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.

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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


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Horwath

Hero
Not fine. We left punishing people for playing a race behind twenty years ago.
While I agree 100% with ability bonuses from race should be removed as so many things derive from ability modifiers,
I really think that size of the character should come with more advantages and disadvantages.

smaller size weapons should make a comeback, slightly less speed(25 vs. 30ft), disadvantage on opposed STR checks(of fixed bonus/penalty per size category like in 3,5e).

bonuses on stealth, be that advantage, fixed bonuses, or default proficiency/expertise in Stealth,
weapons and armors that cost and weight 1/4 to 1/2 of default size, less need for food, having 2 small characters in same 5ft area with no penalties
 

Back in the 3.5 Book of Vile Darkness supplement, there were Jerren who were evil halflings. Not there was any more to them than "halfling, but evil."
yeah that is the point I hate just generic edge evil, I like my evil to have reasons why they are this way not necessarily good ones but you see how they turned from the archetype into something worse makes them more grounded and thus all the more horrific.
 

yeah that is the point I hate just generic edge evil, I like my evil to have reasons why they are this way not necessarily good ones but you see how they turned from the archetype into something worse makes them more grounded and thus all the more horrific.
So do we need to stow a few of them away in the underdark, paint them grey or green and find an evil, oppressive deity or race who maybe has been out of work for a bit and give them someting to do? Maybe we could use Lolth's degenerate older brother Swolth or Grumsh's estranged stepson Chumpsh?

Because near as I can see, that is the D&D process for making evil races.

I liked the idea from the last great halfling thread (that I participated in at least) of evil halflings who live by an edict of "mandatory happiness". They aren't greedy or selfish or anything, but you better put a smile on your face while they are around.
 

So do we need to stow a few of them away in the underdark, paint them grey or green and find an evil, oppressive deity or race who maybe has been out of work for a bit and give them someting to do? Maybe we could use Lolth's degenerate older brother Swolth or Grumsh's estranged stepson Chumpsh?
No, you make them a cheerful, friendly rural folk who love singing, dancing and eating their guests.
 

So do we need to stow a few of them away in the underdark, paint them grey or green and find an evil, oppressive deity or race who maybe has been out of work for a bit and give them someting to do? Maybe we could use Lolth's degenerate older brother Swolth or Grumsh's estranged stepson Chumpsh?

Because near as I can see, that is the D&D process for making evil races.

I liked the idea from the last great halfling thread (that I participated in at least) of evil halflings who live by an edict of "mandatory happiness". They aren't greedy or selfish or anything, but you better put a smile on your face while they are around.
honestly, what is it with the underdark being filled only with evil people it seems unlikely?
 

The abilities bonus have been for a long time one of the marks of identity of the PC races, but with the handicap of typecasting these into certain classes (fighting, stealth or spellcasting). I would rather the system of Pathfinder 2 because this allows more flexibility.

Do you know what would be funny? Today the farming simulation videogames are becoming very popular, and the halflings are too good for a hypotetical (kid-friendly) D&D farming simulation. Hasbro would dare to launch a version for mobile or tablet, because these need lesser money and time.
 

Danny Prescott

Explorer
I've no issue with Halflings as presented, but then again my gateway to rpg's was definitely Tolkein. I've played them many times (didn't play the Kender when we did Dragonlance way back when but then only because someone else had already bagged the character). On reflection I can't think of many times other players have gone for them, so perhaps there's personal affection (or disaffection) at play. I certainly identified with them being a not very tall kid from a rural UK backwater..
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Do you know what would be funny? Today the farming simulation videogames are becoming very popular, and the halflings are too good for a hypotetical (kid-friendly) D&D farming simulation. Hasbro would dare to launch a version for mobile or tablet, because these need lesser money and time.

I always thought WOTC could do a complex PC and a kid friendly noble version of a town builder colony game with D&D races. Halflings would be great for making food and staying happy but be weaker at defending against monster attacks. Elves would be the opposite, they shoot and blast monsters to hell but they'd never want to work and demand the most luxuries.
 





lall

Explorer
Um... not a single piece of 5e Gnome art depicts them with large noses. So, I have zero idea where you are getting this from.
The nose of the forest gnome in the PHB is quite large and in line with the PHB text “Their tan or brown faces are usually adorned with broad smiles ( beneath their prodigious noses)…” Prodigious means “remarkably or impressively great in extent, size, or degree.” So read that bit as “(beneath their huge honkers)”.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
While I agree 100% with ability bonuses from race should be removed as so many things derive from ability modifiers,
I really think that size of the character should come with more advantages and disadvantages.

smaller size weapons should make a comeback, slightly less speed(25 vs. 30ft), disadvantage on opposed STR checks(of fixed bonus/penalty per size category like in 3,5e).

bonuses on stealth, be that advantage, fixed bonuses, or default proficiency/expertise in Stealth,
weapons and armors that cost and weight 1/4 to 1/2 of default size, less need for food, having 2 small characters in same 5ft area with no penalties
So... basically unplayable in the one pillar of the game the designers care about with some token bonuses to things that rarely matter.

No thanks, 3e was a couple of decades back thataway.
 

Horwath

Hero
So... basically unplayable in the one pillar of the game the designers care about with some token bonuses to things that rarely matter.

No thanks, 3e was a couple of decades back thataway.
you can play every spellcaster, support and skill monkey. Maybe even better than medium size race.
Just don't expect to meet weapon damage output.
 



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