because these halflings are just that good.
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
Throwing things goes back to the source inspiration of halflings. Hobbits were said to be particularly good at throwing stones.

And... were they?

I mean, I know I'm not super keen on my Tolkien lore, but I don't remember them being famed rock-throwers like the giants. I remember it mentioned in passing that they skipped rocks and threw things at animals for fun, like a lot of farmer's children, but nothing about them being fearsome throwing experts.

And looking at the quotes from @James Gasik it seems they were just as likely to use any other common weapons, bows, hammers, axes. They read much more like a peasant levy and if stone throwing was such an iconic part of them then it would have been what they'd be known in battle for, right?

And again, set aside the mechanics, lore wise what does this do for us? How does being good at throwing add some interesting angle to their lore?
 

Oofta

Legend
And... were they?

I mean, I know I'm not super keen on my Tolkien lore, but I don't remember them being famed rock-throwers like the giants. I remember it mentioned in passing that they skipped rocks and threw things at animals for fun, like a lot of farmer's children, but nothing about them being fearsome throwing experts.

And looking at the quotes from @James Gasik it seems they were just as likely to use any other common weapons, bows, hammers, axes. They read much more like a peasant levy and if stone throwing was such an iconic part of them then it would have been what they'd be known in battle for, right?

And again, set aside the mechanics, lore wise what does this do for us? How does being good at throwing add some interesting angle to their lore?

Another reference (been a while since I read the books)
Though slow to quarrel, and for sport killing nothing that lived, they were doughty at bay, and at need could still handle arms. They shot well with the bow, for they were keen-eyed and sure at the mark. Not only with bows and arrows. If any Hobbit stooped for a stone, it was well to get quickly under cover, as all trespassing beasts knew very well.​
The point for lore is that while they may not be considered aggressive by their neighbors and they don't care about building empires, they are surprisingly capable of defending themselves.
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
Supporter
Another reference (been a while since I read the books)
Though slow to quarrel, and for sport killing nothing that lived, they were doughty at bay, and at need could still handle arms. They shot well with the bow, for they were keen-eyed and sure at the mark. Not only with bows and arrows. If any Hobbit stooped for a stone, it was well to get quickly under cover, as all trespassing beasts knew very well.​
The point for lore is that while they may not be considered aggressive by their neighbors and they don't care about building empires, they are surprisingly capable of defending themselves.
So really, if they have a bonus for anything, it should be ranged attacks in general, not just throwing stuff.
 


Latest threads


AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Upcoming Releases

Top