Sunday, April 26, 2020

On Gnomes and Halflings

So, over at B/X Blackrazor, JB has an excellent post on Gnomes, doing an historical dive into the origins of the race in search of why they can be illusionists. I, ironically, I have been doing a very similar deep dive into rulesets about gnomes, but for a radically different reason. Whereas JB is working on revamping the Illusionist class using the various iterations from the pre-1ePHB era of the game, I was doing my deep dive because of a curious mention of halflings in Advanced Labyrinth Lord.

For a bit of background, as a joke, I challenged by eldest to run a game of D&D where all the PCs were gnomes. The joke became somewhat serious when she demanded that I provide her with an edition of the game to use to create the campaign. When she settled on Advance Labyrinth Lord, I was forced to read to those rules to create a character.

Therein, I found this quote:
Their habitations often overlap with halflings, and these two races are typically very friendly, if not familial, to each other.
I don’t ever remember that word “familial” being used to describe the relationship between halflings and gnomes, so I started digging.

Lately, I have been finding myself actually trying to play Holmes Basic D&D (putting into practice all of the stuff I wrote about Holmes over the years). I have to admit, having never actually played the game in my youth, I am finding it to be quite a pleasure to use as I get older. One of the conclusions I made about gnomes, given the way Holmes treats them, is that they are (as JB concludes) a variation (or twisting) of dwarves — specifically, a Chaotic Good version.

Given this Holmesian background where I conclude that the languages of Gnomes, Kobolds, and Goblins are all dialects of Dwarvish, I find it fascinating that Gnomes in the MM1 and Gnome PCs in the 1ePHB are able to speak the language of halflings. It should also be noted that in the Racial Preference Table from the 1ePHB Gnomes have goodwill toward Halflings. The only other race to get such treatment are dwarves.

Thus, while Advanced Labyrinth Lord’s use of the word “familial” is not found in the original material, it is, nonetheless, not unwarranted. It also has my brain going in (what I consider to be ) a really exciting direction.

I must note that despite my use of Bilbo Baggins as a literary inspiration for my understanding of Thieves, and my love for Jeff Dee’s cover of T1: The Village of Hommlet, I am not a fan of Tolkien, Hobbits, or halflings.

Conceptually (as a race inspired by Hobbits), halflings just don’t fit in D&D except as a curiosity or a group if interesting NPCs. However, this word “familial” has me re-thinking the halfling’s place among the PC races.

What if “familial” implied the “half” part of the name “halfling” didn’t refer to their size, but rather to their parentage? In a game world where half-elves and half-orcs make regular appearances, why are there no half-dwarves? Unless, of course, they have always been there in the form of the halfling (which sounds better than “half-dwarf” and is something the dwarf kin probably would use anyway).

If one begins with the assumptions that gnomes are smaller, skinnier dwarves and that gnomes live closer to humans and other races than regular dwarves do, and that halflings have similar saving throw bonuses to dwarves, it is not a huge leap to imagine that halflings are to result of some relationships between the odd gnome and human here and there.

Such an understanding of a halfling makes much more sense to me, and explains that cover of T1 a whole lot better than Tolkien ever did.


porphyre77 said...

Just for the anecdote, the french edition of Holmes Basic Set included a typed translation that translated "Halflings" as "Gnomes" (the former isn't a french word but the second is).

FrDave said...

Ha! That's good enough excuse for me! ;)