I'm my sci-fi setting's history, various hominid species are in competition with each other for dominance of earth and its resources. Among these races are "Halflings" ... okay, not haflings per se, but rather like Homo florensis with an upgrade, namely human level intelligence (or H. Sapiens with an advanced case of insular dwarfism). The primary trait of these "Halflings" is a very small stature, standing but 0.9 - 1.1 meters tall. Now, this is small, very small, though it may give them some advantages (for example they would be but ~33% the mass of humans and thus they could have thrice the population density in the same amount of land).

There is a long and attested history of anthropologically smaller peoples being dominated by larger ones. Since they are so small, I see no reason why man i. e. homo sapiens (and in this world, his fellows) would not immediately steamroll over any population of halflings they encounter. So I have opted to include some unique biological quirks that might give them the edge over H. sapiens. At present, they have at least the following traits:

  • a height of 90 ~ 110 cm (the stature [and possibly strength] of a 5 year old)

  • a physical maturity age of 9 ~ 10 (though a mental maturity age in the mid teens)

  • the intelligence of an average human

  • (at minimum) average human lifespan

Ideally these Halfling become a problem and serious rival to humanity in the future, but I don't see a group race of homonids the size of 5 year olds standing a chance against any human population, much less seriously challenging them. So, sticking to that which is in the realm of evolutionary possibility (700,000 ish years of evolution).

What biological traits could I realistically endow the Halflings with to give them at least a fighting change against humans?

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    $\begingroup$ You mention this is a sci fi setting. What is the tech level that humans and halflings are at? It seems to me guns, vehicles, and artillery pretty thoroughly equalize the power of their respective armies. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 4:32
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    $\begingroup$ Is there any reason you're not drawing inspiration from dwarves, who generally excel in hardiness and the fact that they inhabit a region that humans simply are not willing/able to inhabit? Combat prowess is not the only factor in survival. Some creatures survive based on sheer numbers and/or how tough it is to kill them, even if they don't pack a punch themselves. $\endgroup$
    – Flater
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 9:42
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    $\begingroup$ "for example they would be but ~33% the mass of humans and thus they could have thrice the population density in the same amount of land" This seems like a bit of an oversimplification - if they have human-level intelligence then their brains are presumably equivalent to ours, and our brains account for 20% of calorie consumption. That means the halflings need more like 50% of the resources of a human (0.2 + 0.8*0.33), not one third. $\endgroup$
    – K. Morgan
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 14:36
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    $\begingroup$ The Competitive exclusion principle tells us that two species cannot live for long in the same ecological niche. In reality, either Halflings have to be better at us in the same niche (in which case we aren't viable), or they have to be competing for different resources. Do they eat something we don't? Are they maybe hunter gatherers around a human agrarian society? Do they live in swamps or other locations not favourable to humans? $\endgroup$
    – Nathan
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 15:46
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    $\begingroup$ At a summer camp where I worked, I knew a really short old guy (self-given nickname was Shorty) who was way stronger than most of us teenage guys. He'd carry stuff by himself that required two of us. Also, the African pygmies (probably not the PC term) are way stronger than you'd expect, and this is often true of small-statured people groups. My point being: fully grown adults can often be much stronger than you'd think, based on their size. So I think your "strength of average 5-year-old" is needlessly restrictive. $\endgroup$
    – dmm
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 18:34

26 Answers 26


Masters of the Jungle

Your halflings are well adapted to life in the jungle. Their small frame makes it easy to maneuver through dense foliage and their low weight makes it easy to support themselves on branches. They are not as weak as a human child. In fact they are surprisingly strong for their size. Smaller creatures often have more strength than larger creatures pound for pound and these people will have evolved through millennia of lifting their body weight with their arms to get up trees.

Hidden Treetop Villages

Due to their natural inclination for their tree based habitat they went on to primarily build in and around large trees, forming villages that aren't readily visible from ground-level. Any humans who do venture into their jungle will be hard pressed to locate their population centers and even harder pressed to actually attack them. Humans are too big and heavy to fight them in the branches and trying to light the place on fire will be difficult due to the fresh, often wet foliage. Not to mention dangerous to the humans themselves.

Resistance to Disease and Parasites

There are a wide variety of things in jungles that can kill humans, and the vast majority of them are microbial. Halflings, however? They have an immunity to most of the jungle bacteria and know how to heal the bites of various snakes and spiders with local herbs. Humans who try to set up settlements in this jungle quickly find themselves at the mercy of the halflings' medical knowledge, and the halflings aren't sharing.

Small Frame means Hard to Hit

Halflings don't engage humans on the ground when they fight. Instead they hide in the trees with their blowguns, bows, and throwing spears and pepper enemy armies from above. Usually in combination of complex traps or by exploiting natural sinkholes or shallow swamps to ambush them. Because the humans can't climb up the trees after them the humans are forced into a ranged engagement where the halflings have the advantage in being harder to hit. Humans also lose their advantage of heavy armor in the jungle. At least if they don't fancy getting stuck in wet mud or drowning.

Poison Everything

The halflings have a long history of coating their arrows and darts with poison or even just feces. Even minor cuts delivered from their weapons can kill the man struck by them after weeks of vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. Worse is that the halflings have made it a habit of sneaking into human camps at night and poisoning their drinking water or stealing their food.

Risk vs Reward

In the end invading the jungle full force just isn't profitable. The halflings are too entrenched and too skilled at the sort of warfare the jungle encourages while humans stepping into that land may as well be entering another world. The loss of soldiers through the sheer attrition of disease and poison builds up quickly. So does the cost in horses, weapons, armor, and resources to make camp. Eventually it becomes too expensive to continuously mount expeditions of war into the jungle and humanity mostly stops save for the occasional rich explorer.

This gives time for technology to advance. If the halflings advance at a similar pace the humans may never be able to close the gap in military power that the jungle provides the halflings, allowing both to survive until whatever time period your story is set in.

  • $\begingroup$ I really like your answer but woulden't it be easy for the other races to start wild fires in the jungle to force them out of hiding? $\endgroup$
    – InstaPoppy
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 13:16
  • $\begingroup$ @InstaPoppy: Depending how wet the jungle is, it might not burn that easily. (e.g. rain forest). i.e. it might take a lot of effort to get a fire going that was big enough to spread on its own. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ @InstaPoppy You could also give the humans some other reason to not want to burn down the jungle. Carrot and stick, you know. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 15:12
  • $\begingroup$ @InstaPoppy you would need to burn all the jungles and forests of the planet. $\endgroup$
    – Cœur
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 15:12
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    $\begingroup$ @InstaPoppy Like others are saying, burning a rainforest is really, really hard. Wet, living wood is hard to start a fire with. On top of that, what would be the benefit? Why would humans burn down a massive, potentially continent spanning ecosystem? They just burned all the natural resources they might be going into the jungle to get in the first place and made the area nearly inhospitable to themselves. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 23:37

Don't make them so weak

Make them proportionately strong, which makes them weaker overall but doesn't critically disadvantage them. They're going to have to be appropriately strong just to survive, the strength of a 5yo is not enough.

Small size isn't such a disadvantage

They're more agile, without so much bulk to move around they can change direction much more easily. A large adult human is relatively slow to turn or reverse at high speeds. The square cube law makes them much better climbers, strength for weight they'll be able to swarm up trees and surfaces that humans would have great trouble with. Lower body mass does have some issues retaining heat, but you could give them a tolerance for a wider range of temperatures. (Also they're smaller targets.)

Evolving with lower strength means their teamwork is necessarily better

If they've evolved on a world with creatures that are otherwise the equivalent size to ours, then to bring down large prey they're going to have to hunt with larger groups. Where humans might send out a 4 man team, the halflings will send out a team of 8 or 10 for the same task, but now the humans are outnumbered.

In a sci-fi setting strength doesn't matter

It's now all about tools and technology. All other things are equal as physical contact isn't made. The greater agility, greater numbers and better teamwork will give them an edge in any combat situation. They'll also have a significant advantage in any defensive ship to ship or urban combat situation as their corridors, buildings and other personal spaces will be far too small for humans.


You have the answer in the question:


Just think goblins. One skilled man could easily kill one skilled goblin but what about three, what about five?

You already state that they become adults faster, just give them litters of two or three and voilà. Moreover, the number advantage will become more and more prominent the more technology advances.

  • One strong man with a stick against three weak Halflings with sticks? Okay!

  • One strong man with a bow against three weak Halflings with bows? Less okay...

And what about guns and tanks in the future? They can make smaller guns and vehicles, which mean more of them for the same resources.

In your world, I'd be more preoccupied about Halflings ruling every other race.

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    $\begingroup$ Also, if that's a sci-fi world, I don't think the size would matter in a confrontation so long as that involves pulling a trigger / pressing a button. A 5 y.o. can press a button just as an adult in a vehicle of any size. $\endgroup$
    – Alma Do
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 12:54
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah but from what I understand, OP wants to know how the Halflings survived until now. If they had no advantage, humans would have killed them far before the future happens. $\endgroup$
    – Jemox
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 13:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Echox Not for certain. Earlier puberty with the same life span means they could recoup population losses faster. If they developed technologically in lock step with humans, that would give them a significant edge, and I'd expect them to be the dominant species. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 20:19
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    $\begingroup$ Archery is not a great example. Despite many videogames teaching you that it's based on agility, it's not. You need great strength to use a bow effectively against live targets. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 7:25
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    $\begingroup$ I think this answer underestimates the degree of strength required for warfare in all periods including the present day. Archery is extremely strength-intensive. Even with modern rifle technology, infantry combat is extremely strength intensive. While different design choices could reduce the problem, operating and maintaining armored fighting vehicles is extremely strength intensive. While a smaller gun or tank requires less resources, it will generally have less range, less firepower, less payload, and (for armored vehicles) less survivability than a larger equivalent. $\endgroup$
    – Deolater
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 16:15

You mentioned "sci-fi", so I'm assuming this setting of yours is either contemporary or near future.

1 - Faster Reproduction

The homo sapiens' gestation lasts 9 months and even so, humans can reproduce quite fast. Have your halflings reproduce faster than this, like 4 or 5 months and you will have an army that replenishes its forces much quicker than their foes.

Also worth noting that, if people are born at a higher rate, there's a higher chance that a genius (or someone remarkable, like a Tesla, Newton or Einstein) is born within that society and, thus, be the spark for a great technological advancement that will give them an edge on the dispute.

Edit: If you think the reduction of the gestation time is too absurd, you can achieve the same goal by saying that the gestation of multiple children is way more common in halflings than in humans. They would still have to go through the 9 month period, but every gestation would have a very high probability of yelding twins or triplets.

2 - Earlier Maturity Age

You stated this in the question. If you combine this with the fact that they're born faster, you have contributing members of society that will mature a few years before regular humans.

The way I see this, both these factors combine sum up to a civilization that will advance considerably faster than the homo sapiens in the long run.

3 - Strength in Numbers

No halfling should ever walk alone outside of their domain. Though they might be a few times more nimble than a regular human, I'm guessing that it takes one good hit from a homo sapiens to incapacitate a halfling.

Battle-wise, I believe the humans will always have the strength and reach advantage. But if you consider a 3x1 fight, the scenario is compeltely different. Fatigue builds up fast in combat. Unless the human is skilled enough to quickly incapacitate one or two of his foes, he will be in serious trouble to watch his own back against the quick little halfling going for his achiles' heels.

This can easily be achieved consdering points 1 and 2.

4 - Stealth

A reduced body size is a good advantage for sneaking up on enemies. Stealth operations of the halflings would be much more inconspicuous and prone to success, since they could easily hide behind boxes or under vehicles while inside the enemy base.

5 - A Stronger Sense of Community

Humans could have this as well - but we've been here for thousands of years and we're not even close to this. I think it's safe to assume that we won't have it in the near future.

Have your halflings be a kind of utopic society where everyone watches each other's back in every way possible. People have good jobs, houses and generally act as a community that strives for advancement. No need for greed or exploitation of the poor - they see every member as an equal contributing part of society, from the guy who cleans the floor to the general that commands thousands to battle.

Edit: Considering the edit I made to point 1, this could be easier to achieve (could because not all families are exactly role models). The point here is that, with more children comes the notion that they're all part of one big family (I guess).


They are the size of a 5 year old but with the intelligence of an adult?

First - I would look at every question we have on fighting giants (cause that's what this is) and how that would work.

Second - biologically you already have one strong candidate for:

  • assassin or spy
  • hunter/trapper
  • bard or other entertainer
    • no voice change I presume
    • A good way to influence people
  • inventors of wondrous gadgets to confound or otherwise hurt the enemy
    • With a social, political?, drive to do so and field an equal military
    • Based on biological ability to do what the "fat-fingered" bigger races cannot1.

Assassins and Spies

If a halfling could pose as a child (maybe even give some children a treat to gather "real" children around) and then just knife a political target and disappear back into the swarm of fleeing children as everyone panics - that's ideal assassin. In fact, simply being able to hide better (smaller more areas to hide in) or be seen as "not a threat" more easily would allow him both to be a talented assassin. As well as, allow it to be a strong candidate for a spy as it would be easier to access places most cannot and overhear conversations most would not want to be overheard.

Hunters (and well a few other key roles)

I would think of adding one set of biological evolution to this - heightened hearing and smell. If halflings become excellent hunters (think of setting traps or crossbows/bowguns/slings for various small game or even larger depending on crossbow/sling type) due to these heightened senses they would be prized by kingdoms which need to fill their own warriors stomachs....and it would be a quick step from there to guerrilla tactics/warfare. Add a second fairly natural advantage - they are already smaller and so should require less food to keep themselves going. So just add to that with either an evolved extremely effective digestive system (either in the sense that they use food for energy at highly effective rates or they have resistances and strong stomach acids which allow them to digest more items as food then a human)

Traps work extremely well in environments with heavy concealment (jungles, tall grass, forests) and their size would not matter in the slightest when it came to actually setting them up. Also as a short person who has chased people through swamps (MP on Paris Island) I moved faster than or as fast as my tall partners - it was easier to get through the bramble, branches, brush, and etc.

Note, this also goes well with the assassin or even just as a tracker with the local authorities. These senses are also likely to evolve for all the same reasons they evolve in prey animals (though may need to slightly adjust look to account for) in the real world.

1Research how children were used in industrial revolutions.


You are mixing time periods and evolutionary advantages with a naive interpretation of Darwin.

Your "halflings" aren't weak at all. The time when conflict was decided by body mass and strength is over. Mobility and speed is a typical advantage of smaller people (assuming we are not talking about actual dwarfism!). In a gunfight, everyone puts out the same amount of deadly force (SciFi setting, assuming that weapon size is not an issue), but being smaller means being more difficult to hit. Which is about the biggest advantage you can get. It also means being able to take full cover behind smaller obstacles, being able to get through smaller spaces and so on.

Honestly, with the same intelligence, I would be more afraid for normal-sized humans.

In a prolonged conflict, the ability to replenish your numbers faster (i.e. earlier maturity, meaning baby production turning into soldiers quicker) is a massive advantage. Almost all large-scale conflicts of the modern age have been wars of attrition. The side the lost was typically the one that stopped being able to produce new material to the frontlines - weapons, ammunition or soldiers.


The biggest problem with spacecraft is weight. You want things to weigh less and less.

So, your halflings have a natural advantage in spaceflight. This means that, while it seems you are fighting over a single planet, the halflings are going to have an advantage in space. While hardware requirements don't change, things like life support and food and crew are all a bit less mass. Which means, ton for ton, their space stations will have more room for other things. Like weapons, if your setting so desires it.

Put a few soldiers in orbit, and they can be anywhere in a very short period of time. And that's ignoring any direct orbital strikes.


Halflings tolerate heat.

Environmental temperature and human growth in early life.

A link between adult human body size and environmental temperature, evolved through adaptation to heat stress, was first recognized a century ago and is now well accepted in human biology. Increasing heat stress favours smaller body size and an increased ratio of surface area to mass.

Mammals generate metabolic heat. If your environment is hot, you have to get rid of that heat. The larger you are, the more volume you have per surface area and the harder it is to get rid of that heat. In truly hot environments this gets to be a big problem. Humans rely a lot on sweating to dump heat. If it is 40C and 100% humidity it gets difficult for humans to stay cool.

Halfling territory is hot and wet. Their smaller size and consequent better cooling ability means they can live and thrive in these circumstances. Larger bodied individuals suffer and have to reduce heat generation and activity.

I thought I invented this. I did not. It turns out exactly the small body adaption or "pygmy phenotype" has been selected for many times even in existing human populations and for exactly this reason - it is advantageous in hot, wet environments. This is true for mammals of all types (many also called pygmy - pygmy goats, pygmy hippos) and it is true for humans.

Pygmy phenotype developed many times, adaptive to rainforest

Short stature may be adaptive for rainforest individuals for a variety of reasons, according to Perry. Small bodies require less food, which is adaptive for a food-limited location like the rainforest. Small bodies also generate less heat, which, in the heat and humidity of the rainforest, is adaptive...

"What we think we see is that regions of the genome that are involved in the Batwa's Pygmy phenotype do not look the same in West Africa," said Perry. "If the Pygmy phenotype were really old, then we would have expected the locations to be similar."

The fact that they are not, suggests that both of these Pygmy phenotypes arose independently, separated geographically, with different underlying genetics, but with individuals who look similar.

So too your halflings. They are in essence pygmies. Their heat tolerance lends itself to a story. Suffering from heat is acute and easy to convey, and an obvious reason why large humans pushing into halfing territory might decide it is not such a good place for them to live.


I offer you two skills which humans and to a certain degree anthropoid apes have developed and which would be reasonable for your hobbits to develop. If you put external pressure on them by other stronger and larger races closing in on them and their territories, you could argue that this speeded up their development compared to the stronger races without need for it.

Technical prowess - craftiness

A race with such a small amount of strength living in an earth similar to ours will find the need to craft tools much sooner than a race of stronger humans. You need little more than some strength and dexterity to create a biface, but you will need a lot of strength for throwing a spear or piercing anything with such a weapon. Inventing the bow allows a smaller creature to propel any arrow much further than a strong arm could throw a spear giving them the advantage of range before others.

Also, inventing the pulley for helping with lifting anything too heavy for them or the wheel for creating aids for transporting heavy things will become necessary much earlier in their racial history, as they have barely any chance of migrating without such aids. Being small allows you to create shafts for mining ore much more easily and you need far less strength to mine, if you a crafty enough to use the strength of dammed water to help with breaking rocks from one another.

Taming beasts of burden or defense earlier in history

Such a race might also find the need to tame beasts of burden which help with carrying anything to heavy for your hobbits or wolves/jackals for defense against the taller and stronger humans and other races, before anyone else comes up with the idea. Once you have riding beasts, you can outrun anyone else and flee or keep at range when you get under attack from stronger races.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 Re: the last point. May be there are no equivalents of horses large enough to carry humans on this planet? Halflings on the other hand may enhance their mobility by taming the available minihorses. Could be enough of an edge in a battle fought in certain types of terrains. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 16:52

They were oppressed by humans for centuries.

There was a plague that they were resistant to, but humans were not.

During this plague, the human society keeping them down as literal slaves (or maybe just second class citizens) declined rapidly.

They used this decline to cast off the human oppressors and left to form their own insular communities that strongly distrust humans to this day.

As they have human-level intelligence, they progressed scientifically during the plague-induced dark age that the humans suffered from. Humans were left behind by virtue of societal collapse making subsistence a priority for even the brightest minds.

They're a few hundred years ahead of humans scientifically, including military doctrine and weapons sciences.

They continue to be insular from humans and jealously guard their technological might, because they fear espionage and theft of their knowledge, and they know (or at least think, depending on how irredeemable you write humans) that humans will use their own stolen technology to overpower them and enslave them again. They don't harm humans out of bigotry, or meddle in human affairs, because they're nobler and more forgiving than humans, but they still are pragmatic enough to know not to trust them with power, or the tools to obtain power.



Size isn't everything. Killer bees are feared as are fire ants. A wolverine can bring down prey many times it's own size. If something's bite is far than it's bark, it tends to be left alone.

If the "halflings" have a fiery short temper, people would be less likely to pick a fight with them.

If you have the berserker fit hit them with a massive adrenaline kick, they can get stronger and faster plus dull the sense of pain.

Only the dumbest human would even entertain the idea of playing "toss the dwarf"....


Kaz Smedry, From Brandon Sanderson's "Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians" series has a list of reasons why short people are better than tall people. Among these are:

15. Short people make smaller targets
In a world where technology has advanced to primarily use ranged weapons, short people are harder to hit. Give them a boost to their natural speed and they'd also be fairly balanced in 1v1 hand to hand combat.

63. If everyone were short, ceilings could be lower, thereby lowering building costs.
In general, a society of smaller creatures would need fewer resources, in terms of food, buildings, et cetera. If most of the farming is done by machines now, a halfling can match the productivity of a human, while needing fewer resources to sustain themselves, meaning they have more excess resources.

82. When short people plummet to their doom, they don't fall as far.
While the above is not strictly speaking true, in a society with flying machines (or tall cliffs), it would be easier to develop glider or parachute technology designed to support a child sized person.

257. A tall person can shield you from dragon breath.
Entirely self explanatory.


Maybe you should think about the Orcs in Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and the Silmarillion.

The adult orcs came in a number of different sizes, usually smaller than men, and some were small enough that a military unit of orcs mistook hobbits for fellow orcs and the overseers made the two hobbits fall in line and march instead of killing them.

And yet the dark lords Morgoth and Sauron used hordes of orcs in their armies to fight and usually overwhelm armies of men and Elves who were much bigger and stronger than the average Orc.

The Orc armies seemed to have the advantage of numbers and reproducing more rabidly. And possibly they may have had the advantage of being soldiers fighting armies of Elves and Men who were warriors instead of soldiers. Warrior forces sometimes defeat modern soldiers, but soldiers usually defeat warriors.

Note that the ancient Gaul and German warriors were bigger and stronger on the average than the Roman soldiers, but the Romans usually defeated the Gauls and the Germans.

Note that east Asian horse riding nomads were smaller on the average than, for example, Northern Europeans, yet the Mongol invaders of Europe won a number of battles and wars with superior discipline, tactics, and strategy and ruled parts of Europe for centuries.

So your hobbits can win and defeat men if your hobbits are armies of trained and disciplined soldiers led by generals who have studied tactics and strategy, fighting armies of warriors.

And you might want to see my answer here:

What stops a race of giants from wiping out humanity?1


I would go with a combination of the Swiss, Tucker's Kobolds, Hobbiton conviviality, and (don't shoot me) World of Warcraft gnomes.

Why did it take humans millennia to figure out electricity? Religion, superstition, politics, all schemes of power... What if the halflings just weren't that into conquest and domination, and put their keen minds to science? So their tech is a bit better than the humans, not necessarily "electricity within 100 years of discovering copper", but definitely enough design generations above their neighbors.

They don't have imperialism as a value and believe in fair dealing, so they are not a territorial threat to their neighbors. Much the opposite, halflings earn a fine reputation as kind, generous, good neighbors and traders; when a halfling calls on an inn, it is considered a good portent for the innkeeper.

But they are certainly aware of imperialism, and are prepared for it. Woe be to any invader who thinks to anschluss any halfling lands, and march expecting to meet halfling legions spear to spear. Instead, they find themselves hopelessly mired in prepared defenses they can't even see or understand, and they are torn apart; it seems the armies are being eaten by the land itself.

When their remnants head for home, they find nobody wants to trade with them. Their neighbors do not approve of their mad, pointless assault on the halflings; it is heresy to whatever god smited their armies. The king's marriage to a neighboring kingdom's daughter is annulled. After enough pain to remind them why trade and foreign relations are good things, good relations amongst the kingdoms are restored by diplomatic efforts of - who'd imagine - the halflings.

It soon becomes a matter of near superstition: Don't mess with the halflings.

It helps that the halflings have an affinity for lands that are highly defensible but not particularly desirable; they favor places like Switzerland.

  • $\begingroup$ This is genius; Hitler didn't even touch Switzerland because if he did, it turns out that the Swiss could have mobilized their entire army in five to six minutes. It sounds insane, I know; I'd give you the link, but I haven't been able to find the website. $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Commented Jan 7, 2021 at 1:22

Smaller size means less food required. By roughly the cube of the height ratio (i.e. half height means 1/8 food).

Throughout history, halflings lived in marginal lands: semi-deserts and tundras. Humans could survive there, but only as sparse nomadic bands: anything more would starve. But halflings can build cities, and maintain specialists. So halflings have blacksmiths in places where humans have hunters who sometimes carve bones.

As empires grow, the halflings face a new threat: more distant humans from more fertile lands. These humans can match them in numbers and technology, and while they can't live off the land, they can conquer it. But these armies are dependent on their long, vulnerable supply lines, and the halflings know the territory a lot better. So these conquests don't go well.

At some point, resources worth getting are found in the arid lands. The halflings are well-positioned to extract them, whereas the humans would need constant food caravans and still find the task very unpleasant. It's just cheaper to trade for the stuff than to conquer the place and extract it yourself.

By the time transport gets cheap enough to change that, guns are invented, and size is no longer an advantage.


Their small size gives them a few big advantages.

First, hobbit-sized buildings are likely to be quite defensible against human-sized foes. In real life, a major feature of castle construction was to have two main gates, set up sequentially so you have to go through both to get in, and they are at right angle to each other. This makes it impossible to use a battering ram to get through the inner gate. Rams have to be really heavy and narrow, which makes them long. Too long to be able to take a tight turn. Well every hobbit structure has this kind of advantage. Humans simply can't get in if the doors are hobbit-sized.

Second, because hobbits are smaller, they will be able to have more dense formations on the battlefield. This is really important for pike formations; denser formations fit more pikes in the same area.

Third, they will make great heavy cavalry. Because hobbits are smaller and weigh less, any horses they ride could have more armor or could go further without tiring. You don't need to be strong to wield a lance, the horse does all the work.

Fourth, they'll be great at using chariots or war elephants. You could fit more hobbits or arrows on the same sized chariot or howdah.


1. Craftsmen and Builders

It is often a common trait in most Fantasy novels, for "halflings" to be weak and have an average intelligence however, at the same time they have the ability to craft objects such as weapons and high quality goods at a far superior rate than any other species. This will provide them with a sustainable economic system which allows them to dominate other species with the wealth that they are able to accumulate.

This will allow them to both manipulate other species social systems and provide for their own defense by crafting effective weaponry at the same time.

2. Tunnelers

An added trait in order to ensure that the "halflings" are competitive with the dominate species, is the ability to tunnel and dig, therefore they will be more adapt at getting resources than their competitors.

Futhermore, with this ability they can dominate the other species by thriving underground, creating their own environment, to which they may develop a plan to reclaim the surface from the competing species.


What about an electric eel like shock to prey/enemies that immobilized them for a second/half second when within 5 feet or so. Halflings have much greater mass than an eel and can send a much greater shock but the shock does not transmit as well through the air as it does in water. If you get close enough in hand to hand fighting, you will lose.

If their favorite prey has developed an immunity to their shock they would need the shock to get progressively stronger to bring them down. They could potentially have a very powerful charge.

There is also how often they can send a charge and how much they are weakened when the shock something and if they can control the strength of each shock event with adjusting for the prey size, etc. There could also be different strengths of charge in different individuals/populations within the halfling population, etc.


Razor sharp toenails

Halflings walk barefoot and their toenails are extremely thick and hornlike. When preparing for battle they sharpen these toenails to a point with razor sharp edges.

Halflings of course are nothing if not stealthy. They creep up behind a foe and kick him in the ankle thus severing his Achilles tendon and incapacitating him. While he is writhing on the ground in agony they disappear back into the undergrowth.

More athletic halflings can leap into the air and kick higher up the body - there is a special name for this martial art which I am not at liberty to divulge.


One more untouched issue: ability to domesticate smaller animals for riding. Let's say llamas - halfings would be able to form a mountain cavalry using such animals, which would give them serious edge in proper environments.



Perhaps faster reflexes would be more appropriate. Assuming that the nerve conduction speed of the halflings is equal to that of the humans, their nerve impulses have much less distance to travel.

This allows for a silly role-playing trope of my college years: the halfling martial artist.

But seriously, it could make the halflings more skilled at weapons than the humans.


Make them like Hobbits: they are extremely good at staying out of other people's way. By doing so, they avoid being a problem to others, and thus the opportunity cost acts in their favor.


We know that for most of human history, humans were not actually progressing.

Rather, we were moving around the landscape, infighting and bulding city-states that were later deserted due to climatic or other issues. Only very recently we had any sustainable civilization, starting from Egypt.

Just make halflings never go backwards. Let them excel at agriculture and cover more and more ground with their settlements.

People from stone age can't really put much against this, since they are in small tribes. They can try to loot and pillage a settlement, taking heavy casualties from sling fire and darts, while still being pushed into the woods, hills and other broken landscapes.

Just make them very cooperative with each other and never falling down a stair.


Numbers and throwing

you seem to be missing an implication of what you already have, if they need less food that means their tribal size can be bigger. One of the big advantages Sapiens had over neanderthals (who were larger and stronger) was we had much bigger tribes, we were also likely better at ranged combat. An individual might be bigger but with intelligent creature numbers matters a lot more. Prior to agriculture (and even mostly after that) human communities max out at around 150 individuals, this is due to how many other people we can keep track of. Make halflings double that 300, three times would be pushing it because they are not saving that much calorically, because a smaller animals metabolism has to be faster, but half as much is reasonable. the changes to their brain will not be noticable externally so it is easy to handwave.

You can make this effect even stronger with something else halflings are often given better throwing arms. if their are more of you and they are naturally better archers or slingers that's a pretty significant advantage in conflict. This could be better hand eye coordination or even something as simple as a better shoulder architecture. Now they will suffer reduced range thanks to their size but if their aim is better it becomes a mre even playing field.

In essence they are beating sapiens at their own game, but the drastic difference in size evens it out.


1) Heat tolerance. They are small and suffer less from heat. In very hot areas, like the Gulf of Darien in Colombia, they would be kings and humans would die from heat. The problem is that they would suffer in cold climates.

2) They aren't that weak. Muscle power is relative to muscle area, not length. If their muscles can get large if they pump iron, they may be as strong as a human.


While Halflings are generally more like pygmies than children, it might be worth considering some physiological advantages that children can have, and potentially let the Halflings keep them as they age, somehow. Namely, age-related deterioration could set in either more slowly, or later but more rapidly.

The one that seems to run into issues around puberty for some reason is vision. If Halfling eyes age better on average than those of most other humanoids, there's an advantage. Combine that with stealth and agility, and you have excellent spies / assassins / burglars / ninjas, or snipers once weapons suitable for sniping are available.

How about healing from injuries, or what it takes for injuries to be noteworthy in the first place? Combine a fully developed immune system with a youthful ability to recover from wounds more readily without having to be extraordinarily in-shape, and Halflings make up for being easy to smack around with the ability to walk it off faster. Being lighter would also put less strain on certain essential joints, which, combined with better wound tolerance and recovery, means you have a much lower rate of attrition among soldiers.

So, now you have an army of ninjas with a bonus to accuracy and healing. Throw in the environmental advantages everyone else has mentioned, and the only missing piece is their weaponry, as most premodern ranged weapons (and some modern) do utilize the user's strength for efficacy. Crossbows and blowdarts, perhaps with poison ammo, are less strength-reliant. When guns come about, Halflings should innovate the fastest, in order to get barrel lengths lower and accuracy higher, so they can carry them rather than treat arquebus like light artillery.

One thing about the environmental aspect, though. Halflings need to innovate better than the big peoples, if possible, yet we find that the sorts of hot, forested regions where being Halfling-sized is most advantageous tend to be technologically behind more temperate regions in real life. These regions in real life have proven very difficult to conquer, historically, with much of Africa remaining unconquered until the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It's almost like a tradeoff, where the environmental elements favoring unconquerable pygmies disfavor rapid technological advancement. The precise reasons for this are not agreed upon, but if I had to suggest workarounds, I'd focus on establishing trade and communication networks that Halflings can use without compromising their environmental defenses. Tree villages with paths that don't like more than 50kg per person-space, low-tech flight via gliders or balloons (maybe there are giant animals around they can use for materials, and natural sources of lifting gases?), conveniently arranged rivers or terrain (perhaps artificially engineered in ways that favor Halflings)? If they do utilize planes, horses being viable for cavalry is a lot more recent than people generally assume, so Planes Halflings could have been among the first mounted soldiers just because horses weren't yet big enough for the other races.

In summary: retain child-like vision and healing, use strength-agnostic ranged weapons when possible, and find some way to get the advantages of tropical environments without the impediments to large-scale trade and innovation. Inca-style public works, poison dart snipers, earliest cavalry if planes are available, and monster-skin gliders and monster-stomach balloons if you want to get real crazy, and your equatorial mountains / forests / savanna Halflings might stand a chance against the big peoples long enough to reach your intended destination.


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