The Halfling Conundrum


Creativity is hard work.

I’m currently creating a world for a Dungeons & Dragons game I plan to run. One day, the idea of “pepper bread” came to me – yes, I know now that it already exists, but I didn’t when I thought of it – and it seemed like the kind of thing that a halfling baker might create. I really like little details that make a setting seem more alive and real, so I dutifully noted it down. I even started to get a little creative with it, changing the name to “pfefferbrot” and giving my halflings something of a Germanic feel to them, with lots of fine ales, bread, and cheeses. It wasn’t until much later than I started to think about why pepperbread seemed like such a halfling-y dish. The reason turned out to be incredibly simple: Without meaning to, I’d made hobbits.

The sad thing is that I’d been trying really hard to avoid the cliches, or at the very least subvert them and make them interesting. My setting has dour dwarves, for example, but they’re an ultra-conservative faction of a much more jolly culture. Most of my elves live in cities like everyone else, and my “high elves” – or Eladrin for anyone familiar with the 4th Edition of D&D – are decadent and cruel (and totally not Melnibonéans. I don’t know where you got such an idea.) I even added some spice to gnomes – a race I’ve never liked – making them secretive and insular almost to the point of xenophobia. But it seems I have a blind spot when it comes to halflings, and I find it incredibly hard to resist the siren’s song of the hobbit.

It’s a little troubling just how deeply ingrained the fantasy cliches are. Perhaps the problem is that D&D is my fantasy RPG of choice. D&D is pretty deep into Tolkien country, and when you’ve been playing it in one form or another for nearly twenty years, it can have a pretty potent effect on your mind. Fantasy is a strange genre for me. I play a lot of fantasy games, but I don’t read a lot of fantasy fiction, so it could just be that my limited exposure to the genre means I default to, well, the default.

I can’t be the only person that this is true for though? Surely other people have had to haul themselves out a creative ditch created by someone else’s work. Surely everyone does at some point in their lives? In some ways, realising this has been a boon for me, because it’s got my mind whirring again, trying to think of something fresher for my halflings.

Admittedly, all I’ve come up with so far is that they live in trees like ewoks, but it’s a start.


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