Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Why Do Halflings Get the Short Stick in Many RPGs?

Halflings were never all that powerful in AD&D. Poor guys were limited to 4th level as a fighter (although unlimited as a thief, something they excelled at).

LotFP's Weird Fantasy made them into some kind of "kick it and see if it goes off" trap detector, where their only specialty was good saves. No offensive usefulness, no utility worth besides setting off traps, they seems more like an afterthought.

Adventurer Conqueror Kings System does away with them all together. They're in the moster section if I recall correctly, but they were intentionally left out during the design of the system.

Halflings fair a little better in the DCC RPG, with dual wielding and their luck ability. Actually, with their luck ability, they seem a wee bit like their shorter green cousins of Irish lore ;)

Is it a general disdain of the race / class? Has it been over used and over played due to it's LotR roots? Is there an Anti-Hobbit backlash going on?

I always enjoyed playing a halfling Fighter / Thief - it made for a nice dungeon styles ranger substitute, but maybe that's just me and my style.

Do you also feel the wee folks have been held down, or am I over reaching? (had to get some height jokes in while I could ;)


  1. I think a lot of it is to do with a resistance to use anything Tolkien-ish, which is a shame, since without his work a lot of the fantasy tropes we love might not exist; also, I think halflings are always compared to their hobbit kin, and a lot of people consider that to be a bad thing.

    Personally, I like hobbits. I played a halfling chef-wizard, who was very hobbit-like and was great fun to play. My dad used to have a halfling called Trusty, who was a thief and loosely modelled on Bilbo, and even got himself a Ring of Invisibility.

    Hobbits are cool. It'd be nice to have

  2. Actually, for me, I think the hatred started with the LOTR movies-maybe it was horrible casting, I don't know.

    I used to love hobbits before that-1st PC was a halfling thief in AD&D.

    I do intend to see The Hobbit movie (the first of three)-but for the Dwarves, at this point. Maybe I'll see the rest for the VAST changes that seem to be in the offing.

  3. I think the lack of love is more in the OSR category...from 2nd edition on halflings have been pretty fun to play, with an entire book dedicated to them in 2E, and a fairly robust set of stats and options in 3rd, 4th and Pathfinder. If I had to guess, it's probably the fact that a lot of the OSR focus out there right now is more on recapturing the pre-Tolkien pulp era of fantasy, such as Howard, Ashton-Smith, Burroughs and so forth, and halflings are so distinctly "Tolkien" that it's hard to justify their presence in a lot of the Appendix N-influenced games, thematically.

  4. Recall that, in Lord of the Rings, Halflings were the most evil of all races, with more of them having fallen to the One Ring's corruption than any other race.

    Ok, that's the LotRO "taunt the halflings" in me coming out.

    Seriously, though, I've never been fond of the race. Not violently opposed to them (like some folk are with gnomes), but there's some of Tolkien's taint on them... if they're something other than short, rural humans, they tend to diverge violently from the traditional halfling. In most places where you have halflings (including, I think, Tolkien), you can substitute humans with no real changes. They tend to speak human languages, live very human lifespans, and do very human things. If the two races can interbreed, they'd eventually merge... simply because they're not so different that you can't use one any place you'd use another.

  5. Hobbits are Tolkien-specific. Halflings are an obvious ripoff. I can't see why there should be any hobbits in a non-Tolkien campaign, just as I can't see why there should be any Ducks or Uz in a non-Gloranthan campaign. Each fantasy setting should have its own fantasy species.

  6. They annoy the hell out of me, and I'll tell you why.

    First, (in 3.x) they have a constitution bonus. Somebody in my game group made a halfling barbarian. MASSIVE hit points. So you have this meat-stub at three foot nothing with three times the hit points of the half-orc that has 5 times the body mass.

    Size does matter. First, 3.x. If you're playing a group that has different sizes, either you shrug and figure it doesn't matter, or you deal with different rules for encumbrance, movement, armor class--then if fighting small foes, you have to recalibrate because it's small on small.

    Second, if you DON'T take size into account, then it doesn't matter that the little pipsqueak has a quarter your body mass. He can carry as much as you, move as well as you, etc.

    Looking at how strong and tough they can be, it just grates.

    Now, Stuart Robertson made a GREAT hobbit class. That's the kind of thing that's sensible.


    Check out Mike Monoco's suggestion in the comments, that halflings are little ape-men, explaining their strength and speed. That interpretation works too.

    Having said all that, they were dropped from Kirin Robinson's Old School Hack. I put them back in with Fictive Hack, focused on hospitality and food.

    Halflings aren't all bad. They are just more complicated, and I wonder why they'd venture out into all this death and destruction if they didn't have to.

    Oh, Swords and Sorcery explained it by making them emo and abused.

  7. Speaking for myself, I have a hard time distinguishing them from gnomes in any of the games I'm in. The players end up playing the two races identically. So, it ends up being redundant. Also, I like gnomes better anyway.

  8. @Andrew - Halflings in 3.X don't get a constitution bonus. Gnomes do.

  9. I am very excited after watching the D&D Next Gen Con Videos. The guy at the helm of the art and design showed a few very cool pictures of Haflings. Guess what they LOOKED like halflings not just little people, min punk rockers, or gutted snowbirds. I am enjoying the D&D Next play-test as well. It only took five minutes to make a character.

  10. i think part of the problem is trying to make them fill roles that are not proper fits to the race itself.

    I have some ideas on this - I'll see how they shape up on the ride home from work.

  11. I've never played one, but I think DCC has made me *want* to play one.

    Perhaps they would be a lot cooler if they simply were dissociated from their roots. Not completely, but the part where they're always about the food and pipeweed and more food and then the getting stoned again... What if you took the little folk and got them away from their comfort zone. What if they got desperate? What if they got kicked out of the Shire for being arseholes? I'm not saying make them all emo and abused, as someone suggested above, but street urchin might be a way to go. Or you could imagine what might happen if they feel in with this race or that class, and how that might affect your ability to play them in new and interesting ways. I'll think on this a bit and come up with a couple of examples of what I mean later tonight. Gotta go and do a couple things first.

  12. Having DM'd Tower of the Stargazer for LoTFP, I'd say that Halflings' brilliant saves make them THE best class!

    However, in my BECMI games I always wanted to give Halflings something else - they're just short fighters who can hide outdoors (and if you've just got the Basic Set, you might be forgiven for thinking, 'the outdoors, what's that?'). AD&D gave me the ability to make Halflings thieves, which was what I was looking for.

    As a DM, I always make Halflings the one variety of Demi-Human that are more or less totally accepted in human society. In a human-centric game, this can prove to be very important.

  13. I'm not particularly for or against halflings, but how do the people who talk about Tolkien's "taint" and recapturing the pulp era of fantasy feel about elves and dwarves? Pre-Tolkien fantasy didn't have mixed-species adventuring parties, let alone the obviously Tolkien-based elves and dwarves of D&D. Cutting out non-humans altogether or replacing them with original races I can understand, but why single out hobbits when the other races, excepting their names, are no less a product of Tolkien's imagination?

  14. In ACKS the rationale for making them monsters (something to be encountered) rather than the characters that do the encountering is explicitly pro-Tolkien. The hobbits of the Shire who go adventuring are meant to be exceptional. The meaningfulness of the hobbit as Everyman, reluctantly giving up the comforts of hearth and home, is cheapened if when they do answer the call for adventure it takes them to a dungeon where the location of every trap is marked by the corpses of halflings from previous parties of delvers.

  15. When I used halflings in WFRP, I stole a page from the "Bored of the Rings" book and called them boggies. I gave them stubby tails, made them fat and malicious and greedy for comfort.

    They were used in military action by one brilliant tactician by repeatedly rolling the food wagon towards the foes; the boggie morale never broke when protecting their food.

    We even had one brief game where everyone made members of the boggie mafia in one city; they were short, the better to shake you down. It was totally "Godfather" with the fat wheezing don, twitchy irritable gangster family with chips on the shoulder, prolonged torture of deadbeats, etc.

  16. Okay, so here's what I came up with. It's more or less an explanation of the Halfling as derived from the Tolkien tradition, but in a way that explains why they're not just wee men. http://revdoctoredj.blogspot.com/2012/08/now-for-something-else-completely.html


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