June 25, 2014

Iconic Characters: Gnomes And Halflings

Now let’s talk about the wee-ones. Made popular by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, the small races — like most fantasy races — trace their roots back to old myth. The two most commonly found in fantasy role-playing games today are the gnome and the halfling. Now, while both of these iconic races deserve to be talked about individually, for the purposes of this discussion I have lumped them together as many players who enjoy playing as these races do so for similar reasons.

First, some detail on each of them. Gnomes are a small, fey-like race often attributed to the earth and burrowing animals. They look much like humans only with a slight mix of elven and dwarven features. They often look very young, though some still produce beards, often are shown to have very pointy ears, and are very clearly something different from humans. Halflings, on the other hand, while occasionally having beards and the Hobbit-famous furry feet, can look very much like human children. They are very human-like in their nature and appearance and are known for their curiosity and bravery. Being so small (averaging around three feet tall) they need to be brave in order to live in such a big world.

So why are these two races so popular? Many reasons, but I would say the biggest of them is because people like to cheer on the little guys, and these two races are by definition little. They are often underestimated, overlooked, or even seen as weak/useless, which is something that many people can relate to. In playing members of these races, it gives players a chance to prove that little people are capable of doing big, incredible things.

Another reason people like to play them is because, quite simply, they are fun. Not to say any other race is not fun, but these too races are known for their jovial natures, their free spirits, and their eagerness to simply be happy. Gnomes are often portrayed as very child-like in their natures even though they hardly look the part while halflings are shown as being just good-natured almost by default. Again, individuals will of course differ, but when looking at the race as a whole these are the characteristics that always seem to stand out. To some players, this amount of levity is unwelcome in the more serious campaigns, but I tend to find that – when played well – it never stops adding to the story as a greater whole.

Finally, I know a good number of players who enjoy playing as the smaller races simply for the fact that, on the outside, they look weaker than all the other races. This goes back to being underestimated, but for different reasons. Other races look powerful. A human mage with arcane energy swirling about him, an elf clad in silvery chainmail brandishing her bow or sword, and a dwarf adorned in heavy armor with a massive ax in hand, these are all powerful looking figures. Halflings and gnomes rarely look so mighty. It’s being able to play against the norm, against the empowering archetypes, that draw some players to the small races. It’s being mighty without necessarily having to look the part, the unseen strength that these smaller people can possess that draws players to them time and time again.

I adore the smaller races; though admittedly have not played as one in some time. No matter what reason you have for being drawn to them, I have always found them a joy to play as and simply to have in your adventuring party.

As always, I want to thank you all for reading and wish you all good gaming.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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