The Problem with Halflings & Gnomes

The Problem with Halflings & Gnomes

I love the halfling and gnome races. They are both friendly and generally happy races. This is great, especially in a world where people are very secretive and most things out there want to kill you. Halflings are quiet and try to blend in with the crowd, preferring not to be noticed. Gnomes, on the other hand, are a vibrant race that tries to enjoy every day as if it was their last. Both are usually a good alignment, and I rather like the traits that come with both races. So why am I seemingly picking on them? There are a few problems that both races bring to the table, so let’s dive right in and see what the issues are.

Why are Halflings always Exhausted?

Let’s start by taking a look at some math. Don’t leave, it’s not that hard.

Travel Pace, per 5th edition movement rules

  • Fast: 400 feet per minute/4 miles a hour/30 miles a day

  • Normal: 300 feet per minute/3 miles a hour/24 miles a day

  • Slow: 200 feet per minute/2 miles a hour/18 miles a day

Determining the average stride length of a humanoid.

  • Height in inches X 0.415 (this is a predetermined number) = Average step length (rounded up)

  • Average step length X 2 = Average stride length

  • Convert back to feet - Average stride length divided by 12. (Rounded up)

So to figure out the stride length of a 6 foot human:

72 X 0.415 = 30 inches (29.88 inches rounded up)
30 X 2 = 60 inches
60 inches divided by 2 = 5 feet.

Perfect. Explains why each step you take is 5 feet and each square on your mat equals 5 feet! This stride length would include all races above 5 feet tall on average.

But what about gnomes and halflings? 

According to the PHB, the average halfling stands 3 feet tall. Using the formula above, this means the halfling only moves 2.5 feet per stride. For every one square of movement the halfling would need to use twice their movement to go the same distance as a human.

Player’s Handbook, 2014 WotC

Player’s Handbook, 2014 WotC

On top of that, instead of having an average base movement speed of 30 feet, these two races are listed as having a 25 feet base movement speed. Even if this is how the rules try to account for the difference in stride length (ignoring the simple math of course), an average-sized human would walk 300 feet per minute, while a gnome would only walk 250 feet. Using a normal movement rate (see above), your 5 feet and taller party members will have traveled 24 miles at the end of the day and your gnome buddies will be 4 miles behind!

Based on the stride length equation and the base movement speed rules, a halfling or gnome would have to dash regularly to keep up with the rest of the party. The PHB has no explicit rules against using dash freely every round. However, chase rules states that a creature can freely use the Dash action a number of times equal to 3 + its Constitution modifier. After that the individual needs to make a DC 10 Constitution check or suffer one level of exhaustion. Based on all of this, that’s going to be one tired halfling at day’s end.

All in all, it seems like the party has a couple of options when traveling with our smaller humanoid friends. They can walk at a slower pace, which in theory makes sense, but in reality, it never happens. They can buy a mount, allowing them to move 40 feet per turn. I’m surprised this doesn’t happen more often since a mule is only 8 gold pieces. Sure there is the cost of feeding and caring for your mule to consider, but it’s better than being left behind in the dark and scary forest. Plus, buying a mule helps with our next section….

Encumbrance and the Goddamn Rope

In D&D how much you can carry is based on your Strength score. (Strength X 15 = Total weight carried) This makes sense, except for the fact that it doesn’t make sense at all. So whether you are a 6’5” half orc or a 3’2” gnome, if you have a Strength score of 16, you can both carry 240 pounds. Maybe the creators were just trying to make up for how slow they walk! But there are just a couple things I can’t get past on this subject.

How much you should and can carry in the real world is based, for the most part, on a person’s weight and height. While I am not saying that this should be how it is done in D&D, it should factor in somehow when figuring out how much a character can carry. The average halfling and gnome weighs approximately 40 lbs. If based on the example above, they can carry 240 lbs. then that is 40 pounds of pure muscle mass. Arnold Schwarzenegger eat your heart out!

You can find some information on how size affects carrying capacity when you look at Using Your Ability Scores in the PHB. It states:

Size and Strength. Larger creatures can bear more weight, whereas Tiny creatures can carry less. For each size category above Medium, double the creature's carrying capacity and the amount it can push, drag, or lift. For a Tiny creature, halve these weights.

Great! We can now see that the creators of 5e did take into consideration height and weight and how much a character can carry. Except……it says nothing about small creatures!!! After discussing this with Stephen and doing some more research, it was clear that small and medium creatures are allowed under the current rules to carry the same amount of weight based on their Strength score. Once again, I get it…this is a fantasy game and you can do whatever you want to make it work. That’s the beauty of make-believe.

I start with the assumption that a gnome or halfling will be buying adventure equipment that will be tailored to the dimensions of their bodies, and that would include a properly sized backpack. Let’s take a look at the explorer's pack and see what all would come along with our gnome’s backpack

Explorers Pack 

Includes a backpack, a bedroll, a mess kit, a tinderbox, 10 torches, 10 days of rations, and a waterskin. The pack also has 50 feet of Hempen rope strapped to the side of it.

Art Credit - Yuikami-da

Art Credit - Yuikami-da

I can get behind the first six items all being adjusted in size for a gnome. Torches may be a stretch, but just cut a normal one in half and you have a gnome sized torch. I wouldn’t give it to the Goliath to hold, or she’ll be pissed at you when her fingers are burned.

It’s when we get to the rope that I have an issue. You cannot change the dimensions of a rope, without magic of course, and the cost to do so would be reflected in the price your character would have to pay for it. No one wants to spend that much money on rope. Magic rope aside, let’s just say you have the standard 50 ft. of hempen rope. It only needs to be 1/4 of an inch thick to hold 600 lbs., so that's great. But even 50 ft. of hemp rope at 1/4 thickness, when properly wound, is going to be 10-12 inches in length, or 1/3 the height of our intrepid gnome adventurer. When attached to a smaller backpack, that just doesn’t work for me.

So Now What?

Does any of this mean you shouldn’t play a gnome or halfling? Of course not, as long as you aren’t at The Angry GM’s table. Both races have a long history in D&D and I am no way advocating for their demise. Did you know that Gygax was sued by the Tolkien estate for use the term “hobbit” in his first incarnation of the game? How about that Gygax made gnomes as magical creature race that were supposed to land somewhere between the dwarf and the halfling? The lore and history of both races stretches back to 1974, so there is no reason to get rid of them now.

Someone on Reddit used an interesting metaphor about “stop counting the pennies”. Basically, they were arguing over questioning every tiny little detail in the game. When you do this you kill your fun, and probably the fun of those around the table. I get what they were saying and agree with it. So for the last time - I get that it is a fantasy game set in a world of magic so it doesn’t have to conform to real-world laws of physics. It’s just that my brain works in an odd and funny way, and this is what I lay awake at night thinking about.


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