Sunday, 25 September 2011

Elves and Dwarves Up, Halflings Down

Cave halflings are another story.
When using a race-as-class system in D&D, as I like to do, halflings have a problem. As outlined in the various versions of Basic D&D, they're little more than short thieves.

Now, elves explicitly started out in OD&D as hybrid fighter-magic-users and stuck with that concept in Basic, so they add something extra to the mix of classes. Dwarves, to the extent they have underground exploration abilities, are kind of a fighter-rogue hybrid; at least, they get more interesting the more they tend toward that, and less interesting the more they are just short fighters.

In my one page rules, although it's not quite so schematic as that, I did consciously try to include a fighter-wizard hybrid (elf), fighter-rogue (dwarf), and rogue-wizard (gnome) type. I suppose an expansion might also take on the various priest hybrids, with fighter (paladin), wizard (mystic) and rogue (monk) to complete the cross-fertilization. Is this a complete scheme, with anything else just being variants on the basic classes? Not sure, but it seems that way to me.

In race-and-class systems, by the way, the halfling also fails to take advantage of the diversity available. This all comes from the concept being too tied down to Tolkien, and made worse, not better, by all the quasi-halflings that show up in Tolkien knockoffs, from kender to gwarpys. But at the same time Tolkien gives us two hobbit models: a fighter-type (Frodo and his companions) and a thief-type (Bilbo). It's a concept made for separate race and class systems, but although in AD&D it's possible to play a halfling fighter, there's very little incentive to do so. The halfling is almost always optimized as a thief under most D&D rules.

Anyway, here are my one page elf and dwarf rules.


  1. Maybe halflings could have some ranger-like abilities?

  2. The elf treatment, magic-wise, is really, really good. Love what you've done with spell selection, max spell level and daily spells.

  3. Have to agree with Anarch here. Halflings in Classic D&D are not thieves they are Rangers. Halflings disappear in the forest, have keen senses (Initiative bonus,) and an unerring shot, all that adds up to me as ranger not thief.

    Halflings are simply the best brawlers in the game at low level. Both Dex and Str are Prime requisites so they likely have a bonus, and failing that they have a bonus to hit and situational AC bonus. the only sacrifice they make is having average HP. This diminishes a little over higher levels as their thaco and HP looses to fighter, but Halflings are really the star of the early game.

    I run Halflings as scouts (yes i split the party.) The Halfling's +1 to init is a pretty potent ability, especialy when combined with ranged bonuses and hiding abilities. their High AC and saves ensure they can at least handle their own until help arrives.

    If you want to go full out Ranger you could add a tracking ability (same base chance as their stealth) and a direction sense (+1 to avoid getting lost in wilderness.) and you have a full on ranger class, but honestly I don't think they need it.

  4. I've been trying to think up replacements for dwarves and halflings in my B/X game. Neither have ever really worked well for me stylistically in D&D.

    On halflings, James Raggi wrote: "Halflings can hide like nobody’s business. And these guys almost never miss a saving throw (regardless of category)"

    To me, this almost feels more like a monk in terms of game mechanics (though I can see the ranger comparison also, due to the nature skills). I have several recent posts on reskinning dwarves as morlocks and reskinning halflings as monks (more musings than complete classes).

  5. ....welcome to another reason I never liked Race as class. And I'm betting my unsolicited opinion is really really important to y'all, too. ;)

  6. Thanks all, for the scout halfling reminder/suggestion. I guess I should have clarified that my "rogue" class is meant to go beyond thief and encompass the scout-like abilities, but that's obviously not true for early D&D which stuck with the urban model for the thief.

    @Doc: So halflings suck less in race-and-class?

  7. Maybe you could give them an ability related to their 'surprising courage'. eg resistance to fear, or if you have unconsciousness maybe they can fight all the way until death.

  8. Well, see, here's the issue since you asked:
    Race as Class as a concept sucks, whereas, in OD&D,Halflings certainly suck if one worries about level limits; but not as much suckage, though, if one plays with a thief class, as they are about the only race that doesn't completely suck as a low level thief.

    So, yeah, they suck, but less than the concept of race as class sucks.

    I also think I may have broken a personal record for most uses of "suck" in a compound-complex sentence.....