Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Now for Something (Else) Completely Different: Halflings

Erik at Tenkar's Tavern has asked a good question: Why do Halflings get the short end of the stick in RPGs?

The ensuing discussion in the comments thread is pretty thought provoking. What emerges is a laundry list of different interpretations of the race as played, as it exists in literature, and, mostly importantly, how it is being reimagined in the OSR. Here a few options.

  • Halflings are Tolkien Hobbits, plain and simple. They dig food and comfort much more than adventure. Many of them are reactionary types, and seek to preserve this ethos. Those who don't are viewed with suspicion and often are outcasts.
  • Halflings are limited fighters, but excellent thieves, who again love their vittles and perhaps a good pipe by the fire.
  • Halflings are like gnomes but not as cool.
  • Halflings are pretty much just short humans.
  • Halflings are half-men, and can never be as kickass as their larger counterparts. But they do have the balls to try.
  • Halflings are ape-men, which accounts for their strength (from comments, same link)

There are a lot of takes on the halfling race, and certainly a lot more than I've listed, here. But I want to like the little guys. Hell, I *do* like them. I think they make some of the best heroes because their heroism, toughness, and wiles make them charismatic in a way that people, and, yes, children are people too, can relate to.

So, here's my version.

A long, long time ago, perhaps in the First Age, or even before that (nobody really knows for sure), there was a time of high magic. Things just don't work as well as they used to, before all the magic went out of the world, but you knew that. During this time, there were many powerful wizards, and (as you also know) wizards are jealous of their power, but can be incredibly vain in its exercise, and each strives to be the most powerful and respected, or at least the most feared. They have competitions, do wizards. They are also subtle and quick to anger, but that's another story.

There was, in that age, a pair of wizards, twins by birth, who made a game of creating new creatures for their wargames. Elves and dwarves won't put up with that sort of thing. Some wizards were going about making greenskins and other degenerate races, of course, but the twins thought them gauche and their projects vulgar.

Men, of course, were too incredibly boring. But... what if they could be made better (stronger, faster) and, very importantly, smaller. You see, it would be cute. Wee little men, perhaps with hairy toes, whacking the crap out of orc and ogres and whatnot. Then, of course, you'd have to make them fierce enough to fight, and tough enough to show the other wizards' creations what is what. And, most importantly, they'd have to be lucky in order to gain that competitive edge when death was on the line (the twins were famous cheaters, and everyone knew it). So they went about making such creatures, and, over the course of their long lives they perfected them. Little men, fierce and tough like terriers, agile and small and lucky, with the look of children but the habits of grownups.

The twins fought many battles with their creations before they faded from the world. That, of course, was because in order to make the little creatures lucky they had to make a deal with Lady Luck. When the twins welshed on their deal, well... let's just say that Luck was not a lady about it.

Nonetheless, there are all these wee men about, both above ground and interred in the vast barrowlands near the old forest where Old Tom is said to make his home. The ones above ground, having the aspect of children and the habits of grown Men, more or less decided to settle down to the West, just a little ways off, and go about their lives. You see, they don't have to be fierce, and very few of them like to fight, and avoiding those things tends to keep fewer of them filling barrows, and more of them at home by the fire, smoking a pipe, and having yet another snack to keep at bay the gnawing hunger aroused by their superhuman metabolisms. Halflings prefer this a lot more than fighting, make no bones about it. Rouse them though, and you'll find why the wizard twins' army was feared by their foes, and what happens to those who mess with Luck's children. Then you'll be sorry.

My Take on Halflings

Hit Dice: d6 (because the are little, after all, and there's just less of them to hack at)
Stats: As normal human
Luck: As per DCC.
Saving throws: Generally awesome.
Specials: Limited infravision, for those night battles. Good with missile weapons (+1 for being a halfling). Adept at stealth, especially in woods or plains.
Level limits: None, but most are too damned happy to be bothered with leveling up, and the barrows are full-up anyway. Adventuring halflings are incredibly rare, even rarer than elves and dwarves.

For now, all of them are pretty much the same, and their culture is still pretty self-contained due to their lower birthrates, but if they ever end up outside of the Shire, in the world of larger doings, some certainly would learn other skills (thieving perhaps, or even a dash of wizardry). Who knows what would follow from that?