Every version of D&D has tried to figure out how to make the small sized characters seem more ‘realistic’ with weapon choices. I can see why we probably don’t want Halfling running around with a 10 foot pole arm weapon, but I don't see why a race choice should make one player inferior to another player who did not chose the 'wrong' race.
In previous editions they tried having more AC to make up for the reduction in damage, but that just made it a pure bonus to non weapon classes or a class that was going to use small weapons anyway.
In 4th they decided to just make small be a penalty. No bonus to offset it, so no real reason to want to be a small race. DnD next decided to stick with that idea.
A penalty for weapon damage would be fine if there was also a bonus for being small. If it just meant you do things a bit differently if you are a small race then that would be fine.
Some will say, ‘but the racial bonuses make up for the size penalty’. That sounds great, but wouldn’t it just be easier to have the bonus be part of the size trait and not need to be offset by racial bonuses? That way we don’t need to come up with a bonus for any homebrew race your players may want.
The other issue with the racial bonuses making up for the size penalty is that the play packet did not put that in for the Halfling as far as I can tell. Let’s compare them to the other ’frail’ race we have so far (the elf).
Halfling: Small (no large weapons)
Elf: Low-Light Vision
Hafling: Dagger, Short Sword, Sling
Elf: Longsword, Shortsword, Longbow
Winner: Elf. They get to improve damage over what a human would get by using the ‘best‘ weapons for the job. The Halfling gets to be ‘as good’ as a human’s weapon damage when using inferior weapons.
Halfling: Lucky, Halfling Nimbleness
Elf: Keen Senses, Free Spirit, Trance
Winner: ? It’s nice to be able to have two free re-rolls a day, as a halfing but the Nimbleness is much less appealing now that they have opportunity attacks back in. Immunity to sleep and charm is situational for the Elf, but the Keen Senses may become very useful for exploration. Trance may be useful for times when only the elves in the party had enough time to get their rest before a random encounter.
I just don’t see where the reduction in weapon selection and damage is compensated by another Halfling ability.
Since all damage numbers are just arbitrary based on how much damage the game designers think a class or monster should be doing, then why would it matter if a small character was doing just as much damage as a medium size character?
We already let a small player wear the same armor as a medium character, so why not say that any ‘large’ weapon a Halfling is using is sized for them, but does the same amount of damage? Mundane weapons could be custom made for a small character, but magical weapons could just resize themselves the way armor already does. For some reason when a minotaur player takes off his plate armor and hands it to a gnome it fits just right, but that hand-me-down greatsword is just too big.
If a goblin has a 6 foot halberd instead of a 10 foot one, it could still have the ‘reach’ property even if we have to say he has to take a one step lunge forward and then step back after the attack.
Maybe I’m just crazy and not seeing the larger picture, but I’d like to hear what others think on this subject.