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The Fantasy Races Thread

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So races in fantasy games has come up in several threads (the Turakian Age, and Immersion Ruining thread most notably) So I thought I'd make a thread for talking about them specifically.

 

I'll start with a few questions and provide my own opinions, but feel free to add any thoughts you have about fantasy races in rpgs.

 

1) What purpose do multiple races have in a rpg? Or alternatively, what should multiple races add to a game if they're done well?

 

2) Do you prefer multiple races at all in your rpgs?

 

3) What fantasy race pet peeves do you have? Why?

 

4) How many is too many? Too few?

 

5) What do races represent in you games if anything?

 

 

My Answers

1) Races to me provide a unique play experience as opposed to other races. A poorly conceived race is one I forget I'm playing.

 

2) Depends. I tend to feel like the number of races is related to where we stand on the sliding bar of cynicism in the setting. Are we optimistically not alone, or is the rest of the world empty of all but what one race has made? In grittier settings the latter is preferred, but in high heroism settings I think I prefer multiple races and extra wonder they can bring.

 

3) Not many really. I don't really like it when races are just a stand in for a culture. Especially if that culture is wholesale something from the real world. A race just being "the Japanese race" and the like is a big turn off.

 

4) *laughs* Too many is how ever many you can't run or keep track of anymore. Too few depends on how they are handled. One is fine in a grittier setting, two is fine if they have strong and interesting relationships with each other, three is probably my minimum otherwise.

 

5) Fantasy races to me represent things you can't change about yourself. A fantasy race can come with strengths and weakness, but part of the point is trying to overcome those weakness or embracing the strengths. Many people want to be artists but can't seem to do more than a stick figure, or want to become sports stars, but don't have the body to go with the will. Fantasy races to me represent those struggles in some sense.

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A fair topic. :)

 

1) IMO multiple races give a game group a chance to experience "otherness" --  a mindset and perspective outside that of the typical human being and human society. That can be a challenging imaginative role-playing opportunity, and a chance for a GM to introduce plots and character interactions that comment on the human condition, through a non-human voice.

 

2) Personally, I like a good variety of races in my settings, provided they each have at least the potential for an interesting background and a sense that they're a living society. I'm bored by dimensionless races created just to be opponents for PCs, or who are just one of the other setting races with a few tweaks to try to distinguish them.

 

3) See above. ;)  I'm also unhappy with races who are all evil and destructive, or all good and noble. Sometimes they need to be that way to serve a particular story, but in general I find them just a depthless, lazy concept.

 

4) I've never had a problem with a large number of races, provided they have the positives listed above; but logistically I find it easier to manage if some of them are concentrated in certain areas and environments, so I can control when and how the players interact with them. That also helps keep the campaign fresh by introducing change-of-pace experiences.

 

5) I don't think I can say more about that than I already have. :P

 

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1) What purpose do multiple races have in a rpg? Or alternatively, what should multiple races add to a game if they're done well?

They're a wonderful filter for GMs and Players alike.  Like LL said, they allow you to be an other... to try for a whole different perspective with good justification (Say living hundreds of years etc). They also allow a GM to explore adapting real world historical cultures and experimenting with them with less risk of blow back or offense.  You want to ideals and cultural values akin to Ancient Koreans and layer on Scottish Overtones for your dwarves, rock on. File the serial numbers off and put a beard on it.

  

2) Do you prefer multiple races at all in your rpgs?

Yes. Now that I think on it, I do. Human only fantasy settings for RPGs tend to make me think something wonderful is missing. Maybe it was too much High/Epic Fantasy as a kid but I find a world where humanity has no other peoples nearby a bit sadder. Then again I use games for escape and fantasy folk help.

 

3) What fantasy race pet peeves do you have? Why?

Sometimes they seem too isolated and inconsequential. The "This is Elf land where the elves come from".. and I'm like "what? just.. one nation? Did the elves have no explorers? No pioneers?  Are humans the only culture that ever fractures due to politics, religious views, or whatever? And they're often down powered. "Dwarves are the best smiths in the world and make the finest armor and weapons" and.. they get THESE mountains and maybe send out smiths. Why the hell aren't the dwarves a major economic juggernaut or military power with that sort of thing established?  Why does their kingdom only seem to exist as important when a great dark is going, when frankly human kingdoms should be currying their favor, considering them rivals, or the like? Just as an example

 

4) How many is too many? Too few?

I think I prefer it cap at about 5 or 6 major 'playable' races , otherwise it can feel too crowded but I've seen some settings and GMs pull it off well with as many as twenty. I'd like at LEAST 2 thanks

 

5) What do races represent in you games if anything?

Depends on the setting to a large degree.

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3) My pet peeve is not the "races" themselves, but the fact that they're even called races at all! Race is not genetic, but games treat them as such. It's a leftover assumption from older games like D&D, and just won't go away! What I can't stand is that "races" seem to smuggle in all kinds of horrible and antiquated notions about genetics that just aren't true. "Species" I can get behind, and that would be scientifically defensible. Sustaining some sort of vestigial eugenic notion like "race" is just loathsome, especially when the humans are considered the "standard normal" race.

 

I'm not pointing my finger at anyone on this thread, so please don't be offended. I'm just saying "Shame" on D&D and other games that depend on this sort of racism.

 

Ok, I'll come down from my soapbox and go back into quarantine.

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There have been countless attempts to overturn D&D's nomenclature for everything from "class" to "level" and everything in between, and they've all pretty much failed. I think the whole "race" vs. "species" windmill is simply not worth tilting.

 

I feel that fantasy races, along with magic and fantastical beasts are what make a fantasy setting feel like fantasy. Without those elements, the game merely feels like alt-history.

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8 minutes ago, zslane said:

the whole "race" vs. "species" windmill is simply not worth tilting.

True enough. I've never gotten into an argument about it with anyone, but I don't see how "race" is really defensible, especially if "It's always been done that way." This is a wall I'm not going to bang my head against, but it's becoming more blatantly ugly each time I turn to look at it again.

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1. Other races can let you explore different ideas and differ from something human

 

2. Yes as I like things like The Lord of the Rings.

 

3. That they are all the same and races like Orcs, Goblins etc are stupid. That Elves and Dwarves have to hate/dislike each other. Not everything has to be Tolkiein based.

 

4. You can get rid of one race without a problem but reducing the number of races leaves a dearth of what you can do.

 

5. The races like Orcs represent evil. Dwarves represent stone and solidity. The Elves represent the woods and the longevity of trees.

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    I don’t want to take this thread off topic, but to merely broaden the subject.

    While I haven’t done much Fantasy gaming, I have been either a GM or player in a number of Science Fiction games. (Star Wars, Star Trek, Far Future etc.) and the nature of this discussion lends it self well to the subject of alien races in games as well. 
    I think the main idea has to be the need to keep some sort of balance between these basic points.

1) The inherent block of information a player brings with them about a race, whether its Elves & Dwarves or Klingons & Twileks.

2) Someway of giving a player leeway to make a static racial description into a fully fleshed out character of their own.

3) Allowing the GM enough room to create a world of their own. Nothing kills the mood of a game faster than a players cry of “But they don’t act like that!”

  If you can pull all that off, you could have a really good game on your hands.  How to do it is the question.

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Here is part one of a two part article about, essentially, racism in depictions of orcs, and how signifiers often used to describe them (savage, primitive, warlike, and so on) are the same ones used by colonialist cultures to describe non-whites.  (TLDR: In Tolkien's case, specifically Asians.)

 

I'm not comfortable with things like "orcs represent evil", or any "evil" races (goblins, kobolds, etc.) whose purpose it is for PCs to go out and slaughter.  Especially in contrast with the "enlightened" (and, unexaminedly white) elves.  I would like for all of them to be depicted as people, suitable for use as player characters, or dropped entirely.

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4 hours ago, Chris Goodwin said:

 

 

I'm not comfortable with things like  "evil" races whose purpose it is for PCs to go out and slaughter. 

 

THANK YOU!!!!

 

Quote

 I would like for all of them to be depicted as people, suitable for use as player characters, or dropped entirely.

 

 

THANK YOU!!!   Again!

 

 

[Quote selection edited for clarity; no intention to change the meaning of the content should be inferred.  If it happened, that's entirely my fault.  :( ]

 

Conversely, I have very little problems with an _individual character_ who has decided that all other races are evil and should be slaughtered, so long as it's understood by everyone else at the table _and_ the character's own player that the "evil" is _entirely_ within that one character.

 

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I threw out my idea (for dealing with multiple fantasy races) on another thread. They're all the creation of some ancient civilization (elder gods, traditional gods, ultra-tech/magical mortal civilization, whatever), and effectively different breeds of humanoid. Humans are what you get when any of the other races don't carefully police their bloodlines, i.e., mutts. The elves (and dwarves and goblins and et cetera) have specific appearances (as opposed to humans, who can vary widely) because that appearance is *the definition* of an "elf" or "dwarf" or whatever (again, like breeds of dog). Vary from it by too much, and you're considered a "half-elf" (etc). Vary even farther, and you're just another mutt (i.e., human). Some cultures practice infanticide on those who don't meet the criteria, others will simply banish you, or just view you as definitely a second-class citizen or worse, and would never let you marry their daughters. In this world, humans are more numerous than the other races (they can breed like rabbits and nobody cares--other races have to police such things, so tend to be fewer in number), but also the least respected--albeit, to quote the News Monster from Futurama, "numerous and belligerant."

 

This is *why* elves are graceful and beautiful (they were playthings). Dwarves were bred to labor in mines and other enclosed places. Halflings were intended as quiet,  unobtrusive servants). Giants, goblins, hobgoblins, orcs, and the like were bred as cannon fodder. More exotic forms ( minotaurs, for instance) were bred to be hunted for sport. 

 

This rationale satisfies my desire to explain how and why so many different intelligent races co-exist.

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1 hour ago, sinanju said:

I threw out my idea (for dealing with multiple fantasy races) on another thread. They're all the creation of some ancient civilization (elder gods, traditional gods, ultra-tech/magical mortal civilization, whatever), and effectively different breeds of humanoid. Humans are what you get when any of the other races don't carefully police their bloodlines, i.e., mutts.

Ahah! That’s where that idea came from. I was discussing this the other day, but couldn’t remember the source. I like this idea more and more, and it fits really well with a long-time conversation my buddy and I have been having about this. 

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I guess it depends on which cultural and literary traditions one's fantasy campaign is modeled after. European folklore from the medieval period is all about clear lines between good and evil, and characterizing "the other" as either savages or servants of the Devil (or both). A fantasy RPG that lives in that atmosphere of medieval superstition and fear of the unknown, which would likely include magic and those who wield it or are made of it, is going to be quite comfortable with axioms like All Orcs are Evil and All High Elves are Noble, etc. It is then up to the PCs to stand as exceptions to the stereotypes, giving them yet another way to feel like special snowflakes.

 

In the "wrong hands", I guess that sort of campaign could serve to merely reinforce attitudes that are distasteful to contemporary groupthink, but in the hands of skillful, educated, and culturally enlightened GMs, these stereotypes could be used to teach valuable lessons.

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1) I don't feel they have a useful purpose in a fantasy RPG.  Any mechanical or role-play distinction can already be explained by magic ("Bob, how come your cleric is a hundred and seven?" "Oh, he completed a holy trial of faith a while back and was granted agelessness.  Third sentence of the backstory.") and I don't trust people to be able to appropriately role-play "other species" in real-time (it's hard enough getting some people to role-play anything beyond 'wacky gimmick').  It's certainly doable in writing-time, but I don't play PBP or PBEM so that's a nonfactor to me. 

In my experience "race" is just a mechanical template that winds up underwhelming for what should be such a big deal and a coat of role-play paint on top of a very human character. 

 

2) No.  Give me good old humans-only any day. 

 

3) Non-human characters who act human.  Species-as-culture.  Species-as-real-group.  Crossbreeding except as "a wizard did it".  Any time a character's species doesn't matter. 

 

4) One is the number for me. 

 

5) In my experience, they boil down to stereotypes or visual aids.  I hate that. 

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1. Fantasy. All they provide is fantasy. I feel like the "Anything that could be done with Elves could just as easily be done with Humans," argument is shallow and vapid. It is called "Fantasy", it's about Fantasy. The same stories you tell with knights and wizards could be told with cops and computer programmers, it's all "just a coat of paint." That's a huge portion of what is fun in the first place. The reason people like fantasy settings for games isn't because of the unique stories and characters that can exist in the setting, because stories and characters are pretty much all the same and are always interesting when executed correctly. It is the coat of paint which makes it so magical. It's not just man vs man, it's viscous orcs vs magical elves. It's not "merely" a coat of paint.

 

2. I prefer 2 to 3 different races. I generally play in a setting where things like orcs and halflings and elves are all just humans with unique morphologies. In my setting, humans vary as much as dogs. That's why they're called "races" and not "species". "Half breeds" in my setting are a fundamentally racist concept, not unlike the term "mulatto." If you want to play a halfling, that would just be a really really short person. If you want to play like a giant or and orc or something, you're just a really really big ugly person. I reserve the terms "Elf" and "Dwarf" for extreme concepts. Like, and Elf in my setting happens not to be unlike a superhero, capable of superhero-tier magical abilities. And the Dwarves are what they eat: Rock.

 

3. Races that amount to some kind of cliche stereotype, and players who play to that type utterly unfalteringly. Yes, I get it, you're a dwarf, you like to drink and party and say crass things with a scottish accent, I get it.

 

4. There is no amount that is too many or too few. It depends entirely on taste, and the type of atmosphere you're trying to achieve in your setting. Star wars has arbitrarily many races, and it creates this "melting pot" sense that the universe is too small for these races to do anything but get along normally, so the streets are beautifully colored with freakishness at every level, and it's a cool atmosphere. On the other hand, SoIaF has no specially different races at all, and it has a comfortable atmosphere of historicity that juxtaposes beautifully with the magical elements of the setting. There's no wrong answer.

 

5.  Nothing at all, really. Dwarves and Elves interact with magic fundamentally differently, but that's it.

 

 

9 hours ago, Chris Goodwin said:

Here is part one of a two part article about, essentially, racism in depictions of orcs, and how signifiers often used to describe them (savage, primitive, warlike, and so on) are the same ones used by colonialist cultures to describe non-whites.  (TLDR: In Tolkien's case, specifically Asians.)

 

I'm not comfortable with things like "orcs represent evil", or any "evil" races (goblins, kobolds, etc.) whose purpose it is for PCs to go out and slaughter.  Especially in contrast with the "enlightened" (and, unexaminedly white) elves.  I would like for all of them to be depicted as people, suitable for use as player characters, or dropped entirely.

 

I suppose this view makes sense from the perspective of trying to distance one's self from racism, but, as somebody who grew up with playable "not all bad" orcs, "evil only" orcs have been a breath of fresh air to me. I just prefer races that are actually species, or fundamentally different in nature to humans. Roid monsters dipped in green paint isn't as interesting to me as some kind of degenerate, filthy villain which only resembles a man. They're green because they're ugly, they rape and maraud because they're evil, they're so vile that being exposed to the same air that they breath exposes you to disease. To me, this is evocative, and because I have no relationship to colonial perspectives on non-whites, it doesn't feel like whistle blowing to me. To me, it's just interesting worldbuilding.

 

 

1 hour ago, Gnome BODY (important!) said:

5) In my experience, they boil down to stereotypes or visual aids.  I hate that. 

 

Might I ask, why? What's wrong with a visual aid? Why not let your brick character manifest himself as something more than "Above average strength and fighting ability human." What's there to hate? As long as you understand that it's just a coat of paint, why does that have to be too little? It seems like it's the perfect solution to your problem. If you don't like when races aren't roleplayed well enough (so you don't want to see them in your games at all), then why would you be upset with a style of storytelling that doesn't require that they be roleplayed differently at all? It eliminates the discordance, as far as I can tell. Sure, he's green and has tusks, whatever? He just wants to imagine his guy as being green and having tusks, because he's a big tough orc, it seems like a perfectly harmless and altogether beneficial bit of slack to give, especially if you don't like poorly roleplayed races. I just don't understand.

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1) What purpose do multiple races have in a rpg? Or alternatively, what should multiple races add to a game if they're done well?

They serve two purposes in my games. The first is to be a base identity to be something "other" than human, to explore a role, or an idea in the game. This is also served by Aliens in an SF game.    The second purpose is to be a source of conflict, This conflict can be different cultural goals at cross purposes, or irredeemable, savage, servants of evil  (guilt free targets), and that depends on the background and type of campaign I am running.

 

2) Do you prefer multiple races at all in your rpgs?

Depends on the campaign, but in most a couple/ three is fine.  Too many and it feels like a "reskinned D&D 5e campaign, and "humans only" feels like a well known Fantasy TV series, which works in it's own way, especially since in both cases I tend to run things fairly low fantasy Heroic level campaigns.

 

3) What fantasy race pet peeves do you have? Why?

The Tolkien Trifecta. it has become the "Default" for fantasy since the three little brown books were published by TSR in 1974. Now on the positive side. D&D and Pathfinder have broadened the selection and types of creatures people can play as Player Characters, but the Tolkien Trifecta is still paramount in those systems. Talislanta had no elves, but looking though those books, they had some that fit the bill, somewhat. Can't someone come up with something new, or at least play with them a little.   I will admit to having games where the Tolkien Trifecta were present, but those were mostly "out of the book" adventures.

Another Pet Peeve I have is playing the Non-human Race as a Human stereotype, or a Human in a funny suit.  Examples would be the Hippie Elves, The Dwarvish "Soccer Hooligan", or the Hobbit Mafia B&E specialist.  I do recognize that not everyone can role play, and still be an asset to the game, but I do expect folks to do a bit of reading about the campaign background and how those cultures worked.  I also don't like it when the other "races" are played as joke characters. (messes up the grimdark of the campaign...Kidding just a little bit).

 

4) How many is too many? Too few?

Between 3 and 5. Fewer than that begs the question of why hasn't one or the other just taken over and made the other extinct.  More than 5 (with some exceptions), and the game feels like a costume party, as none of the races will acquire enough development for them to feel like a different culture and biology.

 

5) What do races represent in you games if anything?

In my game? Depends on the race.  The Jaggiri were a source of conflict as they were not defeatable one on one, and were a "Boss fight" against a party.  Culturally they were supremacists, and looked at other races as either threats, or economic resources for their territorial expansion.  But they could be out thought and out negotiated, and were amenable to diplomacy.  They started in the game as a a demonic horror released upon an innocent  land. And ended the game as slightly annoying, but decent to know.  The Lupines are a stand in for any  more primitive culture, except with some tweaks in their physical capabilities and a few broad general mental frameworks that make them, while comprehensible to Humans,  different enough that their motivations often diverge from most humans. They do this without having to get into disagreeable situations with the current youth about "cultural appropriation".  I roll my own races in games, and after a long history of reading Science Fiction, colonial era adventure stories, and History, the different races basically boil down to  creatures from a specific or somewhat general environment that want to eat, breed, raise young, and pass on their culture to the next generation. I had a conversation with Animation Legend Ray Harryhausen once, at SDCC, and he told me, that a Monster was just an animal in conflict. What does it do when it's not angry, and how does it live?  Think about that and you then have a more fully fleshed out monster.  They also serve to scratch my world building itch, as they will have place names and  settlements that are all their own. So Fantasy, or Alien. They signify that this place is "not of this earth", even if I swipe large sections of history.

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11 hours ago, Chris Goodwin said:

I'm not comfortable with things like "orcs represent evil", or any "evil" races (goblins, kobolds, etc.) whose purpose it is for PCs to go out and slaughter.  Especially in contrast with the "enlightened" (and, unexaminedly white) elves.  I would like for all of them to be depicted as people, suitable for use as player characters, or dropped entirely.

 

I started in this hobby as a war gamer, so  I am of the opposite viewpoint in some cases.  Some people enjoy the brutal release. and mental exercise of a guilt free slaughter of a clever and wily opponent (see: First person shooters. See: Space Hulk). This is why I drifted away, unsatisfied, from 4 color adventures, and back to low fantasy.

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I'd agree that one thing Fantasy elements do is intensify the features of stories. Returning to LotR: Could the story be told without dwarves, elves, hobbits and orcs? (and as lesser players, ents and trolls.) I suppose so. The hordes of Suron and Saruman could just be human cultures they subverted; the Fellowship could be made of representatives of different countries. But I think Sauron's evil is shown more when his hordes aren't just people with unpleasant cultural features (the Southrons and Easterlings -- Middle Earth's Saracens and Tatars -- who could fill this role, are ciphers). Orcs are monsters, literally created to be brutal and pitiless. It isn't their choice. That Sauron, and then Saruman, would employ such creatures shows in turn that they aren't simply leaders with politics one might disagree with: It gets to the heart of what makes them evil, of what evil means in Tolkien's world.

 

Similarly, having the Fellowship consist of different races/species strengthens the point that resisting Sauron requires diverse peoples to overcome long estrangement. Men, Elves, Dwarves and Hobbits have good reasons not to like each other very much. But Sauron isn't just a common military threat. Sauron is a moral, even theological, threat, that requires fundamental changes in how things have been. And so the friendship that develops between Gimli and Legolas means more, too, because the barriers they overcome are more than just those of people from different cultures.

 

Dean Shomshak

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As I've mentioned in another thread, the game Exalted sort of manages to have it both ways. Creation is mostly human, and most humans still fall within the baseline of merely cosmetic differences of skin and hair. But an indefinite number of altered humans exist, some created deliberately and others warped by ambient supernatural forces, to give a "sensawunda" feeling of the unearthly. But from amphibious People of the Sea to feathered hawkmen and scaled snakement, to furry cannibal Varajtul Wyld-mutants, they are still theologically human in that they can all be chosen as Exalted. (Convenient for the player who insists on a special snowflake character, but it can be used for thematic purposes as well.)

 

There are also genuinely inhuman intelligences such as Fair Folk (elfy-looking, but these are humanoid masks for soul-eating entities of primal Chaos), Mountain Folk (dwarfy, but born from jade eggs and strange in other ways), Dragon Kings, Lintha pirates, and a few others. Some of these are marginally playable, but they all tend to be in some way deeply strange -- encounters with the alien.

 

Dean Shomshak

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As an example of what one can do with the variant humans of Exalted, here's the introduction to a society I designed and posted as a bit of fanwork. It uses these variant humans for a number of purposes: to intensify an underlying premise of diverse peoples coming together in a greater union for common good; to extend possibilities for adventure into an underused environment; and sheer "sensawunda," to show how exotic the setting could become.

-----------------

<1>Warrakai, the Land Under Waves

 

Of all the Directions of Creation, the West has the least land area. For this reason, people in other Directions usually think it has the lowest population. They forget that not all people need land. But then, most land-dwelling folk do not regard the beastmen, Wyld mutants and other aquatic races of the West as people.

 

Warrakai, the Land Under Waves, is one of the more complex societies of the Western Ocean. On this undersea plateau, fish-scaled folk trade harvests of kelp to dolphinman hunters of tuna and bonito. Men covered in crab-chitin, with pincers for hands, practice slow, underwater battle-dances to fight the creatures who enslaved their ancestors. Ghost-pale, one-eyed folk descend into lightless depths and return with prophecies and jade. People of the Sea, indistinguishable from human save for the gills in their necks and the webs between their fingers, travel bearing land-made trinkets and tools.

 

The five races do not love each other, but they worship together at the sacred atoll of the god Warratoa. In return, Warratoa and his subordinate spirits protect them from the Wyld. The federation, however, is still fragile… and an ancient evil already moves against it. Will the Time of Tumult forge the sea-folk into a great nation? Or will it wash them away in a riptide of forces beyond their comprehension?

-----------------

That, I submit, is a bit more than humans with a coat of paint.

 

Dean Shomshak
 

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I've always felt that in Fantasy settings (especially high fantasy) where Gods exist then the races should be at least somewhat tied to the Gods, given that Gods probably created the world. 

So if some evil Gods created Orcs, Goblins and the like back in the day then those races/species would be evil originally. Good gods might have created the Elves and neutral Gods created Humans and Dwarves, etc... and they were all "aligned" to their God in the beginning. 

 

BUT.. since that time, the Gods have taken a step back from their influence and control over the races they created. Maybe as a pact between them or another, greater God, enforcing new "rules", but either way, since that time the races and individuals have been free to chose how they act, good, evil, neutral, atheist, or believer. 

 

Many still remain aligned to their original God (so most humans are neutral, most elves good, most orcs evil) but that is in general and does not apply to individuals of the species/races. So you have all the fantasy tropes, but individual are free to be what they desire. 

 

This also helps explain why Humans expanded so far so early and make up the majority of the population of most worlds. They were neutral and stayed out a lot of the original conflicts between the good and evil races. While those races/species were fighting each other and staying together in solidarity and defensive regions and areas, the humans were more able to spread out into uninhabited lands and create their own rules and kingdoms. 

 

Or something like that. 

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2 hours ago, DShomshak said:

That, I submit, is a bit more than humans with a coat of paint.

I submit it isn't. 

Quote

Warrakai, the Land Under Waves

 

Of all the Directions of Creation, the West has the least land area. For this reason, people in other Directions usually think it has the lowest population. They forget that not all people need land. But then, most land-dwelling folk do not regard the [aquatic humans, a Twilight did it,] of the West as people.

 

Warrakai, the Land Under Waves, is one of the more complex societies of the Western Ocean. On this undersea plateau, fish-scale [wearing humans] trade harvests of kelp to dolphin [training] hunters of tuna and bonito. Men covered in [armor made from] crab-chitin, with pincers for [gauntlets], practice slow, underwater battle-dances to fight the creatures who enslaved their ancestors. Ghost-pale [humans] descend into lightless depths and return with prophecies and jade. People of the Sea, indistinguishable from human save for [breathing underwater as easily as in air], travel bearing land-made trinkets and tools.

 

The five [nations of humans] do not love each other, but they worship together at the sacred atoll of the god Warratoa. In return, Warratoa and his subordinate spirits protect them from the Wyld. The federation, however, is still fragile… and an ancient evil already moves against it. Will the Time of Tumult forge the sea-folk into a great nation? Or will it wash them away in a riptide of forces beyond their comprehension?

I'm not saying anything's wrong with your idea, but "humans with fish bits" is still humans.  I didn't see anything that meaningfully rendered them culturally or mentally distinct. 

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On 4/1/2020 at 11:28 AM, Chris Goodwin said:

Here is part one of a two part article about, essentially, racism in depictions of orcs, and how signifiers often used to describe them (savage, primitive, warlike, and so on) are the same ones used by colonialist cultures to describe non-whites.  (TLDR: In Tolkien's case, specifically Asians.)

 

I'm not comfortable with things like "orcs represent evil", or any "evil" races (goblins, kobolds, etc.) whose purpose it is for PCs to go out and slaughter.  Especially in contrast with the "enlightened" (and, unexaminedly white) elves.  I would like for all of them to be depicted as people, suitable for use as player characters, or dropped entirely.

 

I disagree with the author. Tolkien was never satisfied with his origin stories about orcs, and he rejected the idea about them irredeemable. Here's an article with a counterpoint as well as a video.

 

 

 

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As for my fantasy worlds, it depends. I did a low fantasy that only had humans. Then again, it didn't have magic either, so some may not classify it as fantasy. I had an idea where the different races were all offshoots of humanity that somehow evolved differently from one another and from baseline humanity.

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2 hours ago, tkdguy said:

I disagree with the author. Tolkien was never satisfied with his origin stories about orcs, and he rejected the idea about them irredeemable. Here's an article with a counterpoint as well as a video.

 

As a fan of Tolkien myself, I have to point out that he was a product of his era. It would be questionable to ascribe contemporary social standards to him. He was born just before the beginning of the Twentieth Century. He was a citizen of the global British Empire. Racism was common and institutional in Britain at that time, including among the most educated who were commonly from the upper classes. It would not be surprising if some such attitudes infused his fiction, though not necessarily consciously. After all, the relationship between Frodo and Sam started out as that of upper-class master and lower-class servant, a convention almost wholly moribund in Britain by the time LOTR was published. Also keep in mind that as well as the Orcs, the Men who served Sauron were from east of the regions which opposed him, and those regions and the peoples inhabiting them were analogous to Europe and Europeans. East and West are explicit divisions in LOTR.

 

IMO none of this takes away from Tolkien's noble work. The contrast between good and evil is clear, his characters are richly developed, and courage, honor, loyalty, compassion, selflessness are fundamental to the whole story. Tolkien has no need for apologists to try to revise history by ignoring the context of his life.

 

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