Making Characters Weird: Halflings

Confidence Bright - A Cage
Sustained Illustration
by BiPiCado
is licensed by CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

What's included in this post: 

  • Three things to think about when playing a halfling
  • A table of 20 "weird" (non-Tolkien) traits for halflings
  • Some design philosophy/theory on how to adapt these changes to old-school (pre-2nd Edition) D&D, 3.5 Edition, and 5E, to show how simply and easy it can be  

Quick Background:

This is the 6th entry in my series on "making characters weird." The idea is to make small, unexpected tweaks to the standard versions of the difference classes and races to create versions that aren't vanilla fantasy or the Tolkien variety, but at the same time, ones that are still recognizable without all the crazy gonzo or violent grim-dark that sometimes accompanies the word "weird." And, to be clear, I like vanilla fantasy, Tolkien, and gonzo (I'm less enthused by gore-porn, however). But this series presents something different than any of those as a way to re-think what makes fantasy more magical and unpredictable, and to provide role-playing hooks for players and DMs looking to make their PCs and NPCs a little different. 

The mantra of this series is "flavor, not mechanics." The idea is that these changes are system and edition-neutral. If there are any rules changes, I'll put them in italics. And, at the end of this entry, I'm including some design philosophy to show why I don't think these changes need any mechanics to accompany them, but also to show, if you do want mechanics, how you can apply them to a variety of different editions of D&D. 

What's Come Before:

My goal with these is to clean up and expand these posts a bit (for example, the first post on Fighters doesn't include my "Playing a Fighter: Three Questions" section, and publish them, along with ideas solicited online in social media and here in the comments, and also adding in new ideas for other classes and races like bards, paladins, gnomes, and half-orcs. 


I don't currently have any halfling players in the game I'm running for my daughter (age 11) and her friends, and I didn't actually allow halflings in the other long-running game I have going (a 3.5/Pathfinder game that began as a 3.0 game in 2001 and is still running, although it has been on hiatus for a while primarily due to the pandemic). 

However, for my daughter's game, I wanted to give the players some ideas to think about with regard to playing a halfling, should any of them choose to do so. The background information on halflings in Old School Essentials (the rules system I'm using, which is really just a cleaned-up version of Moldvay Basic, aka "B/X" D&D with better layout and presentation) is extremely light, and these players don't really have the context of the Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit. Outside of Tolkien and maybe the old 1980's movie, Willow, there really aren't any common depictions of halfling-like creatures outside of D&D, so my players are having a hard time wrapping their heads around playing a smaller species that seems to prefer spending time feasting than doing pretty much anything else. 

Here are three questions I'm asking my players to consider when playing a halfling: 

  1. Do you live among the "bigger" races for safety? This is a common trope among many D&D style halflings, in which halflings choose to build their communities alongside those of dwarves, elves, or, most commonly, humans. While this idea makes a certain amount of sense given the way a typical halfling is described in the rules, it's not a guarantee that halflings will always come from a society like this. How you view the larger races is probably directly related to whether you grew up around them, and whether they treated your people as allies, as children, or as a nuisance. 
  2. How important is food and drink to you? The 1981 Moldvay Basic D&D rulebook mentions that halflings are "good-nature" and seek treasure as a way of securing the "comforts of home." This description of the halfling race has changed little over the years within the mainstream campaign settings and rules (Dark Sun halflings being a notable exception); the 5E rulebook mentions that the "comforts of home are the goals of most halflings' lives... a blazing fire and a generous meal; fine drink..." The longing for food and drink seems to be a driving force behind many halflings day-to-day lives. But, how important is it to your particular halfling? What kinds of foods and drinks do you prefer? Do you prefer company, or dining alone? Do you prepare your own meals, or prefer to acquire them at a tavern or other establishment? 
  3. Do you like adventuring, or do you see it as a necessary evil? This is somewhat related to the second question. The depiction of halflings throughout most editions of the game has been that they would much prefer to be home than out adventuring. While every race might share at least some of that sentiment, with halflings it is described as a primary motivation for them: treasure = buying the comforts of home. Is your halfling one of these reticent adventurers, or are you one of those who bucks the trend and enjoys leaving your village to explore the wide world around you? 


The traits below might be applicable to all halflings, or you could use them to create a sub-race of halflings. Alternately, they could be specific and apply only to a unique PC or NPC of the halfling race. 

For more halfling variants, see: 



Weird Trait


Burrowers: Halflings are burrowing folk with a hive-like structure.  


Cavalry Warriors: Halflings are cavalry warriors who use one of the following as mounts (Roll 1D4):


1: Giant bats.

2: Mobile fallen tree trunks.

3: Giant beetles.

4: Clouds.


Collaborative Creation: Halflings were created because somebody wrote about them in a book, and enough people believed halflings existed that they willed them into existence.


Magical Cycle: Innate magic power rotates every cycle (millennium/ century/ whatever) between the races. The elves got it this time, but it happened in recent memory. The halflings had it previously. They’re not happy about losing it.


Mysterious Death: No one remembers ever seeing a dead halfling, even if when long-time halfling companions die. The knowledge of person remains, but knowledge of seeing the dead body is simply “gone.”


Mirror World Projections: Halflings are “projections” of beings on another plane. On that plane, they are the tallest species.


Song of Creation: The song that sang halflings into existence was interrupted and the deity singing it was slain. The halflings are aware of this and dedicate their lives to hunting down the renegade who stopped the song.


Halfling Luck: Halflings are said to be lucky. In reality, they’ve sold a piece of their souls to an unknown entity to give them a little boost while they are alive. No one knows what happens to them when they die.


Speaking in Questions: Halflings speak only in questions. This infuriates other races, but the halflings have learned how to use this to their advantage. Particularly obnoxious ones will also rhyme their questions.


Monster Protector: Halfling communities are always situated far too close to a large monster den. The monsters keep bigger folk & invaders away. Occasionally the monster gets greedy & a halfling goes missing.


Three Subraces: There are three halfling sub-races, one each very closely related to dwarves, elves, and humans. You do not want to mention the word “experimentation” among them.


Three Subraces, Part 2: There are three halfling sub-races, like the previous entry, but this time, they are closely related to elves, goblins, and orcs. Somebody might have some explaining to do.


Magic Corruption: Contrary to known belief, halflings are extremely talented magic-users, but arcane magic always corrupts them. They avoid using magic, and special halfling agents called Mage Runners hunt down & destroy halfling arcane magic-users.


Recent Appearance: The halfling race only appeared within recent memory, a few decades/centuries after a horrific incursion of fiends from beyond time and space appeared. The halflings don’t seem to fear the fiends.


Mysterious Festival: Halflings disappear once a year for a three-day festival related to celebrating the first halflings. Outsiders are not welcome. Following the festival, halflings are quiet and depressed for a few weeks.


Battle Lust: Halflings suffer from battle-lust, and therefore have adopted a sedentary lifestyle of farming, gardening, and brewing as a way to keep control. Halflings who lose control in battle suffer a form of mental illness, which is why most halflings refuse to go on adventures.


Epic Poetry: Halflings claim to have invented the pantheons of the other races through a series of elaborately constructed epic sagas that were part of a poetry contest.


Forest Protectors: Just as dwarves are creatures of stone, halflings are creatures of the forest, created by the Assembly of Trees to be its protectors.   


World Defenders: Halflings are the youngest of the sentient races. They were created to defend the world, as the other races (dwarves, elves, humans, whatever) were discovered to be flawed and corrupt. The halflings know this. The other races do not.


Strange Replacement: Halflings live near other, larger races, and begin to adopt many of the other races’ mannerisms and customs. After a few years, the halfling population slowly disappears, but is replaced by an equal number of members of the other race.



As I've mentioned many times, I designed this series with the intent that the majority of these entries don't need any mechanics associated with them. They're about flavor and providing role-playing hooks. That said, whenever I post these in social media, particularly on Twitter, a lot of enthusiastic fans and followers will comment back about how a particular idea could be applied in their system of choice (which, mainly, is 5E, so people talk about short and long rests, Advantage/Disadvantage, bonus actions, etc.). I usually write back to compliment their ideas and thank them for their enthusiasm, and then mention how I deliberately left out any mechanics because I personally don't think everything needs to be codified in this manner, and also to let creative players and referees figure out what mechanics would work best for their system of choice, should they really wish to apply some. 

That said, I wanted to show a few examples using four ideas from the table above (#2, #4, #13, and #16) to show how you could apply mechanics, if you really wanted to, and also, how similar those ideas could be, across editions. 

  • Halfling Cavalry Warriors
    • Let's say you want to add some mechanical differentiation for these types of halflings to distinguish them from other races. Here are my ideas: 
      • Basic - B/X D&D
        • Give the halfling a +1 bonus to hit while mounted; this replaces the standard halfling missile attack bonus
      • 3.5 Edition
        • The halfling gains the Mounted Combat for free, replacing the +1 racial bonus on attack rolls with throw weapons or slings
        • (Note that you could also just decide to give them +1 to attack rolls while mounted if you wanted; it's not going to "break" anything)
      • 5E
        • Create a halfling subrace that adds +1 to CON and gets Advantage on missile attacks while mounted. 
    • You'd probably also want to generate some kind of stats for the mounts. 
      • Basic - B/X D&D
        • Giant Bats: Use the "Giant Bat" entry
        • Mobile Fallen Tree Trunks: Treat as a cart that doesn't require draft animals
        • Giant Beetle: Treat as a Giant Fire Beetle, but without the glowing nodes
        • Clouds: I'd probably treat this as a Flying Carpet, but I'd impose some restrictions such as how often it could be used per day and also what level the halfling needed to be in order to use it, etc. 
      • 3.5 D&D
        • Giant Bats: Use the "Dire Bat" entry
        • Mobile Fallen Tree Trunks: Treat as a cart that doesn't require draft animals
        • Giant Beetle: Treat as a Giant Bombardier Beetle without the acid spray attack
        • Clouds: Again, I'd probably treat this like a Carpet of Flying but reduce its effectiveness a bit and impose some restrictions, etc. 
      • 5E D&D
        • Giant Bats: Use the "Giant Bat" entry.
        • Mobile Fallen Trunks: Treat as a cart that doesn't require draft animals
        • Giant Beetle: Treat as a Giant Fire Beetle without the Illumination ability
        • Clouds: As above for 3.5 and Basic; treat as a Carpet of Flying with some restrictions
      • You'll see that each of these is pretty intuitive; there's really no need to provide stats because you can easily just figure it out from the context. Also, if you don't want the mount to make attacks, it's easy to just hand-wave that it's there but that it doesn't get any attacks. 
  • Innate Magic Power Now with the Elves
    • This is really easy - just don't allow halflings to be arcane spellcasters
      • Basic - B/X D&D
        • Halflings weren't even allowed, per the rules, to use any sort of magic
      • 3.5 D&D
        • Restrict halflings from becoming sorcerers or wizards
      • 5E D&D
        • Restrict halflings from becoming sorcerers, warlocks, or wizards
      • For 3.5 and 5E, you'll need to decide if bardic magic is different enough (even though it's technically arcane per the rules, and you'll also need to decide if clerical and druidical classes are allowed, since they cast divine magic, not arcane)
  • Magic Corrupts
    • Again, this is easy in terms of cautioning your players against playing a halfling arcane caster
      • Basic - B/X D&D
        • Per the rules, halflings can't cast arcane magic, but you could create some halfling NPC magic-users who have become corrupt, and any PC halflings are members of the arcane magic hunters. 
        • If you want more mechanics, replace the standard halfling missile attack bonus by giving PC halflings +1 to hit and damage against any NPC halfling arcane casters. Be aware this is very situation and likely to not be used as often as the standard missile attack bonus throughout the course of the character's career, so you might want to adjust accordingly.  
      • 3.5 D&D
        • Perhaps you allow halflings to become arcane spellcasters, but doing so, they need to make a Will saving throw every time they cast an arcane spell, with the DC equal to 10 + spell level. Each time they fail, they gain a "corruption point." At Corruption 10, their alignment becomes evil. 
        • There might be degrees of corruption (mild, medium, severe) with different physical, mental, or emotional consequences at each stage (find appropriate random tables online), and there might also be ways to remove corruption. 
      • 5E D&D
        • Use the ideas above for 3.5 D&D, but make the Corruption Save a WIS save.
        • Alternatively, you could use the Corruption rules by Matt Mercer, available as a free 3-page PDF on the Dungeon Master's Guild
  •  Halfling Battle Lust
    • This could very easily just be role-played, but if you want some mechanics to go along with the flavor, here are some ideas. 
      • Basic - B/X D&D
        • Save vs. Death after each battle, or: 
          • Suffer -2 INT and a -2 Reaction Roll penalty for 1d4 weeks
          • Gain +1 to attack rolls during your next encounter
          • Battle Lust is not cumulative (once you have it, you can't get it again until it has worn off) 
      • 3.5 D&D
        • DC 12 Will Save after each battle, or:
          • Suffer -2 to all INT and WIS based skill checks for 1d4 weeks
          • Gain +1 to attack rolls during your next encounter
          • Battle Lust is not cumulative (once you have it, you can't get it again until it has worn off)
          • Does not stack with the Barbarian rage ability
      • 5E D&D
        • DC 12 WIS Save after each battle, or: 
          • Suffer -2 to all INT and WIS based skill checks for 1d4 weeks
          • Gain +1 to attack rolls during your next encounter
          • Battle Lust is not cumulative (once you have it, you can't get it again until it has worn off)
          • Cannot be used while in a Barbarian rage
      • The DC for 3.5 and 5E could be altered to account for the amount of damage done or damage taken during an encounter, etc. 

These are just a few ideas, and they're not fleshed out (obviously, there are other mechanics within the 3.5 and 5E rules systems that could be applied to any of the above ideas if you really wanted), but the purpose was to illustrate that these types of ideas don't really need mechanics, and even if you want them, they're not difficult to create for the system you want, and many of them could be interpreted on the fly, especially for a B/X or other old-school game. 

As always, I really appreciate comments, whether positive or negative. Let me know which traits or ideas you liked or didn't like, and feel free to suggest new ones. As I look toward the idea of publishing these in the future, I'm looking to include ideas from the community and will credit them accordingly. 

Making Your Characters Weird © 2021 Martin R. Thomas

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Tap water
Listening: "George's Dilemma" by Clifford Brown & the Max Roach Quintet, from the album "Study in Brown," 1955. 


  1. Nice treatment, but still doesn't answer the question of how do they exist without becoming a prey species for dragons, etc. Which not coincidentally is why I have dropped halflings from my campaigns in favor of a race of platypus/otter hybrids I call Fishers. My beasties at least aren't competing with men for the best farmland and are found along the rivers, much as elves are in the forest and dwarves in the mountains.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, as always. I appreciate it.

      The thought of how they exist without becoming a prey species is something I did lightly dabble with, first with the first of the "Three Questions" (Do you live among the "bigger" races for safety?) and then with entries #10 and #20 on the table (#10 is more specific - they court danger by situated their villages close to some kind of monster den so the monster will keep other potential predators away). With #20, they live close to larger humanoids, but over time seem to kind of morph into them.

      I like your playtpus/otter hybrid idea - it keeps halflings from just becoming typical Tolkien-like Hobbits.

      Thanks again.

  2. When not in the D&D or Tolkien realm of game play, I tend to think of halflings as de-magiced fey folk. They aren't immortal, but immune to most things that would kill you. The flip side of this is, they are poisoned by cold iron and silver. They strongly dislike humans because of their weapons. Super sophisticated mithril and dwarven weapons aren't as dangerous the them, so they don't have a hatred of elves and dwarves.

    A mortal fey, a halfling, has some ideas which effects everything they do. They don't suffer from the effects of "blood metals", but they don't like objects made of the stuff. They may be greedy, but don't gravitate to coinage because metals are "dangerous". Acquiring hordes of physical items is better.

    In some odd cases, a halfling may collect metal items. It comes across as "playing with death" or "a cry for help" or worshiping "St. Death" to other halflings. It alarms them profoundly.

    Their magical brother and sisters can teleport and turn invisible. Halflings are notoriously bad at hiding because even though they can't teleport or turn invisible, those things seem perfectly natural. Halflings will wander right into obvious traps because they can't think of "hiding" or "ambush". They are remarkably adept at "bluffing" their way past such things as no one can believe they are that dumb or naive. They aren't bluffing.

    They tend to have a passion for some sort of specific activity, usually something completely random like fish or cooking or music. Their magical brethren have out and out obsessions which is completely pathological in nature.

    1. This is really great - well-detailed and thought-out, and I like the differences form standard Tolkien-like Hobbits. I really like the bit about the halflings that collect metal items - that's very creative.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Cheers!

  3. Great article.
    There is a region in Spain where people speak in questions. Not all their speech, but at least the last sentence.
    It's true, the region calls Galicia 😅.

    1. Wow - I had no idea. I've heard of Galicia before but hadn't heard that about their language. I was mainly thinking of the character "The Question" as depicted in DC Comics and most specifically in the Justice League Unlimited animated series. It's not anything specific to halflings, but I was trying to think of some fun and different cultural things that could be applied to halflings to make them easy to role-playing and differentiate them from other races.

      Thanks for reading & commenting! Cheers!

  4. I like these a lot. 5, 9, and 16 are my favourites.

    1. Thanks so much! I also was partial to #5 as well. And, I thought #7 had a lot of potential if you read it as "the song was interrupted, explaining why halflings are so short..." - Who knows what they could have been like if the song were allowed to finish?

      In general, I feel like a lot of these ideas are perhaps more "creative" but also not necessarily all "halfling-like" because the lore for halflings isn't as well-developed as that of dwarves or elves, so it was freeing in terms of coming up with ideas, but also frustrating because I knew that a lot of people would think "That doesn't sound like a halfling."

    2. Yes, most rpg halflings are either Tolkien Hobbits, or a reaction against that, like the Dark Sun feral 'flings. Your weird options explore a nice middle ground.

    3. I think I'm one of the few people who didn't hate the feral version from Dark Sun.


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