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Old 05-29-2009, 11:02 AM   #41
Randyman
 
Join Date: May 2009
Default Re: fantasy races

Back in my "copy from other sources" days, I had the idea of using SF races in a fantasy world. One idea was to use the classic Trek races. Still very derivative, but at the same time a change for a fantasy setting. YMMV on whether the bad (derivativeness) outweighs the good (change from elves/dwarves/orcs/etc.)
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Old 05-29-2009, 02:51 PM   #42
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Default Re: fantasy races

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Originally Posted by Johnny Angel View Post
I was trying to brainstorm a few ideas for my game. I've come to realize that the majority of fantasy stories tend to have the same or similar stereotypical races: elf, dwarf, gnome, halfling, etc.


What are some of the different takes on elves, dwarves, etc that you've seen? (I've seen quite a few. For example, the way The Chronicles of Narnia handle dwarves is far different from D&D's version of dwarves.)
I've been working on-and-off on a campaign world that includes all the standard RPG fantasy races, but more rational, less fantastic takes on them. I started with the idea that what people know about each race is based in some truth, then I figured out how a naturally-evolved species could end up with some characteristics that humans might mis-perceive.

So, starting with these vague descriptors:
  • Elves: immortal, epitomize perfection
  • Dwarves: live underground, related to Gnomes, strong family bonds, good with machinery
  • Gnomes: farmers, related to Dwarves
  • Halflings: sociable, great cooks
  • Orcs: primitive, violent, but can be cowed by strong leaders
  • Goblins: cunning
  • Ogres: huge, ultra-violent brutes
...and so on.

Then found ways to make them totally distinct and new takes on old themes:
  • Elves: An engineered species, their ancestors fled an ecologically devastated world, and changed and indoctrinated their children so it would never happen again. They have extreme views about protecting the natural world, and none are willing to risk ecological collapse by upsetting the status quo. Mostly found in desolate places where their presence won't interfere with natural evolution.
  • Dark Elves: Not a separate subspecies, but a philosophical movement that sees "guided guardianship" as the best way to preserve nature - they're ok with creating chimeras, magically tinkering with forests and animals, and changing the world. Dark Elves are the ones most likely to encounter humans.
  • Dwarves: Evolved underground in areas "where the earth's skin is thin" - zones with lots of tectonic movement, geochemical flows, and access to lava. Traditional dwarvish food is chemosynthetic, and smells horrible to anyone else. Dwarves are highly resistant to toxins and any sort of respiratory problems.
  • Gnomes/Halflings (combined): Evolved to eat a mildly poisonous grain, as a defense against being eaten by a large predator. Cooking and throwing feasts are highly valued. No animal eats them because their flesh is poisonous, but it doesn't prevent them being killed by animals. Species is related to dwarves.
  • Ogres: The smart, charismatic, cunning, brutal, ruthless master-race ruling over the goblinoids. Each ogre is pulled by their own egotistical need for power and the need to provide for their offspring, while their offspring try as hard as possible to kill off their lordly parents and take over. (I was more heavily influenced by the idea of Ogre Magi)
  • Goblins: The small cunning major domos in Ogre households. They serve as ambassadors, viziers, and strategists. One end of the goblin-hobgoblin-orc species..
  • Orcs: Big, tough, stupid worker caste. They are the farmers, laborers, and foot soldiers.
  • Hobgoblins: The halfway species - shopkeepers, army sergeants.

Plus other races like: Medusa, Naga, Reptilemen, Winged-Folk, Kits (a whole race of cat-girls), the Eyeless (a barely sentient monster of nightmare), Rak-Shassa, one or two human subspecies, and even Angels, Demons, and Devils that have nothing to do with religion.

Plus a setting that answers the question "Why are there dozens of human cultures, but other races have only one monolithic culture each?"

Now, why did I want to go with my own versions of standard fantasy tropes? Because that way the players will have something to identify with - they see "elves" and think "immortal protectors of nature"; they see "dwarves" and think "gruff underground engineers". And the game won't grind to a halt when they encounter a person and the players argue about whether it's a Ballidon, which is friendly primitive, or a Otryan, which is a monster.
It's all about ramp-up time and assimilation of the infomration.
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Old 05-29-2009, 04:45 PM   #43
Vaevictis Asmadi
 
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Default Re: fantasy races

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Originally Posted by ectropy View Post
Plus a setting that answers the question "Why are there dozens of human cultures, but other races have only one monolithic culture each?"
Yeah, this is a big pitfall of so much fantasy. If you don't want to build a cliched fantasy setting, I suggest that this sort of thing either needs a reasonable-sounding explanation, or should be avoided.
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Old 05-29-2009, 07:34 PM   #44
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Default Re: fantasy races

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Plus a setting that answers the question "Why are there dozens of human cultures, but other races have only one monolithic culture each?"
This is actually something I have given a lot of though, and it's something I have a tough time with when it comes to creating a large scale fantasy world.

There should be different cultures, but each fantasy race also tends to have a stereotype with which it is associated. The question becomes "well, how can I satisfy both ideals?" It can be tough to balance cultural differences with the racial expectations of player (or reader in the case of a novel or story.) Another question to consider is whether culture in a fantasy world is based on race or if it is based on location.

For example, let's say we have a fairly typical fantasy world which contains humans, elves, and dwarves. Let's say there are also three main areas in the world; one is a small trading town built around a wasteland oasis; one is the cliche fantasy castle city, and one is a trading outpost in the bitter cold of the north.

In this world, by default, humans, elves, and dwarves have certain cultural characteristics which are associated with their race. Do the wasteland dwarves have a culture which is more similar to the tundra dwarves or do the wasteland dwarves have a culture which is more similar to the wasteland humans? (I'm not sure if what I'm trying to say is coming across clearly. Hopefully you get the idea which I'm trying to touch upon.)
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Old 05-29-2009, 08:24 PM   #45
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Default Re: fantasy races

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For example, let's say we have a fairly typical fantasy world which contains humans, elves, and dwarves. Let's say there are also three main areas in the world; one is a small trading town built around a wasteland oasis; one is the cliche fantasy castle city, and one is a trading outpost in the bitter cold of the north.

In this world, by default, humans, elves, and dwarves have certain cultural characteristics which are associated with their race. Do the wasteland dwarves have a culture which is more similar to the tundra dwarves or do the wasteland dwarves have a culture which is more similar to the wasteland humans?
I would say that the wasteland dwarves' culture would be more similar to that of the tundra dwarves. The inherent characteristics of a race are, in my mind, the strongest determining element of that race (and this might explain why there are frequently many human cultures, since one of the typical defining elements of humanity is its ability to adapt/change to suit its circumstances), and how a race's culture or society varies from place to place will largely be a product of how that race's inborn / natural characteristics respond to the environment.

That's not to say that there wouldn't potentially be some considerable differences between the wasteland dwarves and tundra dwarves -- if dwarves are racially characterized by clannishness, honor, and greed, that probably isn't going to change any more than canines tend to congregate in packs, but how those characteristics manifest themselves will be different in different environments.

Cheers.
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Old 05-29-2009, 08:51 PM   #46
Vaevictis Asmadi
 
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Default Re: fantasy races

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Originally Posted by Landwalker View Post
That's not to say that there wouldn't potentially be some considerable differences between the wasteland dwarves and tundra dwarves -- if dwarves are racially characterized by clannishness, honor, and greed, that probably isn't going to change any more than canines tend to congregate in packs, but how those characteristics manifest themselves will be different in different environments.
But really, saying wolves run in packs is no more informative than saying humans are social and tend to have nuclear families. There's no reason that a non-human race couldn't be just as culturally diverse as humans are. It's primarily a matter of coming up with cultural diversity that still looks nonhuman, which is always a cognitive hurdle because we have no RW nonhuman race to help us conceptualize it all.
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Old 05-29-2009, 09:05 PM   #47
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Default Re: fantasy races

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Originally Posted by Vaevictis Asmadi View Post
There's no reason that a non-human race couldn't be just as culturally diverse as humans are.
There is if that race has some inborn characteristic that makes it disinclined towards cultural diversity. Humans are stereotypically adaptable, malleable, flexible, so they usually have very clear cultural shifts depending on the context. Dwarves aren't, but that doesn't mean that there won't be differences between a frontier dwarven settlement in the frigid wilderness and dwarves in a more metropolitan environment. There will be constants -- whatever it is that defines dwarves as a race like adaptability defines humans as a race -- but how those constants manifest will still be different. Other races will probably look at frontier dwarves and urban dwarves both, and think "Man, those dwarves", not "man, those hicks / city slickers", because how the hick-dwarves and the city-slicker-dwarves exist in their environments will be manifestations of their common racial traits -- they may be superficially different, but they have the same basis.

Cheers.
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Old 05-30-2009, 12:25 AM   #48
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Default Re: fantasy races

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Originally Posted by ectropy View Post
Plus a setting that answers the question "Why are there dozens of human cultures, but other races have only one monolithic culture each?"
DF does it in a bit of a light-hearted way, but the various elf 'sub-breeds' that have been bandied about since AD&D are likely more of a cultural difference than being a distinct species.

What role do the gawds<sic> in the campaign play? Most settings that define the gawds toss dozens of them at you, but the non-humans tend to have a tight-knit pantheon.
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Old 05-30-2009, 12:56 AM   #49
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Default Re: fantasy races

I kind of liked the idea Eberron came up with, that regardless of race, people identified mostly with the country they lived in. There are a few "pure race" countries (one for gnomes, elves, and dwarves, IIRC) but an elf from country A has more in common with their fellow countrymen that is human than an elf from country B.

I always thought it might be cool to have racial templates, and then... not templates, but common skills and stereotypes for each country/region, so that you may pick elf for that +1 DX, but your horse nomad elf looks with disdain upon your buddy's merchant prince elf, and gets along fine with the half-orc northman.
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Old 05-30-2009, 08:14 AM   #50
Gudiomen
 
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Default Re: fantasy races

A friend of mine developed a setting with a variety of cultures for fantasy races. The elves are a good examples...

Blue Elves (just the name, they're not actually blue)... are blond, fair and light, they are masters of the bow, and have a very strict sense of justice, they are preoccupied with art, honor and craftsmanship and are generally friendly, if somewhat condescending towards humans in the rare occasions that these meet.

Red Elves (marked by their red hair)... have tanned skin and are a rougher bunch, they have celtic overtones, are very bellicose and proud, they are intolerant towards other races and often hostile towards them, in the form of raids or piracy.

Green Elves... have auburn or brown hair, aren't as technologically advanced (TL2) and live in forest-communities, while not particularly tree-hugging they are very territorial and need to manage their resources carefully. Many are herbalists, excellent trackers, hunters and they know some unique animal and plant magic.

Black Elves... have jet-black hair and light skin tone, they are the masters of the seas and sailing, they inhabit a small island and are rarely seen on land out of it. They're colossal trade ships and warships are often seen on trade-routes to other race's capital cities. They are very disciplined, methodical and patriotic.

Etc...
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