Saturday, August 17, 2013

Hatin' on the Halflings

Hatin' on the Halflings
Dissin the Dwarfs
Effin the Elves

However you want to put it, I am getting more and more annoyed with demi-humans.  That's right, you heard me, Hobbits!

As the few of you who read this blog know, I am big into the Sword & Sorcery mode of RPG playing.  I love me some Barbarians of Lemuria both for the simplicity of the game itself and the S&S atmosphere it achieves.  Sword & Sorcery to me is human-centric.  Magic is unpredictable and powerful, drawn from sources 'man is not meant to know' and wielded by sorcerers corrupted by those powers.  Whatever nonhuman races there are are secluded, inbred and dying out if not extinct except for the specimen the hero is facing.  The world is fragmented and probably scavenging the bones of a fallen civilization.  You get the idea.  It can be pretty dark.

There have been several discussions about this subject scattered about the Internet.  (Here's one.  Here's another.)  One common response is to cite Elric as a counter-example.  He's an elf!  He uses powerful magic!  Which is true, but then again, he was specifically designed that way.  He was created as the antithesis Conan.

Which brings me back to demi-humans.  I guess it is me bringing my view of reality into fantasy.  It boils down to this:  Humans have never been capable of living in peace.  There are always disputes, fighting, wars and slaughter.  Sometimes over the smallest things.  If you add in things like scarce resources, cultural differences, appearance, religion and the plain desire for power you have a mound of bodies that stretch back into prehistory.  Now add in groups of humanoids that are utterly alien in appearance and outlook and you are asking for trouble.

I am sure there are novels and stories in which the various groups are at each other's throats.  You even see some of it in Tolkien with the antipathy that elves and dwarfs have for each other.  But often the relations are, at worst, uncomfortable.

So I prefer my fantasy to have demi-humans be rare or nonexistent.  Mysterious and probably antagonistic NPCs.

Down with the Demi-Humans!


  1. I'm going to second this one--controversial as it is. Too often I've seen playing a demi-human as a lazy "tag" for a character, vs. coming up with an actual concept. It's knee-jerk gaming. I've run sessions where the players just HAD to be a halfling thief, or an elven archer-mage, etc., but I've always considered it a concession. Same for those players who insist they have to be a magic-using type every time they make a character.

    As a side note, I was disappointed the new Thule kick-starter took the wimpy approach in addressing the issue. They go on for paragraphs about how demi-humans are not really S&S, and then they throw a bunch in there (along with prestige classes-sigh). Probably because they know some people just can't seem to play without them.

    I wouldn't have a problem with one PC playing a decadent, Melnibonean type in a game, though. That is something I consider S&S.

  2. I agree with you about a PC playing a Melnibonean or some such. But it would be the exception, not the rule.