Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Hobbits as the Rangers of Basic

A Hobbit Ranger? From OD&D, Vol 1, Men & Magic, pg 9

Last week I was thinking about how Hobbits (later Halflings) are the 'Rangers' of Basic D&D, due to their abilities to disappear in the outdoors and their skill with missile weapons, implying they are good at hunting. Give them a tracking skill and you've got a great ranger in vein of Trotter, Tolkien's original hobbit version of Aragorn. And then I read a post by Wayne R at Semper Initiativus Unum where a hobbit in his game of his acted in just this manner.

The two abilities I mentioned have their roots in The Hobbit, and while they were mentioned in Chainmail they don't really feature in AD&D for PCs. Holmes played a role bringing these forward from Chainmail to Basic, and emphasizing the 'wild' aspect of their hiding ability.

Back when I posted Part 3 of the Holmes Manuscript commentary, I simply related there were no changes to the section on Hobbits from the manuscript to the published rulebook (pg 7), without further comment. So here I'll look into Holmes' development of this section.
Chainmail has Gygax's original description of Hobbits as they appear in D&D: 
"These little chaps have small place in the wargame, but you may want them for recreation of certain battles. Remember that they are able to blend into the background and so make excellent scouts. They can fire a stone as far as an archer shoots, and because of their well known accuracy, for every two halflings firing count three on the Missile Fire table" (pg 29).

The ability to "disappear quietly and quickly" around big people is mentioned at the start of The Hobbit, and Bilbo's skill with stones is revealed when he battles the Spiders in Mirkwood.

OD&D adds magic resistance, and refers to Chainmail for missile fire, but omits their abilities as scouts: 

"Should any player wish to be one, he will be limited to the Fighting-Men class as a hobbit. Hobbits cannot progress beyond the 4th level (Hero), but they will have magic-resistance equal to dwarves (add four levels for saving throws), and they will have deadly accuracy with missiles as detailed in CHAINMAIL" (pg 8, Vol 1).

Vol 3 of OD&D also mentions their (along with dwarves and elves) better-than-human hearing, 1-2 in 6, another skill fitting well with Rangers.

Greyhawk only adds info about thieves: 
"Hobbits can be either fighters or thieves, and as thieves they have better chances for doing most things (see STATISTICS REGARDING CLASSES) and are not limited to how high in levels they can progress" (pg 5).

But there is a Greyhawk 'Correction Sheet' that clarifies their "accuracy with missiles": 
"All hobbits add +3 to hit probabilities when using the sling." 

Synthesizing the above, Holmes gives us the following in the Basic manuscript:

The height of three feet is not explicitly stated in Chainmail or OD&D but is either taken directly from The Hobbit ("about half our height"), or extrapolated from the four and five feet stated for dwarves and elves in Greyhawk. 

Holmes clearly looked to the Chainmail entry (and perhaps The Hobbit), because he includes the ability to disappear not mentioned in OD&D. He also associates it much more strongly with wild environments than either The Hobbit or Chainmail, using the words: "out-of doors", "woods" and "undergrowth". They are really the only class/race in Basic that has an outdoor skill; not even Elves are described as having any affinity for the outdoors.

With respect to missile fire, he presumably missed the Greyhawk correction (slings at +3), and instead implements the Chainmail accuracy as a simple +1 to hit with any missile weapon. 

I couldn't find any reference to halfling-sized armor/weapons in the earlier books, so this might be a pure Holmes addition. Gygax actually takes this a bit farther in B2, mentioning elf and dwarf-sized suits of armor. Holmes also includes their enhanced hearing in another section of the rulebook.

Gygax didn't change any of the above; it all made it into the published Basic rulebook, but he also didn't include this material in AD&D. In the Monster Manual, Gygax expands the +3 to hit to also include bows, at least for NPC halflings. The Players Handbook refers to the MM entry, making it ambiguous whether PC players are meant to also have these bonuses. The PHB also omits any reference to their ability to hide in the woods, instead giving them a chance to move silently enough to surprise on 1-4 in 6, or 1-2 in 6 through a door.

Moldvay Basic (B/X) instead sticks with Holmes' version, including the 'cut down' weapons/armor, the +1 missile adjustment, and the ability to disappear under cover, here quantified as 1-9 in 10 (or 1-2 in 6 in a dungeon). They are also given two additional abilities that fit well with a 'Hobbit Ranger', including a +1 to individual initiative reaction and a -2 AC when fighting large monsters.

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Some possible Hobbit Ranger names from the Generator:

Glen Ael
Quetas the Searcher
Go I the Wary (!)
Dankrac Spoor
Ton Mun the Dun


  1. Interesting article on the evolution of hobbits/halfling.

    I remember when I first read the History of Middle-earth series. Trotter was so foreign to me. Now that you put it in perspective, minus the wooden shoes, Trotter would have fit into the basic story rather well. He would not have been so foreign in a ranger role after all.

  2. The timing on this post was perfect. I just had a player who is a total newb to basic say he wanted to "play something simple, like a ranger". So halfling he shall be! (unless he doesn't want to play as a goblin, which I'm using as the proxy for halflings in my setting).

  3. Nice! When I played S&W White Box a few years back I made halflings default class ranger, which was really just a sneaky fighter--none of the AD&D/Aragorn trappings. Saddling them in heavy armor and weapons seemed like such a waste of their native talents.