Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Halfling Love

Some folks have accused me of being down on the Halflings. Let me set the record straight right here and now: I LOVE the little guys.

Now halfling thieves (or any other bullshit aberration) can go to hell. But halflings as presented in the original Basic and Expert sets are a great little class, and one that I personally feel has a great deal of role-playing potential, as well as some real adventuring skills.

“Adventuring skills? Ha!” says the the un-believer. “Maybe up until the party starts hitting Name level. But once the Halfling reaches 8th, they’re pretty much topped out in 'skills' and 'abilities,' even when using the new rules presented in the B/X Companion. Come on, JB…if you really loved the Halfling, you’d be playing Pathfinder or 4th Edition, right?”

Wrong-o, pal.

And let me tell you MY inspiration when it comes to Halflings…it sure ain’t no halfling thief. As originally imagined by Messrs. Gygax, Arneson, and Tolkien I’m all about the doughty halfling warrior. You know, the one who carries a sword instead of a walking stick? The "Took-ish Hobbit," in other words.

Artwork to back it up and fire the imagination? You bet. The Willingham piece inside White Plume Mountain is pretty good, as is Jeff Dee’s work in the Expert set on pages X6 and X16. Contrast those with the stupid little fat man in Mentzer’s Basic!

However, for my favorite halfling warrior illos, it doesn’t get any sweeter than the halfling spitfire inside the 1st edition Dungeon Masters Guide, pages 170-173. Look at that little guy go…he is the first one to step up and Lunge, dammit, LUNGE…sticking salamanders and stone giants and getting ready to carve himself some troll steaks. Look at that dude with his little skull cap helm and main gauche. That’s MY halfling, boy-o!

[only wish I knew who the artist was...David S. LaForce?]

But let’s go back to the B/X Halfling shall we? So much tougher than the AD&D Halfling after all (What?! you say). Damn straight. Eight full levels (compared to 5 or 6 in AD&D), and better saving throws than a fighter of equal level…plus none of this “max strength 17” garbage. The B/X Halfling may take a knock in hit dice (D6 instead of the fighter’s D8) but at least he can get the +3 to hit and damage of a standard fighter. In AD&D, he’s limited to +1 only…and that’s in a rule set with bloated ability bonuses!

Anyway, the D6 hit points per level isn’t that bad…I mean we ARE talking about a dude that weighs 30-50 pounds, right? He’s still as tough as old leather…tougher than any city-dweller human (thieves, magic-users) and equal to paladins (i.e. clerics) and elves. No, the halfling doesn’t get as many hit points as a dwarf, but then he doesn’t have those stone bones that sink in water either!
; )

Yes, the halfling has a limitation on the weapons he (or she) may use…though of course this only matters if you use the optional Variable Weapon Damage chart. Otherwise, the halfling does the same D6 damage everyone else does (and with Strength as a Prime Requisite, he can boost that ability right from the get-go to do more damage). Truly, at the low levels the halfling is a formidable warrior.

But let’s look at the halfling adventurer’s other skills and abilities. No, not cheaper armor (you’re probably going to have to pay a halfling to make such tiny suits of mail…and even though less metal is used, it takes halflings longer to mine it. Purchasing it cheap from Big Folks just means needing to higher more guards to protect shipments from bandits and highwaymen that would prey on halfling caravans. Net result: same price). No, I’m talking about the normal special abilities inherent in any member of the halfling adventurer class: saving throws, accuracy, armor class, initiative, and concealment.

SAVES: According to the Basic set, halflings get a straight +2 bonus across the board on all saves compared to their fighter counterpart (this is increased to +4 in the Cook/Marsh rules, though I consider this a typo and have corrected it in my B/X Companion tables). Even with my “nerfing” correction, an 8th level halfling has the same saves as a 12th level fighter in every category save Dragon breath…and what halfling in her right mind is going to attack a dragon directly anyway? Outsmart, outsmart, outsmart!

MISSILE ACCURACY: considering Dexterity is another Prime Requisite of halflings (and can thus be raised at the time of character creation) many halflings will have great ability to hit with missile weapons. Missile weapons are the “great equalizer” (no damage penalties for low strength and the same damage for every weapon) and halflings are great shooters. Coupled with their concealment abilities, they make ideal snipers and bushwhackers, and because of their small size they’re probably low down on the priority list for opponents to “take out.” In B/X D&D, halflings move the same speed as anyone else, so a lightly armored halfling will be able to shoot, move, and reset without a huge fear of being run-down by a longer-legged opponent.

ARMOR CLASS: +2 bonus against creatures larger than man-sized? This is your ogre-killer folks. No wonder ol’ Sticker up there (as I call the halfling in DMG illustrations) is all about leading the charge into melee. Plate mail + shield + average dexterity = AC 0 at 1st level. A Dexterity of 13 (remember, raise that Prime Requisite) means AC -1. Let’s look at some of those chances to hit for large monsters:

Gnolls – 19 or better to hit AC -1 (10% chance)
Bugbears – 17 or better to hit AC -1 (20% chance)
Ogres – 16 or better to hit AC -1 (25% chance)

Now a chance is still a chance, but let’s play the Law of Averages game.

Gnoll average damage per round versus Halfling: .5…7 rounds to kill.
Bugbear average DPR: 1…3.5 rounds to kill.
Ogre average DPR 1.375…2.5 rounds to kill.

A halfling with a 13 Strength will average 1.8 DPR against any of these opponents, killing a gnoll in 5 rounds, a bugbear in 8 rounds, and an ogre in 11 rounds. However, if you factor in a possible halfling first strike from a missile weapon, these drop to 4.1, 7.2, and 9.7. An individual halfling will generally kill a gnoll in one-on-one combat, a 2nd level halfling will generally take a bugbear, and a 3rd level Halfling (average 10 points!) will give an ogre a pretty tough time.

Also realize that, due to size restrictions, larger-than-man-sized creatures will probably NOT be able to “gang up” on a Halfling warrior. This works in the halfling’s favor, of course (always better to face singular attacks than multiple), and a 4th Level Halfling Hero with Str/Dex 13 should be able to take any of these foes in single combat, even without magic weapons:

Hero vs. Gnoll: 3.2 rounds to kill versus 28 rounds to kill.
Hero vs. Bugbear: 5.6 rounds to kill versus 14 rounds to kill.
Hero vs. Ogre: 7.6 rounds to kill versus 10.2 rounds to kill.

Our man Sticker from the DMG drawing could take an average sized Stone giant single-handedly, without missile weapons, so long as he was 7th level and armed with +2 arms and armor. He’d still be the odds on favorite with only had a +1 shield, but it would be real tight (though see the Initiative Bonus below).

Compare that to a 7th level fighter (same 13 Str/Dex, same gear: +2 plate, shield, and sword): the fighter takes the stone giant in 9.6 rounds. The stone giant crushes the fighter in five (5).

Advantage: Halfling.

INITIATIVE: Shouldn’t it go without saying that he who strikes first has a better chance of winning a fight? Yes, yes, I realize that it’s NOT always the smart thing to jump aggressively into combat (I was a fencer, remember?)…but in the ABSTRACT combat of B/X D&D, initiative is simply a matter of who gets to DEAL DAMAGE FIRST. Maybe the round IS composed of elaborate feints and parries (or flying elbows and head butts), but the guy (or gal) with the higher D6 roll is the one that gets to “put the hurting on” before his opponent can do unto him.

The initiative bonus is only for INDIVIDUAL initiative…what one might call the “dueling scenario,” and halflings should already receive a bonus due to their high (Prime Requisite) Dexterity. However, DMs should account for the size advantage of a halfling when it comes to determining how many foes can actually engage ‘em in a single round. While I generally rule that two ogres can attack one man-sized opponent and three orcs or goblins can attack a human (that isn't surrounded), I’d reduce these numbers to 1 and 2 (respectively) for Halflings…and possibly 1 and 1 depending on the circumstance. Halflings are runty and this is an ADVANTAGE, especially in CQB. Yes, they break easily (compared to fighters…they’re surprisingly tough compared to other PCs), but they’re slippery and maneuverable and players (including DMs) need to remember this and take it into account within the chaos of a tunnel melee.

One-on-one with an initiative bonus means the halfling is getting the chance to do damage FIRST, more often than not. Since many foes will be concentrating on (literally) bigger threats first, this just buys the halfling MORE time to end the battle quickly.

CONCEALMENT: From page B10:

Outdoors, a halflings are difficult to spot, having the ability to seemingly vanish into woods or underbrush. Halflings have only a 10% chance of being detected in this type of cover, and even in dungeons there is a one-third chance (a roll of 1 or 2 on a 1d6) that a Halfling will not be seen in normal light if the character finds some cover (such as shadows), and remains absolutely quiet and still.

Compare this to the description of the Thief skill Hide in Shadows:

Hide in Shadows cannot be done unless the thief remains perfectly still (not moving or attacking).

These are two very different abilities. Let’s look at the first part of the halfling’s concealment ability.

“Outdoors, halflings are difficult to spot, having the ability to seemingly vanish into woods or underbrush. Halflings have only a 10% chance of being detected in this type of cover…”

Nothing here implies that a halfling has to do anything at all to be virtually undetectable (a 90% concealment rating is equal to a 12th level Master Thief’s ability to Hide in Shadows). So long as there is “woods or underbrush” into which the Halfling can disappear, the little guy (or gal) is gone. Likewise, nothing indicates that movement or attacking will break this cover, nor that a Halfling is somehow prevented from disappearing in plain sight so long as there is the proper cover to “seeming vanish” into! Basically, if the halfling is outdoors and not caught in the open (or in a desert or bare rock face), they have a Get Out of Jail Free card that can be immediately played.

Every halfling that encounters a possible opponent in the wilderness should immediately “go to ground” so as to observe and analyze potential danger. No, your buddies are probably going to be spotted (like the trolls nab the dwarves in The Hobbit), but YOU can escape and come back later with a well-timed rescue attempt or ambush! Only a RETARDED halfling would NOT disappear as soon as an encounter appears…even a surprised halfling (assuming he is not immediately engaged and attacked) should bug out as his first action.

Regarding the second part of the halfling’s concealment ability:

“…even in dungeons there is a one-third chance (a roll of 1 or 2 on a 1d6) that a Halfling will not be seen in normal light if the character finds some cover (such as shadows), and remains absolutely quiet and still.”

This appears to be the exact same as a thief’s ability to Hide in Shadows except that it uses a D6 rather than a D% (and the chance is fixed at 4th level thief ability). I presume “normal light” is normal for a dungeon (torches, lanterns, etc.).

How and when the halfling can use this ability isn’t discussed; one might infer that the demihuman can simply vanish into shadows as he does into the wilderness…a mighty useful ability. Also left unmentioned is who rolls to check if the Halfling remains “not seen.” UNlike the thief ability, there’s no mention that the halfling will thing himself successful at hiding, even when he’s not (it is specified in the thief description that DM makes the percentage roll). My interpretation: the halfling’s player makes the roll and immediately knows whether or not the character has failed to hide!

“Oh, crap! There’s not enough cover here to conceal me! My foot/cloak/sword is sticking out!” Guess it’s time to fight…good thing the Halfling has that initiative bonus!

The halfling character is a savvy warrior, not some incompetent, 2nd rate fighter. And with the multiple attack options provided to the experienced halfling in the B/X Companion…I’d be happy to play one myself! Have at you!
; )


  1. You've convinced me. Now what about halflings in Blood Bowl? ;)

  2. AD&D fighter/thief halfling still has a leg-up power-wise, though.

  3. I like halflings and find them a valid and fun choice for a character...but... err...

    The halfling in the Willingham piece inside White Plume Mountain isn't actually a halfling.

  4. I believe that illo in the DMG is David LaForce, but I'm not 100% sure.

    And I have raised eyebrows at my table when I've told folks that if they want to play an archer, play a halfling, not an elf.

  5. Halflings also advance at the same rate as Fighters, and given their minimums and Prime Requisites odds are they will be more apt at the job then most men at arms. The Dexterity and Constitution minimums, which means there is no such thing as a sickly or clumsy Halfling. I'd argue that in most situations a Halfling warrior is more deadly then a Human equivalent.

    Personally I like to run Halflings as scouts. I know the OSR motto is never split the party, but Halflings are hardy little survivors, and I've found a little advanced notice on monsters and traps can be a real asset to the flimsier classes.

  6. i like halflings, but not when they look like little elves, like in post 2ed edition.

    my halflings are always chubby and curly

  7. I love this and agree wholeheartedly with both your reasoning and sentiment.

    I wonder if there's any specific de-boweling attack that halfings use--both guys on p172 and 173 appear to be stabbing for the groin/lower abdomen:

    "Because of the angle created by his height, my halfling gets a +1 to 'stab-in-dong' attacks!"

  8. @ Kelvin: I have a full 'fling team, fully painted (purple & white...the Moot Mighties!). My wife likes to use them ("they fly!") though the farthest they've placed in our home tournaments has been 2nd in a Spike! tournament (3rd edition). They were definitely more deafly before the cry-babies brought on the IGMEOY rule.
    ; )

    @ Will: This is so ridiculous I had to write a three page blog post to respond. I don't know if you're trying to start a fight or just sadly delusional, but feel free to bring it!
    ; )

    @ JD: You don't think *I* know that? It is called B/X Blackrazor!
    : )

    @ Bighara: I'd rather stick 'em myself...arrows run out.

    @ Blue: the halflings in our last few game sessions have generally been the last to go down (alas, poor Rupert!).

    @ Rafael: Agreed. No kender or fay-looking half-wits need apply.

    @ Monk: Actually, I think he's stabbing them in the solar plexus/bladder/spleen area ("above the dong" in other words). Hey, he goes with what works, right?
    : )

  9. I know you aren't a fan of 2e, but you want "tough" halflings, look no further than the ones in DARK SUN. Xenophobic, cannibalistic, take no shit halflings!

  10. @ Zarmoff:

    Gross. On many levels.

    My point in writing this was to show how badass the Halfling class can be in B/X ('cause some people think they're "weak"), NOT to compare them to other editions. After all, which 15th level Halfling ranger from Dark Sun could stand up to a 20th level Fighter Halfling in D20?