Friday, March 6, 2015

Hamster Halflings

Like my previous post about dwarves, this is an alternate interpretation of halflings designed to feel pretty unique while remaining compatible with most dungeon fantasy games.

Halflings stand 3-4 feet talk and most closely resemble hamsters, especially in their faces, hands, and feet. Fine white or orange-brown hairs cover the body. Their faces are whiskered and their beady black eyes face more to the sides of their heads than the front. Halflings feel equally comfortable walking on two legs or all fours, though in human-dominated settlements they tend to conform when moving around in public.

Halflings live in underground burrows. These have over the long course of history improved considerably in comfort, though there are rumors of wilder tribes of hunter-gatherer halflings that still live in crude holes. Though individual halflings often dig their own homes, these tend to change hands often, and they get thoroughly interconnected with crawl tunnels soon after occupation, largely because of halfling sleeping arrangements: Halflings always sleep in "cuddle piles", five to ten snuggled up together in one nest-like bed.

Halflings consider themselves monogamous, but that requires a considerable stretch of the definition. They cheat, break up, and find new mates constantly—often several times a week. (Halflings don’t usually get around to getting married before breaking up, but when they do, their weddings and divorces each take five minutes tops.) As such halflings use matrilineal surnames and inheritance. They don’t often inherit much anyway. When pregnant, halfling women swell up to enormous proportions before giving birth to litters of 4-10 blind, naked babies, who they lay on top of and nurse with their eight nipples until the babies reach two weeks and can crawl around and chew food on their own.

Though not particularly interested in power, halflings can still be greedy. They want food, drink, and smoke; and tend to spend money on it immediately, then stash it away. But since all halflings possess superior senses of smell, their caches do not usually remain hidden. Often one will return home to find all his closest friends polishing off the last of a prized bottle of wine or string of sausage.

Halflings possess a curious blend of loyalty and pettiness, constantly bickering, stealing, even fighting and killing friends and family over trivial matters, then forgiving and forgetting by suppertime. Their focus is always on the present moment, but halflings make friends for life. When traveling in halfling lands, it’s not uncommon to hear a conversation like the following:

"Oy, Feldo! Did you kill me mum?"
"I fink so. Is she the big fat one what with a boil on 'er neck?"
"Yeah, that’s 'er. She was me own mum, mate!"
"Naw, everyone knows she stole you from Big Bertha’s litter."
"Did not! Anyway she nursed me and sat on me and everyfing. By rights that makes her me mum!"
"She stole me pork jerky."
"Your famous pork jerky?"
"Oh. I liked her, you know."
"Yeah... me too. You want to cuddle or not?"

It is somewhat of a mystery why, given their short-sightedness, halflings make such excellent gardeners. Perhaps their long evolutionary history of digging by hand has given them a heightened awareness of soil structure and root systems. Perhaps their keen senses of smell and taste provide feedback unavailable to other races. Or perhaps their biggest motivation, a lust for quality food, trumps all.

Among the common folk races, halflings are the most omnivorous. They can eat anything a human can eat, and considerably more besides (such as grasses and raw grains). They favor simple dishes with fresh quality ingredients over elaborate, intricate recipes. They also indulge regularly in drink and smoke, though only just enough to get relaxed and comfortable.

Though halflings are highly resistant to disease, only a fraction make it to adulthood due to constant attacks by goblins and other humanoid monsters. Among goblinoids, the meat of halfling children is considered both a staple food and a delicacy, so they tend to move into any region a halfling settlement forms. Luckily halflings breed fast.

In the great mammalian tradition, halflings avoid combat, preferring to hide underground and wait for everything to blow over. But when they do fight (backed into a corner, say) they fight fast and fierce. They tend to favor close combat styles, often dual-wielding daggers, shortswords, or handaxes. Halflings have no honor whatsoever, stooping to whatever dirty tactics occur to them at the moment. A halfling never willingly enters a fair fight.

It is very common for halflings and humans to live in mixed communities, but the cultural differences cause problems. In many such settlements, halfling-on-halfling thievery or murder is not considered a crime (human watches having thrown up their hands in helpless defeat). Since halflings fear humans they are less likely to steal from or attack them, but nonetheless, human prisons are often full of miserable halflings scraping at the walls with their paws.

Halfling adventurers

Due to their love of comfort, halflings are reluctant to adventure, but they can be driven by visions of rare, delectable food; and eventually their unwavering (if not always obvious) loyalty to their new friends keeps them around. When traveling with non-halflings, the biggest adjustment is sleeping alone, unless they can somehow convince someone to cuddle. Halflings are at different times whiny or chipper. They tend to appear lazy and incompetent as adventurers until they or their friends are placed in mortal danger, at which time their powerful fear instincts take over and they become a flurry of fur, daggers, teeth, and claw.