Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why not to extinguish Halflings, Part 2 (introducing the Halfing Adventurer a.k.a. The Contractor)

Why not, indeed (see also Part 1). The idea behind this exercise is to find some kind of tagline or abstract to make Halfings (or any race/species, for that matter) interesting for players and an active part in any setting. Elves, for example, could be summarized like this:
"Elves are known to be immortal fairy creatures. To exist in the mortal world they have to become mortal themselves. Reasons for this are diverse and mostly, in one way or another, connected to the Unseelie Court of the Fae. Their motivations may seem alien to most mortals, but in their fight against evil forces they make formidable allies and adventurers. Becoming mortal for a given time is a strange and new experience for those beings, even though they might have existed for centuries already. When they rest, their soul visits the realm of the Fae. When they die and the body is not buried in earth connected to their realm, their soul is lost and may haunt the mortal world. In their mortal form they are a little bit smaller and fragile then humans and have pointy ears. Hair, skin and eye colour vary and may be chosen by the player."(oriented on my thoughts here)
For Halflings it's a little bit more difficult. At least if the idea has to play in an old edition of D&D. This dissolves to some degree with the 3rd edition, but for no other good reason than rules-related diversity. If one had to give an engaging abstract about Halflings in 3.0, one would still be lost (excluding, of course, setting specific sourcebooks, but I digress...). In the Rules Cyclopedia Halflings are decribed like this:
"A halfling is a short demihuman, and looks much like a human child with slightly pointed ears. A halfling stands about 3' tall and weighs about 60 pounds. Halflings rarely have beards. Halflings are outgoing but not unusually brave, seeking treasure as a way to gain the comforts of home, which they so dearly love. Halflings prefer to live in pleasant areas of fair countryside near rolling hills and gentle streams. When not working or adventuring, halflings will spend most of their time eating, drinking, talking with friends, and relaxing. Their communities are called shires, and their recognized spokesman is called a Sheriff. Halfling families live in Clans.
Halflings are woodland folk, and usually get along well with elves and dwarves. They have special abilities in the outdoors. Halflings behave similarly to fighters and dwarves. A halfling's saving throws are as good as those of dwarves. Halflings may only advance..." (Rules Cyclopedia, p. 26)
So this says... nothing. It's all pleasant, fair and gentle. They rarely have beards and like to eat and drink? Sure helps a lot to get a player in the mood. Well, they need an edge. Maybe they need a history?

Halflings, 20.000 years ago (give or take):

Most likely were the first to have some kind of agriculture and very protected, hidden settlements. So they might have been horticultural from early on, organized in small groups of families (no surprise there, I guess), staying in contact via shamans. Mostly avoided social contact to anything bigger than them and lived very reclusive, say in valleys or on islands. Easy enough, they were very good at sneaking around. Other useful tools they needed to develop were effective traps and strong bows. Domestication is also a big thing.

Being more peaceful than destructive and not abusive with magic, they did get along well with elves (good saves tend to help against tricky magic, too). Early production of tools for, say, mining (but all kind of tools are interesting, really) and a tendency to build their settlements in caves (much safer) makes for good trading contacts with dwarves. All that leads to cultural exchange and positive relations (up to protection) long before humans got there, but (also due to the higher live expectancy) to a less aggressive expansion (again, in comparison to humans).

Random legacies: now buried protective magics, decayed and misfiring near a village of your choice; ancient recipies, worth 1000 of gold pieces for collectors (drawings in a cave); ghost shaman, out to avenge the slaughter of his people, triggered by ... ; undead halfling warrior, hunting a recently resurfaced (unleashed?) ancient foe; ...

High Culture, 6.000 years ago (and for nearly 2.000 years):

The Great Travel was the beginning of a stellar cultural and technological development. With threats all around halfling communities throughout the world, spiritual spokesmen, guided by The Great Goddess*, united all Halflings for a long journey full of deprivation to an island** to form a new society. An island nation of halflings. And they thrived. Being ingenius craftsman and thaumaturgs, halflings stayed in contact with elves, dwarves and culturally higher developed civilisations all over the known world by using flying ships (manufactured with the oil of moonlight, a halfling relic, Rules Cyclopedia, p. 146, but it needs to be a lot more effective than described there, maybe an ancient version...).

Those vessels could only fly with moonlight, so halflings needed to have good night vision (maybe like elves) and very good navigation skills (by the stars and with very good maps). This high culture produced many legends, of course***. Flying vessels, highly effective missile weapons, strange machines, expensive spices (not to forget delicious food and beverages), aid given by this ancient race in epic battles, all this could give a rich background for tales, songs and legends still recited to this day. They didn't need that much protection anymore.

Of course, a world shuttering catastrophe of sorts brought destruction to this culture and most of the achievements got left behind in ruin as the world fell into anarchy. Nobody knows for sure how this happened (there were many theories, naturally) and the location of the island, with all the treasures and secrets it could hold, is lost (the old races won't talk about it either).

Random legacies:  ports on mountains and connected to dwarven settlements (lost or forgotten); a hidden salt mine with factory, heavily protected; strange artifacts, mostly cooking devices, but also (maybe) weapons of mass destruction; a halfling spa with a legendary well of restoration in a lost valley, it's in a jungle with dinosaurs and savages; finding the legendary halfing island is stuff for a campaign and should be a real scavenger hunt, many have tried and failed, mysterious halfling cultists with strange weapons protect the secrets, finding it should change the face of the world etc.,etc.; ...

Scattered, but still around (4.000 years ago til recent history):

So the world fell into some kind of dark age for about 500 years. Everyone struggled tried to rebuild, failed, the usual. Halflings (and here is a surprise) were an integral part of this process. This is only reasonable, because in this fictional history they got some essential talents to make this happen:

  • Due to their (extensive) travels they had not only the best maps of the then known world, but also the diplomatic connections to elves, dwarves and most of the civilised human empires.
  • The need to reestablish civilisation is obvious. In a barbaric world they are just prey (and might have been on occasion in the last 4000 years). In a civilised world they fit in the cracks and find the comfort they got used to.
  • Their island nation (and most of their achievements with it) might have been lost, but some of the knowledge and devices must have been still around. Again with the need to protect them.

Now we have a picture of the halflings nature. If they are able to achieve a protected home base, they thrive to the benefit of all civilised nations. In realising this, they need to be capable to get there, too. So they are diplomatic, civilised, nifty craftsmen and experienced travellers.
They might not be great warriors, but they are great adventurers, infiltraters and thieves (which is a harsh word and they wouldn't call themselves that, maybe specialists?) with an attitude towards "if it's not protected good enougth, it might as well be useful..." and a good sense for business. Altruistic by nature, they have no problem with helping others to help themselves.
They oppose evil and destructive forces that threaten civilisation. Traditionally they go on adventures only to use their talents, earn some experience and get the gold they need to settle down for good as fast as possible (usually to open a business of sorts). Any halfling going further than needed will feel the social pressure (and here are the level restrictions...).

Random legacies: elite academies, education is key; highly organized bands of adventurers; excellent craftsmen from brewers to trap-builders, many a wizard contracted a halfling architect to protect his dungeon; famous diplomats and thaumaturgs; many attempts to restore the legendary island nation; ...
The halfling in the Rules Cyclopedia (p. 27), art by Terry Dykstra

The Halfling Adventurer (aka The Contractor)

This is mostly the halfling as written in the Rules Cyclopedia. The changes are either house rules I already presented somewhere or stuff I wrote about in this post (nightvision, special advantage, skill mastery, etc.). It plays out like this:

Prime Requisites: Dexterity and Charisma (or Luck)
Experience Bonus: 5% for DEX or CHA higher than 12, 10% for DEX and CHA higher than 12
Hit Dice: 1d6 per level up to 9th level.
Maximum Level: 9 (I decided to give them one more level, saves stay the same for 9th level)
Armour: any up to banded mail, no plate mail, no suit armor, shilds permitted
Weapon: restricted by size
Combat Progression: as demi-human
Weapon Mastery: as demi-humans (optional rule: 1d6)
Special Ablities:
  • Skill Mastery (yeah, this includes backstabbing, but only for ranged weapons)
  • 5 skills (acrobatics, sabotage, sleight of hand, stealth, 1 craft or social skill (players choice))
  • Nightvision (like elves in my game and in contradiction to the Rules Cyclopedia where elves got infravision)
  • Use magic scroll (from the beginning, alternative rule: mana is used to activate scroll)
  • +2 AC bonus against Enemies bigger than medium sized
  • Special Advantage: Civilised, d% roll vs. ([3 x Charisma/Luck] + [2 x Lvl]); usable in any kind of social interaction, when successful, the interaction plays out in favour for the halfling (this is mostly instead of a passive reaction modifier)
New xp value to reach level 2: 2100 xp

Again, a very long post with a lot of stuff in it. I hope this presents the halfling in a somewhat different light and has a few new ideas to ponder on. For me at least halflings are now way more play- and usable without being too far away from the original. Now I have to do this for the dwarves...

* Name as per setting.
** In size much like Japan, maybe.
*** I'm thinking Atlantis here.

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