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Old 05-27-2009, 03:23 AM   #1
Johnny Angel
Join Date: Nov 2008
Location: Pennsylvania
Default fantasy races

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.)

What are some of the non-typical races you have seen in stories?

Are there still any unique ideas left for fantasy races? What springs forth from you imagination?

Aside from helping me to brainstorm, I think this is an interesting topic. I'd like to see what sort of other creatures have been used. What sort of other creatures have been given prominent parts in stories instead of the typical elf/dwarf mix? What sort of deviations have the worlds of your home games taken?

I like the idea behind Dragonborn in the new edition of D&D. It gave some new life to the lizard man idea in the fantasy genre. I seem to remember an rpg book which had sentient house cats who walked on their hind legs as the default small race instead of halflings and gnomes, but I can't remember what book contained such a thing.
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Old 05-27-2009, 04:35 AM   #2
Join Date: Sep 2006
Location: Chatham, Kent, England
Default Re: fantasy races

I have used the fantasy trope of the 'beast-man' in varied genres: 1930's SF has many a beastman tribe or race: lionmen, etc. An ancient advanced 'viril' race appeared in my 'Amazing Adventures in Archaeology'.

In a more serious vein, the books of Cordwainer Smith include servant races altered from animal stock; such characters come with backgrounds and social standings, different genetically or 'Island of Dr. Moreau'-style from the mainstream person.

Some examples exist in several iterations of GURPS: Fantasy and Dungeon Fantasy ('Lizard Man' frex); I use the 3rd edition Bestiary for inspiration and stats for others.
Remember, in GURPS terms, how they look is just a special effect, define them by stat, adv or disadv compared to the baseline human.
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Old 05-27-2009, 05:32 AM   #3
The Colonel
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Join Date: Jul 2006
Default Re: fantasy races

Be wary of having too many sentient species in your campaign - this is one of the many sins of D&D RAW ... the tendency to create a new race/species when a new culture for an exisiting species would do.

Plus it helps to figure out your campaign backstory before you start populating the place - or at any rate run the two concurrently.
Are you looking for a strict creationist world - in that case you will probably need a creator (or maybe a pantheon) for every species, for which you will need to develop a theology, portfolio and relationship to the other gods.
If, on the other hand, your race/species were all the work of some elder race, you need to establish what they created the various species for, and from what.
Some kind of evolutionary origin - Darwinian, post Darwinian or Lamarckian for example - poses other questions.

Plus, even 'standard' fantasy species can be given interesting twists - either by pulling them out of their normal niches (as in the old TSR 'Dark Sun' world) or by making them very different (perhaps your elves are Terry Pratchett style sociopaths (very authentic), or Tad Williams style dangerous enigmas, rather than Tolkein style ubermenschen or D&D humans with pointy ears).
I've spun up celto-amerindian orcs, dangerous canivorous centaurs and hobgoblins living as valued citizens in a human nation.
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Old 05-27-2009, 06:10 AM   #4
Join Date: May 2009
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Default Re: fantasy races

I have a race of half lycans that I didnt quite convert to gurps yet, but its guys that would resemble sabertooth in the wolverine movie.
Furry hair, sharp claws, fast strong and can grow more bestial for fatigue I guess.

Ironically they lived in peace with scattered tribes of norse man fighting the orcish hordes like their lycan forefathers did before them.
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Old 05-27-2009, 06:53 AM   #5
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Default Re: fantasy races

I've had elves be a xenophobic elder race as well as happy-go-lucky clueless twerps with nothing but boatloads of luck that help them survive.

I've never liked the elves from D&D fiction and usually gear them more towards the old elves from The Silmarillion where they fought balrogs in single combat. They have to be immortal for a reason, right? Sufficient badassery is necessary for them to be that way in a violent world.
-safe from the children born as ghosts
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Old 05-27-2009, 07:56 AM   #6
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Edmond, OK
Default Re: fantasy races

In the home-made fantasy setting I'm running right now, I have several races, some of them kind of cliche and others that I think are relatively neat.

I have humans. They're boring but make up the bulk of the metapopulation.

I have a race called the greymen. They're certainly in the intellectual camp, but they're not really like elves. They're herbivorous, so they are incompetent in dealing with animals, and they're cowardly. They do have an innate ability to see magic.

I have a race of cat people called the felinids. It's definitely cliche, but a lot of people like playing cat people. They're extra agile and such, as well as having mercantile talents. I drew inspiration from the katta in the Quest for Glory games by Sierra.

I have a race called the Bermians. They're carnivorous and generally nomadic. They're very hardy people with natural animal empathy abilities that let them tame many of the exotic beasts in the setting. I drew inspiration from the Simvan of the Rifts setting.

I have a slave-warrior race called the Jogari. They're extra big with magical resistance and a tendency to over-socialize. I suppose they're cliched, but it's fun, since one of the PCs in the campaign is a free Jogari, and often, he will meet other Jogari, and regardless of familiarity, it's like a family reunion.

I have a race of fairies who are tiny winged creatures. They're very bright, and they're all female (reproducing by parthenogenesis.) They also require wild spaces to survive, so they're never found in cities. They're very magical and can be understandably militant about protecting their wilderness. They're very cliched but with some fun twists.

I have a race of bat-like people called the skyfolk. They're smaller than people, but they can fly, have photographic memories, have innate artistic talents, and have echolocation. I drew some inspiration from Orson Scott Card's Homecoming series.

I have another flying race called the Avia. They're humanoid eagles who are extraordinarily xenophobic. They live in some mountains that they make inhospitable to others, as they can rain down lawn darts and other missiles on any who pass. I don't think that they are particularly cliched.

I have a race of dragons. PC's can be dragon hatchlings. Dragons are pretty similar to other treatments. They gradually gain in power and ability as they age, but adults are typically megalomaniacs and despise all other dragons. Fortunately, dragon hatchlings have the ability to detect adults.

I have a race called monkeyfolk. They're basically sentient monkeys with opposible thumbs. I guess they're mostly an anthropomorphic race, making them slightly cliched.

When making the races, I consciously decided to avoid the usual elf/dwarf/orc group of races. I tried to avoid absolute cliche, but I also didn't get too paranoid about it. In playing, it appears that the players like the races in the setting. Given that the setting itself is only one part of a large world, there could be other races from other places eventually.
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Old 05-27-2009, 08:14 AM   #7
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Location: Cumberland, ME
Default Re: fantasy races

Monte Cook's Arcana Evolved did what I thought was a reasonably good job of populating a fantastic world with non-standard races. There were no dwarves, or elves (depending on your view of the Alabastar, who weren't really a PC race anyway), or the like. Instead you had Giants (who weren't that big unless you started taking a lot of "racial levels"), Sibeccai (a jackal-like race that had been "raised" to sentience and humanoid form by the Giants), Litorians (feline humanoids), several variations on Faen (which were generally very short, slight humanoids), Verrik (a race that looked human with some major skin and hair coloration differences and a high degree of contemplativeness and supernatural attunement), and the Mojh (a genderless, sterile, pseudo-draconic humanoid race that is the result of usually-voluntary magically transformative modifications conducted by humans).

All in all, it was quite a different look at "Fantasy Races" from what I had been used to from my D&D-centric early days. Admittedly, I was never a huge fan of Arcana Evolved's races as I just have a hard time getting fired up about "bestial humanoid" races like "Cat-people" and the like.

The Iron Kingdoms setting also does some interesting stuff with races, and something that on the whole I found more appealing. In addition to a lot of distinct human ethnicities, it took a different approach to the place of elves in the world, and also introduced some interesting (and downright fun) other player races in lieu of halflings, gnomes, half-orcs, and such. Gobbers and Bogrin were two variations on goblinoid PC-races -- gobbers were big-time mechanical and alchemical tinkerers and builders, and many (perhaps most) of them live among humans with no problems at all; Bogrin were their more "gobliny" cousins who had a greater predilection towards violence, but who could sometimes nevertheless live in human settlements (usually those that tended to be on the rough side to begin with). Trollkin are smaller (slightly larger than humans), much smarter, and much more "civilized" relatives of trolls and have an almost Scottish Highland flavor about them, while Ogrun are large, meaty folk with an incredibly strong connection to concepts of loyalty and fealty. All in all, a very interesting collection of PC races, but in my opinion the greatest feature of the Iron Kingdom's handling of fantasy races is to have so many (twelve to thirteen) discrete human ethnicities that have their own "racial templates". It makes it a very... "realistic" setting (despite there being nothing non-fantastical about it).

As far as different takes on "standard fantasy races" goes, I think the best is the Iosans and Nyss (the two elven races) in Iron Kingdoms. The elves accidentally killed almost their entire pantheon, and now the only known surviving deity is comatose and in failing health while newborn elves have started popping out without souls. Naturally, the Iosans blame the rise of human magic over the last few centuries as the polluting source that is driving their race and their sole goddess closer to the end, and some particularly zealous fanatics ("The Retribution of Scyrah") have taken to hunting through the human kingdoms, killing any human arcanist they encounter.

I have no doubt that there is always room for the conception of new, unique races. Unfortunately, my creativity is pathetic, so there won't likely be any coming from my neck of the woods. However, I'm sure that someone of sufficient imaginative ability could come up with something -- maybe a world with races based on the animals of the Chinese Zodiac, which already have characteristics attributed to them that could probably be easily represented in GURPS terms.

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Old 05-27-2009, 09:11 AM   #8
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Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: Overton, TX USA
Default Re: fantasy races


You can also look at the fantasy races of worlds like Tekumel, Jorune, and Talislanta.
Anthony N. Emmel
Scholar & Catholic Gentleman

Q: GM, are you using the d20 rules system?
A: No. GURPS is fun. D20 games are not fun. The GM says so.

Playing d20/3.5 makes Baby Jesus cry.
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Old 05-27-2009, 10:46 AM   #9
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Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: Kyv, Ukraine
Default Re: fantasy races

Ever since my second fantasy campaign, I'm always inventing new races, and avoid Dndtolkienesque ones like the plague. For instance, Skyfallen chronicles contained the eight great races (one for each great god) - Sunfolk & Moonfolk, Nightfolk & Starfolk, Rainfolk & Woodfolk, Rockfolk & Firefolk - and 4 minor ones (hybrids of the four compatible pairs) - Eclipsefolk, Mistfolk, Swampfolk, Steelfolk. My Celestial Ocean contains 7 (8) races, most of which are rather unorthodox in both traits and biology.
Vicky 'Molokh', GURPS FAQ and uFAQ Keeper
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Old 05-27-2009, 11:45 AM   #10
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Join Date: Nov 2008
Location: Yukon, OK
Default Re: fantasy races

Ok here are a couple of mine.
Elves are nature spirits embodied. Thier unaging but its real rare to produce children and that typically involves the aid of one of thier dieties. These elves come in many races, examples are Dryads for trees, Nymphs as guardians of places, Iris are light and air mages, leprechauns are earth based, Vanam are giants based off the Vanir and there are 'devolved' versions that have strayed from the path of Nature.
Dwarves one version they were very attuned to the earth and were hunted by other races for the metals, especially gold in thier bodies. Gave a whole new level to the term tomb robbing. Another version just makes them old with ancestor worship and steam tech.
Gnomes that have microscopic vision, manual dexterity and are fantastic jewelers.

Fauns based off Gurps fantasy races? Though one version made them fertile with all races and they could gene egineer thier offspring while in the womb.
Griffons Inspired by the Herald series, we also had Gryphons which were the size of eagles and created by an ancient Wizard to be messangers and sentries. They have independantly movable eyes.
I used the AnPharr as a race of fantasy farmers to replace halflings in a couple of campaigns. A few minor variations
Centaurs, Exalted Horses, Merfolk and other GURPS standards. The Fassani also made a good transplant.

Mantids are preying mantis with illusion powers.
Tri-folk are insects born in sets of three. Essentially duplicates always on with telepathic links.

Gargoyles who patiently wait and are ambush predators. Some are priests and protect temples in return for power.
thats all i can recall right now.
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