Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Topics in Comparative Hobbitology: Hairy feet and fearfulness

So, in light of the recent events at Hobbitfest '14, I decided to obsess over the little dudes some more by digging into their RPG pedigree--as opposed to their literary pedigree which is limited to the works of and about Tolkien.  As such, I dug out all my old rule books and dusted off a big stack of PDFs to see how the various renditions of D&D have treated the little buggers over the years.

First off, I should point out that there are some glaring lapses in my collection; notably, in the D&D line there's a jump from 1981 (Moldvay) to 2001 (Hackmaster--the "Never Say Never Again" of Big D), and only one of the numbered editions are included: the recent Basic Rules associated with v. 5.  I'm not a complete Luddite, I do have several of the more prominent knockoffs--Tunnels & Trolls, DragonQuest, SwordBearer--and retroclones--Castles & Crusades, OSRIC, Swords & Wizardry: White Box and Complete, DCC (perhaps more of a knockoff than a retroclone)--on hand.  Labia Lords was omitted from the study because, with such a silly name, I just can't take it seriously. Also missing: Mentzer; because I don't have that book.

There are, of course, some basic similarities throughout the majority of the versions.  For instance, we all know that haffies are short, ca. 3' tall, they tend to be dexterous, stealthy, and crack shots with various missilery.  It's also generally agreed that they tend to be hardily resistant to magic and perhaps also poison--usually manifested in a saving throw bonus--and most of the rules include factors such as these in their descriptions of the pesky little critters.

"Hey little dude: What's up with your feet?"
It may come as a surprise, however, that hairy-footedness is generally not mentioned in the early versions of the game.  In fact, prior to 2001's Hackmaster no version of which I am familiar actually mentions their feet at all.  Indeed, there are no illustrations of hairy-footed haffies in the vast majority of D&D rulebooks from the 70s and early 80s.*  And yet, my first ever character back when I was playing Holmes Basic was a shoeless halfling who was forever terrified of inadvertently dipping his naked toes into a pool of green slime, even though there is not a single whiff of text in the book--or a supporting illustration--to suggest that either shoelessness or hairy-footedness are characteristics of the species.  It's conceivable that, without the baggage of Tolkien's hobbits, one might have played halflings for quite some time without ever knowing that there was anything untoward about their feet.  That everyone understood that the hairy-footed dude fighting the owlbear in Roslof's drawing from K. on the B'lands was a haffie does a great job of highlighting the pervasiveness of Mr. T's work on our collective image of the game and, indeed, the genre.  

Also, over time haffie hardiness seems to have migrated quite a bit.  At first they were resistant to magic, then poison jumped on the bandwagon, in the form of heightened saving throws.  Some of this disappeared in some editions and versions, but then, inexplicably it resurfaced in Castles & Crusades and Fiver Basic as fearlessness.  This is in shocking contrast to, say, Moldvays haffers who were described as somewhat cowardly.  While I am deeply and unabashedly ignorant of post-Gygaxian mainline D&D rules, I have read enough to understand--perhaps errantly--that at some point halflings lost there spot as a default player race to the Kender of Dragonlance; the race that single-handedly ruined everything they touched back in the mid-80s.**  Anyway, my point is that I have a sinking suspicion that the fearlessness thing is a kender trait rather than a hobbit trait, which makes me more than a little queasy. On a possibly related note, nothing in particular is said of halfling feet in Fiver.

* The only illustration of a hairy footed haffer in the core AD&D rulebooks that is explicitly linked to halflings is the one in the AD&D Monster Manual.
** Delta Dan has statistically proven that the reason Walter Mondale failed so utterly in his 1984 presidential campaign--winning only 2 states, if I recall correctly--is that the Reagan camp leaked rumors that Mondale was "pro-Kender."  Also: those faulty O-rings that caused the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster?  Manufactured by Kender.  More recently, Mitt Romney saw his presidential hopes go up in flames when a photo of him relaxing on the beach beside a now-middle-aged and paunchy Tasslehoff Burrfoot hit the internet.


Jens D. said...

The illustration of a halfling in the Rules Cyclopedia (1991, illustration by Terry Dykstra, p. 27 RC) shows the guy with extremely hairy feet. The text mentions the feature nowhere, neither does the monster description. Haflings are a good class to play in the RC and are no cowards (morale of 8, 10 if a leader (level 2 qualifies ...) is present).

This being a Hobbitfest, I'd like to point you to the loving words I wrote about them in 2012:


Hope there's more to come! But no more about them Kender, please. No more, I say!

Timrod said...

Thanks for helping to fill in part of the gaping chasm in my research! And thanks also for your contribution to Hobbitfest. If I find some more old posts on the topic, I may do a halfling-love link farm.

Also: no more kender!

Leicester said...

Excellent. And the Roslof illustration always tweaked me regarding the prohibition for 'large' weapons for halflings. Of course they would have polearms or similar- they would just be cut down to size.
Which is why my boggies will be a bunch of insular buggers, ready to go full Viet-cong on your ass if you have the temerity to invade their burrow-holds. If you somehow get them to make a stand in the open, be prepared to face infantry squares of horse-gutting halberdiers and slingers. So there.

Zenopus Archives said...

Tolkien originally meant for Bilbo to get boots in Rivendell and wear them for the rest of the quest; you can see this in many of his illustrations. He later realized he forgot to include this in the text.

See here for more discussion:
Bilbo's Boots

Timrod said...

Well that explains why he was wearing boots on the cover of the Ballantine paperback edition from the 70s that I cut my teeth on. Nice work as always ZA.