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Is there any point to Halflings?


assault
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I'm going a bit closer to sub-Tolkien D&D style fantasy than I usually do.

One of the things that that requires are Tolkien-esque PC "races".

I've got a handle on Elves as being more like Moorcock's Melniboneans, with influences from Poul Anderson, Terry Pratchett and others.

I'm struggling with Halflings and Dwarves though.

For Dwarves, there's CS Lewis, Pratchett, Snow White(!) and various minor sources.

For Halflings there's Tolkien - and D&D.

Nelwyns from Willow could be either - and that's the problem.

Why have both? (And don't get me started on Gnomes!)

OK, Dwarves live underground and are miners, while Halflings live on the surface and are farmers. But why have that degree of separation/specialisation? Why not just have one "race" that does both?

Norse/German mythological Dwarves are different again, so they aren't useful.

Aside from being friendly towards people familiar with D&D, I can't really see the point of having two groups. And yet...

Has anyone else addressed this kind of thing? How did you differentiate between the two, or justify having both?

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We always used a gnome on a rope to find traps.  He'd go ahead, and if he fell into a pit, the rope stopped him.

 

No, I do not really care for hobbits/halflings/harfoots whatever you want to call them.  They are wonderful in Tolkien's writings but I do not care for them as a player character rade and they do not exist in my fantasy world settings.

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7 hours ago, assault said:


OK, Dwarves live underground and are miners, while Halflings live on the surface and are farmers. But why have that degree of separation/specialisation? Why not just have one "race" that does both?
 

 

Because those are two different ecologies. Humans mine and quarry underground, but with a few historical exceptions we don't live underground. We have a psychological need to see the sun, to smell and touch green growing things, to feel the fresh wind on our face. The natural environment for dwarves is the deep places of the Earth, the comforting darkness and the feel of solid stone, the beautiful glitter of rock crystal and veins of metal.

 

OTOH there are people for whom the tilling of soil and raising of living things is a deep spiritual experience and satisfaction. Why not a race for whom that is an inborn need? For whom the rhythms of their bodies and minds and souls are deeply bound to the turn of the seasons, to the open sky and pouring rain, to sprouting seeds and birthing livestock?

 

Humans invented all the creatures and races of legend to fill a role in the natural order as they perceived it. If you want to fit a race into your world, I recommend first defining its niche.

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To answer your thesis as to the "point" of Halflings, I think a good place to start is to look at the precedents of Prof. Tolkien's Hobbits. What is it that they're noted as being really good at, that works for an adventuring party?

 

First, they're stealthy. Being much smaller than their competitor races they learned to hide themselves, to move silently. Classic D&D thief abilities, but also great assets for scouts.

 

Second, they're crack shots with any kind of projectile or thrown weapon. Combined with their stealth they would make excellent snipers and guerillas.

 

Third, they're tough. They routinely survive traumas and environmental conditions that would kill most bigger folk. Plenty of justification to give them minor Life Support, various Immunities, Combat Luck or the Resistance Talent, and the like.

 

You can also incorporate the very reasonable premise that they've learned to use their small size to their advantage in combat with tactics and teamwork. I think this scene from the last season of The Witcher TV series gives a good illustration. (Some language that's borderline NSFW, considerable violence and bloodshed, and lots of screaming.)

 

 

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8 hours ago, assault said:

I'm going a bit closer to sub-Tolkien D&D style fantasy than I usually do.

One of the things that that requires are Tolkien-esque PC "races".

I've got a handle on Elves as being more like Moorcock's Melniboneans, with influences from Poul Anderson, Terry Pratchett and others.

I'm struggling with Halflings and Dwarves though.

For Dwarves, there's CS Lewis, Pratchett, Snow White(!) and various minor sources.

For Halflings there's Tolkien - and D&D.

Nelwyns from Willow could be either - and that's the problem.

Why have both? (And don't get me started on Gnomes!)

OK, Dwarves live underground and are miners, while Halflings live on the surface and are farmers. But why have that degree of separation/specialisation? Why not just have one "race" that does both?

Norse/German mythological Dwarves are different again, so they aren't useful.

Aside from being friendly towards people familiar with D&D, I can't really see the point of having two groups. And yet...

Has anyone else addressed this kind of thing? How did you differentiate between the two, or justify having both?

Yup, I’ve been there. And I have thought of cutting them out. I know that they are so ingrained that it doesn’t seem right to leave them out. Gnome? Yeah I can leave them out without a thought.
 

So how do I justify Halflings? I don’t. And here’s why. When people talk about ruining game immersion, for me trying to explain or have a niche for everything ruins it or at least taints it. This is Fantasy so let it be fantastical. 

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Ultimately, there is no "point" to any specific fantasy race.  We can have tall, slender humans living in nature, who excel in wizardry and archery.  We can have short, stocky, hirsute humans who live underground, mine, place little stock in social niceties and excel in stonework, whose preferred weaponry is the axe and crossbow. We can have even shorter, nimble humans (halflings are, though, smaller than pygmies) whose feet get hairy, who disdain footwear, live in a rural, agricultural society. They can be stealthy, and prefer weapons like slings.

 

But a bunch of different types of humans doesn't put the "fantastic" in "fantasy", so we lean to fantasy races from legend, and from the works of writers of fantasy.

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Humans invented all the creatures and races of legend to fill a role in the natural order as they perceived it. If you want to fit a race into your world, I recommend first defining its niche.

 

 

I agree, although part of the joy of fantasy is that not everything makes sense, and if you make it too logical, scientific, and fit everything perfectly, you lose part of the charm of the fantastical genre

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15 hours ago, assault said:

For Halflings there's Tolkien - and D&D.

And a bazillion legends from around the world about the small folk who are rarely seen. That's where Tolkien got his hobbits (with a fair bit of his own imagination). Return to the source and do as he did.

 

When I ran my Fantasy Europa alternate-history campaign I didn't get much opportunity to use my version of halflings -- or three versions, really, because I gave them three main cultural divisions. Regular "halflings" had assimilated into human society. Savants are sure they are simply a shorter version of humans. But it's also pretty well established that they are the first folk of Europe.

 

Halflings who didn't assimilate are generally called Picts, Pygmies, Pisgies, or other variations; or Brownies, Bwca, Boggarts, Huldre, Kobolds, or many other names. None of these are what they call themselves. They still live in hiding out in the countryside. Local folk sometimes make tacit bargains with them: The farmer who lets the Hidden Folk glean his fields after the harvest finds fewer foxes getting into the henhouse. Or the reverse can happen. The Hidden Folk have their own ancient religion and mythology, preserving many secrets su ch as from when the elves came, and the Wild Huntsman's true name.

 

But a few of the Hidden Folk strike back against the larger folk who occupy land they still regard as theirs. They are Goblins, the terror in the dark or under the bed, masters of dagger, dart and poison. Up the airy mountain/Down the rushy glen/We daren't go a-hunting/For fear of little men...

 

Like I said, it's an idea I never got the chance to develop much. Maybe I'll get a chance some other time.

 

Dean Shomshak

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Halflings have a point...

 

In specific situations.  In all the years of running FH, it was just Humans as Player characters (with one exception), and I never used them for my usual fantasy.  The current PBP game on a Discord, there are no halflings or elves.

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And a bazillion legends from around the world about the small folk who are rarely seen.

 

I do love this concept, just not as a player character.  Once its a player race, they're in the public and visible all over, and more of them show up to make the world seem like its filled and has all these races in it.  They go from "almost never seen" to "town full of them nearby"

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6 hours ago, Christopher R Taylor said:

 

I do love this concept, just not as a player character.  Once its a player race, they're in the public and visible all over, and more of them show up to make the world seem like its filled and has all these races in it.  They go from "almost never seen" to "town full of them nearby"

Yes, but that's a game thing separate from what Assault asked. First you work out what halflings are by themselves. Then you work out what they are with other people.

 

It's worth remembering that in LotR, it was an important feature of the world that Men, Dwarves, Elves and Hobbits had pretty much gone their own ways for thousands of years. A few points of contact such as Bree and Dale, but mostly separate. The Fellowship of the Ring was the first endeavor to involve all four races since, well, ever. It was Tolkien's imitators, and especially D&D, that shoved everyone together and nobody was particularly strange to anyone else.

 

Tolkien shaped four distinct races (orcs, too) from a melange of folklore that didn't draw such distinctions among the faerie-folk -- and they were all Hidden Folk, not just the short ones. Nothing decreed that he had to create dwarves, elves, hobbits and orcs as he did, or as gamers have subsequently adapted them. So I repeat: Go back to the source. It might be a useful exercise to reverse-engineer hobbits from the folklore: work out what Tolkien used, and what he was trying to achieve. Then you can probably rebuilt the Sma;ll Folk to suit yourself.

 

 

7 hours ago, Scott Ruggels said:

Halflings have a point...

 

In specific situations.  In all the years of running FH, it was just Humans as Player characters (with one exception), and I never used them for my usual fantasy.  The current PBP game on a Discord, there are no halflings or elves.

Or, you know, don't. If the only reason you're even trying to make halflings "work" for you is that people expect them 'cuz D&D, you probably shouldn't waste your time. You probably won't b e happy with the result; and if you aren't having fun runnin g the game, your players probably won't have fun either.

 

Dean Shomshak

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Assault, do any of your players want to play halflings? If they don't, then those can just be around in the background, or NPCs at most. You don't even have to bring them into your stories at all if you don't want to. If someone does want to play a halfling, let them tell you what they want the character to be, what makes it distinctive and interesting to them. Then build from that as needed.

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Could,be way off here, but I was under the impression that dwarves were man-strong or stronger, and much more durable.  Also, the were close to man-wide, but not man-tall.   I also envisioned them as somewhat taller than a hobbit- just an appreciable bit.

 

A halfling I always too to be half the size of a man; half hiefhr, half as thick and,half as deep, so about 1/8 the mass of a man.

 

Then,wjayeber imiquw abilities- movw swirrly. Move silent, build,tunnels- whatever.whatever

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6 hours ago, DShomshak said:

Or, you know, don't. If the only reason you're even trying to make halflings "work" for you is that people expect them 'cuz D&D, you probably shouldn't waste your time.

 

This is pretty much what I think except for the expectation.

 

Actually, I would be inclined to get rid of Dwarves, and make "Halflings"  the small folk 

 

Frankly, I m tempted to go with Johan et Perlouit, and make Elves short and blue. But I would have to be in a mood for that 

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@DShomshak, Tolkein never really explains the Hobbits though. He mentions in story that even Treebeard doesn’t remember them and Merry (?) said that they were always left out of the old lists.

 

@Duke Bushido, the first time game wise I saw that dwarves had extra STR was in Fantasy Hero. If you look back at some of the older D&D, dwarves just had a stronger CON or at least a minimum whereas humans didn’t.

 

Speaking of D&D Halflings, mechanically, like Saving Throw, are closer to Dwarf than Human. 

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