Halflings form insular, highly-protective communities wherever they go. Almost every race treats halflings with disdain at best and fear and loathing at worst, for halflings deal in repugnant jobs and worship Sharmat, the Death Dragon God. That, and at one point, halflings ruled the mainland of Ortheia with an iron fist drenched in bloody sacrifices. Nevertheless, halflings have garnered a global reputation as fierce skirmishers and scouts, loyal to the death despite all of their barbarism.
None have a history so bloodstained and ugly as the halflings. After the fall of the orcs, the halflings were the first to lay claim to their powers and cities. Moving in as another migration from the mysterious north, the halflings crushed nascent kingdoms and enslaved numerous races. Although the halflings would never claim all of the continent thanks to the harsh conditions of the Grave, they did claim the surrounding regions – what is today the Middle Kingdoms, Niranshetra, and Kavasland. Massive citadels of stone were raised (often by tearing down orcish arcologies) for the purpose of ritualistic sacrifices of both halfling commoners and slave races. Thus began the Itzamanti Empire and the bloody reign of halflings.
Records tell little of the god Sharmat, who the halflings worshiped with fanatically reverence. The god seemed to have emerged from the north along with his race – yet why he chose the shape of a dragon is unknown, far less why he supported the halfling race so fervently. All that is certain is that the priesthood of Sharmat was absolute in the early years of the halfling empire.
However, as easily as the halfling empire rose, so easily would it fall. Sharmat vanished one day from the seat of his ziggurat in Niranshetra, causing the entire empire to panic. Seers and mystics were slaughtered en masse in hopes of bringing back his presence – this had the unfortunate side effect to destroy all those halflings who knew how to operate the portals that connected the empire. Without a means to rapidly bypass the Grave, the halfling empire could not survive the repeated slave revolts and barbarian invasions that plagued their borders. So hated were the halfling that it is estimated that over 99% of their race was slaughtered in the century following the disappearance of Sharmat, and today few, if any, of the halfling pyramids remain. As the halfling empire fell, so too did the legacy and knowledge of their powerful necromantic spells and blood-fueled sorcery. Much of halfling lore and history was lost, even to the halfling survivors.
Since this time, little has changed for halflings, although the mortal races are less inclined towards violence upon first meeting them now – most only know that halflings cause them great amounts of unease. On the part of halflings, few have the strength or political clout to band the tribes together to form a new nation, far less an empire. Only a shadow of the former Itzamanti Empire still exists today, laying claim to the ashlands of the northern frontiers and feverishly capturing any interlopers to sacrifice, still hoping they can bring Sharmat back.
In recent years, southern halflings have begun to find some measure of pedigree and worth from the kingdoms of Niranshetra. While most halflings are quick to avoid contact with urban populations and keep to their villages, Seshanga Ephfraim, first Emperor of the Varyna Hadim Empire, recognized their tenacity in battle and their elite tracking skills and acquired a number of them as his Jaguar Guard, an elite unit held in higher respects than some normal combat groups. Since the fall of the Empire, halflings are still prized in armies as scouts and skirmishers, and a few nobles insist on having a cadre of halfling bodyguards in attempts to mimick the Jaguar Guard. Halfling size and nimbleness also makes them popular for recruitment by groups of thieves in Niranshetra.
The Anzitil halflings in the south are more amenable to civilization than their northern, wasteland brethren. Although they cling to their tribal heritages and still use titles such as chieftain, most have traded in hunting and gathering for animal husbandry and crops, building villages and farms along rivers and among hills and plains on the outskirts of cities, often downwind and far enough from the prying eyes of townsfolk. Culture in the villages invariably revolves around the worship of Sharmat, and shamans play important roles in village life by determining when to plant and harvest crops, and all important decisions must be decided upon by the shaman and chieftain and sworn to Sharmat’s name. History is passed down by oral tradition, and the main social gatherings among the tribes revolve around festivals dedicated to the god and storytelling of the old empire and its heroes. Although the sacrifice of sentient beings to Sharmat has become far less prevalent in modern day, Anzitil halflings still offer blood sacrifices of animals and the occasional monster, if they are successful in capturing one.
Many young halflings recognize that life in one of the halfling mercenary companies or private employ by a merchant company may be more rewarding, if dangerous. Often times halflings are rather wide-eyed to the bustle of cosmopolitan life in Niranshetra when first leaving a village and many fall in with thieves and thugs, where their thirst for blood and natural agility make them invaluable enforcers and burglars. Few halflings, however, are willing to openly ply their services as professional spies or assassins, for fear of treading on ground traditionally monopolized by the drow of Alhadan.
The Itzamanti halflings of the northern ashlands are governed by fear and hatred. The lower castes tremble in fear of the priesthood, who takes out their own fear of Sharmat’s absence upon the population with bloody oaths, sermons of hellfire and brimstone, and regular blood sacrifices. The Itzamanti still believe Sharmat will one day return, but they do not have the strength challenge the Kavas for control beyond the ashlands. For the most part, the halflings have managed to adapt to gathering what little grows in their homelands and hunting the strange beasts that prowl the grey wastes. They fear and despise outsiders, capturing and keeping them alive only so long to bring them to be sacrificed.
In both Anzitil and Itzamanti culture, hair is of great importance. All halflings grow their hair long and cultivate them into dreadlocks. It is thought this tradition first arose as an attempt by halflings to mimick the mane of Sharmat. Halflings also paint their face with ash or with corpse paint when going into battle, seeking to resemble the living dead of Sharmat’s domain.
Unlike in other cultures, necromancy is not frowned upon by halflings. Indeed, halflings have little respect for the bodies of their deceased, believing them to be worthless shells without the souls that have been paid to Sharmat. Halflings often do not mind others “recycling” their corpses in that manner, and some Anzitil communities even have arrangements with the Tlaloc Order to provide them with corpses in exchange for goods and currency. The bones of strong halfling warriors are often taken by oracles and shamans of their tribe for use in divination and the creation of protective jewelry. Those bodies that are not re-used in any manner are often burned or cast outside the settlement onto the open ground to be devoured as carrion – over time, these “dead grounds” become more pronounced as more bones are left by scavengers.
See the Pathfinder SRD rules. Halflings are unchanged from their base forms.