D&D General why do we have halflings and gnomes?

why do we have halflings and gnomes?

I get that they are classic and all that but I can't for the life of me figure out the appeal of them or what to do with them in a setting?

I know why Tolkien used hobbits but I do not see who the use them in a non-story setting (gaming settings are slightly different)

gnomes I just have no idea aside from loving gems which is not something to build a culture around.

I know of similar concepts to them that I am more familiar but they are very different in rather drastic ways (they have more location-based subtypes than even elves) but I was asked for something less completely out there.
do any of you know what halflings, gnomes and such types are for in a setting? or why people might play them?

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Laws of Mordenkainen, Elminster, & Fistandantilus
I have a campaign of no sentients but humans, halflings, gnomes, and dragons. Gnomes are great because they are usually hidden and often going into the Fey Wild and then returning. Halflings are simple villagers who sometimes produce heroes, but they always have to negotiate a difficult and dangerous world. They have less magical protection and secrecy then gnomes. Only the humans and dragons have empires. Humans, gnomes, and handlings all produce heroes and adventurers.

Until now, I never even thought much about not having dwarves or elves in the world until now, to tell you the truth. It just seemed simpler for me to create a world without long-lived empire builders like dwarves and elves.

I think its fairly obvious why hobbits where included - LotR fans wanted to be like their heroes.

Gnomes is a good question. They didn't enter D&D until the 1st edition AD&D players handbook. They are drawing from the same mythological well as elves and dwarves. In Tolkien's writings, the noldor elves are specifically identified with gnomes. D&D gnomes resemble non-Tolkienated elves. Magical little people who make toys for Santa, make shoes for poor cobblers, help maidens spin straw into gold, miners who take in lost princesses etc.

There are gnomes in L. Frank Baum's Oz stories, maybe they jumped from there to AD&D?

Otherwise elves have no-one to make fun of.
the elves would find a way.

okay so gnomes are magic earthy people and halflings are well I know exactly what the things they are based on but I kinda wanted ideas for a different direction to go with them.

fae wild is aside from a thing in the dmg is so undetailed that I have no idea how to tie into it.
anything else?

my task was set to make high fantasy and by high fantasy, they meant Dragonlance mixed with Tolkien, not the madness I prefer.

I like gnomes because they embody that liminal space in folklore where the bright line between elf and dwarf just doesn't exist. They are the classic little people and mythic tricksters. They are also important in alchemical lore, which I'm a fan of.

For halflings? Not a clue. They seem to me a one story people, that don't serve much point outside that one story.

Which brings up an interesting thing I've noticed. There are a contingent of players that for what ever reason don't like "short races", so they believe that there are also players that like "short races" just because they are small. It's kind of strange.


Mod Squad
Staff member
why do we have halflings and gnomes?

I get that they are classic and all that but I can't for the life of me figure out the appeal of them or what to do with them in a setting?

We have them because some folks find them fun to play. That's it. That's the only thing for ANY race, actually. Let us dispel the notion that there's anything more than that to them.

Halflings we have as the bucolic reflection of humans. While humans take the role of heroes, halflings take the role of the "everyman" in a story - they could be livig a quiet life with a cup of tea and a scone, but instead, they in the middle of whatever's happening.

Gnomes are the natural druids and tricksters. They are Coyote and Anansi. They are the race with a touch of the Feywild, and the triumph of wit and good humor over self-important brawn or power. While other races follow their gods for power, for fear, or for honor, or history, gnomes follow gods because those gods are freakin' cool, and do awesome things. If they lived in our world, gnomes would totally have anime versions of Garl Glittergold's adventures.

Halfling PCs are quite common in our games. I think some players feel they have a cuteness factor. They also don't have any real negatives - humans, elves and dwarves all have a reputation for being pretty prejudiced, whereas halflings get along with everyone.

If you don't want them in your world, don't have them - it's up to you as DM and worldbuilder, so if you want a world populated by gillyfish and bumbledags you can do that.

Dragonlance replaced halflings with kender, who are what you would get if you cross-bred a hobbit with a gungan then multiplied the irritation factor by a billion.
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