Saturday, February 19, 2011

Halflings - more than just boring Hobbits! - an overview

What words pop to mind when you think of Halflings?  Underpowered?  Boring? Gygax actually said as much: "[Halflings] are perhaps a trifle boring at times."  1e DMG, pg. 16. 
There is no doubt, halflings are weighed down heavily by the "hobbit" stigma placed upon them by Tolkien, and frankly, I can't think of many other popular cultural images for them [well, what, maybe, Willow???  bah, more "hobbitry"...].  Small, fearful, weak, surviving only because they are deep within protected lands...  Many a person has wondered how they would even avoid being wiped out, long-term. 
Can they be salvaged for a "dawn of civ", primitive-times campaign like AZ Adventures?    Is it even worth it to include a "boring", underpowered, half-pint race in your average campaign?    Can we find something of interest there?  [I mean something interesting, not just functional, like "the halfling thief" powergamer fixture.]
Pulling on some decsriptive and evocative threads in the early game, yes, I think we can. I do think they are salvageable, as a unique, fun, and compelling race that could legitimately carve out a niche in a dangerous milieu.
Starting with the rest of Gygax's description: 
-Favor natural beauty and the outdoors
-Love creature comforts, including esp. eating  
-Enjoy stories and jokes (more outgoing than dwarfs or elfs) 
-Easy to get along with
-Honest, hard-working
-Not brave or ambitious
-Burrows often underground
We get another fascinating look at "the secret life of halflings" in the 1e PH, pg. 14.   All the other demi-human races have NPC clerics, but the halflings have DRUIDS.  Ah, now we begin to see the essential uniqueness of the halfling race!   Their "wise men", their leaders, their elders, have possession of the MAGIC of NATURE.   
Clearly, favoring the natural beauty of the outdoors is not just an aesthetic preference, it is their ecological and magical niche!  For example, when hiding themselves in natural terrain, they are invisible! This is a nice exemplification of their innate druidical powers.  
They are also natural friends of the animals, keeping dogs, for example, as guardians of their lairs.  The MM says they will have 1-4 dogs per halfling!   Their villages would be mainly animals.
I would postulate that basically all halflings would come with the basic druidical wilderness skills: identification of plant type/animal type/pure water, and the ability to pass through overgrown areas without leaving a trail at full speed.    That actually ties back into the Tolkien source mythology: the fleeing Hobbits invariably sought safety OFF OF THE ROAD. 
The 1e MM does its part in leading us astray, erring in not describing the presence of holy men in halfling lairs, as it does for dwarfs, elfs, and gnomes.   Following their pattern for the distribution of clerics, we can surmise that for every group of 50+ halflings, we would encounter druids of 3rd-6th level, and for groups of 200+ halflings, we would expect full powered 6th-level druids along with a circle of his lesser-leveled druid attendants and a few multi-classed druid/fighters.   
I think when we place them in the light of this "nature's children" concept, natural allies of the animals, under the protection of mid-level druids, along with all their other natural advantages, we can easily see how halfings are fully capable of carving out a niche in a dangerous world full of trolls, dragons, ogres, and human slavers. 
Defense-less Hobbits No More!
So, you want to mess with the halflings?  Fancy you could just roll their cottages and drag them off in chains?   I think you would find them far more dangerous than Sauruman and his cronies found the Hobbits.  Here is a sample of what you could expect:
--Halfling guerillas, utterly invisible in their natural terrain, picking you off with pin-point arrow and sling shots, popping in and out of tiny burrow holes in the ground, or just hiding in the bush
-All of your metal items heating up to a deadly, searing blaze, causing you to drop your weapons and rip off your armor
-Vicious animals and woodland creatures pouring out of their burrows and the nearby woods, attacking and harrying you
-Insect swarms attacking you
-Snares, pits, and natural traps, all expertly concealed, blocking your every approach, preventing and punishing your movement
-Lightning strikes crashing down upon you
-Plant hedges and overgrowth magically growing around you and entrapping you, then set ablaze into a massive fire
And these are just some basic strategies that occurred to me while perusing the druid spell lists....  Sure you want to wander into that buzzsaw we call a halfling village, bad boy?  
Halflings don't need to hide in deep underground caves (looking at you, Dwarfs...), or high up in dark dangerous magical forests (yeah, you know who I'm talking about, Elfs....) to find their safety.   They can turn your average village country-side into a living nightmare, into a deadly hell-hole, into brutal fields of slaughter, in 2.2 second flat...   THAT'S how kick ass halflings are!   
Don't let their jovial demeanors, their funny stories, and their love of pudding pie fool you.... They are cat-quick, tough-as-nails, natural-magic-weilding KILLERS.   If you mess with 'em, they will sick their war dogs on you and put an arrow through your eyeball before you can blink...  Their next feast-hall gathering will be full of laughter and joy, listening to their songs about the funny looks on the faces of their attackers, as the big clumsy invaders kept stumbling around, falling into pits and impaling themselves on stakes...
Other interesting halfling traits
Halflings are the most dextrous race of all, being +1 on DEX, with a minimum of 10, and a max of 19.  They prefer attacking with missile weapons, being +3 to hit with bow or sling.   They are the best race of all when it comes to moving silently (surprising 2/3 of the time) and hiding in shadows.   
Surprisingly, they are also one of the toughest, having the highest constitutions (minimum 10) except for dwarfs, and they receive the same savings-throw bonuses against magic and poison that gnomes do, based on CON: 11-13 = +3, 14-17 = +4, 18 = +5
Due to their extensive burrowing, they can detect underground grade (75%) and direction (50%), as well as seeing in the dark with limited infravision. 
Weaker on the top-end than other races, being -1 in STR, but having a higher lower-end as well: max 17, but min 6. 
Halflings age a bit slower than humans, being ready to breed by the mid-late 20's, and most facing death from old age by 140.   
They are capable of psionics, confirmed both in their 1e MM entry and in Appendix i of the 1e PH.
Unlike some other demi-human races, there are equal numbers of male and females in halfling lairs, and many children, 3 kids for every 5 couples.

In AZ Adventures

Halflings are the least insular of the demi-human races in AZ.  They are quite comfortable interacting with humans, and halfling adventurers are easy to contract, and can be found throughout the state.  They tend to avoid taking sides in inter-human group conflicts, preferring to deal with humans on the individual basis, and they are not fond of politics. 

They appear to be quite adaptable as a race, as their presence can be found integrated with all the demi-humans of the region as well, comfortable in the elven forests as well as the dwarven mines and gnomish burrows.

Halflings who leave their villages often leverage their outgoing and friendly natures into successful careers as "go-betweens", such as merchants, messengers, and even diplomats.   Their humor is legend, and halflings can be found thriving as circus performers and jesters. 

Halfling society is centered along the Verde River, as it winds its way through the southern Tonto Forest north of Mesa.   Halflings use its waters to irrigate their gardens and groves.  There is a surprising amount of treasure, magic, and luxury in the halfling villages, as all halflings, no matter how successful in their adventures elsewhere, always retire to their villages to enjoy a life of easy and comfort.

Despite their friendly and easy-going natures elsewhere, when it comes to the defense of their villages, halflings brook no foolishness.  Those who refuse to follow the orders of their village wisemen quickly find themselves tied up at the bottom of a pit or thrown in the river. Humanoids in general have learned not to stir up the halflings, as their villages are surprisingly resistant to attack, and halflings are quite adept and motivated in their reprisal missions, although entirely peaceful if left unmolested. 


The Jovial Priest said...

I've been working up to a post, inspired by your elven boots, about Cloaks of Halfling Kind. Cloaks made out of Halfling skins that grant hide (great pun) in wilderness abilities.The best way to understand race as class, is to emphasise the other worldly aspect of demi-humans, which you are very successfully doing. So much so, that you inspired me in my campaign to grant all my demihumans magic powers - elves use air and water druid spells (mostly from LL Advanced Edition) plus magic user spells via a spellbook if they desire, dwarves have stone and fire druid magic, halflings are just hard to kill or hard to find. Elves get spells at Level 1, Dwarves and Halflings at Level 3. I am even giving high Hit Dice orcs druid hunter spells and goblins druid stone spells, those dwarves stole their fire!
I am yet to make my post, and unlikely for a few weeks now, but thought I would share the idea with you to aid inspiration in your macabre role of demi-humans in your campaign. Great stuff, keep it up.

Justin said...

Wheeew, Cloak of Halfling King, now that is macabre! haha