Halflings through the ages and D&D Editions

Dustcover of the first edition (1937) of The Hobbit, taken from a design by the author

rizarksworld-blog asked: “I have a question How does a Halfling/Hobbit rogue would look like? I have not found references for it”

If you’re in a hurry, you’ll find lots of halfling rogue portraits here. If you want a story, come sit by the fire. 🙂

Tolkien illustration of Bilbo Baggins, famous Burglar.

Hobbits were originally creatures in a children’s book, and meant to look funny and jovial. Tolkien imagined them like this:

  • Small size humans (~3 feet 6 inches / 107 cm tall), a bit stout though not as stocky as dwarves. Basically, a happy little beer-belly on legs. 😛
  • Usually curly hair, usually can’t grow beards.
  • Slightly pointy ears, but not as elongated as elf ears.
  • Barefoot – they have no use for shoes because their feet have leathery soles and are covered with curly hair.
‘The Hobbit’ illustration by Maurice Sendak, 1967

Hobbits are a Tolkien creation (although the word “hobbit” is an old English word, that he found it in a list of creatures in fairytales – along with orcs and goblins and a hundred more). Then D&D “borrowed” them, and soon renamed them to “halflings”, without changing much about them.

Elf, Halfling, Dwarf. (by Larry Elmore, from the Mentzer D&D Basic Rules Set: Players Manual, TSR, 1983.)

From there, they became a staple of the genre, and the roguiest race in D&D. But as time moved on, and D&D editions came and went, it turned out that people who wanted to play halflings didn’t always want to look like comic relief. (This also applies to dwarves and gnomes, to an extent, but with halflings it’s more obvious because they were designed to look like comic relief.) Players might want their characters to look cool rather than funny. And especially for halfling rogues, they might just want to look athletic, wiry, and possibly hot, rather than… a beer-belly on legs.

D&D 3rd Edition races in Player’s Handbook (Todd Lockwood, 2000)

So in 3rd Edition, halflings were portrayed thin, almost like humans who shrunk without changing proportions, and they even wore shoes. We were introduced to Lidda the Iconic Rogue, a halfling who didn’t look at all like a female Bilbo.

D&D 3rd Edition: Lidda, the Iconic Rogue

On the other hand, “shrunk human” may not be… distinct enough for a D&D race appearance. They look great in portraits on their own, but near larger-sized humanoids, it arguably looks a bit… off.

D&D 3rd Edition. To be fair, lots of things look off here.

In any case, 4th Edition largely kept that look

D&D 4th Edition illustration 

but when 5th Edition came, they went all retro. Note that their whole shtick was “we return to iconic D&D™”, and that this was was after The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit films. So the new halfling design is “short, stout, with a big funny head and short but thin legs”. Bare hairy feet didn’t make a comeback, but once again, halflings look funny.

Halfling illustration in 5th Edition’s Player’s Handbook (2014) / D&D 5e concept art by Conceptopolis

The Player’s Handbook says “The diminutive halflings survive in a world full of larger creatures by avoiding notice or, barring that, avoiding offense. Standing about 3 feet tall, they appear relatively harmless and so have managed to survive for centuries in the shadow of empires and on the edges of wars and political strife. They are inclined to be stout, weighing between 40 and 45 pounds. Halflings’ skin ranges from tan to pale with a ruddy cast, and their hair is usually brown or sandy brown and wavy. They have brown or hazel eyes. Halfling men often sport long sideburns, but beards are rare among them and mustaches even more so.”

Pathfinder’s iconic bard, art by Wayne Reynolds (2008)

Meanwhile, we had the Pathfinder take, which is sort of a middle ground, and my personal favourite. (Also more varied, because there are tons of illustrations from different artists.)

According to the Pathfinder SRD, “Halflings rise to a humble height of 3 feet. They prefer to walk barefoot, leading the bottoms of their feet to become roughly calloused. Tufts of thick, curly hair warm the tops of their broad, tanned feet.Their skin tends toward a rich cinnamon color and their hair toward light shades of brown. A halfling’s ears are pointed, but proportionately not much larger than those of a human.”

But the main thing here isn’t the words, it’s the art. And look at that bard. The design is not just a human (short, shrunk, or otherwise), it’s distinct, it’s still got hairy feet and a kind of fairy-tale feel… but it’s not comic relief either. You can certainly imagine a jolly, jovial halfling looking like that, but a dangerous halfling is entirely possible too.

And on that note, here’s my favourite halfling rogue illustration:


It’s an NPC for Pathfinder, by Ekaterina Burmak . Isn’t it awesome? 😀

[originally posted by Rogue on tumblr]

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