"Is that a hobbit over there?.
No that's a hobo and a rabbit, but they're making a hobbit."
- – Futurama
"There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But sad or merry, I must leave it now. Farewell!"
- – Thorin Oakenshield, on his deathbed
A humanoid fantasy people created by Tolkien whose primarily identifying characteristics are that they are short, have hairy feet and love to eat, drink, and be merry (and smoke some of that delicious pipeweed). Hobbits are one of the many peoples of Middle-Earth, who preferred to live in a well-ordered and well-farmed countryside community. Called "halflings" when discovered by the men of Numenor due to standing approximately half as tall as a Numenorean, Hobbits described as one of the more ancient races of Middle-Earth - though they aren't as ancient as the Elves or Dwarves and don't much care about it either way - who generally live in their own communities, but also mingle with the other folk of Middle-Earth in various places such as the town of Bree. While hobbits do form self-sustaining communities they are known to indulge in laziness, taking many naps, but when properly motivated, they can be a force to contend with.
(Just FYI, this section is named after the prologue chapter in The Fellowship of the Ring, and you can read the professor's description of Hobbits there. Seriously, go check it out.)
Hobbits are essentially rural Englishmen, and they are portrayed by Tolkien as decent, hard-working folk who tended toward being good-natured and jolly in appearance rather than beautiful, which is entirely appropriate to their natures. As far as the Hobbits living in the Shire were concerned the best part of life was sharing a feast table with their friends at a party everyone was invited to! Their clothes were usually made in bright colors such as yellow and green, and they were quite handy at whatever profession or craft they practiced, which in the Shire meant basically anything except shoemaking. If they weren't eating, sleeping, or working then they were making light-hearted jokes to one another, singing songs, telling stories, or thinking of another reason to throw a party, because no Hobbit worth their salt can say no to a good party with presents aplenty for everyone.
To top it all off Hobbits are, as a rule, very hospitable people. Anyone lucky enough to befriend a Hobbit has probably made the best friend of their life, and probably several others once they're introduced to all of the Hobbit's other friends.
Thankfully, Hobbits avoid Mary Sue territory as (with a few exceptions) their ambitions end at a reasonable home with six meals a day and they have little interest in things outside their collective comfort zone once they manage to set that up. They didn't like or understand any machines more complex than a forge, mill, or loom, and they're so discomfited by water that few of them knew how to swim, and they would have deep misgivings about something as simple as crossing a river. Their idea of a riveting book is something they've already memorized to heart. They were so afraid of deep water that the sea eventually became a terrible symbol of death to them, and the Elves' love of it drove a massive wedge between the two peoples. In short, Hobbits will make some superb ales, pies, and mushroom and beef stew, but they'll never forge empires, explore new lands, unlock the secrets of the universe, or ascend to the stars, and they're totally cool with this.
Tolkien's portrayal of Hobbits probably has something to do with the fact that he was an Englishman who loved nature and the countryside, and also witnessed firsthand what horrors an industrialized war inflicted upon his fellow man; keep this in mind when you read about what happened to the Shire at the end of "Return of the King".
Hobbits possessed excellent hearing and sharp eyesight, as well as a natural kinship with the earth which primarily manifested itself in two ways. First was the tendency to live underground in holes and tunnels; cozy little places that one couldn't mistake for anything but a well-kept and well-loved home, and stood in contrast to the grand stone holds and halls that Dwarves carved into the mountains. The second was the ability to navigate terrain quickly and with incredible stealth, and while their love of food tends to make them heavy around the middle they are still nimble creatures. If a Hobbit doesn't want you to see them, then unless you roll a natural 20 on your perception check you're not going to see them. In fact, Hobbits are so good at hiding and moving silently that humans who experience it firsthand tend to believe it's some form of magic.
Hobbits are also fond of smoking a substance referred to as "pipeweed." Although it is clearly stated to be tobacco, most people joke about it being marijuana instead (which is reinforced by the hobbits' laid back nature), which is always popular due to the easily accessible joke about Samwise Ganja. Jokes aside, the smoking of pipeweed is one thing that Hobbits can definitely say they invented, and the custom gradually spread outward from the village of Bree, where Dwarves, rangers, wizards, and other wanderers would stay on their journeys and sometimes take up the habit themselves.
Lastly, Hobbits adore genealogies for some reason. Some families kept and studied their own histories, but this wasn't common amongst their people, nor was the love of learning for its own sake. The only exception to this was genealogical lore, and if you brought the subject up in conversation it would be almost impossible to prevent any Hobbits present from talking about the subject until they fell asleep from exhaustion.
There are some might deride Hobbits for their willingness to ignore the wider world around them, or their lack of any great ambitions. The first argument has merit, as their complacency nearly brought the Shire to ruin when they forgot there are some bad motherfuckers out in the wider world, like washed-up Istari wizards who want to pollute and destroy their homeland out of pure fucking meanness. As for the second point...keep in mind that great empires tend to be forged through war and violence, something Tolkien had firsthand experience with and wouldn't hesitate to tell you is an extremely terrible thing; anyone who thinks Hobbits suck because they don't want to kill people who have never wronged them has either forgotten this or falls somewhere on the "Evil" end of the alignment scale. Since this is the internet, in the latter case they're probably an armchair general ITG who - unlike many Hobbits! - is too much of a coward to willingly risk their own life for any reason.
It might surprise you to learn that there were distinct racial and cultural phenotypes amongst the Hobbits of Middle-Earth, just as there were with the humans there and in real life. The prologue to The Lord of the Rings explains that they had already divided into three distinct ethnocultural groups before they crossed over the Misty Mountains from the east: the Harfoots, Stoors, and Fallohides.
- The Harfoots preferred to live in highlands and hillsides, were smaller, shorter, had a darker skin tone than Other Hobbits. They also didn't grow facial hair and preferred to go barefoot. They were the most common variety of Hobbits, the most likely to settle down in one place, and were heavily involved with the Dwarves in Middle-Earth's elder days. These are the ones who populate the Shire.
- The Stoors were broader, heavier in build, and possessed larger hands and feet than other Hobbits. They preferred to live in flatlands and on riversides, and were more likely to interact with humans than the Harfoots.
- The Fallohides lived in the northern areas of Middle-Earth, and were the least numerous. They were taller and slimmer than other Hobbits and possessed fairer skin and hair than the Stoors and Harfoots. They loved trees and woodlands, preferred hunting to farming, had more skill with language and song than they did handicraft, and were more friendly with Elves than other Hobbits. Being a bold and adventurous bunch, they could often be found in the role of clan leaders and chieftains among groups of Harfoots and Stoors, and the greater families of the Shire such as the Tooks and Masters of Buckland had Fallohide blood.
Put bluntly, Hobbits don't like fighting. Being a peaceful and rural people whose greatest ambitions usually end with a lot of good food and a comfortable nap, they're thoroughly disinterested in any of this "glory", "honor," and "adventure" nonsense the tall folk are so fond of. They also weren't people who killed for sport, only going hunting when they needed to. Combined with their sheltered existence, this mentality caused them to believe Middle-earth was a peaceful place with plenty for everyone to enjoy life, and that peace and plenty were the right of all sensible folk to have.
This attitude was encouraged by the fact that the Shire, one of the largest Hobbit-inhabited areas in Middle-Earth, was basically a pastoral paradise where the weather tended to be mild and packs of hungry wolves roaming the countryside were only heard of in old tales from their grandfathers. Needless to say, they were quite surprised to learn that beyond the borders of the Shire there were entire armies of violent Orcs and men lead by evil overlords who wanted to conquer the world.
This might lead some to believe that Hobbits are weak and easily pushed around, easy prey for a would-be conqueror or a band of raiders looking to make sport of them. They would be wrong. The Shire was only invaded twice in recorded history, but both times it ended very, very badly for the invaders, who learned a very painful lesson on how "peaceful" and "avoids violence" doesn't mean "helpless". Back in the days before the Shire was established the world was a rather harsh place where the Hobbits needed to fight to defend themselves, and if they were as weak and soft as they appear at first glance then they never would have survived until the present day.
Hobbits make perfect scouts, thieves, archers, and ambushers due to their agility, keen eyesight, excellent hand-eye coordination, and preternatural aptitude for sneaking and not being found when they don't want to be. They have crazy good aim when shooting and throwing things, and are perfectly capable of hurling a stone with enough force to break someone's head open. They're also surprisingly effective in melee combat, especially when fighting to protect someone they care about.
Furthermore, for all their love of good food and laziness Hobbits were made of pretty stern stuff and capable of enduring hardship with enough fortitude to astonish anyone unfamiliar with them; they could handle grief, hostile weather, murderous foes, and lack of good food and drink with incredible aplomb.
Why Hobbits are Awesome
Over the course of Tolkien's writings, all of the main Hobbit characters and several minor characters get their moments to shine, with several of these moments unfortunately never making it into the films.
- Bilbo's great-great-grand-uncle Bandobras "Bullroarer" Took, who was so big he could ride a horse, lead the Hobbits of the Shire against an invasion of goblins from the Misty Mountains at the Battle of Greenfields. During the battle, he charged their lines and headed straight for their chieftain Golfimbul. When he finally reached Golfimbul, Bandobras clubbed him in the face so hard the goblin's head came right off and was sent flying a hundred yards across the battlefield and rolled into a rabbit hole, shattering the goblin army's morale. Thus did Brandobas win the battle for the Shire and invent the game of Golf with one stroke.
- In The Hobbit, when his Dwarf companions got caught by the spiders of Mirkwood and hauled into the deepest, darkest part of the forest, Bilbo was the one who saved them from being eaten. He cut down so many spiders with his newly christened dagger, Sting, that they fled from him in sheer terror. To top it all off, while he was killing them he even began to sing a silly song about it which he composed on the spot and caused much rage in the spiders who heard him.
- When the Dwarves got caught again, this time by the Elves of Mirkwood, Bilbo infiltrated their stronghold and remained hidden from the inhabitants - all of whom possess very keen senses and many of their number being warriors with centuries to millennia of experience navigating the treacherous forests of Mirkwood - for several weeks until he found a way for his companions to escape.
- Bilbo snuck into Smaug's lair twice, fully aware that the dragon had destroyed two of the mightiest kingdoms in Middle-earth and their armies all in the space of a day, which was all but outright stated to be something Smaug did on a whim. The narration explicitly states that Bilbo overcoming his own fear was the hardest battle he ever fought, which became rather hilarious when he made the mistake of taunting Smaug and nearly got immolated by the angry dragon's fire breath.
- At the beginning of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Bilbo willingly gave up the One Ring - an artifact just as seductive and dangerous as anything Chaos could make - after it had sixty years to sink its hooks into him. Later, when the good guys all met up in Rivendell and were deciding what to do with the ring, Bilbo volunteered to take it to Mount Doom despite being 129 years old at the time and in absolutely no shape to make the journey, and it's heavily implied he did this because he knew what the ring would do to his nephew Frodo.
- The Nazgûl are capable of inducing the same kind of pants-wetting terror in people as the Night Lords do, but Hobbits apparently don't give a damn about that. One Hobbit named Farmer Maggot told the Witch-King's second in command to shove off when the wraith asked where the Baggins family lived, then threatened to unleash the hounds when it didn't take the hint.
- When the Ringwraiths entered the village of Bree and broke into his home, another Hobbit named Fatty Bolger alerted the Brandybuck clan to what was going on, whereupon they immediately sprung into action by sounding the alarm and getting ready to knock some heads, causing the Nazgûl to flee before they could locate Frodo.
- When he and his friends got caught by wights in the Barrow-Downs and dragged into their barrow, Frodo was too terrified to move even after one attacked him until he noticed it was going for his friends. He promptly grabbed the nearest barrow-blade and attacked the wight in a fury any D&D berserker would be proud of.
- After getting stabbed by the Witch-King's Morgul knife and dealing with the kind of excruciating pain that would have most of us nerds crying like babies, Frodo refused to leave for Rivendell on the fastest horse available until he was told that the Nazgûl would be chasing him and not his friends.
- Merry and Pippin made the Ents of Fangorn forest realize that they needed to join the fight against the shadow, which leads directly to the tree-folk marching into Isengard, ripping open its walls like they were made of wet cardboard and knocking Saruman out of the war.
- Samwise Gamgee proved he was awesomeness personified in Cirith Ungol. After entering the valley Frodo got caught and webbed up by Shelob, a gigantic demonic spider that no orcish or Gondorian warrior had ever managed to seriously injure. Sam was so angered by this creature threatening his friend that he promptly grabbed Sting and attacked her, and the fight's narration told us that he caused her more agony than anything she had ever faced in her life until then. A group of Orcs who showed up after the fight ended were convinced there was a mighty Elven warrior on the loose because no one had ever injured Shelob that badly before.
- Believing Frodo was dead Sam took the One Ring and readied himself to go to Mount Doom by himself, and naturally, it tried setting its hooks in him as it had done to so many others before him. Everyone, including mighty wizards, Elf queens, and lords of Gondor had all been tempted by the ring and needed a great effort of will to refuse it; and in Boromir's case, failed to resist its siren song. This made it all the more awesome when it tried to corrupt Sam and found the simple Shire gardener was completely immune. Even when he put the damn thing on, the best it could come up with to tempt him was an image of Mordor covered in flowers!
- Upon hearing the orcs say that Frodo wasn't dead, he followed them back to their fortress and slaughtered everything in his path like something out of Doom, and by the time he's barely halfway through them the Orcs are convinced what they thought was an elven warrior is actually a mighty Elf Lord with a huge sword, a ginormous ax, and wielding magical fire. The crowner to all this is when, upon reuniting with Frodo, Sam did something that literally no one in the history of Middle-Earth had ever done before: give the One Ring to someone else without the slightest hesitation. Castellan Crowe would approve.
- During the battle of the Pelennor Fields Merry snuck up behind the Witch-King of Angmar - who is to Middle-Earth what Abaddon the Despoiler is to 40k with none of the memetic fail - and shanked him in the leg with the sword he took from the Barrow-Downs, crippling the Nazgul and giving Eowyn the chance to kill it.
- At the Battle of the Black Gate, Pippin fought and killed an Olog-hai - a bigger, stronger, sturdier, more vicious, and more cunning breed of troll that doesn't turn to stone when exposed to sunlight - to save the life of a friend.
- On the slopes of Mount Doom Frodo had finally succumbed to the Ring's corruption and was struggling over it with Gollum when the "other world" that ringbearers saw when they put it on started leaking into the normal world, showing Sam a vision which heavily implied Frodo had enough power and strength of will inside himself to wield the power of a dark lord just like Sauron had instead of being reduced to a neurotic, twisted wretch like Gollum.
- The Scouring of the Shire, where Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin returned to find out that Saruman has been doing everything he can to ruin their home out of pure spite. They're not having any of it, completely disregard what any of the ex-wizard's bullyboys have to say because none of the four consider them a threat in the least, then rally the Hobbits of the Shire to drive him and his lackeys out with their tails between their legs, and finally end up killing Saruman when they hadn't actually meant to!
So, why are they on here?
Beyond the fact that Tolkien is generally held up as the grandfather of modern fantasy gaming? It all goes back to Dungeons & Dragons. See, in the first edition, even before then, back when D&D was still little more than a warband game with some leveling up mechanics attached like a trailer, Gary Gygax and crew started to add non-human races to the game. Since Tolkien was really super huge in their kind of circle in those days, naturally, they stole most of their ideas for demihumans directly from him. And that included taking hobbits as one of the options, alongside the dwarf and elf races.
Of course, Tolkien's estate wouldn't stand for it under copyright laws and threatened to slap Gygax in the face with a lawsuit. So, Gygax changed the name of D&D's hobbits to "halflings", after an alternate name used by humans to refer to them throughout the trilogy, and then changed... nothing else. And, somehow, it worked. Tolkien's family couldn't/didn't sue, and D&D went on to be a huge success.
After Wizards of the Coast took over though, the Halflings slowly became less and less Hobbit-like, under the not-unjustified presumption that "simple Countryfolk with a penchant for napping and stuffing their face being shanghaied into adventuring" was kind of a one-trick deal.
Games Workshop did a Lord of the Rings warband game to cash in on Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings film trilogy, which was subsequently revived when The Hobbit came out. This is pretty meta when you consider the D&D connection Hobbits have.
In Warhammer Fantasy, the local halflings of The Moot are basically a grimdark take on Hobbits, taking all of the standard traits and using them with a coarser touch. Unlike their 40k cousins the Ratlings, Warhammer halflings got an army list of their own. Unfortunately for them, it was a solitary article in Citadel Journal #36 printed back in 2000, and their only official models were a Dogs of War regiment made in the late '90s. As time passed and GW became less fun, they've been gradually forgotten and/or written out of the lore until Age Of Sigmar killed them off.
The Ratlings of Warhammer 40,000 are literally Warhammer's halflings in space, though they get more credit from writers and fans than their fantasy counterparts because Ratling snipers are an option you can take in Imperial Guard armies. It's not an army list, but at least they have models and get updates from the creators. There are even two ratling characters in Blackstone Fortress!