Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Where are the Halflings?

When I started working on the Dwimmermount campaign back in 2008, one of the things I decided early on was that I wasn't, at the start, going to make many changes to the baseline D&D rules. Instead, I was going to accept them as written and any changes to them would occur through play, since I adhere to the principle of "D&D is always right," about which I've spoken before.

There was one big exception to this, though: halflings. I hope John Adams will forgive me, because I'm not a big fan of halflings in D&D. I like hobbits, which I think are an absolutely terrific creation of Professor Tolkien. However, in my opinion, they belong in Middle-earth, or at least I think they don't belong in many D&D campaign settings, Dwimmermount chief among them. I was explicitly trying to evoke a pulp fantasy feel and decided that halflings simply ran counter to that. (Why didn't I think the same thing about clerics? That's a post for another day)

But I didn't just eliminate halflings; I replaced them. Their replacements were goblins, which I presented in an earlier form in this post from 2008 (and where I again talk about my reasons for not including them -- I am repetitive, aren't I?). That post, though, was written prior to the start of the Dwimmermount campaign and, by the time the first session began in January 2009, I'd already changed my approach to goblins as PCs and I'd change it several more times over the course of the months that followed, in large part because there was an important goblin henchman, Brakk, whose ignominious death by slapstick  still has repercussions to this day.

The first volume of the upcoming Dwimmermount Codex series is a kind of 32-page "Player's Guide to the Dwimmermount Campaign Setting." It includes all the rules additions and modifications I've made to Labyrinth Lord over the course of the campaign. Among its contents are the current rules for goblin PCs, which I've reproduced below, along with an illustration by the always-terrific Steve Zieser.

The material in the quote box below is hereby designated Open Game Content via the Open Game License and subject to the Designation of Product Identity.


GOBLINS

Requirements: None
Prime Requisite: Strength and Dexterity
Maximum Level: Fighting Man 4, Thief (Unlimited)
Goblins are short humanoid beings standing between 3 and 3½ feet tall. They possess skin ranging in color from yellow to orange to red (and everything in between), while their eyes are usually reddish in hue and are visible even in the dark. Though many goblins live underground, not all do so, especially those most likely to interact with Men and join adventuring parties. Those that do live underground possess infravision to 90 feet but suffer a —1 penalty to attack rolls in full sunlight. Goblins who lives on the surface only have infravision to 60 feet but suffer no attack penalties in sunlight.
Most Men see goblins as inherently Chaotic beings, enemies of human civilization who delight in theft and destruction. While it's true that many goblins fit that description, not all of them do, particularly the surface-dwelling variety who often establish settlements near those of Men. For their part, goblins see Men as interlopers and invaders. Goblins believe — largely without evidence, it should be noted — that they are the only intelligent race native to Telluria, all others being either from "somewhere else" or artificial beings magically created from beasts or from themselves.
Consequently, goblins can be somewhat surly and resentful when interacting with Men, dwarves, elves, or even their own kin, like bugbears and hobgoblins. These attitudes are only heightened by the fact that the lot of goblins in the world are not aligned with Law (let alone Goodness). Except underground, where they often lead miserable existences, goblins rule no realms of their own, instead being the subjects of others. That being said, there are places where Men and goblins live amicably side by side, even if goblins are always the junior partner in any such relationship.
Like all other nonhumans, goblins, as a rule, have no belief in the gods. They do not, however, deny the supernatural, being animists who believe that all living things are possessed of imperishable spirits. They also believe in metempsychosis, the transmigration of souls after the death of the body. Perhaps for this reason they cannot be raised from the dead by means of any magic.
Similar to elves, goblins advance simultaneously in two classes, though in this case it is fighting men (4th level) and thieves (unlimited). They divide all their experience points between their two classes, each of which has a separate pool. Bonuses due to high prime requisites only apply to the appropriate class's experience pool. Experience points continue to be divided even after reaching maximum attainable level in a class.
Their saving throws and attack values are equal to the best values available for their classes and levels. New hit dice are gained only for levels attained in fighting man, meaning that no new hit points are gained after reaching 4th level in that class. However, the player of a goblin character may re-roll the hit point total every time his character attains a new level in thief and use the new total if it is higher.
Because of their small size, goblins may not use large or two-handed weapons, but they may use any other weapons. They may wear any armor, but cannot use their thief abilities while wearing anything heavier than leather. Their small size does have benefits, however. Normal and large-sized creatures suffer a –2 penalty to hit them. Goblins are also quick, granting them a +1 bonus to their effective Dexterity, when it comes to determining initiative.

35 comments:

  1. I can no longer support you for your disrespect to the fellows of the half height!


    Sorry, love me some halflings/hobbits. :)

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  2. ACKS also lacks halflings. Tavis told me it will remain as such. Poor little buggers ;)

    Still, yet another reason ACKS fits well with Dwimmermount.

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    1. ACKS lead designer Alex has a very convincing rant about how Tolkien uses Frodo to be the stay-at-home Everyman whose breaking away from the mold to go adventuring is uniquely heroic. If you go into the dungeon and find hobbit corpses impaled on every spike trap and at the bottom of every pit - which is a logical outcome of AD&D etc. - it feels wrong because it cheapens what makes Frodo and his kin special. Remnants of goblin would-be thieves everywhere, on the other hand, feels so right.

      That said, Alex did make it explicitly clear that Patron Deity backers of the ACKS Player's Companion could choose to create a halfling race and class, and so far none have done so. Maybe people love to hate hobbits as much as they just plain love them?

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  3. Harnmaster, which borrowed wholesale from Tolkien, also did not include hobbits/halfings. Similarly, they did allow for playable Garguns (goblin/orcs).

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  4. So, James, what's it like to be racist against Halflings? :p

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  5. Goblin henchmen!!!!!!! Now that sounds fun.

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    1. Now that's just being mean, lol.

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  7. I ditched halflings in favor of goblins for my heartbreaker, as well.

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  8. Alternatively, just re-title the Basic/LL Halfling class and use it as-is.

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  9. Yep- I must say I kind of agree, James. When I have used halflings I have only enjoyed them by means of liberating them from the Professor's cuddly straightjacket- their problem is that they relect a rather sentimental victorian ideal fondly felt by their author, and thereby apparently lose the ability to attain the proper weird resonance that really awesome D&D characters can possess. Elves and dwarves manage- they come from our own primordial past, and hence can be eery. Tolkien's hobbits fail that test, though they served the professor's own purpose for them.

    I have had fun with them by playing them as they were played by my munchkin players back in the eighties. Certain of my chums loved halflings (in AD&D they can be pretty tough at level 1 with a sling), but always played them as outright bastards. Thus they emerged as a kind of warped and capricious little folk, with chips on their shoulders and daggers behind their backs.

    Kind of like goblins, I guess...

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    1. Ah! Yes, Will! That's kind of what I meant. :)

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    2. Of course, if you're like me and was well-steeped in (A)D&D before ever reading Tolkein, the idea of the game without halflings might be a lot harder to swallow. They're almost as much a "D&D thing" to me as magic missiles and rust monsters!

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  10. I'm happy enough with halflings as a viable PC version of "the little folk" without having to deal with leprechauns as PCs, which is basically how JRRT viewed them too I think. He certainly had those stories in mind and said so.

    So, while the name "hobbit" is very much a Middle Earth term, I don't feel that the concept is in any way specific to that setting and I've never had a problem with using them elsewhere.

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  11. My problem with (non A)D&D halflings is that they can't do (effectively) what they ought be able to do - burgle.

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  12. All the "tough-guy" gamers drop halflings.

    I guess you will just have to save yourselves from powerful, ancient, oppressive, evil gods with your human attribute and level inflations.

    Powerful characters are all the rage with kids these days.
    Just saying...

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  13. Almost got rid of clerics too? I suppose your tough-guy, pulpy characters would have just rested and taken a drink of ale and that alone would have returned the vitality they lost fighting the giant, other-worldly beast?

    When will you post your half-tiefling/half-dragon swordspell class that has double weapons specialization, fighter bonus-to-hit and spontaneous spell-casting abilities?

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    1. Hmm, so your saying doing away with halflings is the slippery slope to TETSNBN style power inflation?

      It seems a long bow to draw I must say.

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  14. Good grief, do I loathe halflings as a PC class. They make fine NPCs and monsters though.

    Again for all Gygax's protestations that D&D isn't LotRs, he included halflings in all his editions. Boo!

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  15. Also, I really like your policy "D&D is always right," and allow for localized exceptions. That's worthy of some additional cognition.

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  16. Never used hobbits myself. Later reused "halfling" as a legal definition for any half-human race (especially produced by magic. So minotaurs, centaurs and wolfmen (to name but three) were legally "halflings."

    The Goblins turned out to be the big hidden enemy of Men, but they did it by staying hidden in plain sight and pretending subservience. They were probably more intelligent than most of the other races too, lacking in sorcery but highly skilled in alchemy and potioncraft. They had a definite sized-based inferiority complex that forced them to take joy in subjugating others. Their half-human shock troops, the hobgoblins, were kept hidden. They were also the secret masters of their near cousins, the dwarves.

    Interestingly kobolds evolved in the game to actually be one of the more noble of the humanoid races, precisely because of their small size and the fact they were usually enslaved by anything bigger than them (which was mostly anything).

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  17. Kirsa Duerr, Goblin Thief was one of the most vivid characters from the Dwimmermount play-by-post. I'm all for seeing more like her!

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  18. good stuff, but I don't like the idea of hidden subspecies of goblins with subtle differences. I prefer only one type of goblin (whatever their nightvision range is) or at least two clearly distinct subraces.
    see yah!

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  19. I do like what TSR did with halflings vis a vis Kender in the Dragonlance setting. Kender were pretty darn original as a race, and a great excuse to re-cast halflings.

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  20. Boo! (... likes halflings ...)

    :)

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  21. You played a monster in Creature of Havoc and had to eat hobbits to regain your strength in the starting dungeon. I always liked that.

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  22. Add me to the "no halflings" bandwagon. I just don't like the idea of them for my campaign world.

    I've added Orcs as a playable race, use Sidhe as a more fey-like version of elves, and want to replace halflings with something more fey, but haven't decided just what yet. Leaning towards something leprechaun/brownie rather than goblinoid though.

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  23. Halfling, the term used to describe Gygaxian hobbit-clones, initially was a victorian english word denoting an adolescent, particularly drummer boys and other camp followers in Napoleonic era. In the sphere of fantasy adventuring that takes us in a different direction altogether. Add to that the pitiful regurgitations of the Wizards of the Coast artwork, where a a "new" 3rd or 4 th edition slender version of a halfling couple with pointy ears is seen piloting a house-raft along a river, reminiscent of the 40 year old or so communist art of a heroic Viet Cong girl in black pajamas piloting a raft down Mekong river, no doubt, under American fire. Very original, thank you, Wizards of the Coast.

    Having said all that, I do allow Halflings in my Midlands campaign. However, player characters can only be human, and tney get to interact with other races, incluf8ing hard to come by and very powerful Elves. Halflings are rich, live in comfortable rural communities in the shadow of feudal humanity. Halflings love of material cofort and fallibility to greed (their special sin, akin to pride for Elves and gluttony for Dwarves) make Halflings shrewd and successful fences. One of my ,ost memorable villains is a female Halfling Madam, masqueradng as a shopkeeper buying stolen treasure, who takes special pleasure in corrupting low level human thieves (whom Halflings view as coarse asnd uncultured outsiders) and driving them to their doom. Hey, there is a Drow evil and there is a Halfling evil. Ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!!

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  24. Now I see a Talislanta-sytle NO HALFLINGS! ad in my mind's eye...

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  25. I'm working on a fantasy Mesolithic/Neolithic b/x hack, and I replacing halflings with Baboons, Dwarves with Sagoths, and Elves with modified humans descended from the slaves of the world's former Cephalopodian masters.

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  26. Everybody in the world has "magical short people" legends ready for the harvest. Tolkien didn't invent menehune, for example.

    The difference is that, since people don't regard hobbits as a magical race (even though there are some very open hints to that effect in LOTR), all the real-folklore hobbit analogues get shifted over to elf-analogues, dwarf-analogues, or fairy-analogues in most gaming and fantasy works. Which is funny, because you used to see people categorize more on size: larger than human was a giant-analogue, human-sized were Sidhe-analogues, and then there were various categories of smaller than human folklore creatures.

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  27. The first (non-official) french translation of the Holmes Basic translated Halflings as "Gnomes"

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  28. I was so pleased to see Goblins as a PC race for Dwimmermount that I made my own variation so that they can be included in games that hew a little more closely to the Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition character creation rules- take a look here if you're interested:
    http://rat-catcher.blogspot.com/2012/08/goblin-pcs-for-labyrinth-lord-advanced.html

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