Halflings Are Not Hobbits

I just re-watched the Lord of the Rings movies, and I came to the conclusion… Hobbits are pretty bad-ass. J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic is a fantasy staple, but while you can play elves, dwarves, and humans in D&D, you’re left with the knock-off Halflings. Don’t get me wrong, Halflings are a great D&D race: they’re quick and crafty, like gnomes crossed with elves.

Halflings make great skirmishers of just about every type, especially Rogues. I think this is in part due to the regular referral of Bilbo as party’s thief in The Hobbit. However, as sneaky as Bilbo was, he was certainly more about being clever and enjoying the good life than disabling traps and stabbing monsters in the back. After watching LotR, I wanted to roll up a 6-meal-a-day, singing, dancing, brave-when-he-needs-to-be Hobbit. While as a race they seem to be resistant to adventuring, I could see them in roles like Cleric, Bard, Sorcerer, Ranger, Druid, Warden, Seeker, etc as well as the stereotypical Rogue. I think that Their attunement to the Earth would work well with the Primal power source.

I think it used to be easier to play a Hobbit in D&D. Here’s the first paragraph of the Second Edition entry Halflings: “Halflings are short, generally plump people, very much like small Humans. Their faces are round and broad and often quite florid. Their hair is typically curly and the tops of their feet are covered with coarse hair. They prefer to not wear shoes whenever possible….” The chapter goes on to describe in 2e fashion about how they make their homes and the different sub-genres of Halflings that one could play, and then a complicated mess of situational bonuses for playing a Halfling. These characters were pretty Hobbit-like but already starting to diverge from the novels.

Here’s the similar paragraph from 4e: “Halflings stand about 4 feet tall and weigh about 80 pounds. They resemble small humans are proportioned like human adults. Halflings have the same range of complexions as humans, but most halflings have dark hair and eyes….” Gone from halfling is the plumpness and hairiness in favor of a sleeker, craftier race. This is fine in terms of power balance, but I still want to make my own version of Sam or Pippin.

Anyway, I think I can get away with it leaving the Halfling race itself unchanged, and just literally re-skin it, since the stats themselves seem reasonable for Hobbits. Have people tried making Hobbit-like characters in 4e? Was the regular Halfling enough or did you make any mechanical changes?

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22 thoughts on “Halflings Are Not Hobbits

  1. In practically every D&D group I’ve played in (since the mid-1980s), no one has wanted to play a halfling because they were a knock-off race. Wannabe hobbits, if you will. It seems Wizards has made them more elf-like, as you mention, which in my opinion is a step in the wrong direction. Give us hobbits already (I realize it comes down to something as silly as rights to the name ‘hobbit’, but I choose to ignore that).

    As for classes, I wholeheartedly agree that hobb… eh halflings would fit nicely with anything tied in with nature and to a lesser extent the arcane. Definitely more so than stealth and backstabbery.

  2. What is written about life in halfling society, are there colonies like the Shire when they could be complacent as hobbits or how long halflings are expected to live?

  3. Just for giggles I rolled a 4th Ed. Halfling Bard. I usually play dwarves, but the little guy does wicked damage with his at-wills. I’m currently playing him in LFR, but would love to play him in a campaign.

  4. Phil: 3rd edition started considering Halflings to be the “common” small race. Since rogues can be everywhere and Halflings make great rogues, Halflings can be everywhere (which is the source of “urban” halflings). The declared “halfling civilization” is basically The Shire on Wheels: Gypsy Halflings who travel all over in caravan communities with a natural gregariousness from needing to trade (this wasn’t really nailed down until the 3E Racial book that included halflings).

  5. 4 feet high?!? Yeah, those are pretty tall hobbits.

    Was it originally a copyright issue why they weren’t called hobbits, do you know?

  6. I think they started changing them to be more Kender-like after the success of dragonlance…

    Too me they stopped being hobbits during 2e evolution and werent anything like them in 3e.

    4e they made them taller because in 3e they were very small and they felt it was a bit silly. I believe you can read that in the pre 4th edition books about classes and races.

  7. oh and Gnomes with technology predates Warcraft…

    First I read about gnomes having technology came from Dragonlance Tinker Gnomes.

    Everquest had them but I think Warcraft II had gnomes in balloons which came before EQ.

  8. Definitely. There’s a gnome tech book for the original Basic D&D.

    (I wanna say Book of Wondrous Invention?? If I were home, I could check.)

  9. @Rasmus & @Siskoid,
    I bet the IP issues around Hobbits is a big reason for the split, and I guess the Wizards people may want something more their own creation. It’s too bad though. The 4e Halflings are an interesting race in their own right, they just don’t satisfy my Hobbit itch.

    @Phil,
    I don’t remember any Halfling colony ideas, and I think they got rid of the age thing in 4e, but I could be wrong, it’s been awhile since I last read the PHB. The colony idea is a good one if a group wanted to include halfling-hobbits in their own campaign.

    @wrath,
    I like the kender in the books, but every one at any my dragonlance games was beyond annoying. At least they actively not hobbits.

  10. I think it’s the perfect opportunity to reintegrate (fanmade) Hobbits. Halflings are a completely different race, after all. So now there can be demi-human (what a racist term) player character races for each.

  11. Well that was months ago and I’m sure the Compendium is as complete as it is. Maybe there should be a brewmaster class to prepare meal buffs, potions, and storage, ect.

  12. In the original White Box D&D Halflings were originally called Hobbits, which drew the ire of Tolkien Enterprises – hence the renamed Halflings.

    So yes, Gygax originally intended them to be exactly like Hobbits in LotR.

  13. Halflings have definitely moved further away from Hobbits as the editions progressed. 3E made them caravan dwellers and they became very gypsy like. 4E added the concept that many of them live on the water (often in a swamp or bayou) and made them a boat people.

    If I was going to bring back the original concept of Hobbits, I would probably have the two races share a common ancestry. Those that became wanderers became known as Halflings while those that stayed at home became known as Hobbits.

    I probably wouldn’t change their racial abilities, but I might add some feats that were “sub-race” specific, much like the Sun Elf vs Moon Elf feats in the Forgotten Realms. Once you took feats from one tree (for example, Wanderer or Hobbit), you had to stick with it.

  14. I never understood why halfings being ‘knock off’ hobbits’ should be a disincentive to play them.

    Are medusae just knock-off gorgons that DMs shouldn’t use? Are gelatinous cubes just some DM’s stupid fill-in monster at a Tupperware party? Are deva just knock off aasimar? More importantly, if they were, why should it matter?

    As for me, I’m satisfied with halflings (from hobbitesque manifestation to low-calorie elf) in any edition, just as I am with gnomes (from stout engineers to fey tricksters).

    I don’t think I’ll ever play them, simply because I’m more inclined towards heavy classes and bizarre races. Still, I’d definitely encourage my players.

  15. @Matthew,

    There’s nothing wrong with the halfling race. They’re interesting in their own right and a lot more fun than some of the new exotic races. The issue that I have is that I want to play a LotR Hobbit, and don’t feel that there is an official option to do that.

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  17. It is important to preserve the facts in history.

    When the orginal D&D was introduced it caused a stir because it listed both hobbits and ents. The LotR people objected to this and the next incarnation of the rules contained halflings and treants instead.

    So halflings were originally hobbits.

    What is ironic is that the creature in Peter Jackson’s movie is more of a D&D Balor than a balrog. According to Tolkien’s text a balrog does not have horns, wings, or a tail.

    It would be fitting if WotC now went after Peter Jackson’s movie company for using the D&D Balor in the movie.

  18. Playing a halfling in my boyfriends game, well, to be more precise, celestial halfling. Though I’m still figuring out how I’m going to play this character and getting to know her, I have seen halfling npc in a friend of mine’s game. The way she does them I can see making sense for the race, fun loving, tricksters, sticky fingers, love of the material and physical aspects of life, super energetic, and get along (if not driving crazy) gnomes, especially gnomish alchemists. In a sense, I would have to say they are the teenage sibling race to the older sibling races gnomes and elves, and the mellowed out (barely) older sibling race of the kender. In a matter of race dynamics I mean.

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