One of the most critical, and most accurate, critiques of the standard races in Pathfinder is that they’re prosaic. They have little identity to them, and what identity they do have is so broad and shallow as to be little more than caricature. One of the worst offenders in this regard are the halflings, which with the revisions of the last few editions of the game, tend to lack any real racial definition whatsoever.
That’s what John Wick sets out to change in Wicked Fantasy: Haffuns: Seeming Servants.
Haffuns: Seeming Servants is twenty-eight pages long, and hits most of the high-water marks for a PDF product. Copy and paste is enabled, and the file is quite easy to navigate having full, nested bookmarks and a hyperlinked table of contents. I did frown slightly, however, at the file having no printer-friendly version (or, for those that prefer it, an epublishing version).
The lack of a printer-friendly file isn’t too big a deal given the book’s size, but it’s not something I can write off, either. The entire book is set against a cream-colored background, as though the text were written on parchment. Moreover, this background has some very lightly-drawn designs on it; in some places these designs actually fade the text laid over them, causing the lettering to appear to change its shading, which is slightly bothersome to the eye. There are only two illustrations in the book, both full-page color pieces (though one is done in a very muted style). I quite enjoyed the artwork here, and do wish that there’d been more of it, but what’s here is quite impressive given the space of each picture.
Haffuns: Seeming Servants gives us a very different version of halflings than has been seen before. While halflings in contemporary RPGs seem to be something of an adjunct to human culture, Seeming Servants takes this to a more literal degree. Haffuns, a name the race adopted from the humans, appeared two centuries ago, fleeing an unknown terror from below the earth. Since then, they’ve ingratiated themselves into human society as a servitor race; they’re the “support staff” to affluent human households, serving as the porters, maids, cooks, and other servants of humans. This, however, is more than it seems…
The book can be roughly divided into two parts. The first half of the book focuses entirely on establishing the flavor of haffuns. While I was expecting this to focus on fairly broad overviews of their psychology and physique, I was pleasantly surprised that instead, there are several smaller sections that discuss particular aspects of what make haffuns unique. We’re told about things like taunken, their secret language that can be used in front of others without anyone knowing it’s being used at all, or tatura, the agenda and motivation of those haffuns that serve human families.
It’s only in the second half of the book that these concepts are finally put into Pathfinder mechanics. Following an initial overview of haffun racial traits, we’re then given an overview of a haffun family (though oddly, a few paragraphs of text seem to repeat themselves here). Not just a designation of relatives, a haffun family affects their stats, as does the number of family members present. For all this, I do wish that there had been more of the recent “Pathfinder-isms” regarding new races here; alternate racial traits and favored class abilities would have been a nice extra.
Several new haffun feats are present which help to flesh out their previously-described abilities, along with a final mechanic that helps to quantify what it is that haffuns are hiding from humans, before we move into classes.
The first part of this section is a new cleric archetype, the jorsha, which has a close affinity with the dead. This is not your classical necromancer, as a jorsha’s powers are largely focused around detection and expulsion. Interestingly, a jorsha’s focus of worship is not a deity, but their ancestors – given that this affects their domain choices, I wish that we’d gotten some sample ancestors, as it seems like this is a large enough thematic change to the cleric that some additional material would have been helpful.
The final part of the book deals with the new haffun base class: the butler. While I can imagine some jokes being made at the class name, the concept that it provides is quite interesting in its execution. While this is obviously a “support” class, it goes about it in ways that are, for the most part, unique. I say “for the most part” because it does include an unavoidable nod towards combat utility in that it can sneak attack. But the rest of its abilities are quite innovative (though some of them are essentially some of the feats presented earlier); while it can (like a rogue) pick from a list of abilities every few levels – a list that expands as it gains levels – these are not rogue talents. The number of abilities here is quite interesting in what it offers, such as marking a person to know when they’re in danger, even if the person doesn’t know it herself; or being able to make an item hidden on someone’s person completely undetectable. This is a class whose utility extends further than just combat.
Overall, Haffuns: Seeming Servants is a product that does a great job giving a fairly uninspired race a new identity. Rather than try to radically reinvent halflings, this book plays up their post-modern identity, and in the process makes them something that looks familiar, but becomes more and more new as you peel back the surface. If not for a few minor technical issues, and that certain areas could have been fleshed out more, this book would be perfect. As it is, the book’s problem areas are deficiencies more than errors, don’t detract from what is here. Double your halflings’ utility in your game with Wicked Fantasy: Haffuns: Seeming Servants.