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Alternative fantasy races

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Mythic Scribes, Feb 6, 2011.

  1. KorbentMarksman

    KorbentMarksman Minstrel

    Thank you very much. I needed something akin to a savage mount in my book and the Karkadanns sound like an excellent idea.
  2. I feel that there is an undue obsession with 'races' when it comes to fiction. At times when reading a story you get the sense that the person is writing less for the story and more to get the most bizarre civilization award. The great strength of humanity is that the race by itself doesn't require any race building which can directly infringe on the actual act of story telling. Indeed, the desire not to full into the 'elves, orcs, dwarfs' cliche is increasingly becoming a cliche within itself - and I almost get the impression that when a complex race is described it is there increasingly for vanity's sake.
  3. Zero Angel

    Zero Angel Auror

    I think that fantasy races fill a niche that humans cannot hope to fill precisely because of their mundane-ness. I do agree that sometimes authors get a little masturbatory with their world-building/race-building, and that frequently they can put this effort into a race of humans or a kingdom, but sometimes it just makes sense that there are alternate races or that they developed in different ways or at different times.

    For me I have dragons created the multiverse which was polluted with demon atoms, then the dragons engineered life and it blew up in their faces. When they tried to curtail the explosion of life towards something more draconic, they created dinosaurs. When they got out of hand, they ripped apart the dimensions to summon a comet to the planet, inadvertently creating a permanent gate with the elven dimension, which flooded through to this side. With the permanent gate between the two dimensions, a between realm was created where life-forms from both sides were pulled in and became the faerie folk. With so much alien magick in the form of the lifeforms that were elves, the planet popped out a counterweight called dwarves. The elves molded the mammalian progenitors into the tauren races (minotaurs, centaurs, harpies, icthaylians, humans, giants, merfolk, etc) to serve as their slaves. Then the elves that loved this planet more than their previous formed a permanent bond to the planet becoming sylvan elves. But the counterweight that was the dwarves was now unbalanced, and so some became gnomes. Then the humans and their allies overthrew their elven overlords and banished them back to their own dimension, inadvertently locking magick out of this dimension (or at least making it very difficult) and forming countless pocket dimensions where magickal creatures sheltered. Humans developed technology and their own civilization, which eventually evolved into the Galateans or Galts, which overthrew the humans. Then a multidimensional doomsday device destroyed the seal on magick, unleashing all of the magickal creatures that had been locked in subRealms and reopened the gates to the faerie folk and elven dimension. Then about 30,000 years later, my first book starts.

    So all of these creatures filled a very tangible role in the creation of my planet (and in fact this is just a brief overview--I left off about 15 billion years of pre-history before the creation of the multiverse, the introduction of water, what happened to the demon atoms, the creation of the orcs and laorcs, lycanthropes and hydras, Earth Gods, the undead, Neanderthals, the genetic monstrosities of the humans, and all sorts of other creatures, but they all fit and make sense I feel and I could not imagine it any other way).

    I do agree that I do not care for when a fantastic race fills a role that humans could. Nothing turns me off more from a fantasy novel than the mundane.
  4. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

    I disagree with this. Eventually during the process of my WiP's creation I abandoned races altogether, having made them, bit by bit, into nothing more than unique human civilizations. At some point I realized it doesn't matter whether my forest-dwelling hunter-gatherers have pointy ears or not. They can be magical and interesting with or without them. Likewise for my desert-dwelling fire mages, mountain-dwelling lightning ninja clan, etc. A well developed human race can easily substitute for elves, dwarves, etc. if you put in the elbow grease.
  5. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    Why would humans be any more "mundane" than any other race?

    I don't have any WIPs which feature any sapient race apart from humans, but whenever I have experimented with worlds featuring multiple fantasy races like elves or orcs I have always made the humans stick out from the other races. In these worlds, since the elves et al. occupy the world's temperate and polar regions, humanity stays in the tropics where it evolved, so my humans all retain dark skin and other "Negroid" physical features which visually set them apart from the other races. My humans also tend to have proportionately longer legs and less body fat than the other races, allowing them to run faster.

    Of course, in the story I'm currently working on, humans are the only hominins present, so they've spread all over the planet and evolved a variety of physical appearances corresponding to the different habitats they settle in, not so different from humans on Earth.
  6. Human 'mundane-ness' has the issue of not being true - look at our world, it is inhabited by humans, but each nation and 'ethnic' group demonstrates a vast and fascinating strata of cultures, appearances and personalities - there's nothing mundane about us at all, we are just used to human interaction so it seems 'boring.'

    The other great benefit of humanity is one of simple realism: we know that humanity works. Someone can't go 'that's unbelievable' - like one could with say... unicorn people. Perhaps even more helpful, we can relate with humans much more easier: whilst with fantastical races the simple race gap inevitably creates an issue. What I find is that in trying to solve this problem people try try and 'humanize' the race in question - which sort of defeats the point of coming up with a completely different race to begin with.
  7. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    "Mundane" also means something that pertains to earth, or to our world, as opposed to something not of the real world. By that definition, humans are certainly mundane. Any non-human sentient race you want to include, then, is not mundane.

    There's no approach here that is inherently right or wrong. If you want to use just humans, there is nothing wrong with that. You certainly don't have to proceed in that manner, though, and the use of stock fantasy races as well as completely invented races is just fine.
    Zero Angel likes this.
  8. Zero Angel

    Zero Angel Auror

    I just think that by being something that we all have experience with, humans are mundane in their very existence. If you paint them up and magickify them, then they become less mundane, but also less human. I think that behavior is very important too. Humans should ultimately act human, while alternate races might have alternate moralities, philosophies or unique religions.

    Can you give these to human? Sure, but I can experience humans every day--I cannot experience elves and orcs every day--thus, humans are mundane.
  9. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

    I honestly think the only reason humans end up feeling mundane next to other fantasy races is because they are so often made into the "Mario" race: not particularly specialized at anything. Jack of all trades, master of none, etc. And compared to magical elves, engineering dwarves, and barbarian orcs, that kind of "all around" or "balanced stats" race is pretty boring. But they're boring because the writer didn't work hard enough to give them something cool to do, not because their intrinsically mundane.
    Jabrosky likes this.
  10. BeigePalladin

    BeigePalladin Sage

    I agree with mindfire; humans end up the boring, mundane but adaptable race because the writer finds it easier to say humans are boring" and just go with that.

    I like races if theyir thought out, and if they're not there to simply represent a different country with a different race, I think they can be made to be intresting if you work on them and use logic - I feel you need to actually define how their different from humanity, rather than where they live and how they look. but I feel the effect you get out of them is equal to how much effort you put into them

    Though thi holds true for elves, orcs and dwarves as well as any "new" race.
  11. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    I can't prove this, but I believe that no human is capable of constructing a truly inhuman philosophy. That is to say, the only way a human writer could portray a nonhuman who follows a philosophy no human could follow would be to write that nonhuman's actions completely at random, and justify them with gibberish. Look at the religion of the Aztecs, or at Chinese Legalism--neither bears much resemblance to how humans in most fantasy novels think and act, but both were human-made.

    This is not to say that nonhumans can't be used for things humans are harder to use for, but I think it's a matter of their inhuman traits shaping them in a direction the humans around them don't normally go, not of those traits making them necessarily and irrevocably different from humans. (For instance, vampires may be inclined to self-justify that they're stronger than humans, and deserve to live by killing them, but a reasonably complex and interesting vampire may reconsider this philosophy, or a reasonably complex and interesting human may adopt it to justify his own brutality against other humans.)

    (Then again, my entire schtick as a writer revolves around differing people coming to understand each other perfectly, for better or worse. My friend Sessalisk writes heavily about differing people failing to understand each other, so she might have a different opinion on this . . .)
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2012
  12. Zero Angel

    Zero Angel Auror

    I agree for the most part here. I don't particular care for something completely alien precisely because I get a Cthulu revulsion from something totally alien, I was just saying that you can go that route. I think that you can construct alternate philosophies by differing the axioms but using logic to carry them out to their inevitable conclusions. This still uses mathematics so it is grounded in the real world and is something a human can do. For Cthulu-style aliens, you could also vary the mathematics of logic by changing some of the math axioms and carrying those out to their inevitable conclusion.

    An example of this is if 1+1 = 3, then this alters quite a lot about mathematics and makes many things inconsistent. Then that means that 2 * 1 = 3, but what is 2? Does 2 exist? Lots of different ways we can go here.

    I definitely agree that it is just easier to take the fantasy races and have what makes them fantastic shape them in their direction, but I would go further and say that I think that it makes more sense to do this with fantasy races then it does to alter humans and use them. Again, if I want nothing but humans, I will read a non-fantasy.
  13. ALB2012

    ALB2012 Maester

    I don't see a problem with elves and dwarves etc. There are now so many demon/vampire/lupine books around and elves etc have fallen out of favour but I don't see a problem with either. Yes they are often over used but I think you can have stock races and still have an individual story. No one moans if humans are involved, or dragons. Use elves, dwarves, werebeasts etc so long as the story is original. Tolkien was not the first, he simply is the one who made them popular.

    Nothing wrong in usually established character classes in a new way. Or even in a similar way if the story is good.
    I think having a character which is basically an elf and then giving it some fancy name is a bit sneaky. Its an elf.. call it an elf.

    Look at Shadowrun/Earthdawn trolls and orcs, they are not the violent barbarian or stupid thugs, they don't turn to rock etc etc. Elves are usually slightly faster, more agile etc but that is simply a racial thing.
    Sure make up new races but I bet they will be influenced by pre existing fantasy races.

    Earthdawn has Tskrang- lizard men, so does Warhammer, but they are evil. It also has stone men.
    I think a lot of people can relate to the standard races and feel comfortable with them. If not, fine, can't please everyone.

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