“In a hole in a ground there lived a hobbit.”
Those words from J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic The Hobbit have introduced countless readers to a rich vibrant world of fantasy and adventure. They also brought one of the most beloved fantasy races of all time to life with a simple sentence. Hobbits are small furry footed folk who live simple lives fishing, tending to their gardens, and passing the days in their comfortable hobbit holes. Despite their tendency to live boring respectable lives some hobbits, despite the scandalized whispers of their friends and neighbors, find themselves carried off on adventures. After Gandalf enlisted him to serve as their burglar for a party of dwarves Bilbo Baggins journeyed over mountains, across rivers, and through terrifying forests to steal gold from a sleeping dragon. Years later his nephew Frodo Baggins would leave his home in the Shire on an adventure of his own, although it proved to be far more dangerous than Bilbo’s journey had been.
Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson were both influenced by Tolkien’s writing so much so that Dungeons and Dragons once even included hobbits as a playable race. The hobbits were changed halflings early on for legal reasons, but in one form or another they’ve appeared in every edition of Dungeons and Dragons. Unlike hobbits though many halflings are adventurous wanderers. Communities of halflings move along rivers traveling the world and meeting new people. Much like hobbits they have a natural ability to pass undetected and snatch treasure from a dungeon with ease. Their innate affinity for stealth, cunning, and acrobatics make them natural rogues.
The Dragonlance books introduced a third incarnation of Tolkien’s creation with the kender. Although kender have far more in common with halflings than hobbits the physical similarities are obvious. Their wanderlust drives them to explore seeking out new sights and new experiences. They also have some very odd ideas about stealing. Kender are infamous for “borrowing” other people’s possessions right out their pockets and pouches. Although kender themselves don’t consider their borrowing to be stealing, most other races have little if any tolerance for them. It’s a common practice in cities all of Krynn for kender to be rounded up and expelled every day to keep their borrowing in check. Another unique characteristic of kender is their fearlessness, in fact they’re one of the few races that can withstand the magically induced wave of pure terror that washes over anyone who finds themselves face to face with a dragon. One of the most famous kender of all times is Tasslehoff Burfoot, one of the legendary Heroes of the Lance.
The evolution and adaptation of the hobbit in relation to tabletop gaming and fantasy literature fascinates me. I think that players keep rolling up halflings because many of us able to empathize with them more so than most of the other common choices. We all dream of adventure and excitement, just like Bilbo Baggins did. I think everyone who traces maps on grid paper can understand Bilbo pouring over his maps and dreaming of traveling to far away places.