Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Nerfing Halflings

Man...I've got a bug in my brain that's really digging its pincers in my frontal lobe, and it's telling me I should nerf the B/X Halfling.

As in, take 'em down a peg. Kick the chair out from under them. Put 'em in their place.

I've been thinking this since a couple days ago when I put together the B/X Wood Elf...O So similar to the halfling in so many ways, and yet decidedly elfy.

[and just by the the folks who thought the wood elf was a waste o blog-space, allow me to say that I liked it a lot, as is, and wouldn't mind playing one...even without the extra hit die and magical powers. I like my elves away from wizard tomes, thank you very much, and this one feels pretty good to me!]

See, I was thumbing through WFRP and my (completely dog-chewed) copy of The Hobbit when I thought, shit, I can make an elf with the same stats/profile as a halfling and just call him a wood elf. Then I tweaked it a bit too taste, and voila. Wood elf class up for grabs.

But as I compared the two, I could see how...well, how powerful the halfling class is. OVER-powered in fact. And it made me want to bear down hard.

Now don't get me wrong: I believe the halfling is perfectly powered and balanced as far as B/X goes (at least up until 14th level). In terms of "viable PC class," halflings up to level 8 are right in the mix with elves and dwarves and fighters, etc.

No, it's in relation to their literary basis...i.e. HOBBITS...where we find they are completely over-powered and out of balance.

As it stands right now, a B/X halfling will give a dwarf, fighter, or elf a run for their money in single combat...and because a halfling advances faster than a dwarf or an elf, a runty fellow of equal experience (XP) may be able to take down a similarly experienced demihuman.

That's crazy talk.

But it's true. A halfling and an elf walk into a dungeon and pick up 8000 XP (the halfling probably picks up more actually since the elf prime requisite requirements are tougher to meet). The two have a falling out and decide to fight. Assuming similar armor (plate and shield), the 4th level halfling should kick the 3rd level elf's ass. That ain't right!

[actually, it would depend on whether or not the elf can get his sleep spell off before the halfling's individual initiative bonus gives him the upper hand. But if the halfling brought along a few retainers to absorb said sleep spell, well...]

If halflings are just "adventurous little people" and not hobbits or brownies or whatever the dudes are called in the film Willow, then great...let them be the consummate combatants and giant-fighters they are (I'd have to run the math, but with their size bonus I could make a case for halflings being the deadliest race for the fighter class in D20/Pathfinder!). HOWEVER, if you want your elf lords to be lordly and your halflings to be "hobbits" (even adventuresome hobbits in the Took clan tradition), then you have to nerf the guys 'cause they are waaay too badass.

Actually, it isn't all that hard to do, and there's still room for taking them into the high level play arena (what? oh yeah!). Here's what you do:

- Cap their level maximum at 6th level
- Give 'em the same rate of advancement as Dwarves (or Magic-Users if you're feeling mean)
- A halfling that acquires 250,000 XP may use the same attack and saving throws as a 7th-8th level halfling. At 500,000 XP the halfling character is entitled to the usual abilities as detailed in the B/X Companion.

Finally, because it's me doing this, I'd change the level titles:

1.....Halfling Wanderer (like Bilbo or Frodo or...)
2.....Halfling Warrior
3.....Halfling Swashbuckler (hard to be a "swordmaster" when you can't use 'em)
4.....Halfling Hero
5.....Halfling Champion

All normal rules for building strongholds and establishing halfling communities still applies as given in the Expert rules and B/X Companion.

Man...I am seriously considering putting this into effect IMMEDIATELY. Only one of my players is currently using a, halfling anyway. And since it's Dave...well, he knows he owes me one anyway.
; )

Screw it...I'm writing this one up officially!


  1. How strange. I offered level titles for halflings on my blog yesterday as well. Though I reject a demihuman simply having their race placed before a human level title. That, in my opinion, fails to recognise then as a different species.

  2. But....but...halflings can't use any weapon larger than a short sword... and... I mean, I already find that most players have no incentive to play a halfling to begin with.

    Besides, halflings saved the world...they've got to be badass, right?

  3. i'd go with sheriff first, then hero and champ.

  4. I am not sure I agree. The inability to use weapons which inflict more than a d6, plus the difficulty of finding magic armor and shields of the proper size, and the level limit at 8th already provide a sufficient balancing element in my experience. Many campaigns go to at least name level, and having to stop well away from it is not exactly an incentive to play the class.

  5. @ Jovial: But there are (for instance) warriors in every fantasy species of D&D...orc warriors, dwarf warriors, etc...

    Though the idea of a halfling "myrmidon" is completely laughable.

    @ Ryan: Really? I consistently find them the toughest and longest-lasting characters in my campaigns. We've seen many of 'em.

    @ Shlom: Sheriff goes last because of the way the halfling endgame's the highest martial title available, akin to "generall" or "marshall."

    @ Faol: downloading.

    @ Antonious: Oh, I totally agree that hallings are balanced for B/X play up to level 14 (and in my games, no weapon does more than D6 damage).

    I'm talking about modeling Tolkien Hobbits. B/X Halflings are a little too badass for my taste.
    : )

  6. Yeah, well, if you hold up Tolkien as your standard of measurement, you're gonna have to seriously take a look at your Magic Users as well. :)

    That's meant somewhat in jest of course, but the larger point is that, all of those negatives you've listed, plus being viewed by players in the group as the least heroic figure makes them quite rare in my 30+ years of running games. I agree that they are quite the little badasses, but I think that a high percentage of players, those who want to get into grips with their foes, desire a more heroic character to play. That is to say, more strapping, steely-eyed, and dangerous-looking combatants. Doughty human fighters and burly dwarves fit this model, whereas the halfling does not. They don't pass the eyeball test and as such, if you take away their significant advantages, only those who really like the idea of being a 2.5 foot tall dunderhead in constant need of rescue will find them appealing. YMMV of course.

  7. I say banish halflings from the game completely...problem solved.

  8. In 3E I had the most distressing experience of having a player bring a halfling with a constitution bonus playing a barbarian--this furry midget swiping things to death with paired axes had a vast reserve of hit points and was generally a pint of amok waiting to be spilled wherever. I struggled to make sense of the little guy having the most hit points...

  9. @ Scad: It's not just I said there are "wee folk" in a variety of media, but nowhere do I find them out-dueling a dwarf or elf...

    Still, the fact that you find them quite rare is strange, unless you're playing a different edition from myself...

    @ Anathematician: I considered that, too, when first tinkering with the wood elf class...I was going to simply 'port the halfling profile in its entirety and stick a new name on it. But I like the little guys too much to disregard them completely.

    Please note, we're talking B/X other editions (especially AD&D) halflings would be the 2nd PC species I'd kick to the curb (right after Drow).

    @ Fictive: I always found the GNOME barbarian to be the guy with the longest staying power...with the proper toughness feats, they could have hundreds and hundreds of hit points even without raging. Truly ridiculous but a fun experiment in the art of min-maxing.
    ; )