In this piece of bonus content, listen to Professor Merwyn Tumblebrook of the University of Crosswater talk a little bit about halflings and their native lands and practices in Calcinea. You can find the written version of this below, or listen to the audio above!
At the very bottom of this post you can also find some statblocks for the halfling carabineer and their elite, more experienced equivalent, the halfling sharpshooter. Feel free to use these in your own games!
Music copyright Kevin MacLeod.
Disclaimer: This is worldbuilding bonus content. You don’t need to listen to this to enjoy the podcast, and if you don’t enjoy this sort of content, just skip on past it and get back to the show. If this is your cup of tea, enjoy!
The name’s Tumblebrook, Merwyn Tumblebrook, and I’m here to talk about halflings. Should be pretty easy, given I am one! Now there’s a lot you tall folk think you know about our kind, and some of it’s true, but a lot of it’s all rotten apples. I’m here to sort out the wheat from the chaff.
Let’s start with where we come from. Now, a lot of folk think halflings only live natively in Halfland, where a lot of our brothers and sisters do live under orcish rule these days. While it’s true there’s a lot of halflings in Halfland, you’ll find us all over Jova and even a few in Sanustal and Sunder, especially in Caernon, the only nation to still have a halfling king – King Bolo Barrelwater macCaern! Those of us who are Caernese are proud to live in a halfling nation – not that we don’t have humans and other folk living with us, but there the tall folk are on the other foot! So I’ll focus on Caernese halfling traditions in this here lecture of mine and it all runs pretty true for halflings wherever you go.
So the number one thing I hear tall folk tell about halflings is that we’re greedy! Well, it’s true we have an appetite, but it’s hardly surprising, is it? We’re half the size of humans, a third the weight, and we do all the same work on two thirds the food! Maybe we’re not so good at the heavy lifting – and there’ll be no jokes from the back of the lecture hall about reaching for high shelves, don’t think I didn’t hear you! But it’s true that we eat a lot for our size and there’s a lot of us beside, so I understand how it might look to the tall folk.
But I reckon what flummoxes them is the meals. We halflings have twelve meals where humans have three. First breakfast, second breakfast, brunch, elevenses, lunch, twoses, a mid-afternoon snack, tea, dinner, sweet, supper and a pre-bed snack are the classic halfling meals. But the thing tall folk don’t get is that we don’t eat the same amount in one of our meals as a human does trying to cram all their food in during breakfast, lunch and dinner! We spread our meals out, eating a little bit, a lot of the time. Sure we could eat it all in three meals, and human kings have tried to make us in the past, but we get awful bloated!
The other thing about the meals that makes them look bigger is we have them all together, as often as we can. Back in the home we all get together as a family and have table meals, usually first and second breakfast, tea, supper and sweet. When we’re working, we get together with our workmates and have a snack and a chat together. But humans who see us eating see all this food in the middle of the table and don’t realise it’s for eighteen halflings all together! They just see a heap of food and think it’s a feast because they don’t have families larger than six.
And the reason we do that is because halflings are all about community. We live together, we work together, we sleep together – you stop that sniggering at the back or I’ll come over there and thump you one! There’s an old joke that it takes a village to raise a halfling, and a halfling to raise a village, on account of how big our families are. Well, we love our families. We love making them, we love raising them. Ours are just a little bigger than yours.
The number two thing I hear tell folk tell is that halflings are lazy. Hah! Couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure we eat and chat a lot, but we work like the dickens in between. Just because we don’t hate our work and grumble like humans doesn’t mean we don’t do it. I said before we eat two thirds of what a human does, well some of the smart folk in this University sat down and worked it out and on average we do nine tenths the work a human does in a day, especially on a farm! Not a bad ratio. That’s one of the reasons for the halfling reputation for farming, why our lands produce so much food. We work hard, we work together and most importantly, we work smart.
See, the third thing tall folk think is that we’re stupid, and that’s even less true than being lazy. Most of us are farmers, and we’re good at it. Well, most humans are farmers and they’re bad at it! We’ve got plenty of philosophers and thinkers, and these days we’ve got inventors and scientists too! Who invented the horse plough? Halflings. Who invented the four-field system? Halflings. Who invented the windmill for drainage and milling, the wheel-less Appleblossom plough, even the printing press to spread news? Halflings! We got where we are today because we use our brains as well as our hands, and we’re damn good at both. You go up to the Caernese highlands and you can still see the ancient irrigation networks that supply water to the terraced hills, supporting the vinyards and cereal farms that bring so much of that otherwise arid country its wealth.
Of course, being that wealthy has always had its disadvantages. One being that folk, sometimes other halflings but most often tall folk, want to take it from you. Halfling history’s full of humans, elves, orcs and hobgoblins trying to drive us out for our land, or conquer us, or enslave us and make us work their fields for them. And all too often they’ve been successful. We’re short, and while we’re strong for our size we’re not as strong man for man as humans or even elves. That’s been a big disadvantage over the centuries. We don’t do well with big weapons and heavy shields, we don’t have the height or strength for longbows and we certainly can’t hold pike walls against charging cavalry. That’s the reason you don’t see many halfling kingdoms in history on the open plain. We don’t do well in a straight-up, honourable fight.
Of course, honour’s just what folk call fighting on their terms, and dishonour’s what they call it when they lose. In ancient history, a halfling’s best friend was her sling – we could put a lead bullet through a human or even orcish skull at three hundred paces. Then came the crossbow, where strength didn’t matter. You wound her up and let her go, and you could fire just as hard as any elven longbow! Nowadays we use the pistol, or for preference the halfling carbine – a shorter, slimmer version of the musket designed to keep the musket’s range, even if she doesn’t pack quite as hard a punch. I know some folk still prefer the crossbow even today, since it’s less likely to give away your position when you fire it.
The seax too has always been a favourite, and it’s the standard sidearm in the Caernese military. A short sword, really a long knife, suited for killing folk when you don’t want to make a fuss about it. Not making a fuss is the halfling watchword in war. If you study halfling military history, you’ll find the most successful campaigns were won by subterfuge. Poisoning water supplies, slitting the throats of baggage horses in the night – or soldiers – setting fire to camps and camp followers. Even in an open fight, we’ve always prized using the terrain to our advantage. We’re small, we’re agile. The best halfling ambushes are in the hills or woods, at range, against a company that didn’t even know we were there. As soon as it becomes an even fight, we melt away. We skirmish, we scout, we fight dirty because we’re smart. Honour is just a way of conning people into fighting the way you want them to.
That sense of keeping hidden is one of the reasons we build our homes into hillsides – if it’s hard for your enemy to know where you live, it’s hard for them to fight you there. It’s not just against foreign foes, though. Halflings might not anger easy, but when we do we keep grudges across generations. In the Caernese hinterlands, there’s clans that have been killing each other for hundreds of years, long enough nobody even remembers what got it started.
There’s a famous halfling general, Fabian Bertwood, who held off an army of 50,000 Thrinese soldiers during the 7th century, with less than a tenth of that number in halfling slingers and marksmen. He used the Caernese hills to his advantage and almost never engaged his opponent, the Duke Hans de Barc, directly. With the mountains between Hans’ armies and his homelands, he relied on limited supply lines to keep his troops fed and maintained without foraging off the land, so Fabian employed scorched earth tactics to deny him resources, burning halfling farmsteads and withdrawing the people, while making frequent attacks on both the supply lines themselves and Hans’ foraging parties. He split Hans’ army into smaller chunks, forced to spread themselves out over a wide area, only ever engaging when he could concentrate all or most of his army on a fraction of the Thrinese force – even though his force was massively inferior in a global sense, he engaged when he had numerical superiority and could use the terrain to ambush his opponents. By the time three years was up, Hans had lost more than half his army to attacks, desertion and starvation and had no choice but to turn around and give the whole thing up as a bad job.
So that’s halflings for you. We’re smart, hard working, we love food and family, we’re good at making both, we’re great friends and we are terrible enemies. Best you remember next time you start rolling out the short jokes.
As a bit of bonus-bonus content, we have also included the statblocks for the halfling carabineer and sharpshooter. Both soldiers use terrain and ambush to their advantage, relying on powerful sneak attacks to get the advantage in the first round. If you use these halflings in an encounter, they are almost never encountered alone and will most often attack if they can outnumber the party, either by just having more of them or by waiting until one or two party members separate before attacking. Given the choice, they will always attack (revealing themselves), then Hide as a bonus action to break line of sight, then use their movement (25ft) to get to a new position to evade retaliatory fireball strikes.