Thursday, February 4, 2010

Trouble With Little People

Halflings and gnomes that is!

I thought I was being overly picky and restrictive in my D&D games with my restrictions on gnomes and halflings, but recent comments and discussion in the big bloggy-verse out there have shown me that this is not just my "problem". But, this also makes me wonder what it is about these little critters that folks don't like?

I can't quite place it, but for me these two races seem too close to other races in the core species. Gnomes are like bookish or naturalist dwarves and halflings are just human analogs without the context of Middle Earth to make them stand out. Sure enough, you can make them fit and I have but they always seem a bit forced unless you change them substantially. At that point though, they really aren't what they were and are something new.

In my "Homeland" campaign, there are no gnomes at all, at least not in the core lands where all the game play has taken place. There are two kinds of dwarves, half-orcs, some elves, and even halflings exist, but they have been turned into swamp-dwelling pirates and smugglers instead of homey layabouts. I just couldn't find a niche for gnomes. In another campaign world, my oldest and dearest, they exist, but have never sat well with me. My wife has played a couple of good ones in a 3.5 campaign in that world, but I can't recall any gnomish PCs in the 2ed days.

I mentioned that sometimes you can change them substantially enough to fit them in. As an example of this rethemeing, I have the rilki in my "Ravania" setting that are total nature-loving gnomes akin to the classic "David The Gnome" sort but without the pointy hats. I actually based them on the Sami people of Finland but instead of having an affinity for reindeer they have a kindship with the wolves and the ravens (ravens play a huge part in Ravania). The rilki use the same stats as gnomes, but they bear only a passing physical resemblence and have a totally different lifestyle.

But I'm not the only one who thinks that a simple retheming is all it takes to get these races back in the game. James Maliszewski over at Grognardia made some nice points in her replacement of hobbits with goblins in his OSR game world.

What do you do with your little people?



  1. Sorry that your first reply was a spambot!

    I was actually going to use anthropomorphic mice to replace the gnomes. I call them "mousekin" for lack of a better term. Think Reepicheep or a gnome sized character from Redwall. I was kind of inspired by Splintered Light's awesome miniatures, but I'm not sure if they would fit in with 25-28mm.

    I like halflings though, they're naturally inquisitive and great thieves. They also have a lot of comedic potential.

    Goblins are a good substitute also. I like gobins a lot, and prefer to think of them as a branch of the faerie kingdom.

  2. I adore goblins and generally get along with halflings. I don't quite like gnomes either.

  3. I thought I'd play a gnome thief for a laugh. It's not too incongruous in the setting of our campaign as there's a lot of spelljamming and he's a 'worldly' sort. I didn't give him an alignment as I couldn't decide. I thought I'd just play him and see how he turns out. I can honestly say he's one of the most memorable and likeable characters I've ever played (to me anyway, everyone else might find him totally annoying).

  4. The best thing to do with halflings and gnomes is to throw them down a well and leave them there. My experience of these types is that they are always played as annoying, thievish sorts, who set out to rip off the rest of the adventurers. Perhaps that is because it has mostly been my brother playing them and that is how he is. Hmmm. Perhaps I should throw my brother down a well ... ;)

    If you are playing a Middle Earth setting then I can see a use for halflings (to distract the monsters while you run away), but in most cases the different races are just humans with funny ears or a different skin colour. It's really quite hard to make each of them distinctive and different.

  5. Plenty of uses for hobbits, oh yes!

    They can't run as fast as humans so the monsters will catch them first in any retreat.

    They're small so they can go first down that dark, scary hole that the party just found.

    They have no powerful friends, so no matter what happens to them, there'll be precious little comeback.

    Handy to divert that bulette that's just turned up.

    And if your iron rations run out....

    That having been said, I've go them in my world as a refugee race, akin to the Palestinians, with some advocating a militant approach to getting their homeland back, others thinking that a life in exile ain't so bad and wanting to settle down and not rock the boat. Cue great political clashes for the hobbit community.

    As for comedic potential, not sure about that, unless you can imagine a band of hobbits who got caught by the undead and are now zombie hobbits, ghoul hobbits, hobbit spectres, hobbit vampires even?

    I also had the idea not so long ago for a dungeon that took place inside the burial complex of a hobbit chieftain in which all the passages and rooms were hobbit-sized.

    Word verification - upcoc

    I'm not even going to go there.

  6. Die spam bot die! I cast thee to the...


    Nice comments all.

    @AK - The idea of using mouse folk is great and I'm sure you will the think of a good name for them as a species. Why not call the "cheeps" as an homage to their inspiration? Also, I have severla of the Splintered Light animals and they are perfect for use along side 25/28mm figs.

    In way of general response, goblins are a fine player race, but that also makes them less of a filler monster when you mighth ave one in your party.

    One of the issues I have as a DM is that there is always somebody who wants to play a Gnome or Halfling when I run a game, so I suddenly find myself having to pigeon hole them in. That is how the haflings snuck into my Homeland setting and even then, they exist on the edge of the central play area.

  7. @Ruarigh - whereabouts in East Yorkshire are you? I'm not too far from Brough myself and I'm looking for 1e players. Know anyone who might be up for it?

  8. @Daddy Grognard: I am in North Ferriby. I dropped you an email through your blogger account. Don't know if it has turned up. If not, you can email me on ruarighATvalhallaDOTkarooDOTcoDOTuk

  9. In my fantasy campaigns, the elves are atlantean analogs, and most other demihumans were one of their servant races. Dwarves for mining and forging and fighting, hobbits for farming and cooking and butlering, and gnomes for gemcutting and potionbrewing and entertaining. And unless someone desperately wants to play a dwarf or a hobbit, I just conflate them all into gnomes/dwarves, with every other culture having a different name and for them (tomte, brownie, nain, dvergr, kabouter, et cetera).

  10. Maroon, that's a cool concept. Sounds like a very pulpy D&D land you run. I went a similar route to populate my Hollow Earth minis game setting.


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