In a grim world of fallen gods and fading hope, a halfling is a rare candle of good cheer. Not known for their might or ferocity, they are heroes of a different sort, quietly enduring and taking the best from every situation. Known for their food, scholarly pursuit, and amicable ways, halflings are favored neighbors of any educated and peace-loving people.
During the Era of Expansion, halflings stood with humanity, unopposed to the humans’ ascent to dominating all Etharis. As a result, they are safely integrated into every level of human societies, often occupying comfortable professions requiring more brains or charisma than brawn.
The benefits of a society peppered with halflings is widely felt. Halflings aren’t as concentrated as elves or as rare as ogresh. Humans are never surprised to meet a halfling serving them at a shop stall, farming a modest vegetable garden, or driving the head of a caravan while smoking a pipe. Halflings are also counted among the intelligentsia, and pupils attending colleges in the Bürach Empire are bound to have halfling schoolmates and halfling professors. In fact many learned individuals have fond memories of their halfling faculty.
The History of Halfling’s in Etharis
Millan the Half-Wise was a historian who was given his unflattering moniker by his human peers and detractors. Centuries ago, Millan labored at writing down the history, songs, poems, tales, and fashions of his people. His illuminations aren’t bound to a specific field but cast about from topic to topic as can be the whims of a dedicated yet wandering mind. Millan wrote about diseases, regions, magics, theology, monsters, and the philosophy of halflings.
During his era and for centuries beyond, Millan the Half-Wise has become the exemplification of scholarly pursuit against which all others are measured. Not one, but two universities honor Millan’s name. Cretish-Millan University in Erlefurt and the University of Millan in Altenheim. Millan’s essays and books have inspired many halflings to further expand upon his writings about their culture and history or write about observations from their own experiences and journeys.
The most widely read of Millan’s exceptional dissertations is called Halflings: A History Of Expansion. This complex three volume history examines what Millan coined as “the great half-measure”, which was the halflings decision to side with humankind during the Era of Expansion.
The first book provides an overview of halfling societies before the Era of Expansion and the problems they were confronted with in the wake of human conquest. The second book discusses the reasoning for siding with humanity during their expansion and the events that ultimately lead to “the great half-measure”. The final tome examines how halflings have benefited from their decision to collaborate with humankind, even though many other races suffered during the same period.
Not all of Millan the Half-Wise’s scholarly works were completed, the most important of which was Halflings: A History of Hope. This 39 volume set talks about the history and legends of the halfling world from the dawn of time until the Era of Expansion ended halfling isolation. The detail encompassed in the books is too much to summarize but provides depth and context to the traditional halfling beliefs of hearth, home, and happiness.
Millan’s A History of Hope illustrates a world that no longer exists. Halfling hamlets kept safe by mere picket fences, recipes calling for ingredients that no one in Etharis is familiar with anymore, nursery rhymes about whimsical gods that battled over correct dinner etiquette, and halfling heroes that battled with armies of orcs influenced by dark powers.
Spies for the Arcanist Inquisition
Another volume that claims to be a halfling history was written by a human, the wizard Beral Stuot, and is entitled Spies for the Arcanist Inquisition and Other Crimes. This book rumormongers that halfling spies operate on behalf of the Inquisition, naturally slinking beneath the notice of other folk. While many halflings living in Castinella have become swept up by the fervor of the Inquisition’s crusade, it cannot be proven that they serve any special role within the ranks of Emperyus’ faithful.
Halfling’s do in fact do a fine job of record keeping for Inquisition, writing the names of known apostates and heretics in massive tomes carried by Inquisitors. But such a position is not rare for a halfling to hold as part of any organization. As agents and soldiers, but especially spies, they are barely notable.
Stuot’s tome likely fabricates and exaggerates rumors that link halflings to spying on arcane practitioners. The book exploits many folks’ suspicions of the race as being devious and prudent, citing Millan’s histories of halflings collaborating with humans as evidence. Preaching Stuot’s tome can lead to communities wary of the Inquisition’s fanatical influence becoming unfairly suspicious of their halfling citizens.
Execution by Dinner Manners
Ann Ares Fewid, is a famously talented cook that has penned several volumes of her own called A History of Halfling Culture as Told by Our Stomachs. These books are a passion project detailing how halflings observe and sometimes rediscover their traditions within the dominion of humankind.
Ann delves into the importance of family bonds in halfling society, and how food and hospitality is a way in which these familial ties are maintained. Halflings can be obsessive over host etiquette, whether enough food is supplied at an event or gathering, and whether the right kinds of food were provided. Being thought of as an ill host can be mortifyingly embarrassing for a halfling.
Ann’s books quip “why go to the bother of forging steal and fighting violent wars, when it’s much easier to cook a dish greater than r host could provide and socially execute them at their own gathering?” This quote also expresses halflings preference for peaceful coexistence over conflict, where they do not excel nor could hope to succeed.
Importantly, while halfling culture is strongly tied to their stomachs, they are not driven to gluttony by their physiology as ogresh are. What halflings desire most is comfort, which can come in the form of a home cooked meal, an intriguing book, a stroll through the summer paddock, or the smell of a good pipe.
Halflings Walk Barefoot in a World where Humans Constantly Step on their Toes
Halflings are not entirely averse to adventure, however.
Stories To Read Before Bed for Sweet Dreams, is a collection of what had once been oral tales told to halfling children, before they were curated into a single volume. The collection includes “Han, Gretta, and the Toymaker”, “The Fool Who Wore Shoes to a Ball”, and “Don’t Ever Live with Seven Dwarves”. While it is unlikely these tales hold much truth anymore, they feature halfling heroes whose small stature is balanced by their large amount of bravery. These folk tales still inspire the odd adventurous halfling to strike out into the world and eschew comfort for curiosity.
An adventuring life is not easy for halflings, however, often overlooked or knocked about by the rough and tumble realities of living in a world dominated by humans. Those raised in isolated halfling shires can be particularly naïve to the dangers of Etharis and feel as if they are walking in a world where their naked toes are constantly trampled upon.
Halflings often return to their homes after adventuring, whether to seek the comfort of familiarity or reconnect with the family they once said goodbye to. If their journeys were successful, they bring wealth into their communities as well as stories of great cities, mountain ranges, and monsters. Other halflings enjoy hearing these tales in the comfort of an armchair with their large feet up. If the adventurer was unsuccessful, they can become jaded outsiders who are used as a cautionary tale against ever leaving the comfort of home.
Lives Cut Short by the Weeping Pox
Sagilis Meece is a halfling member of the Morbus Doctore with one of the most brilliant minds of this era. Sagilis labors upon a dour work, inscribing a book entitled Patterns Of The Weeping Pox. This chronicle details the spread of The Weeping Pox outside of Liesech and to the whole of Etharis.
Much of Sagilis’ study stems from the events at Almaris, a halfling village that suffered mightily under the alchemist Gould Findelhiem. Gould was a fellow member of the Morbus Doctore who used Almaris as a laboratory in which he experimented on the halfling population before he himself succumbed to the Pox.
Sagilis’ book attempts to justify Gould’s study of the Weeping Pox, citing that the suffering of her kin was terrible but necessary for understanding the disease. Similar examinations of Gould’s work accuse him of furthering the spread of the Weeping Pox, yet Sagilis justifies even this in the name of unlocking the secrets of such a devastating phenomenon.
Halfling Campaign Story Hooks
Despite their peaceful nature and comfortable existence, the halfling people are not without adventures. Many halflings find great pleasure in tales of adventure, though they pretend to half as much as they do. Their forays into the woods, hallows, mountains, and waterways of Etharis are less of a greedy grab for gold and more likely a moment’s wanderlust.
Tomas Wool P’reey, a halfling sailor has a sea companion, a whale with a cursed equilibrium that prevents her from submerging. The great behemoth is friend and ship to Tomas as they sail the ocean together. The whale provides the halfling safe passage. The halfling cools and comforts the whale’s sun beaten skin back with soaked towels. That said, Tomas is ready to return to land and wants to do a service for his great friend, fix her equilibrium so she might return to her kind. To that end, he seeks a druid or cleric that might ascertain why she is cursed and how the curse might be lifted.
Saska, notorious highway rider, is a terror to those travelling the mountain roads towards Grabenstein from Ulstenburg. Known for her jeering taunts, she has led many caravan guards away from their merchandise only to double back and take items without first paying. Saska never steals from halflings, however, knowing their lives are difficult enough within the human empire. Recently, she liberated a crate of healing elixirs meant to save a halfling family dying of consumption. She didn’t know this when vials from the merchant, and now she feels awful about the crime. She plans to hire some adventurers to find the family and return the potions. Meanwhile Saska has a sizeable bounty placed on her own head.
At the tavern, you overhear the story of Kandale the Half-Dead, a halfling wizard that’s aspiring to immortality via undeath. The rumors claim that an entire halfling shire has been drained of souls for Kandale’s ambitions, and visiting the place finds an eerie and deserted community that appears to have simply disappeared. So far this calamity has gone beneath the notice of proper authority, but more death will arise if Kandale is not stopped, and a tidy profit could be made from looting empty homes.
Dr. Reed Samuel Downer is a professor of the magical arts travelling to court to become Wizard in Residence. However, he’s a become lost and separated from his escort, who were killed by assassins targeting Reed for political purposes. Most embarrassing of all, he may be late to arrive in court which could tarnish his reputation and lose the trust of the noble he is to advise. If it wasn’t terribly inconvenient, he would appreciate help and offers a Bag of Holding in recompense.
Clarius is a halfling jailer. However, Clarius considers her work as rehabilitation. During an attempt to rehabilitate her wards by tasking them to hunt wild boar, the prisoners escaped with bows, arrows, horses and a day’s lead. She gave them the equipment as a display of trust as part of their rehabilitation, you see. If she doesn’t recapture this band of outlaws they may hurt others as they flee the law, and Clarius may be imprisoned herself for negligence. She insists the criminals are not typically violent without cause, and pleads for them to be brought back unharmed. A larger reward is offered, if so.