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

Benjamin Olson

I like Halflings, because they don't cause any world building stress for me. As per both Lord of the Rings and homo floresiensis they can be an isolated population closely related to humans but substantially smaller of stature. And that's really all there is to them. It thus really doesn't require any explanation to accommodate a small community of Halflings living somewhere in a world. Nobody has an expectation of them having any sort of grand civilization.

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Without gnomes, who would wear all the pointed red hats?



Hobbit on Quest
I find gnomes a little redundant with Haflings, but this is really in standard D&D lore, where they are like Hafling and Dwarves rolled together.

I really like the Gnomes from Pathfinder, where they are strange, fey-like and quite unique. I also kind of like the tinker gnomes and mechanical experts from something like Warcraft, but that doesn't fit everyone's campaign setting or even tone. (That ACME Science Steampunk stuff can be a little silly.)
I did feel the gnomes in AD&D were a bit redundant - but mostly with dwarves, from my perspective - except for the whole illusionist trend. That really set them apart back in 1e.

But I too really like what Paizo has done with gnomes for Golarion. It's one of PF's best changes (along with paladin's smite).


I find them a bit redundant with each other form an ecological perspective, but they have distinct narrative niches (everyman and magical trickster) that aren't well-served by any other popular race, so I certainly allow them.

In my own settings, they are one species, however. Different communities employ stealth and deception and kindness in different ways, resulting in very different individuals, but biologically they're all one group.


Hobbit on Quest
explain as that does seem to be what you suggest they are just humans but without anything that makes them a spectacle to behold.
In a sense, they're really not a spectacle to behold... by design. If everyone in the D&D game is a spectacle or some kind of damaged goods (like sooooooo many adventurers are), the humble normalcy of a halfling whose greatest ambition might be to live comfortably with some good beer and seedcakes stands out.
But that doesn't make them "just humans".


Goblin Queen
explain as that does seem to be what you suggest they are just humans but without anything that makes them a spectacle to behold.
By being the Everyman, halflings have a relatability that the human heroes of a setting like LotR lack. They have a humility that makes their heroism all the more inspiring. Only a hobbit could have successfully borne the ring to Mordor, as only one so simple and humble could weather its evil for so long.

Additionally, being the Everyman archetype in a medieval context is a far cry from being “the faceless masses.” That’s a very post-industrial view of the common folk. Halflings aren’t faceless masses, they’re the agrarian class. A halfling adventurer is the farm boy who gets thrust into adventure by circumstances beyond their control - an incredibly common fantasy trope.

Now, again, that theming doesn’t necessarily translate well to D&D, which is why over time halflings have grown apart from that agrarian Everyman role. They’ve become curious, plucky thrill seekers and mischief makers, smiled upon by Lady Luck for their sheer audacity in the face of improbable odds. That’s a decent alternate direction to take halflings in if you are strongly opposed to the Everyman archetype.

Again, I personally prefer to treat each of these archetypes as stereotypes. My halflings are an oppressed underclass who have developed close bonds based around their mutual struggles. The halfling love of freedom and dedication to community are products of those shared hardships. That’s one example of how to subvert the typical halfling tropes, if neither of them appeal to you. If you take the time to delve into the themes behind the tropes instead of dismissing them, you can play with those themes, coming at them from different angles, or turning them on their heads.


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)
D&D is not a non-story setting. It is an RPG. A role playing game. Characters play a role in a story. Halflings and gnomes are PC class races because some people enjoy playing them. One of my favorite PCs was a gnome wizard in 5E.

I'd just suggest to you that you listen to a few episodes of the Critical Role podcast from their first campaign. There are two gnomes in the party, and you can see how much fun the people playing them have.

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.
With all the discussion about accessibility and representation these days I want to bring up how I came to understand why representation matters.

During my 1e/2e playing days I was at most a 4'6 under 100 pound kid who was always the smallest kid in school, to include places where I was three+ years older than other students (middle school specifically, and even tinier than above).

I always played halflings and gnomes.

It took me until recently to understand that part of the appeal was specifically because they were heroes that were small. As someone who could never, ever be an athlete, I could play someone athletic and heroic. I could mimic Bilbo and become greater than my peoples say I could be.

Without this representation would I have gone on to join the US Army and eventually serving in 5th Special Forces Group? Probably not. Because the representation of the tiny heroes is part of what helped me believe in myself.

Don't remove halflings and gnomes because you don't understand them. You're closing off stories that other people at your tables will understand, and need.


Outside of having a high Dex Low Strength Acrobat race, I never saw the point of halflings. Especially the "humany", hobbitish, folksy, homebody halflings. If you don't emphasize their Dexterity and Adventurousness like 3e and 4e does, halfling are more a "good aligned monster" than "a well from which adventurers spring".

As for gnomes, I just see them as filling the biology and magitech field that elves and dwarves traditionally are not part of.


Hobbit on Quest
Outside of having a high Dex Low Strength Acrobat race, I never saw the point of halflings. Especially the "humany", hobbitish, folksy, homebody halflings. If you don't emphasize their Dexterity and Adventurousness like 3e and 4e does, halfling are more a "good aligned monster" than "a well from which adventurers spring".
Diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks. Their folksy homebodiness is what makes them the best wells from which adventurers spring.


Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I'd rather ditch humans, dwarves, and elves, than halflings and gnomes, when building a world.

For a long time, I didn't like dnd halflings, and had only ever played one halfling character, and they were a halfling primarily because I wanted a semi-coastal farmer's kid turned thief from Sembia, and that backstory just fit a halfling better than a human. Eventually I formed a more fully realized understanding of halflings, and consider them important to DnD.

Halflings and gnomes have one thing of importance in common, and it ain't size. It's curiosity.

Halflings are possessed of incredible curiosity, and while many love the simple life, they are capable of incredible action when roused. They're also noticeably more nimble than humans, but smaller, and most people take them less seriously because of their size and youthful visage. You either can see the appeal of that or you can't.

Gnomes are similar in curiosity and liking to have their communities left alone while being friendly and social individually. They're also very bright, creative, and their curiosity is less about the world in front of them directly, like an explorer is curious, but more the curiosity of the scientist, the delver into secrets, the inventor. "Can I make this?" rather than "What's over that hill?" For Rock Gnomes, that is about invention, physical science, etc. For Forest Gnomes, it's more about magic, and nature.

Oh, the other thing that both races have that a lot of players want is comfy homes just under the surface. From David the Gnome to Hobbits of the Shire, it's dope as hell to imagine digging your home into the hillside or amongst the roots of a great tree. Gnome Home - Tiny House Blog

Now, the 5e gnome is sub-optimal thematically in that the Rock Gnome gets next to nothing of actual value from it's subrace, and the Forest gnome is the only one that gets to talk to small animals, but that's easily fixed by making it explicit that Rock gnomes can make things like repeating crossbows, and upgrades for the range and power of bows of all kinds, with their tinker tools, as well as improved block and tackle designs, etc, and giving the base race the ability to speak to small and smaller beasts. Minor illusion is really useful, so IMO that makes the two equal in power and makes it so that all gnomes can talk to small or smaller beasts.


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Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Because the Chainmail Fantasy Supplement was written in part to suggest ways to use figures of different scales all on the same battlefield. It is also partially an adaptation of a LotR-inspired war game, so it had to have hobbits. Gnomes are included for the same reason there are kobolds and faeries. Each of dwarves, goblins, and elves were given an alternative variant of diminutive cousins.
lol no.

That is why they are in the earliest version of dnd.

It doesn't explain their longevity in the game. That is quite simply explained by the fact that people enjoy playing them, and like the fiction of being an underdog in a small frame and overcoming that, and various other fictions that are well suited to these races.


Diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks. Their folksy homebodiness is what makes them the best wells from which adventurers spring.

Their folksy homebodiness makes them a monster.

It's the curiosity that 3e/4e jacked up that moves them to adventurer. 5e toned it down a bit. 1e and 2e halflings needed to be prodded to leave home.


Halfings and gnomes are a PC option fundamentally because they both were in AD&D 1st edition's PHB, back in 1978, when there was no unified theory behind what was being done.

They are in 5th edition because the designers who poked too hard at "Why do we have . . . ?" reasoning when revising D&D were the ones who wound up making the commercial failure of 4th edition.
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There're articles out there talking about how reluctant Gygax was to include "Hobbits", but the players insisted. I think OD&D briefly mentioned Gnomes as a variant of Dwarves.

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