Halflings have a variety of compelling roles in Eberron. At the same time, they are shrouded in mystery. Where did halflings come from? How do the subraces of Fifth Edition map to their roles in Eberron? Here’s my thoughts on the matter. As always, these are my personal thoughts, and may contradict canon sources; notably, my thoughts on subraces are certainly at odds with the Player’s Guide to Eberron.
WHAT’S A HALFLING?
In dealing with any nonhuman race, one of the first questions to ask is how are they different from humans? How is a halfling rogue fundamentally different from a human rogue? What does it mean to be a halfling?
At the end of the day, halflings are more like humans than most races. They don’t have darkvision. They don’t have inherent mystical abilities like the forest gnomes. They live slightly longer than humans—5E has them live to around 150 years—but that’s not such a dramatic difference that it’s going to shape a culture as it does for the elves. So on a basic, fundamental level, what does it mean to be a halfling and how might this affect you?
The first critical element is size. Halflings are small. For a Talenta halfling in the Plains, this doesn’t have much impact; you’re the primary humanoid race of your region and what civilization exists is designed to accommodate you. But a halfling in the Five Nations is a small creature in a medium world. Even Ghallanda designs its inns to accommodate medium creatures, though they at least have furniture and a few rooms designed specifically for small creatures. But as a rule, everything around you is annoyingly oversized. While humans are rationally used to dealing with halflings and gnomes, on a subconscious level many are still likely to treat you as children or to dismiss you as a physical threat. How do you react to all these things? Is it a constant source of irritation? Is it something you embrace and use, taking advantage of the human tendency to underestimate you?
Next up is speed. Due to their small size, halflings are literally slower than humans (25 ft walking speed). But they are quick, something reflected both by their high Dexterity and the Halfling Nimbleness ability that allows them to pass through the squares of larger creatures. Combine this with the Naturally Stealthy trait of the Lightfoot halfling—which as I note below, is my default halfling—and you have a creature with a natural ability to outmanuever and outwit their enemies. Halflings live in a world of clumsy giants. When it comes to battle, rather than matching strength to strength, halflings are naturally going to lean towards mobility and finesse. Looking to the Talenta Plains, this ties to the fact that they don’t forge heavy armor. Their warriors aren’t plate-armored fighters; they’re rogues, barbarians, and rangers. Skill and speed are important; even the barbarian is going to make use of their fast movement to outmaneuver their foes.
Beyond this you have bravery and luck. How is it that every halfling is lucky? Who can say. Maybe it’s Eberron’s blessing; maybe it’s an aspect of the Prophecy. But it’s there; halflings are luckier than other creatures, and it’s hardly surprising that luck would breed bravery. Despite their small size, halflings tend to be bold and more willing to take chances than creatures of other races. In contrast to the staid hobbits of Tolkein, I generally see halflings as being innately curious and inclined to take chances. But again, this ties to the quick wit mentioned above. Just because a halfling is brave doesn’t mean that they’re stupid. They aren’t oblivious to risk; it’s just that on a fundamental level, they are generally more willing to take risks than members of other species.
What sort of halflings do you find in the Talenta Plains? My answer is “all of them.” Unless a subrace is concretely distinct from the core race—like drow or duergar—I prefer to use subraces as a reflection of individual aptitude or unique qualities as opposed to linking biology and culture. I’d rather look at the story of a particular character and if it feels like that character should be Lightfoot, then make them Lightfoot regardless of where they are from. So looking at this, what does subrace mean?
- Lightfoot halflings combine a natural talent for stealth with remarkable charisma. To me, this is the default for Eberron’s halflings. Naturally Stealthy is a boon for a Talenta hunter or a Boromar enforcer, while Charisma serves Ghallanda barkeep and Boromar grifter alike.
- Stout halflings sacrifice charm and stealth for resilience. I’m happy to simply see this as a possible expression of being a halfling; hunters tend to be more stealthy, while other members of the community are more durable.
- I see Ghostwise halflings as rare anomalies, a trait that may be as much mystical as biological. The halflings believe that spirits shape the world. In the Plains, a Ghostwise halfling is seen as touched by the spirits, and is likely to become a druid or shaman. In the Five Nations, a Ghostwise halfling would be seen as a curiosity or even a freak.
So you’re making a halfling character. Where are you from? What’s your role in the story? What does being a halfling mean for you? Here’s a few ideas.
The Talenta Halfling
The halflings of the Talenta Plains hold to a way of life that has sustained them for thousands of years. Most are content to follow their ancient ways, but the world has been shrinking. Between the stories of the dragonmarked houses, the growth of Q’barra and Valenar, and the general impact of the war, an increasing number of halflings have been drawn into the outside world. Consider the following possibilities…
- You served as a mercenary scout in the Last War. You’ve stayed with your comrades in arms since then, hoping to find fortune and adventure.
- Some force—Emerald Claw? Aurum? Lords of Dust?—wiped out your tribe. You have ventured to the Distant Lands to learn more about your foe and to determine how you can take your revenge.
- The Treaty of Thronehold declared the Talenta Plains a sovereign nation, but this concept is still strange to the people of the Plains. Your tribe has sent you to the Distant Lands to learn more about them and to find allies that can help your tribe and the Plains overall if there is trouble in the days ahead.
- The spirits have marked you for a purpose. You have visions that guide you. You don’t yet know what they mean, but you know that you have a destiny you must fulfill, and you won’t turn your back on adventure.
- You’re simply curious. You’ve always wondered what lies beyond the Plains, and you’re on a journey of discovery. You’re thrilled with ANY adventure… and you find adventure in things that others see as quite mundane.
As a Talenta halfling in the Five Nations, you’re a stranger in a strange land. Cities, airships, lightning rails—these are wondrous things, and it’s amazing what the people of these places take for granted. You are also unaccustomed to the myriad laws and customs of these places; your culture is simpler and more open. Outlander and Hermit are both logical backgrounds, reflecting your relative isolation from civilization. Barbarians, rangers, and rogues are all possible paths for Talenta hunters and warriors. Bards exist, entertaining and carrying news between tribes; I see the flamboyant College of Blades as a good path for the Plains. Spiritual leaders tend to be druids or nature clerics; their faith is a blend of ancestor worship and respect for primal spirits, with a layer of the Sovereign Host (notably, Balinor is thought to have been a great Talenta hunter). If you have XGtE, the Circle of the Guardian is a good choice for the druids of the Plains. Otherwise, both the Circle of Land and Moon are perfectly appropriate, with the Land druid caring for the Plains themselves and the Moon druid bonding with its creatures (and reveling in dinosaur shapes!). If you have a dinosaur companion, bear in mind that you believe your spirit is connected to theirs; they aren’t simply a mount, they are the closest thing you have to family in these foreign lands.
The Dragonmarked Halfling
House Jorasco and House Ghallanda are major institutions in the Five Nations. Ghallanda has maintained stronger ties to the Plains than Jorasco, but for the house members who live in the Five Nations, the Plains are more a part of your peoples’ colorful past than something you particularly embrace yourself.
An immediate question to consider is your role in your house. Are you a workin’ stiff—in which case you might that the Guild Artisan or Entertainer background? Or are you a child of a matriarch, or otherwise connected to the heart of the house… making you for all intents and purposes a Noble? Here’s a few random ideas.
- You’re an heir to one of the wealthiest families in your house. You’ve never had to work for anything in your life, and your family even bought you magic powers from an archfey (you’re not sure exactly how they managed it, but that’s not your concern). Are you slumming with adventurers just to see how the little people live? Or has your family finally cut you off so you will learn to survive on your own? (Archfey Warlock with the Noble background)
- You’re a healer, with a remarkable connection to the Mark of Healing. You served as a mercenary medic during the Last War, but after all the suffering you saw you couldn’t bear to work only for gold. Now you’re trying to use your abilities to help the innocent—and since you started down the path, your powers have grown. (This character is technically a Life domain Cleric, but they are drawing their spells and powers through their dragonmark instead of through devotion to a deity.)
- You used to own a nice little inn in Cyre. It might have been lost in the Mourning or just destroyed in the war. Now you’re on the road with a few of the unusual characters who used to hang out in your bar. Perhaps you’re hoping to raise the funds and find the right place to start a new inn. Or perhaps you’re determined to unlock the mystery of the Mourning, or take vengeance on the Karrnathi commander who destroyed your place. (Rogue with the Guild Artisan background)
Incidentally, all of these are characters I’ve seen or used in my own adventures and campaigns.
The Boromar Clan
The Boromar Clan has dominated the criminal underworld of Sharn for centuries. For the most part, Boromar focuses on non-violent crime… theft, smuggling, gambling… but the halflings are willing to get their hands dirty when they have to. And recently, they’ve had to. Refugees from Cyre and the monstrous forces of Daask are shaking up the established order in Sharn, and your family is going to have to fight to hold onto its kingdom. Where do you stand in all of this?
The Boromar Clan is an easy story for any halfling with the Criminal or Charlatan background. The question is if you’re still connected with the Clan, or whether you’ve left that life behind. Either way, do you still have rivals or allies? A close connection with the Clan can be a benefit in Sharn, but a strong Boromar connection can be a curse as well; you may be called upon to do missions for your family, or you may be targeted by Daask or other enemies.
While it’s easy enough to have a single character with a Boromar connection—the equivalent of the classic thief with a tie to a guild—another option for a noir campaign is to have an entire party tied to the Boromar Clan. While halflings are the foundation of the organization, they hire people of any race and background. With that said, it could be interesting to have an all-halfling crew trying to hold a chunk of territory against Daask: a whisper bard as the mastermind, an assassin rogue and a barbarian (or ranger) as the muscle, maybe a dino-wildshaping druid as your eccentric mystical support. If Sharn doesn’t suit you, this same crew could be sent to Stormreach or even Q’barra to spearhead a new operation!
The Five Nations
Not every halfling is an innkeeper or a criminal. Halflings are spread across the Five Nations, and they can follow any path a human might. Your halfling could have studied magic at Arcanix or felt Boldrei’s call to become a cleric. As with most races in Eberron, ultimately culture is more important than species; you can embrace one of the ideas I’ve suggested above, but don’t be limited by them!
One question that’s come up in the past is where are halflings FROM? Humans come from Sarlona. Dwarves migrated from the Frostfell and had an empire below the surface. Elves started in Xen’drik. What’s the story of halflings?
The short form is that no one knows. The Talenta halflings have primarily relied on oral traditions. Their culture has existed for thousands of years, but there are no concrete records of exactly how it began or what came before. Currently canon leaves this a mystery, and I doubt that’s going to change; as such, if you want the ancient history of the halflings to be a part of your story, it’s something you’ll have to develop. A simple answer is that halflings share a common ancestor with gnomes; perhaps gnomes evolved on a divergent path due to long-term exposure to Thelanian manifest zones, or perhaps gnomes are the descendants of halflings who immigrated TO Thelanis, returning as something entirely new. Or perhaps halflings are simply children of Eberron, created by the Progenitor herself according to a divine plan. In any case, it seems likely that the Talenta halflings have held their land and their traditions for thousands of years. The Player’s Guide to Eberron suggests that chokers are halflings warped by the Daelkyr, which would place the halflings into the Age of Monsters; as noted in previous posts, the Dhakaani had little interest in enslaving other races and would have simply driven the halflings to the edges of the empire. So you can certainly ADD more details—explore epic conflicts with Dhakaani and Dragonborn—but in general, they’ve simply been following the same path throughout history.
Are there any strong arcane traditions amongst the Talentans?
It depends how you define “arcane.” The Talenta halflings don’t have a strong inclination towards scientific inquiry, which is reflected by the fact that their culture hasn’t really changed over the course of thousands of years. So I think wizards and artificers are entirely unknown there. Bards definitely have a role in the Plains, but I’d be somewhat inclined to paint their magic as calling on the spirits for favors, or as tricks they’ve learned from the spirits. This is the same path I’d take for an Archfey warlock, which would be the type of warlock that seems most likely in the Plains… though I could see a Celestial warlock who’s found a couatl patron in Krezent. Sorcerers are as possible in the Plains as they are anywhere, but we’ve never talked about powerful lines of sorcerers in Talenta, and I’d consider them to be rare and remarkable; as with the warlock, I could see a divine soul being touched by the power of Krezent.
Have Eberronian halflings ever had wars where they weren’t somehow squashed “because small”? Do you have any ideas for what sorts of tactics they would use?
I don’t think the halflings have every been “squashed.” Largely they’ve chosen to avoid combat; they’re nomadic, and they’re simply moved out of the way of conflict. Looking to the ECS, it notes:
With the coming of the humans and the rise of the Five Nations, the halflings found their territory shrinking as human settlements encroached on the wide-open plains.
It’s not that the halflings were defeated in battle; it’s that they simply moved out of the way of the settlers, eventually discovering that they were running out of space. Which leads to the next section…
At times, the halflings attempted to hold their position and drive the humans away, and a number of bloody battles punctuate the shared history of the two races. In the end, the two races found common ground and eventually discovered a way to peacefully coexist (the Last War not withstanding).
Again: the halflings weren’t defeated. There were bloody battles, and in the end they reached common ground (and notably, the halflings held onto the Talenta Plains). Now, during the Last War, it’s noted that both Karrnath and Cyre began claiming land in the Plains. The ECS says that “the halfling tribes were permitted to wander their ancestral lands as long as they paid tribute to the Galifar king” and for a time they did that. But during the Last War…
With the coming of war, the halfling tribes began to cooperate in unprecedented ways to protect the Plains that all the tribes revered. Warriors of different tribes banded together, repelling invaders from Karrnath and Cyre by using their knowledge of the ways of the Plains to confuse and confound the invaders.
Ultimately the issue of the the Plainsfolk isn’t their small stature; it’s their small NUMBERS and limited military resources. From a strategic perspective they’re guerrilla warriors who will use mobility and knowledge of the region to outmanuever their enemies. But when you set the Talentans against Karrnath, you are essentially talking about the Ewoks fighting the Empire; they don’t have the numbers, the resources, or the martial or arcane discipline that the Karrns have (not to mention undead). The fact that they HAVE won battles against Karrn forces is a testament to their innovation and their guerrilla tactics.
One thing I’d say here: Talenta forces lack the power and discipline of, say, Dhakaani or Valenar—both cultures that are ENTIRELY FOCUSED on martial excellence. However, I would say that the general harsh environment would likely produce a higher than average number of Talentans that have a level of a player character class than you normally see in Eberron. So most Talentan forces will be made of up 1st level rogues, rangers, or barbarians as opposed to warriors or commoners. And you’ll have heroes who are higher level and potentially druids, clerics, or paladins (such as Holy Uldra). So one-on-one, the halflings are probably tougher than the average Brelish soldier – but when it comes to a war, they still lack the numbers and the military/arcane machinery of the Five Nations.
Why have they never been seen as a threat to other nations? Is it their culture and lack of large scale unification, or generic fantasy underestimation by the big folk?
Lack of large scale unification, lack of population, and essentially, lack of any compelling reason to go on the offensive. By their nature, the halflings have always been the stream that flows around obstacles instead of a force that tries to conquer them. I see no problem with presenting legends of a Lathon who DID unite tribes and wreak havoc in a previous age, and these would be stories Holy Uldra would be invoking now as she rallies warriors to her banner; it’s just not something that’s happened any time recently.
Is there much conflict between urban halflings, Talenta halflings and Dragonmarked halflings? And for that matter, between criminal Boromar and other urban halflings? Criminal halflings and the nomads?
In the world itself, these things aren’t so easily divided. Sharn: City of Towers notes that the Boromar Clan still has ties to the Talenta Plains and has a squad of barbarians—the Clawfoots—they use for brute force operations. So you can be sure that there’s Boromars who take pride in their heritage and Plainsfolk proud to work with them, Boromars who think halflings from the Plains are bumpkins, and Talentans who think the Boromars are city slickers who wouldn’t survive a day in the Plains. Likewise there are specific Jorasco and Ghallanda heirs who work closely with the Boromar Clan, and others who despise criminals and anyone who works with them. As for urban halflings, as I’ve said, many will put their national identity before their racial identity. Dragonmarked halflings won’t fault anyone for this; it’s not like they’re inviting unmarked halflings to join their house. Boromar halflings essentially ARE urban halflings, they’ve just formed a common bond. And Talentans might see urban halflings as creeps for abandoning their traditions, or they might not care – it depends on the individual.
What does the Boromar clan of the Talenta plains think of their Sharn counterpart?
I don’t think the Boromars of the Plains have a very clear concept of what Sharn IS, let alone the precise role of the Boromar Clan there. We know that there is some ongoing connection, because of the presence of the Clawfoot enforcers. My guess is that once a year, Saiden Boromar sends a delegation to the Plains with gifts and supplies for the old family; if there’s talented people who want to join the Clawfoots, they travel back with that delegation.
In general I think they understand Sharn to be a tower of the big folk, and the Boromar Clan to be a group of clever hunters who use their wits to profit off the big folk. I’m sure there’s some who think that their city cousins have lost their way and who don’t want their gifts, and others who think it sounds like a grand adventure. This would likely mean that this tribe is one of the best-equipped tribes in the Plains, in terms of forged weapons, armor, potions, and gifts they might receive.
Is the above statement about “not all halflings being either innkeeps or criminals” a stereotype that has traction in Eberron?
Ghallanda and Jorasco are the PUBLIC face of halflings in the Five Nations; the Boromar Clan (and thus, the criminal stereotype) is specific to Sharn. So “Innkeeps and Healers” for sure, “Criminals” mainly in Breland. Unlike goblins, I don’t think halflings in the Five Nations are broadly forced into criminal paths.
Are some dinosaurs feathered in Khorvaire and if so do the Talenta incorporate these feathers into their dress/ceremonies?
We haven’t seen any in canon artwork, but it seems appropriate – especially given the couatl. And if they ARE feathered, I’d expect those feathers to be used in rituals, yes.
Would a halfling from the Talenta Plains be as capable (from a fluff perspective) of connecting with dinosaurs from Q’Barra, Xen’drik or Argonnessen if raised there?
The bond is a cultural thing, not genetic. If a Talenta halfling went to Q’barra, the same techniques they use to work with dinosaurs in the Plains should work on dinosaurs in Q’barra, and they could form a connection. But a halfling child raised by humans in Stormreach and then dropped in the middle of Xen’drik doesn’t have some sort of innate magical bond; it’s part of Talenta tradition.
My player is planning to open a brothel and I ruled that Ghallanda has control over that, but do they or is that more a Phiarlan/Thuranni entertainment field?
Per canon prostitution has been presented as “legal but shady”, and generally falls into the domain of the underworld, not something that is licensed and sanctioned by a Dragonmarked House. In Sharn, for example, prostitution is primarily the domain of the Tyrants. So I’d say it’s handled on a more local level as opposed to being part of a house guild.
Are there paladin traditions among the Talenta halflings, devoted to Balinor or other sovereigns?
Sure, I think you could find an Oath of the Ancients paladin tied to Balinor in the Plains. But bear in mind that the Talenta tradition maintains that Balinor was a great halfling hunter, so it’s essentially woven together WITH ancestor worship and general veneration of nature spirits.
These questions are about the mask weavers, the Talenta druids. What visages do the masks of the mask weavers tend to reflect? Are there any specific paths for the mask weavers, from the newer editions point? Could a mask weaver also serve as lath?
The masks are spirit masks. They aren’t made to represent a particular creature or totem; they are a vessel for the spirit of the wearer or their mount. As such, I think there is an extreme variety; it is about creating a mask that reflects the spirit of the wearer. Within a particular tribe you’d have a common general style, but the subject of the mask will vary and in many cases will be more abstract than concrete. A spiritual leader could certainly serve as lath; while she’s a cleric, I’ll point out that Uldra is a lath. As for paths, as suggested above, the Circle of the Guardian is a logical path, but Moon or Land can both work.
Can you expand more on the classes and subclasses you think fit Talenta Halflings, and other halflings, like aren’t there Ghallandan assassins? Do you see a place for Talentan Monks, Warlocks (5e needs a “Primal Spirits” style warlock patron), Cavalier Fighters, etc?
The Ghallandan assassins you’re thinking of are the Black Dogs, who specialize in the use of poison (and are covered in Dragonmarked). The short form is that there’s a way to do almost anything. Personally, I DON’T see an order of Talenta monks; like wizards and artificers, to me the monk implies a static development of a tradition that feels at odds with the nomadic lifestyle of the plains. But if I WANTED to play a Talenta monk, I’d 100% introduce the idea of an Open Hand tradition that is all about fighting like a dinosaur. “Take this Hammertail Kick, villain!” Looking to Warlocks, I already suggested options for Archfey and Celestial warlocks earlier. Again, this is a way to look at trappings. The Talenta believe that there are spirits in the world, and they may view the fey through that lens; I’ll point to Xu’sasar in Gates of Night, who is perfectly happy to see Vulkoor in Thelanis. The Archfey approach can also be seen as tying to the Talenta love of stories, which also blends with ancestor worship. A SCHOLAR may look at it and say “You’re dealing with some sort of archfey.” A Talenta Warlock may say “I’m talking with the Voice of the Winds, who guided Lathon Jhelan when he needed to fool the scale-king.”
As for others, I don’t really have time to run down every possible subclass. I generally prefer rogue, ranger, and barbarian as Talenta warriors, but if you want a fighter the cavalier definitely makes sense; likewise, you can certainly have a paladin (Ancients seems sound) with a celestial dino-mount. Ultimately, anything is possible; some paths just make more sense than others.
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