Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Everyone Hates Halflings

A Most Reviled People
A companion piece to "Demons of the North" and "Dwarves are Horrible" discussing the oddities and inhuman awfulness that I like to give to demihumans when I run Anomolous Subsurface Environment. Vanilla Halflings aren't perhaps as bad as Dwarves in their boring almost featureless description, which universally (except for Darksun's jungle dwelling cannibals) seems a pallid and half-hearted copy of the Shire's Hobbits.  In a lot of games lately halflings seem to be the first demihuman race to get replaced - with anthropomorphic animal people usually, or with goblins - this isn't a bad thing, but it shows a certain exhaustion or disdain within the tabletop hobby for halflings.  ASE keeps halflings fairly close to the vanilla D&D norm, but like dwarves and elves it adds the twist that halflings are the result of ancient goblin genetic muckery (goblins being the debased descendents of 'grey' aliens).  I expand on this idea and have recast ASE's Halflings as an oppressed but internal (they have no culture or homeland to return to) minority within Denethix.

“Are Halflings even a people?  More a plague, like poverty or the weeping cysts  - another blight of these cursed times, roiling across the land and lingering to choke the life out of anywhere it has taken root, much like the clouds of sick rock gas that used to boil from the Lanthanide Wastes” – Ray 4375 Beta, field researcher 3rd form – Temple of Science
A pair of Classic Jeff Dee Halfling
Halflings have it bad, and most, both halfling and others think they deserve it. 

Halflings are a demihuman race, standing from 2’ – 4’ tall with largely human features, they lack the glossy black pupil and irises of elves or dwarfs (and their broad spectrum vision) as well as grey skin or other overt signs of goblinoid heritage.  Yet halflings are the most reviled of the demihuman races.  Most humans in the Land of the Thousand Towers view halflings as a species of sentient vermin – a promiscuous, dishonest, thieving, violent multitude.  More than any other race of demihuman, even the brutish Moktar (who is at least respected for his strength) halflings are an oppressed minority.  

In Denethix, the halfling population, numerous and long a part of the cities fabric, is largely tolerated as long as they remain in subservient positions or within their own clearly delineated neighborhoods.  A halfling wandering outside the Street of Industrious efforts or the Street of the Alien will be viewed suspiciously and suspected of being either a prostitute or thief, and if unaccompanied by a human, is likely to draw the ire of any passing Unyielding Fist patrol or even a mob of outraged citizens.

While the disdain for halflings among Denethix’s human population is largely unwarranted as most halflings a peaceable toilers, especially in the municipal sewer service and similar unpopular jobs,  there are distinct elements of halflings’ demihuman nature that lend the stereotype of the lusty gluttonous thieving Halfling an air of truth.  These factors stem largely from halfling’s goblinoid heritage, for like dwarf and elves, halflings are a product of an ancient crossbreed of human and goblin.  While this goblin heritage is perhaps most obvious in elves, with their gray skin, black soulless eyes and sharp teeth, halflings, despite their relatively human appearance (like short large headed humans, with a tendency towards baldness and slightly elongated incisors) have a biology far closer to that of goblins then either of the other major demihuman races.  

Most importantly, halflings breed from spawn sacs much like goblins (though unlike goblins, halflings are not all functional self-fertilizing hermaphrodites) and halflings have little regard for their offspring.  It is possible that this general lack of parental impulse is cultural, but even then this  is understandable, as a halfling spawn are self-sufficent (if stupid, animalistic and vicious) within hours after birth, scurrying about on all fours and almost immediately hunting small animals and insects to devour.  In Denethix and other large human towns the attics, basements and alleys of halfling neighborhoods are often filled with spawn sacks and cruel little pods of cannibalistic halfling infants.  The same holds with most rural areas, except spawn sacs cluster in out of the way hollows or copses of trees that only the unwise to venture into and which can be lethal if one is not prepared to fight a pack of snarling children.  Halfing childhood is dangerous, and few survive the predations of their older siblings, wild animals or the harsh life of small fleshy creatures living in the open.  Yet this may be a good thing, as without this high infant mortality halflings would vastly outnumber the other races of man, and spread locust like, depleting land after land in their hungry hordes.

At about four years of age the feral halfling infant has developed enough intelligence to begin skulking around the fringes of civilized society, living as a scavenger and hunter of alley cats, but also picking up the rudiments of language and behavior.  By the age of ten most halfling infants have mimicked enough culture to become beggars and street thieves, running with a pack of their own kind until they are strong and smart enough to be noticed by older halflings and drafted into the adult halfling community as something other than vermin. The halflings’ feral childhood, a product of alien biology, explains much of the scandalous rumor about halflings and is the basis of many of their bizarre behaviors.

Every halfling, having raised him or herself as a cunning beast in the sewers, alleys or verges, is an atomized and selfish individual, without the bonds of family, and most halflings never understand the idea of friendship beyond mutual benefit or passing acquaintance.  This doesn’t mean they aren’t friendly folk, for the most part they are as they live in the moment and to excess when it is available, because childhood has taught them that life is short and brutal.  However, even amongst peace and plenty halflings never really let their guard down, scarred by their feral youth, and having learned fatalism early and unwilling to rely only on others.  Every halfling is at heart a street urchin, and underneath whatever veneer of respectability they have adopted every halfling is a snarling beast, prepared to rip out the throat of his rivals over a perceived slight or from simple hunger. Likewise without the bonds of family or many of the downsides of mammalian reproduction or child rearing, halflings are generally promiscuous, placing little value on intimacy or love, but happy to gratify their base desires whenever the chance arises.  

Halfling society’s lack of community institutions, after all the family is the first model for most such things, results in social mimicry.  Halflings generally learn about social norms during their teenage years, lurking at the fringes of society or running in small packs like wild dogs. These youth packs are adaptable as they are dangerous, and ape the mannerisms and practices they observe in an effort to ingratiate themselves with society and so gain access to the rewards of safety and plenty that it offers.  This practice means that halflings universally lack a unique culture.  Those of Denethix act like the great city’s human population, though they tend to do so without reference to human morality, modeling the merciless, predatory behaviors of Denethix’s wealthy class far more often than they do the stolid propriety of its yeomanry (or perhaps there is no stolid goodness among the working class of Denethix and this is just a stereotype that helps repress the popular voice and will – a farce that halflings, as abused outsiders, see through). Among the gauchos of the Certopsian halflings become nomads, camp followers or ranch hands (though their small size prevents them from being real dinosaur wranglers) and especially large number of halflings are currently found among the workers and camps of the Denethix  Track and Engine company, slowly expanding its web of rail connections over the savannah.

Halflings in smaller human settlements, where many halflings cluster, they are archetypes of the rural bumpkin, but underneath their poorly acted yokel demeanor is always the cruelty and violence of a trapped wild animals. Only in dwarf communities do halflings truly thrive and become something unique, as without the bonds of family that make every dwarf a debt slave, halflings are free agents of chaos and commerce and many become successful entrepreneurs or middlemen standing between the dwarfish mass and the creditor elite. If left alone in the wilderness adult halflings do eventually form small communities of hunter gatherers,  though these groups are universally savage and often the only difference between goblins and wild halflings is that halflings enjoy more exotic tortures and will cook their captives before devouring them.

Both because of their depredation in the wilds and their seemingly slavish, but imperfect, adoption of local ways halflings are discriminated against rather heavily in human lands. However, the greatest source of this oppression is the (not entirely incorrect) suspicion that all halflings are thieves.  Both halfling youth gangs (and the adult gangs that sometimes replace them) as well as the mercenary morality and base individualistic selfishness of your average halfling often lead to theft, robbery and violence, while the carefully honed skills of halfling childhood make most halflings rather adept at sneaking and pilfering.   Yet despite these tendencies it is worth remembering that halflings are adaptable mimics , and if those in Denethix seem an army of crime, this is perhaps more a reflection on the lessons they were taught as they scurried about it’s street taking in impressions of society at large and trying to carve a space within it for themselves.  With this adaptability in mind, organizations such as Dr. Bondill's Home for the Scholastic Rehabilitation of the Lesser Peoples and Madam Tunmuffin’s Academy for Wayward Spawn, both located on the Street of Industrious Efforts, will take in halfling spawn of under three years of age, to educate and raise in a productive and safe environment and to this end occasionally hire adventurers and street toughs to collect net bags full of the dangerous infants from the city’s alleys and rookeries.  The graduates of these institutions are also available for employment (a transfer of their indenture usually) as menials, entertainers and servants.

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