Thursday, September 11, 2008
One of my mantras is that "D&D is always right," which is my way of saying, "Don't screw with stuff just because you don't understand why it's there." As should be obvious by now, I tend to believe that, while D&D's faddish popularity in the late 70s and early 80s was a happy accident, its design, by and large, was not. There were reasons why this was done rather than that and why one thing was included rather than some other thing. That's not to say that I'm opposed to tinkering, house ruling, and generally mixing it up -- those are the essence of old school play, after all! However, my first instinct is to work with what we've been given by Gygax and Arneson rather than change things too radically. It's also my opinion that the foundation laid by OD&D is both strong and flexible enough to accommodate many different interpretations and play styles. Neophilia has been the bane of the hobby from the beginning and I'm not keen to contribute to that vice.
That said, I don't like halflings and never really have. Oh, I've always allowed halfling PCs on the rare occasions when people wanted to play them, but I always felt somewhat "dirty" about it. The reason, I think, is that, moreso than most of the other hood ornaments ripped from Tolkien and bolted onto the pulp fantasy chassis of OD&D, halflings (né hobbits) are just too idiosyncratic to Middle-Earth. That is, it's hard not to think of The Lord of the Rings whenever halflings come up, which is why I avoid using them whenever possible. On some level, all gamers know this. Heck, even game designers do, which is why pretty much every game or setting that includes halflings has made an effort to disguise these guys' origins, often to the point where you have to ask, "Why even bother including them?" My feeling is that, if you're comfortable with the notion of halfllings in your campaign, then let them be what they are rather than calling them halflings and then portraying them as nothing like their literary origins.
Me, I'm just not all that comfortable with halflings anymore, especially in any setting that's heavily inspired by pulp fantasy. Dwarves and elves I can take, since there are enough variant interpretations of these two races from myth and legend -- not to mention pulp fantasy literature itself -- that I have enough leeway to make them what I wish. I don't really have that luxury with halflings, which are so obviously the Professor's creatures that they simply don't admit to alternate portrayals, if one is being honest with oneself.
And so it was that I decided to exclude halflings from my next campaign. Now, there are other reasons I wanted to exclude them. For one, I didn't have a good rationale for their existence. I intend in my game world for Mankind to be the children of the gods, brought into being to strike a balance between Law and Chaos. Elves, as I already mentioned, are the degenerate descendants of the Eld of Areon. Dwarves are minor earth elementals, given sentience by Mother Earth to defend her against the depredations of the Eld (thus explaining the antipathy between dwarves and elves and why there are no female dwarves). I like pig-faced orcs, so I decided that orcs are boars given evil intelligence by Eldritch magic, whichn then opened up the possibility that many humanoid species could be the result of the Chaotic sorcery of the Eld during their ancient reign of terror. This way I could provide an explanation for hobgoblins and bugbears, since each is clearly a mutant strain of goblin. But then the problem arose: where do goblins come from?
I had no answer to that question -- and still don't. I quickly realized, though, that goblins were obviously one of the "ur-races," which is to say, the stock from which other races of creatures descend. Given that I'd eliminated halflings as a PC race, couldn't goblins occupy a similar "niche?" That is, couldn't they be the doughty little guys with a knack for getting into places they shouldn't? The idea grew on me over time and I'm pretty firmly committed now to the notion of goblins as a potential PC race. OD&D says they hate dwarves and don't like sunlight, so that means they're almost certainly subterranean creatures, thus limiting their appeal. Still, I find the notion of goblins as a not necessarily inimical species to be a compelling one. They probably won't be nice by any reasonable definition of the term, but I'm thinking that, like Mankind, they're not natively aligned to Law or Chaos (while hobgoblins and bugbears are).
In any case, I'd give PC goblins the following attributes:
Favored Abilities: Strength or Dexterity
Classes Permitted: Assassin (if permitted), Fighter, Thief (if permitted)
Racial Abilities: Goblins possess the ability to note certain features of stonework: sloping corridors, traps made of stone (in particular: falling blocks, rigged ceilings, and tiny arrow slits designed to release poison gas or darts), and moving walls. They are also very talented at hiding in shadows and moving silently while in a subterranean environment and can see in the dark without the need for illumination.
Racial Drawbacks: Because of their subterranean heritage, goblins suffer -1 to attack rolls while in direct sunlight.