Walk & Riddle - The Secret Life of Halflings
by James Jacobs; (Dragon #285)
Although halflings are perhaps one of the most sociable races, here are many aspects of halfling society that are overlooked or misunderstood by others. Most halflings live in semi-nomadic groups known as commonwealths, and they strive for lives of comfort and happiness. Of course, there are always exceptions ...
Birth & Childhood
Family is the most important value in halfling society, so the birth of a child is cause for great celebration. A pregnant halfling is coddled and showered with gifts during her term, which lasts for about eight months. During childbirth, the mother-to-be is sequestered in her home and attended by a halfling midwife (usually a cleric of Yondalla). It is considered unlucky for men to stay in the house during a childbirth; husbands, fathers, and sons stay with other family members until the child is born.
Responsibility for raising the child does not fall on the parents' shoulders alone. All members of the commonwealth are expected to share these responsibilities. Thus, the infant quickly grows to recognize and trust the entire community, while at the same time the parents are still able to carry on their other responsibilities with little interruption.
Halfling infants are not named until they learn to speak. Until this time, the parents refer to their child only by such loving nicknames as "Scout," "Sprig," or "Dandelion." When the child does learn to talk, the commonwealth's religious leader is immediately called to the house. The cleric performs three rituals on this day. First is the Ritual of Speech, in which the priest anoints the child's tongue with holy water. The cleric then stands vigil over the child until it falls asleep, at which time she performs the Ritual of Silence, during which the cleric burns special incense and prays wordlessly over the slumbering child for approximately an hour. When the child eventually awakens, the parents are summoned so that the cleric can perform the Ritual of Self, in which the cleric records the name of the parents in the Book of Names. Under this, the cleric records the given name of the child, as provided by the parents. Each commonwealth keeps a separate Book of Names; their religious members keep this book safe and secure. It is widely believed that the loss or destruction of a Book of Names indicates that the community has only a few years left before it dissolves or is destroyed through some disaster.
Adolescence, Apprenticeship & Worldwalk
As halfling children grow, they are allowed to indulge their imaginations and curiosities about the commonwealth; the adults in town keep an eye on them and remain ready to intervene if they begin toying with something dangerous. Often, an older brother, cousin, or unmarried sibling of the parent serves as a guardian during this time. A young halfling's choice of play, friends, explorations, and personality all factor into the field of work to which he is assigned during the Masters' Fair.
Not all of a young halfling's life is play, however. When halfling children reach the age of five, they are expected to help with minor chores around the village, such as food preparation, farming, building maintenance, tending livestock, and so on. The child's parents attempt to present such chores in an entertaining venue so the child doesn't grow bored with the work. Often, these chores serve to educate the child as well, further preparing the young halfling for the results of the Great Choice.
Most halflings opt to remain within their home commonwealth and take up a career path. Every summer, halfling communities hold a Masters' Fair (see Festivals). When a halfling decides to take up such a profession, he is allowed to spend the time between his Great Choice and the next Masters' Fair as he sees fit; if time permits, it is not unusual for halflings to go on short tours of the world beyond the commonwealth. Those halflings born in the summer months often feel somewhat cheated that this "vacation" is shortened, but there is really nothing that can be done. For this reason, halfling parents often attempt to plan pregnancies so that childbirth occurs in the late summer or early fall, to afford their child the maximum amount of time between their Great Choice and the Masters' Fair.
Once a halfling is accepted by a Master during the Masters' Fair, most of his free time is consumed as he is taught the skills of his chosen trade. This period of education usually lasts five years. Most masters go to great lengths to make their lessons entertaining as well as educational; after all, what bores the student likely bores the teacher. Upon achieving a journeyman's skill level in the career path (as judged by the master), the halfling is given a choice: He can stay on with his master as an assistant, or he can establish his own place of business.
Some halflings make the Great Choice to go on a worldwalk; these folk lead radically different lives from those who stay and take up a more sedentary profession. A halfling who announces a worldwalk is expected to pack up his belongings and leave the community within a week of his Great Choice. This is often a somber time, as friends and family say their goodbyes and help with the preparations. Worldwalks last for variable periods, but they usually comprise a decade or so. During a worldwalk, a halfling simply wanders where he wills. As he wanders, he picks up skills, tales, and knowledge. When he feels that he has spent enough time seeing the world, the halfling is expected to return to his commonwealth and teach what he has learned. Most halfling adventurers begin their careers as a result of a worldwalk. The return of a worldwalker is celebrated with the Homecoming festival.
Gift-giving is an important skill in halfling society. Often, the type of gift one bestows on another during a birthday or other event can dramatically influence relations between families. The value of a gift is not nearly as important as its practicality. A farmer given a heavy golden plow encrusted with gems should feel slighted, for example, if it was just as easy for the one bestowing the gift to give a good steel plow. Gifts should not only be functional and practical, they should reflect the relationship between giver and recipient. It wouldn't be proper for a halfling woman to give a beautiful doublet to a halfling man she was not romantically involved with, but it would be perfectly acceptable to give the same halfling a nice sturdy belt or pair of boots.
One special category of gift is the homecoming gift. When a halfling is worldwalking, she is expected to pick up a small trinket for each of her friends and family members back home. These gifts should be easily transportable, since the halfling must carry them with her until she returns home. At the same time, they should reflect some part of the halfling's travels and her relationship with the intended recipient. Functionality, in this instance, isn't as important as something that is exotic and unusual.
As a final note, the act of re-giving gifts is a sure way to earn the ire and disrespect of the recipient, especially if the gift given was one the recipient previously gave to the giver. Halflings who re-give gifts soon find that they start receiving gifts that are embarrassing, offensive, or even dangerous. In fact, it is better for such "gift recyclers" to not give a gift at all.
Halflings love to organize and participate in festivals. These events are usually day-long affairs and often draw visitors from throughout the commonwealth. It isn't unusual to see members of other races participating in halfling festivities. Some festivals are thrown for no reason other than to have a festival, but there are several that are more important to halfling society.
Birthfest: A Birthfest consists of a day-long celebration of the birth of a newborn halfling. When a child is born, the midwife presents the child to the village on the following morning. The mother and father are sequestered in their homes for a day while the rest of the commonwealth celebrates with feasting and dancing. Although they officially last for only the day of the birth, it isn't uncommon for a Birthfest to carry over into a second or even a third day.
Birthday: These events are always grandiose affairs that last for an entire day. The lucky halfling is allowed to spend the morning relaxing in his home as he sees fit. At noon, the halfling's friends and family arrive to escort the celebrant to the village square for a grand feast. The birthday halfling is expected to give a short speech during the feast. Practical jokes, riddles, and surprises are often incorporated into such speeches. After this, the halfling enjoys a shower of gifts from his friends and family, followed by more feasting, dancing, music, and even stage productions. Often, dramatic or important events of the birthday halfling's life are the subjects of these productions.
Great Choice: A halfling's 20th birthday is known as the Great Choice; it symbolizes the beginning of the halfling's transition from child to adult. These birthdays shame all others in regards to production and festivities. During the halfling's birthday speech, he is expected to announce his plans for the future: whether he intends to remain in the village and take up a career path, or whether he intends to embark on a worldwalk.
Masters' Fair: Once each summer, all of the local halfling families get together for the Masters' Fair. These events take place in an open area in the approximate center of a halfling commonwealth; the exact date of the fair is decided by the fair's organizers. A Masters' Fair usually lasts for three days. On the first day, any halflings who have decided to take up a career path since the last Fair visit the many Master Booths that encircle the central feasting grounds. These booths are run by various craftsmen, hunters, farmers, scholars, and military professionals. This day allows young halflings to see and experience what various jobs and crafts entail; those who have made their Great Choice to become craftsmen approach the Masters they would like to work for and present their skills. The day ends in a feast, of course. During the second day of the fair, the Masters retire to the Masters' Paddock, an enclosed area where the various craftsmen decide on which halflings to take on as apprentices or students. The other visitors to the fair spend the day playing games (Most of which involve the throwing of stones), feasting, and relaxing. On the third day, the participants of the fair are invited into the Paddock and the Masters announce who they have decided to accept as apprentices and students. While rare, it occasionally happens that a particularly unlucky halfling is not accepted by any of the Masters he petitioned. In these cases, the halfling is generally expected to follow his mother or father's trade. More often, these rejected halflings leave their commonwealth to become knaves (see Commonwealths and Outsiders).
Homecoming: When a halfling returns to his family from a worldwalk, the family throws a great feast and festival called Homecoming. The returning halfling regales his kin with tales of his experiences during his worldwalk and passes out gifts to his friends and family. After a homecoming, a halfling is allowed a few weeks to settle back into a sedentary life before he is expected to take up a profession related to what he has learned.
Weddings: Halfling weddings invariably occur early in the morning and are held outside whenever possible. Unlike most other halfling festivals, weddings are small and quiet affairs. Generally, only immediate family members and close friends of the bride and groom are invited. The wedding ceremony itself is performed by a cleric chosen by the bride's family, and It takes place in a location chosen by the family of the groom. These short ceremonies involve a brief blessing of the union by the cleric, an exchange of marital vows and wedding rings, and a shared drink of wine from a blessed chalice. After this, the bride and groom are pronounced husband and wife. The couple then retire to a private place of their choosing to consummate the marriage while the Joining Festival is prepared.
Joining Festival: While halfling weddings are small and quiet, the Joining Festival that occurs the evening of the wedding day is anything but. Like birthdays, Joining Festivals attract visitors from miles around, and they often last late into the night. Celebrants typically arrive much earlier than the bride and groom; in some cases the celebration begins before the wedding ceremony. For this reason, Joining Festivals are always held somewhere other than the location of the actual wedding ceremony. The bride and groom traditionally appear at sunset amid fanfares of music and fireworks; the wedding feast begins not long thereafter. This feast is a grand potluck; all of the dishes are prepared and brought by the guests. These "food-gifts" often become quite competitive, and the creator of the dish chosen to be the tastiest by the bride and groom is often rewarded with gifts from the couple's families. During the feast, the bride and groom take part in a "wine-bond," in which they actually make a bottle of wine that is sealed and set away to be imbibed on their 25th anniversary. Joining Festivals officially last until midnight, at which time the bride and groom retire to their home. The other celebrants often stay on until morning.
Final Birthday: On what would have been a deceased halfling's first birthday after his death, the family and friends hold a final birthday celebration. This celebration is filled with feasting and tales of the life of the deceased, and it is generally a pleasant, if bittersweet, occasion. The deceased's possessions are given away to family members and friends during this celebration. In cases where the deceased did not prepare a will, the spouse, siblings, and parents do their best to decide who should get what; often, the intervention of the Council is required (see Justice and Politics). It is considered a grave insult to Yondalla and the spirit of the deceased to attempt to resurrect a halfling who has had his Final Birthday.
Halfling Sex Roles
Halfling societies don't separate male and female roles to the extent found in most other cultures. Both sexes are found performing similar tasks and working in similar professions in most halfling commonwealths. Nevertheless, there are certain professions that are almost always favored by a specific sex. Legal professions, such as barristers and judges, are almost always held by male halflings. On the other hand, most professions that interact with the outside world, such as translators, merchants, and messengers, are favored by female halflings.
In family life, parents of both sexes act as care-givers for children. The parents usually split the responsibilities as to who cares for the child and who provides lessons and education in early stages; which parent assumes which role depends on their specialties or professions.
Upon returning from a worldwalk or achieving journeyman skill in a chosen career path, a halfling is expected to become a supportive member of the commonwealth. Her skills should complement those of others, and her aid should be lent freely as appropriate. Not all of the jobs a halfling is expected to perform for the family fall under her specialty. For example, a carpenter might be asked to help clean up after a festival, or a baker might be called upon to aid in plowing a new field. Work is more or less shared equally by all members of the community.
There are six career paths common in most halfling commonwealths. Of these six, the military career path is generally thought of as the least enjoyable. Although halflings love excitement, meaningless danger and violence with no more opportunity for wealth or happiness than can be gained otherwise are unpleasant. In some commonwealths, the military path is absent altogether; such communities often rely on the goodwill of their neighbors for defense. The six career paths are:
Military (soldier, scout, tactician)
Craft (carpenter, baker, smith)
Entertainment (minstrel, dancer, actor)
Service (merchant, barrister, messenger)
Agriculture (brewer, shepherd, farmer)
Academic (sage, scribe, engineer)
Each of these career paths affords ample opportunities for advancement and success. Services rendered to other halflings are almost never paid for in coin. Before any action is taken, the halflings involved agree on how the provider is to be compensated; usually, a good meal is all that is necessary. Sometimes, a halfling offers her own skills or goods as payment; for example, a farmer might reward a carpenter with a winter's supply of grain in return for the construction of a sturdy fence.
Many halflings do not keep money in their homes or on their person. After all, it's only necessary when one travels outside of the commonwealth, and for many halflings this simply never occurs. For those halflings who find it necessary to travel beyond the commonwealth, there is the Commonwealth Treasury, a pool of funds kept safe by the Council that is made freely available to travelers. Those who borrow money from the Treasury are expected to take only what they need. The Treasury itself is kept filled by the sales of goods and services to communities outside the commonwealth.
There are no real social classes in halfling society aside from age. As halflings grow older, they often change their professions to account for their increase in knowledge and decrease in vigor. Venerable halflings generally retire from their profession altogether. It should be noted that halflings rarely become weaponsmiths, armorers, bowyers, or similar craftsmen. They generally live in peaceful regions where such skills are not in demand; when they are needed they secure these skills from neighboring towns or cities. While it isn't unknown to encounter a halfling of a profession normally associated with a younger age, it is indeed rare to encounter a halfling working in a profession normally associated with an older age. Here are common professions or societal roles for halflings of differing ages.
Old aged: alchemist, barrister, judge, sage, storyteller.
Middle aged: apothecary, architect, bookbinder, brewer, engineer, tactician, translator.
Adult: actor, artist, baker, carpenter, cartwright, dancer, farmer, merchant, messenger, minstrel, poet, scout, shepherd, smith, soldier, swineherd, tanner, teamster, weaver, wheelwright.
Courtship & Marriage
In halfling society, courtship is often a subject of endless gossip. There is no formalized procedure regarding courtship for halflings. Love happens where it will. Arranged marriages puzzle halflings to no end, and they are the subject of endless jokes and comedic bawdy songs. Idle courtships are fairly common between young halflings before they make their Great Choice. These courtships are usually kept secret and can become quite passionate. Festivals (particularly birthdays) are notorious for spawning such courtships. Nevertheless, they generally last no more than a month and usually end when one or both of the lovers becomes bored with the other, or when gossip about how serious the relationship is growing reaches the lovers. For most young halflings, nothing is more terrifying than marriage. Adults find this behavior entertaining, and they often tease younger halflings in love.
Once a halfling becomes an adult, this attitude begins to change. Courtships no longer have the secretive qualities they had in youth. The lovers are much more open about their affection for each other and spend as much time as they can together; most of these courtships end in marriage within a year.
The parents of the bride and groom are responsible for organizing the wedding, and this often turns into a friendly competition as each tries to outdo the other. A halfling wedding consists of two separate events; the wedding itself and the Joining Festival that follows. Both of these events are described under Festivals. As part of the marriage ceremony, the younger halfling assumes the family name of the elder, and the two are welcomed as new sons and daughters by both families involved. The couple has complete control over which family they decide to settle down with; typically it is with the family of the elder of the couple.
Halflings have an uncanny knack for finding mates who are loyal, dedicated, and true. Adultery is quite uncommon in halfling society, and when such affairs are exposed, they are quickly forgiven and forgotten. If a second affair comes to light (this is very rare), the jilted halfling has the option to forgive again or to press for divorce. Divorces are quite scandalous in halfling society, and they are dealt with as quickly and quietly as possible. A neutral barrister or judge attempts to settle the matter, and the guilty party is usually urged to leave the commonwealth. The victim of the infidelity is allowed to remain in the commonwealth, but often the other halflings harbor unfriendly views against someone who could drive his spouse to such extremes as to cause a divorce. The two families of the divorced couple grow apart, and hostilities might flare as each blames the other for causing it. There really is no winner in a halfling divorce.
The death of a spouse is a far more common event than a divorce, though no less tragic. In any case, a halfling who has lost a spouse to death or divorce becomes a widow. Widows are expected to remain unattached romantically for at least six months so as to avoid possible charges from the other family of infidelity to the lost spouse's memory. Once this period of mourning has passed, the halfling is free to court and marry again. In practice, however, few halflings who lose a spouse ever find love again; most of them spend the rest of their lives alone and bitter. A halfling's passion is difficult to slay, and once gone is even more difficult to rekindle.
Unlike most other races, halflings do not possess ancestral homelands. They are a race of wanderers and nomads. Halflings live together in family units. In this case, a family can be quite large, often consisting of up to a dozen different units related by blood or marriage that have banded together for safety. The immediate family (parents and siblings) is referred to as a "birth family," and it usually consists of two parents and around four children. A standard family of halflings can number in excess of a hundred individuals. In halfling society, the family unit is the most important factor; no member of a family is more important than another.
Age brings respect in halfling families. The eldest members of a family are often turned to for advice in times of need, and their decisions are acted upon without question. This dedication to their elders is expected of all members of a family. Disobeying an elder is strictly forbidden, except in cases where the elder is obviously not in his right mind. The punishment for disobeying an elder varies both according to the difference in age between the two and the age of the disobedient halfling. Young children are taught from an early age to respect and obey their older siblings, just as their older siblings are taught to obey the older members of the family. All halflings are keenly aware of their age rank in a family, and this leads to bitter rivalry between halflings of similar ages.
Just as halflings are expected to share their skills and knowledge freely with other members of their family, so too is material wealth shared without question. If a farmer breaks a hoe he can simply wander over to a neighbor and take his hoe to finish his work, assuming the neighbor wasn't using the hoe to begin with. Likewise, should a halfling need money to go to a human town for supplies he could not procure from his neighbors, he is free to take this money from either his family or his neighbors as he can. Unfortunately, it is difficult for many halflings to wrap their minds around the concept that other races do not share with such frequency. Common is the startled halfling who doesn't understand why he was thrown in jail simply for taking the pretty bracelet he saw in the merchant's window. This concept of sharing is the primary reason for the commonly held misconception among non-halflings that all halflings are thieves.
Halfling caravans are often forced to set up temporary campsites on the road when there is no village or nearby civilized accommodations. In such cases, halflings organize their wagons into a tight circle in some easily defended area, such as in a narrow valley or atop a hill. If the caravan carries wagon shields, these reinforced oak blocks can be quickly set up to form a low (5 feet high) wall that can provide additional defense. Halflings train from young ages on how best to set up a caravan encampment each member of a traveling group is responsible for one specific task, and when the command to encamp is given they fall to their duties with delight. Races and competitions on who can finish their tasks first are popular and serve to tighten the efficiency of the process. A typical halfling caravan can set up a fully defended encampment in less than 5 minutes. Tales are often told of one group of halflings who had so perfected the art that they could set up in less than 30 seconds, but no halfling can truthfully attest to seeing such a feat accomplished.
Weather permitting, the travelers sleep under the stars inside the wagon circle. If rain precludes this, the interior of the circle is sometimes covered with several large strips of waxed canvas that are affixed to the wagons on the edges and propped up with poles in the middle, giving the encampment the look of a huge tent. Guards are always posted in wilderness or dangerous areas. Typically, three watches of three halflings apiece are posted; guard duty is swapped out each night so that everyone eventually pitches in.
Halfling families are semi-nomadic. They settle down in a particular region that strikes their fancy only to uproot and move along. All birth families are expected to maintain wagons and pack animals to move at the drop of a hat. Strangely, this lifestyle does not mean halflings live in wagons or tents or temporary structures. Rather, halfling families tend to form what are known as "commonwealths."
A commonwealth can consist of up to a score of separate families, although usually they number about ten. The families of a commonwealth lay claim to many dozens of square miles in area; this region usually encompasses the lands of other allies such as humans or gnomes. Scattered throughout a commonwealth are different halfling villages composed of permanent structures and comfortable warrens carved into hillsides. Often, these villages are incorporated into existing settlements founded by other races for convenience. It's easier to conduct trade with outsiders when you're neighbors.
When a family moves, it is normally along an established track between two of these villages. Generally, a commonwealth contains twice as many villages as families. While this means that several villages remain uninhabited, it insures that there is always a place for a family to go. Upon settling into a new village, a halfling family spends several days or even weeks repairing structures and getting things in order. It isn't uncommon to find that humanoids (usually kobolds or goblins), bandits, or monsters have moved into these empty village sites; in these cases, the soldiers and military-minded family members decide whether it's better to force the squatters out or simply choose a different site to claim. Sometimes a family decides to settle in an area that has no pre-established village; in this case, they work together to build homes and buildings for all of their members as quickly as possible.
In times of need, the various halfling families band together to lend support to each other. This occurs most often in times of war but also during natural disasters and other destructive events.
A commonwealth that decides it is no longer welcome in an area might decide to band together and set out as one unit to find a new place to live. These mass exoduses of halflings are rare, but when they occur they happen with astonishing speed. Over the course of a single night, it is possible for every halfling in a 100-square-mile area to pack up and leave for greener pastures.
As an interesting aside, it isn't unknown for a halfling family to contain non-halfling members. Orphans, foundlings, and other wayward children of all races are often adopted into halfling families if they seem friendly or in need of help. Such individuals usually grow up with attitudes quite similar to their halfling kin, despite the fact that they are obviously human, elf, lizard-folk, and so on. Halflings have even been known to befriend animals and intelligent beasts such as pseudodragons, blink dogs, shocker lizards, and the like; such adopted creatures are treated as equals in the family.
Another interesting fact about halfling society is that they easily adapt to the social structures of other races. A halfling family that settles near or in a village or city inhabited by members of another race develops traditions and values similar to that race over a period of several months (assuming they do not leave). They maintain their love of festivals and optimistic attitudes, but other qualities rapidly take on the tone of their neighbors. Most halflings live in human lands so they get along well with humans and are usually considered friends and allies. A halfling family that settles near elves becomes more enthralled with nature and magic. A halfling family that settles near a dwarven clan becomes militaristic and possibly somber. Stories are told of halflings who settle near orcs or other goblinoids and become savage or downright evil.
Finally, it should be noted that not all halflings live in families. A large number of halflings, for whatever reason, have utterly abandoned this lifestyle. Known to other halflings as "knaves," these individuals are subjects of sadness, despair, scorn, or even hatred from family halflings. Knaves usually left their home for a worldwalk and decided that life among humans, elves, dwarves, or whatever suited them better than life with their own kind. More rarely, they are halflings who have been exiled due to divorce or some heinous crime. Rarest of all are the halflings who left their villages because they simply despised their kin. These halflings often become criminals, assassins, or worse, and they often work to bring pain and suffering to their happier kin for reasons only they understand.
Superstitions & Beliefs
Halflings worship a sizable pantheon of deities, but the most popular religion is the worship of Yondalla the Protector, the creator of the halfling race. Every commonwealth contains at least three clerics of Yondalla. Often, these clerics are also elders in positions of leadership. Religious ceremony infuses much of a halfling's life: Quick prayers to Yondalla before eating, before going to bed, and before undertaking risky tasks are common. This religious aspect to halfling life is never intrusive, though. Most halfling villages in a commonwealth include a small shrine dedicated to Yondalla and the halfling gods. In some cases, a particularly important shrine is tended by a permanent staff of clerics. Halfling clerics are expected to tend and care for shrines and churches, but they are not expected to live solitary lives of chastity and loneliness. A halfling cleric lives her life just as other halflings do, in the company of friends and family. Druids are also relatively common in halfling society. Halfling druids tend to be hermits, though, and live alone in the wilder areas of a halfling commonwealth. Often, a halfling druid is sought by locals to help with a problem with predatory animals or similar situations. If it can be avoided, the halflings prefer to leave their druids alone, as they can be temperamental and unpredictable.
In addition, halflings often take on the worship of neighboring religions common in the lands of neighboring races. This seems to be an extension of their social adaptability. Worship of Yondalla is usually not displaced except in cases where these other gods have values and beliefs in opposition to that of the Protector. It isn't unusual to see halfling clerics of gods like Ehlonna, GarlGlittergold, Fharlanghn, or Obad-Hai serving in churches alongside clerics of Yondalla. A standard halfling attends religious services once a week. Beside Yondalla, they don't usually worship one deity in preference to another, but rather they worship the deities who have clerics in their family or commonwealth.
Halflings are naturally optimistic; they believe that, no matter how grim or horrible a situation might be, things work out for the best if one just keeps a good attitude. This attitude plays a large part in allowing halflings to resist fear, both natural and magically induced. Halflings are strong believers in luck, but they also believe that good luck comes to those who don't worry about things too much. Excessive worry leads to bad luck. Although they can be hard workers, halflings prefer to relax and watch the world go by. They believe that an overworked person is more prone to anger and that too many overworked individuals in one place lead to unpleasantness like wars. Halflings take joy in the little things in life. A powerful halfling warrior is more likely to be proud of (and indeed, more likely to be remembered for) growing the biggest squash in her commonwealth rather than for slaying a dragon.
One of the most unique aspects of halfling life is their obsession with collections. Almost every halfling has at least one collection; truly ambitions halflings might have a dozen separate collections. Halflings with similar collections often engage in intricate trades to optimize their collection, and like-minded collectors often compete with others for the most complete collection of a specific subject. Envy of another's collection is in fact the most common cause for crimes and violence in halfling society. Someone who willfully steals from or sabotages another halfling's collection is prosecuted quickly; such criminals usually face exile from the commonwealth.
Listed below are several common collections. As a general rule, a collection of 20 or more unique entities is considered standard, a collection of 50 or more impressive, and a collection of over 100 unique entities nothing less than amazing. A halfling who has several large but incomplete collections is not awarded the prestige of a halfling with a complete (or nearly complete) single collection.
Halfling villagers: Pressed flowers and plants, insects, pretty rocks and stones, animal claws, bones, seeds, arrowheads, throwing stones.
Halfling adventurers: Coins, steins from taverns, stones from different cities, gems, monster teeth, potions, magic wands, spell components, throwing stones.
Values, Arts & Skills
Halflings value honesty, cheerfulness, and creativity over everything else. Stubbornness is viewed as a character flaw, and individuals displaying such traits often find themselves the butt of numerous insults and practical jokes when in halfling company. A halfling avoids lying to other halflings but does not observe the same level of politeness in the company of those they deem crude, depressing, or dull.
The halfling language is unique in that it is rarely, if ever, written in permanent form. Halflings have a strong oral tradition. The history of a commonwealth is recorded in numerous entertaining stories and parables that halflings memorize at a young age. These stories are told again and again at festivals, after dinner, or whenever someone is listening. Halflings never seem to grow tired of hearing the same story they've heard a hundred times before, but the best stories are those that have never before been heard. Homecoming festivals are naturally the greatest time for such stories, and a halfling returning from worldwalk often talks himself hoarse over the course of one long night of stories.
Also popular among halflings is the art of trading insults. Close friends create and perfect insults, then try them out on each other, honing their skills for a day when they might be needed. Insult matches are often held to determine guilt or liability in times of dispute (see Justice & Politics). Crude insults, while entertaining, are not considered as potent or powerful as a subtle insult that cuts to the quick. To a halfling, the perfect insult is one that makes little or no sense at the time of delivery, but several hours later (hopefully while the victim is trying to go to sleep) the true nature of the insult is realized. An insult that does its damage long after delivery is both safe and lasting.
Halflings enjoy playing games of all sorts, both indoors and outdoors. Games are usually a prominent feature of most halfling festivals, and are generally overshadowed only by the feasting. Of all the types of games halflings play, none are more popular than stonethrowing games. There seem to be an infinite number of variations on this type of game, but most of them revolve around hitting a moving target from a distance with a hurled rock. Halflings collect stones that are particularly well suited for throwing and refuse to use other stones in competition. A popular variant of the simple "hit the moving target" version is a game known as "skipping." In this game, a halfling stonethrower must hit a designated target by skipping or bouncing a hurled stone off of other targets. The most accomplished skipping players can hit targets that are out of sight or around corners by bouncing their stones off of other rocks. Another popular variation of the game is called "hit the birdy," in which one halfling attempts to hit a target while the competitor tries to deflect his stone with a stone of his own.
The one skill in which almost every other race agrees that the halfling the master, though, is cooking. Halfling recipes are rarely written; they are taught from parents to children orally and are jealously guarded secrets. Halflings constantly try to improve their personal dishes in attempts to keep ahead of the inventions of their neighbors. Often, a family of halflings holds a feast simply to show off a single new recipe. Stories are told of unique halfling recipes that create magic foods that have magical effects; if this is true, the secrets of such recipes could make those halflings in the know wealthy. Unfortunately, knowledge of a magical recipe is worth more than any amount of gold for most halflings, and many end up taking their secrets to the grave.
Some enterprising halfling alchemists also become great chefs, as the two practices share much in common, and as halflings enjoy their food and drink so much. Only a few have the skill and funds necessary to prepare these potent recipes; those who do quickly become famous and proud icons of their commonwealth. These cook-alchemists have taken their recipes to the next level, creating astonishing fare with interesting side effects.
Each of the recipes below is given an Alchemy DC rating; this is the number required to prepare the item successfully without also making it into a delicious culinary masterpiece. Alchemists with the Profession (cook) skill who want to make the items tasty as well as useful must also make such a Profession (cook) skill check at the same DC. Failing this second check doesn't mean the alchemy item doesn't work, only that the imbiber might have to choke it down to get the beneficial effects.
Halfling Trail Bread (DC 11): This recipe produces ten servings of spicy, dry bread. A serving eaten with water provides sustenance equivalent to a normal meal. The truly amazing thing about these vittles is that they remain fresh for three months, making them excellent rations for those on the move or as stockpiles against sieges or famines. Unfortunately, the ingredients for trail bread are rare, making them a bit expensive. Cost: 50 gp. Weight: 1 pound/serving.
Grondiel's Chicken Soup (DC 21): This recipe produces six servings of thick, hearty soup that remain fresh for a day. Those who eat a serving of this soup gain a +4 alchemical bonus to any Fortitude saving throw made to resist catching any disease during the next 8 hours. Cost: 70 gp. Weight: i pound/serving.
Moonmoss Pudding (DC 30): This recipe produces one serving of sweet fruity pudding that actually glows in the dark. Moonmoss pudding is a favorite of many halfling children. This pudding provides a short-lived boost of energy for hour after it is eaten, granting a +1 alchemical bonus to Initiative checks made during this time. Moonmoss pudding stays fresh for a day. Cost: 150 gp. Weight: 1 pound/serving.
Zumzum Cake (DC 25): This recipe produces one small buttery pastry with a minty aftertaste. A zumzum cake remains fresh for a week. A zumzum cake increases the body's natural healing rate. A person who eats a zumzum cake before going to sleep for 8 hours of non-bed rest regains hit points as if she had rested for a full 24 hours. Someone who eats a zumzum cake followed by 8 hours of bed rest regains hit points as if she had bed rest for a full 24 hours. Cost: 75 gp. Weight: 1 pound/cake.
While cooking, stonethrowing, insulting, and storytelling are all popular pastimes in halfling society, the art of riddling is the most popular of them all. Most halflings engage in long riddling contests with their best friends. One halfling asks another a riddle and waits for the correct answer. Any number of guesses are allowed, but no hints are given and no aid from others is welcomed or sought. A good riddle can keep a halfling thinking for days or even weeks. Elders often tell stories of riddles so cunning or complex that they drove halflings mad, and they warn youngsters to avoid asking riddles that they cannot answer themselves. A halfling who gives up can demand the riddle's answer from the questioner; this usually requires the stumped halfling to perform some sort of service for the winning riddler. If the riddler does not have an acceptable answer for the riddle, though, her reputation suffers greatly. halflings who ask riddles they themselves cannot answer too often are usually scorned and forced out of their commonwealth. Halflings sometimes try to purchase or sell goods simply by asking or answering riddles, so any halfling that expects to succeed in life had better work on keeping a fresh set of riddles in mind for emergencies.
Three common halfling riddles are listed below. For the most part, any halfling worth her salt has heard these riddles; they still sometimes work on humans and other races though.
Riddle: I have a mouth but cannot speak, lay on a bed but never sleep.
Answer: A river.
Riddle: A goblin walked twenty miles into the woods to find me, stopped to look for me when he got me, then threw me away when he found me.
Answer: A splinter.
Riddle: I've more heads than any hydra and more tales than the longest book.
Answer: A sack of coins.
Justice & Politics
Age is the most important factor in halfling society. The eldest member of a family is the most respected and venerated member, and the words of one's elders are to be obeyed without question. Nevertheless, there are times when the eldest member of a family cannot lead the family properly due to infirmity. To rectify this, the day-to-day leadership of a halfling village is placed on the shoulders of a patriarch or matriarch. This halfling is attended by a number of elder advisors (usually six, one representing each of the common career paths) who handle resolutions of conflicts and organize events that require input or effort from the entire family. Collectively, this group of halflings is known as the Council. Selection of new elder advisors is the patriarch or matriarch's responsibility; appointment to the office of elder advisor lasts for life. Selection of a new patriarch or matriarch is determined by the elder advisors, who select the best choice from nominations made by the family at large. Aside from the Council, there is no official ruling class in halfling society. Generally, a halfling's parents govern the offspring, administer punishment, and so on.
Halflings are fairly easy going when it comes to conflict. In fact, they generally try to avoid it wherever possible. Nevertheless, crime is no stranger to halfling commonwealths. For minor crimes (such as failing to hold up one's end of a bargain, refusing to do one's share of the work, or wasting resources), the offender's parents or elder siblings administer punishment. Usually, this involves enforced labor, confiscation of valued belongings, or religious penance. A halfling can prove his innocence either through quick wit or supporting evidence, or by challenging the accuser to an insult or riddling duel. Halflings believe that the guilty party in such a duel is wracked with remorse and thus quickly makes an error, exposing his guilt. More heinous crimes, such as sabotaging another halfling's collection of mead bottles, assaulting a halfling, arson, or banditry are always brought before the Council. Halflings accused of these crimes are usually confined to their homes while the Council members hear testimonies and view evidence. The accused can have friends and family argue for his innocence, but he cannot speak directly to the Council. Those found guilty of such crimes are required to right the wrong in some way, usually by giving belongings or volunteering their skills or the skills of their family and friends to fix what was done. In cases where a halfling repeatedly commits these heinous crimes, exile from the commonwealth might be recommended. An exiled criminal is allowed to take with him one pony and all the food and gear he and the pony can carry, and he must leave by sundown on the day judgment is passed. Those who remain in a village after exile quickly find that no one speaks with them and they are universally shunned. An exiled halfling who continues to harass locals is sentenced to true exile (see below). Truly devastating crimes such as murder and treason are exceptionally rare in halfling society, but they do happen. In such cases, the accused is kept imprisoned in an area where he can do no further harm and is guarded at all times by several soldiers. During this time, the Council hears testimony and views evidence as in lesser cases, but rarely does one come to the aid of a halfling accused of such a crime. Sentencing relies solely upon what the Council hears through testimonies of the victims. In ambiguous cases, the Council might call upon the aid of spellcasters to perform divination magic to clear matters up. A halfling found guilty of treason, murder, or a similar heinous crime is always sentenced to true exile.
True exile represents the height of halfling punishment. The guilty party is apprehended and escorted by armed guards to a distant point on the edge of the commonwealth and left with nothing but the clothes on his back. Any halfling who attempts to return while under true exile is treated as an enemy invader and might be attacked by guards. This is as close as halflings come to an actual death penalty, which they regard as barbaric.
Death & Burial
Halflings do not cope well with death. When a member of a halfling family dies, close friends and family members spend a day in mourning, during which time they remain sequestered in their homes. Friends and well-wishers leave gifts and offerings of food on the doorstep of a house of mourning while the funeral is prepared. Sometimes, periods of mourning last for several days; in such cases, a Council member has to enter the house of mourning to encourage the family to come to grips with their loss and permit the funeral to proceed.
Once they have mourned the loss of their loved one, the deceased's family carries the body from the home to the site of the funeral (which is usually held at the closest shrine). In cases where no body is available, a valued possession of the deceased is substituted in its place. The funeral proceedings themselves are long, somber affairs during which the friends and relatives of the deceased recount stories and fond memories. When all have had their say, the body is blessed by a cleric and then transported by the family and close friends to a graveyard. Everyone helps dig the grave, and the body is interred without a coffin. A small pile of stones is placed over the center of the grave, and the deceased's name, date of birth, date of death, and a short epithet are carved on a large communal monolith that stands at the graveyard's center. Friends and relatives then depart while other attendees and clerics take care of filling in the grave. A single cleric stands guard over a freshly buried body for three days as a service to the departed soul.
After the funeral, if the deceased died of old age at home and among friends, the mourners have a grand feast. These feasts are designed to pick up the spirits of the mourners, and they are festive, bright, and cheerful events filled with storytelling, dancing, and games. If the deceased died of violence, pestilence, or other unnatural means before a full life was lived, this feast is often canceled. The mourners return to their homes and continue to mourn, often for many weeks.
On the deceased's next birthday, the family and friends of the deceased hold a Final Birthday celebration (see Festivals). Once this event comes and goes, the mourners are expected to come to grips with their loss. Those halflings who continue to mourn after this point quickly begin to annoy the others, and if the mourning continues might even find themselves the target of mean-spirited practical jokes. This apparent cruelty arises not from an actual desire to torment the mourner as much as it does from annoyance. After all, as long as the mourning continues, the other halflings in the community cannot forget their loss.
Despite their domestic and relaxing lives, many halflings become adventurers. Most halfling adventurers are simply those who have just started a worldwalk; upon retiring from adventuring life they return to tell their kin what they have learned. Other halflings become adventurers to support themselves after having been exiled or on becoming a knave. Most tragic of all are those halflings whose families were killed by war, disease, or violence. These halflings are known as the "lost," and in cases where they are not adopted by neighboring families, they always seem to turn to adventuring as a way to come to grips with their tragic past.
Although halfling adventurers can be of any class, most are rogues or have at least some training as rogues. Their small size, natural grace, keen hearing, and natural skills with thrown weapons, climbing, jumping, and sneaking make them naturals. A halfling in a big city will often find that the jobs he is offered can be completed best with a rogue's skills. Also, the halfling's knack for avoiding mishaps often plays a huge part in completing a mission successfully. It can almost be said that halflings were born to be rogues.
All in all, halfling adventurers usually become a well-loved and valued addition to any adventuring party; their cheerfulness is quite infectious and often the only thing that keeps a wounded party from falling into despair.