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With their short stature and sometimes reckless natures, halflings are often thought of as the odd-folk-out when it comes to adventuring parties. However, if you're looking to make a halfling that doesn't fit the stereotypical mold for this race (or if you just want to dig a little deeper than the Tolkien-esque surface these characters often get stuck with), then here are a few tips to get you started.
This is the third installment in my 5 Tips For Playing Better Fantasy Races series. If you enjoy it then be sure to check out the companion series, 5 Tips For Playing Better Base Classes, and while you're at it drop by my gaming blog Improved Initiative.
Tip #1: How are you different from hobbits?
Most traditional fantasy races in RPGs find themselves in the shadow of Tolkien to one degree or another, but none of them are as intrinsically linked to that author's work as halflings are. So the first thing you need to do if you want to avoid this race's stereotypes is to try to distance yourself from Middle Earth.
And that goes beyond just wearing shoes.
For example, try making your halfling from somewhere that doesn't resemble the Shire. Like, say, a rooftop community in a major city connected by thin bridges and zip lines. Or perhaps a group of swamp-dwelling halflings whose lighter weight allows them to traverse the thinner soil without worrying about getting sucked down into the muck. You could even have them riding giant bats, living in caverns carved out of sheer cliff walls for safety and security.
Anytime you find yourself including something from Tolkien's work as a knee-jerk reaction, ask if that applies to your character's attitude and past. Are they all about that quiet life, or are they more of an adrenaline junkie? Do they gobble food at every meal, or are they more of a connoisseur? Are they stealthy and sneaky, trying to use their wits and guile, or do they stride right up to a problem and crack it in the knee with a mace?
Remember, you are not bound by the fictional canon of a setting your game isn't taking place in, so feel free to explore beyond that.
Tip #2: How do you feel about luck?
Halflings are lucky. This isn't just a myth, either; they are mechanically fortunate. Whether it's the +1 racial bonus Lucky Halfling, or you take the alternative trait Adaptable Luck, halflings seem to be favored by fate.
So ask yourself what form your halfling's luck takes, and how they feel about it.
For example, is your halfling superstitious, ascribing their lucky saves to folk wisdom and personal rituals? Or do they live by the creed that they make their own luck, treating it as a kind of force they can manipulate to make chance break their way? Do they treat luck as a kind of faith, relying on it the way some might rely on divine intervention, or do they simply not believe in it, regardless of how often it helps them?
If you want to grab a few tips for getting the most out of your luck, then check out The Lucky Bastard character concept guide.
Tip #3: How do you overcome your size?
There are a lot of advantages to being small-sized. You get a bonus to your attack, you get a bonus to your armor class, and you are able to maneuver in tight confines that would stymie your bigger companions, just as a for instance. However, small-sized weapons deal a lot less damage, and you take a hit to your Strength for being smaller. And grappling... ugh, don't even get started on grappling.
So ask how size has affected your character, and how they overcome it when they're on campaign.
That's one reason so many halflings tend towards rogues; sneak attack is an easy way to make up for your weapons having such small damage dice. But it's far from the only way. Spells do the same damage regardless of the caster's size, for instance, and the flat bonuses you get from features like a fighter's Weapon Training or a paladin's Smite can deal a lot of damage. Relying on your Dexterity modifier for your damage output, or using feats like Deadly Aim, can also make up for your size.
You can find more options for this in 5 Ways To Make Up For Small-Sized Damage in Pathfinder.
While the mechanics are important, you should also take a moment to ask why your halfling developed in that particular direction. Were they trained to fight as a unit, using positioning and tactics to turn their size into an advantage rather than a hindrance? Are they a big game hunter? A giant hunter? Or is their skill and precision just so deadly that it doesn't matter how large their foes are? Any of those are valid options, but they're worth thinking about in terms of who your halfling is, and how they manage to pack such a big punch into such a small package.
Tip #4: What luxuries do you crave?
Generally speaking, halflings tend to be creatures of pleasure. This is such a defining trait that it's insinuated that it manifests across different cultures, and even in halflings who may be raised away from others of their kind.
So rather than try to avoid this, instead ask what kinds of pleasures appeal to your particular halfling?
Do they enjoy the simple pleasures of a roaring fire, a comfortable chair, a full belly, and either a mug of ale or a pipe packed with weed? Or do they have more... exotic tastes? Is your halfling a collector, perhaps, which would lead them to delving into ancient ruins and forgotten tombs seeking relics to complete their catalogs? Do they have a hankering for expensive delights, requiring them to amass great fortunes just to acquire the things they want?
Or does your halfling have a taste for less concrete pleasures? Do they desire to see new places, meet new people, and to take part in activities they never have before? Do they want to see famous plays, or hear music by talented performers? Or do they crave fame, and the attention and adulation it offers them for doing great deeds?
If your halfling wants to reach the heights of nobility, and the pleasures that come with position, then A Baker's Dozen of Noble Families (which includes several halfling nobles as examples) might be a good tool to have on-hand.
Tip #5: What is your living space like?
Another notable thing about halflings is that, no matter where they're from, they all tend to make the places they live as homey as possible. Whether it's a polished manor house in the country, or just a gaily-painted traveling wagon, a halfling's home is always unique to them. And even when they're on the road, they tend to bring trinkets with them to add a sense of home.
So what does your halfling do for their home?
If they have a wagon, have they filled the interior with the books, magic items, and other odds and ends they've collected over their years on the road? If they stay mostly at inns do they have a particular pillow, stuffed animal, or small set of statues they always bring with, or an incense they burn to fill the place with the scent of the hollow where they grew up? Do they hang a set of warning chimes, or an intricately carved tent pole that tells the story of who they are, and where they've been?
Additionally, always ask what your halfling's views on hospitality are. Is it just a simple, informal breaking of bread? Are there guest rights that come along with offering someone a place by your fire, or in your home? Is there a traditional exchange of words or gifts that officially makes someone your guest, or you theirs? With community and the duties of a host often being at the forefront of halfling living, these are things worth thinking about.