To begin, here are the design concepts of the Southfarthing Confidential, a halfling police procedural game/setting I’m writing:
Shirriffs and Bounders
Re-reading the prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring about a year back, it dawned on me that I had never seen anyone do anything, as far as I was and am aware, game-wise with the concept of halfling policemen. Ol’ J.R.R. writes about the ‘Shirriffs’ in “Of the Ordering of the Shire:
‘The Shirriffs was the name that the Hobbits gave to their police, or the nearest equivalent they possessed. They had, of course, no uniforms (such as things being quite unknown), only a feather in their caps; and they were in practice rather haywards than policemen, more concerned with the strayings of beasts than of people. There were in all the Shire only twelve of them, three in each Farthing, for Inside Work. A rather larger body, varying at need, was employed to “beat the bounds”, and to see that Outsiders of any kind, great or small, did not make themselves a nuisance.
At the time when this story begins the Bounders, as they were called, had been greatly increased. There were many reports and complaints of strange persons and creatures prowling about the borders, or over them: the first sign that all was not quite as it should be, and always had been except in tales and legends of long ago.’
Wow! Somehow, in the dozen or so times I’ve probably read that prologue, this never quite stood out to me as prominently as it did this once. I’d encountered the idea of halfling guards or policemen-like operators only one other time in the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying Game career of ‘fieldwarden.’ I’m not familiar enough with the Middle Earth Roleplaying Game to say if there is anything there about, but I’ll be investigating that soon.
My first impulse was to run a Middle-earth campaign set in the shire where the PCs were bounders, but quickly the whole idea sounded really boring–lots of fighting off dwarves, goblins, and men. That didn’t really sound all that exciting and to be honest, I’m not a very serious person and while halflings are inherently hilarious, this wasn’t doing it for me. Then it hit me: pipeweed!
Back when Peter Jackson’s movies came out I remember a lot of jokes about Old Toby’s purported mildly hallucinogenic effects, which is, of course, entirely untrue, but I digress. Still, the halfling love of the leaf was an interesting element, seeing that Tolkien had just devoted an entire section of the prologue to it, as well. So, I wondered, what if pipeweed was more marijuana-like, or at least, what if it came to be seen as a social ill among the Shirefolk?
Quickly, the whole idea of setting this in the Shire was dropped, and I started thinking of the consequences of pipeweed being made illegal. Not by any leap of the imagination this led to the idea of organized crime, increased police (Shirriff) funding, and the idea that Bounders (having jurisdiction across and outside the Farthings) were pretty much G-men. Then what about dwarves? They were more accepted into the halfling lands than others, but it was clear they weren’t exactly welcome…
It all started to come together. All it needed was a bit of a push. Halflings always had that shtick in games of being slightly not on the up-and-up anyway. So why not take the bucolic wonderland of the Shire and its almost Elysium-like pastures and treat it as if it were really as sleazy as 1970s NYC or ’80s Miami?
Of course, this was absolutely ridiculous, but somehow it made so, so much sense. Halfling mafioso and cow-path pushers. Hardboiled halfling shirriffs whose experience chasing roving cattle has given them the tools to take them on. Or the younger Shirriffs like the loose sling who, at any moment, might go over the edge. Or the gloomy bounder who’s close to being discovered after years working ‘underhill.”
‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.’
Yeah, this was the shit. But I had to find a way to make it work. So that’s what I’ll be doing in this blog (some of the times). Any ideas anyone has to throw my way are appreciated. So far I’ve ran a brief campaign using D&D 5th ed. and a con game at NTRPG Con. They were both well-received and a lot of fun. I might start up an online game, too, for the purpose of working things out. If anyone is interested, I’ll definitely be looking for players.