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Fantasy elements

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Amanita, Aug 4, 2012.

  1. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

    This is not supposed to be a specific discussion of my my magic system if someone thought that way reading the title. :D
    After seeing all those threads and questions about specific fantasy races, subjects and "cliches" I'm curious about your feelings about various typical fantasy elements.

    I'm going to start with mine of course.

    For some reason that probably isn't really rational my opinions on various typical fantasy creatures vary greatly. Dragons, unicorns and shapeshifters of any kind don't bother me at all, elves are a "depends" while I tend to avoid anything with dwarves or especially orcs in it. This might be, because the beings from the first group where part of many stories and fairytales I've grown up with while I only got introduced to the latter later in life. Dwarves are a bit of an exception but outside of modern English-language fantasy I've mainly come across single dwarves guarding treausures and the like, not dwarf-cultures.
    I'm actually very fond of the idea of mystical, magical beings dwelling in forests and other natural areas but for some reason, my idea of those is different from typical fantasy elves. Even Tolkien's elves actually have been too human for my taste. I especially don't imagine such being living in societies completely like human ones with royals, nobility, courts and the like. This lead me to the problem that I'm not sure if the being I have in mind myself are supposed to be referred to as elves or not. At the moment, I've decided to leave them out and only put magical beings into this role that resemble Greek or Roman deities more than elves but aren't seen as divine beings in my world.

    As far as magic is concered, I actually like almost anything if it's done well. There are many different concepts and so far I've rarely come across a book which suffered from its magic system. Generally, I like to see some form of magic or supernatural abilities in fantasy, it's one of the things I like about it.
    I'm quite fond of "high-magic" societies such as the magical community in Harry Potter as well and I'd be curious to see something like this in an inventend world. My own attempts to do this weren't really succesful however.

    As far as Dark Lords are concerned, I don't think they're needed but I don't generally dislike every story that has them. Sometimes they can be really helpful in raising the stakes, forcing the "good" groups to form unusual alliances and the like. Therefore Dark Lords can be a helpful tool, depending on the story in question.

    The same goes for important prophecies so I generally tend to dislike those because they give away too much and force the "chosen one" into a position he doesn't want to be in. I really prefer heroes who fight because they choose to do so.

    So, that's me. What do you think?

    LOCOFOOL Minstrel

    I really like that you put your own twist on elves! I had that dilemma with dwarves too. I liked how they lived in deep caverns and had amazing forging skills making these huge beautiful structures. I change the original dwarf around so much where the only thing left was the pride in hair and their height. I just decided to rename them based on the biggest feature I changed. So I think if you made them your own than feel fee to rename the race to what fits best.

    I like having magic in fantasy too, but I decided to make it more of a myth in my story.
    I enjoy it in any quantity though. I think it takes a lot of skill to pull off a great balanced magic system and I commend the people who do.

    I’ll have to agree with you on the Dark Lords too; sometimes they do fit perfect in a story. I also like having a relatable villain; that makes us have that almost realistic gray area. Some Dark Lords make things to black and white. I won’t really care for a villain who runs around blowing up innocent villages for the heck of it but if he blows up innocent villages because the same people did it to his villages 10 fold than I may like him a tad more. If that example makes any sense!

    I think the problem with prophecy is that the story becomes a little predictable. I’ve seen them done right though.

    Hope that helped!
  3. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

    Hello Amanita, I have fixed the thread's title for you =)

    In my own stories I have included few of the classic elements of Fantasy: I have dragons and dragon-like creatures, Magic, castles and swords, but apart of that there is little in my stories that could be considered cliche.

    No Elves, Dwarves and other classic creatures in my worlds!!

    I have a Dark Lord style character in my first Fantasy series, but instead of being the main antagonist and the greatest threat to everyone, she is more like a dark legend and a background problem that nobody seems to really worry about.
  4. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    The whole point of my setting is to take as many of the traditional fantasy elements as possible and put them in an non-traditional setting (the modern day world) and see what happens. I'm trying to put my own twists on the various elements though. On the surface they will look very much like traditional fantasy clichés but when digging deeper there will be differences showing up.
    So far I've added to the world:
    - Elves
    - Dwarves
    - Hobbits (to be renamed)
    - Magic
    - Spirits
    - Gods
    - Shamanism
    - Werewolves
    - Vampires
    - Paladins
    - Dragons
    - Random halfbreeds

    Pretty much the only thing that I've removed from the modern day world is the Internal Combustion Engine, which means there are no cars. Unfortunately there's some rather big flaws in the reasoning behind that, but I'm sure I'll think of something sooner or later.
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2012

    LOCOFOOL Minstrel

    That's a cool concept Svrtnsse I’ve gone back and forth between using a modern world for a while. I would have used cars but not guns. My big issue was how to explain why there were no guns considering the advance in technology that were already made.

    I hope you work it out because it sounds like it will be great!
  6. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    The internal combustion engine is like anything else, a means to an end in needing a way to go places faster. I can think of a few reasons for not existing.

    1. Petroleum; which is the basis behind the workings of the internal combustion engine simply doesn't exist; Can't make something from nothing.

    2. With the presence of magical transport (airships, magical coaches or what have you) there is no need for other forms of transportation across the land. I imagine magically powered trains would be extremely cool and environmentally sound. Perhaps they use crystals that absorb energy from the sun and turn it to electricity, much the same way as a solar panel does.

    3. Mankind continued using steam or hydrolics for locomotion; i.e. steampunk. refining them to the point that it would be unnecessary to have other types of engines.

    Just a few thoughts I had on the matter.
  7. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    My roots are in Tolkien and D&D, and while I've changed quite a bit since then, the influences linger. Still:

    In my worlds, things like magic and some 'stock' races owe their existence to what I term the 'Old Ones' or 'Ancient Aliens'. Basically they came to earth tens of thousands of years ago (and several times afterwards), rounded up groups of humans, took them to other worlds, and through weird, frequently brutal science transformed some of them. Some of their subjects were changed enough mentally to where they could perform rudimentary magic.

    Dwarves: These are the most 'humanlike' of my races, so much so I've considered ditching them more than once.

    Elves: Essentially alien souls/spirits from another dimension now trapped in once human bodies, reincarnating here is slain. Their alien nature is the root of their magic and longevity (couple hundred years).

    Goblins: Essentially another alien species brought to this world, with reproductive habits creating a social structure which makes them less than appealing to have as neighbors. The 'goblin' label was slapped on them by humans, not their name for themselves.

    Magic: Essentially 'enhanced mental abilities', mostly like what gets reported in the real world now and again. Mind over matter type stuff.

    Vampires: Never really cared for them. Never thought much of the D&D version, for that matter. Too many 'logistical problems' - like vampires draining large numbers of victims without attracting massive retaliation.

    Zombies: Problem with zombies is decomposition - a couple weeks after becoming (un)dead your zombie is pretty much going to fall apart on its own. Now near mindless but still living zombies offer some potential...

    Lycanthropes (Were-creatures): All through the mythology, though ye olde versions differ significantly from the present day ones. Tempting to include, but how to change shape without breaking most of the bones in the body and dieing from organ trauma? I finally decided it was something that changing shape could be managed only by real powerful entities, and that the mass / body weight would remain the same. Also extremely dangerous.

    Demons, Gods, ect: Lovecraft fan here. And its all open source.
  8. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    My NIP uses a few common things from fantasy, but probably not in the way they are portrayed in most cases.

    Wildlings: Humans that are generally incapable of using magic, but are extremely populous and breed quickly. Like is typical throughout history, they tend to settle in an area and thrive in any climate. The ones in the story live in a remote area with only a single town as a population center. They have little knowledge of thier ancient history and most worship no god; but those that do are a bit "cult-like" in that they don't make it apparent.

    Druids: Forest-loving human archtype, but definitely a force to be reckoned with if messed with. They typically kill intruders found in their lands, allowing only merchants to come and go unmolested. Even they must be careful and must not stray from their trading posts; which are seperate from the cities, so the visiting merchants never see what real druid society is like.

    Dark Ones: Creatures that at one time were human, but changed through magic to be larger and more bestial. There are three basic archtypes; peasants, warriors and psions. Peasants are the females and smaller males and are used as breeding stock and farmers for the food the tribe eats. The Psions are capable of using magic and typically lead the groups of warriors that are sent by their "leader" for missions; typically securing more slaves to be turned to dark ones. They are obediant to the psions and their principal purpose is taking captives so they can make more dark ones and psions.

    There is a single god/goddess but can take many forms depending on the worhippers; the one presented in the story is Aeshir, who manifests as an oddly ethereal and comely woman who is ageless and speaks softly. Vaguely like the main protagonists mother as a matter of fact... something to put him at ease since the wildling are considered heathens by other peoples.
  9. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

    I have one logical sticking point that always disturbs me, but which there are very few–if any–good ways around: no matter what else a fantasy world does or does not include, it always includes humans.

    I'm sure you can see where trying to "fix" this might prove problematic.…

    Seriously, though: what sense does it make for every fantasy world in every possible fantasy universe to have humans as one of its races, usually its dominant one? I mean, apart from the obvious desirability, from a writing standpoint, of giving readers something to connect with and relate to? Leaving that one minor ( :rolleyes: ) detail aside, humans have got to be the biggest cliché of them all.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  10. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    Discussion yesterday made me think of something else: the Thieves' Guild. I think that's probably one of the most bizzare and cliché fantasy elements out there - or at least I used to think so. After the discussion in the chat yesterday I got some new angles on the concept and will be including something like it in my WIP once I get around to it.
  11. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    Something I've wondered about as well, now and again. You've got this marvelous world with all these strange plants and critters... and its human occupied. How did they get there? Its why I resorted to the 'ancient aliens' approach.

    That said, there are a few novels, usually older ones, where humans were either very few in number or not present at all.
  12. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    I'll admit that most of my current WIPs include humans, but those are justified in it because they either take place in our world (or a slightly tweaked version of it), or include people from our world who travel to another one (i.e. Faerie). With regards to my newest WIP involving anthropomorphic wolves, I don't think humans would be appropriate to include. There are elves in the world's history (they might be replaced with some other magical being in later drafts), but the whole point of the plot is that they are a dying race, and with them dies the magic that gives the aforesaid wolves their unique intelligence and other un-animal aspects.
  13. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    Humans are great though. They (we) are very versatile, come in all kinds of different colors, shapes and sizes and can adapt to living in almost any climate. Compare this with for example elves (though any other race probably works too). When there are elves in a story, they're usually all pretty much the same. There's a lot less physical variation among elves than among humans. That doesn't mean there aren't variations of them; there are high elves and dark elves, frost elves and wood elves etc etc etc. They're portrayed as distinct races in their own right though. The human equivalent might be using names like "jungle humans" or "winter humans" etc.

    I think this may tie in to another cliche fantasy element: the lack of ethnic diversity among non-human races.

    I'm sure there are exceptions to the above, but I think there's at least a grain of truth in it.
  14. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

    Well, that's probably because most authors are humans. ;) Even if someone chooses to write from the point of view of another species, they usually tend to act and feel like humans despite of that. At least that's been true for all such concepts I've come across so far. The beings in questions might have had different physical features (even though in case of elves those usually are limited to the shape of their ears) but their behavior, feelings, morality and so on are like humans. If this weren't the case, sympathizing with these beings would probably be hard for most readers if it's even possible for writers to write something like that without falling back into human thinking at some point.
  15. Son of John

    Son of John Acolyte

    I don't mind the standard fantasy elements as a reader, but as a writer I want to do something slightly different, but not too different to make it too confusing. In my story I am not going to have dwarves and elves as such, they will be variations of humans that sort have the cliché personalities (I don't think I will make the dwarf like people short though).
    As far as non-human races go, I am thinking minotaur type people. One thing I sort of dislike in the fantasy genre is how well spoken non human races are at the English language, especially in medieval fantasy. A story just loses its realism if a dragon etc. talks in a human voice (telepathy type conversation or speaking through a host are exceptions).
  16. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    I have often wondered the same thing as to why most fantasy novels use humans as the dominant species. I figured that the most likely reason is because we ARE human and we have the subconscious desire for humans to dominate in anything we do. Another possible reason is; as stated above, that humans are exceptionally flexible, often using bizarre rituals or having strange religions that you just don't see among the "other races" typical of fantasy. As it's often stated here, it isn't the concept itself that is cliché... it's how you work within the construct and make it your own that dictate whether it's cliché or not. I have a concept that I have been working on with very few (if any) humans, centered mostly around a race that was put into a "prison colony" after a brutal war.
  17. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    I believe the reason humans are usually central to fantasy has more to do with reader association than any underlying urge to see humans dominate.

    Usually the theme is either humans in a setting different from our world or a world similar to ours with non-human creatures & humans mixed in. There are variations of course but the reader needs something to ground in their own experience.
  18. Sandor

    Sandor Dreamer

    Hi folks! :)

    I usually refuse to read, write or "roleplay" very high fantasy settings.
    For those who knows the environment, I like Forgotten Realms, but sometimes it sounds a bit...over-the-top to me.

    I prefer to put fantasy elements in a twisting manner.

    A bunch of things I use in my world, that basically reflect the kinda things I like the most:
    - Magic: I prefer magic when it comes at some cost. I use "blood magic" as the "main" magic system (you hurt yourself, sacrifice some blood and gods answer to your requests). It has a "positive" feelings, that's the "right" thing to do (in my world) in order to show your capability of "losing to get". Usually, it doesn't.

    - Races: I've just humans. I don't exclude other races and maybe somethign weird will appear in my writings...But I prefer to give special features to men coming from different cultures and places, rather than creating different races.
    I.E., I have some families, or "bloodlines" if you prefer, that feature "magical-like" powers (shapeshifting, pain resistance, divination capability, etc.).
    Everytime I think about something like this, I quickly find a counter-measure, mostly because I like the idea of "no-perfection" and everyone who gets a "gift" has to pay with a "curse" or particular limit (in the example, people who have DIVINATIONS about future happenings, lose days of life based on how much they reveal). ;)

    - Myths and magical creatures: I prefer to use 'em as "background" elements. I like environments where they're parts of the "past" and maybe rare in the actual world.
    I like to create and feed the "doubt" about their existance and sometimes I tend not to reveal the truth about 'em.
    I.E., it is said that there were trees who could speak to people able to undesrtand their language. Nobody can prove it at 100%, but noboby can deny it neither.

    The most important fact that drives me to this "magic to the past" concept, is because I like decadent environments, that's my "style". :) I don't want destroyed or post-apocalyptic world (at least, not everytime), but decadent societies tend to give more brilliance to the actual supernatural face of reality.

    - Magic with no limits: it may seem a non-sense after what I wrote, but it's not. ahah
    When you have a "low-mid" fantasy world, I prefer magic to have strong possibilities to twist things. When you live in a decadent world, with doubts about "what's right/wrong about magical stuff" and where most of the people have "limited" knowledge about the big canvas, you have FEAR of MAGIC.
    You know that the weird man speakin' weird languages and makin' weird signs with his hands is going to do something dangerous.

    I prefer to have people capable of startin' a war with "mind-manipulation magic" rather than magical artifacts or elves.

    - A Magic Item is...MAGIC!!!!
    I pay a lot of attention on magic items. I prefer the concept of "magical artifacts". If you have an item capable of something great, you surely got it riskin' your life or givin' something important in exchange.

    Then, artifacts should be...ambiguous. Do they have a will? Do they're created with good or evil purposes? Are they going to work in any hands? Do they exist?

    A character finding a magic item is a twisting event and should be treated like that.

    That's all, i guess.
  19. Lorna

    Lorna Inkling

    I enjoy reading about fantasy races that are well grounded with distinctive cultures and strong relationships to the land.

    I like magic with depth, transforming characters and worlds and pushing boundaries physical and psychological. No spell should leave the spell caster unchanged and magic must have a cost.

    Dark lords? One of my favourite archetypes :)
  20. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    Could it be that humans in a fantasy setting serves as an anchor in mundanity. With humans being normal and human anything that isn't becomes a little bit more odd in contrast.

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