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What's the point/purpose of fantasy races? Should I bother having them?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Peregrine, Jul 20, 2017.

  1. Peregrine

    Peregrine Troubadour

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    The reason why I wanted to make a fictional world/setting is because I was heavily inspired by Norse mythology.

    I knew that it would be impossible to base my world on Norse Cosmology (Jotunheim, Alfheim, Midgard, Niflheim...) because there's nine worlds for god's sake, and every creature (elf/ettin/vanir...) lives in different worlds, so because of that I needed to make a new world instead.

    Tolkien's Middle-Earth was not "Norse" enough for me, even though it is probably the most Norse book that ever existed.

    I wanted to make a world that felt Norse (even more Norse than Tolkien), a barbarian hero with a horned helmet that battles ettins like David against Goliath or encounters a dragon (Not the flying, fire-breathing one).

    I have only 5 "races".
    4 of my "races" are inspired by Norse Mythology.
    Elves are not in my world, let alone physical gods.
    But now, as I have matured I am less attached to these fictional races just because they look different and I wonder if the physical differences are worth?

    Is it worth it including dwarfs just because they are physically different, I mean if I include them they are going to be unique for example instead of emphasizing that they are greatest blacksmiths and miners, my dwarfs are mostly pastoralists which means that most dwarfs are shepherds or goatherds because they live in mountains and agriculture is more suitable in the lowlands.

    You don't have to be a dwarf to make a underground city and live in the mountains. Humans can do it also.
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2017
  2. elemtilas

    elemtilas Inkling

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    Okay.

    I guess you could make them countries in stead of worlds, though.

    :) I've seen Tolkien's works described many ways, but I think "not Norse enough for me!" must be a first.

    I didn't think they wore horned helmets, except in Wagner.

    The physical differences usually are just masks for some deeper distinction. I don't suppose you need elfs and dwarfs per se; but you will of course need people who fulfill those roles in the Norse context.

    Exactly. They can also herd sheep with the best of em! I would suggest only having dwarfs in your world if your world requires that dwarfs exist. Same goes for elfs. Or gods or any other suitably Norse folk. If your aim to write a story, then make sure these other races are there only if your world and the story require that they exist.

    For example, The World requires that Dwarrows (dwarves) and elves exist (among other kinds of folk). I've never written a story that involves or mentions Dwarrows, but they have to be there all the same. Maybe someday this will happen. Oo, no, I take that back! One story does have an incidental Dwarrow in it.

    Otherwise, if you're really not that keen on non-human people, I'd just stick with humans or whatever your focus species happens to be.
     
  3. Peregrine

    Peregrine Troubadour

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    I want to use horned helmets not because I think vikings used it, I don't think the vikings used it and that's Wagner.

    I am going to use horned helmets not to show that they are "vikings" or "pseudo-norse" but to emphasize their barbarian culture.

    There are no elves or gods in my story, I remove them because 1) they are immortal 2) they look the same as humans.
     
  4. Drakevarg

    Drakevarg Troubadour

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    My setting started as a stock D&D-with-serial-numbers-filed-off, but it wasn't long before I dumped all the non-human races with the exception of those who were decidedly inhuman, and converted the ones I junked into human ethnic groups. My rule at this point is "no forehead-makeup aliens." Pointy ears, forehead ridges, or a cultural obsession are not enough to warrant a different species in my opinion.

    As far as I'm concerned, unless a fantasy race has some particular reason for not being human, including them is basically either out of expectation (which is rather defeating the entire point of fantasy, when you think about it) or cheap exoticism for its own sake.
     
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  5. Holman

    Holman Minstrel

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    Given that there is enough racial diversity within humankind it does seem redundant to use fantasy races just for the sake of it. My current work in progress will be using a number of racial profiles for want of a better phrase that allow for characters to show prejudice and create "underclasses" and the forming of "ghettos" in the city that the story(ies) are (will be) set. Magic is really a set of "talents" that are a historical precursor/successor to genuine magic - I have no need for magical races so elves are redundant, skilled miners and craftsmen can be replaced by human equivalents - a fantasy novel does not in my opinion require fantasy races.

    The above is a bit of a wine-soaked ramble - so apologies if it doesn't flow too well.

    DicK (Drunk in charge (of) Keyboard) - should probably be my signature.
     
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  6. Peregrine

    Peregrine Troubadour

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    I have for example the "race" of ettins.

    Ettins are simply giants, they look like barbarian humans but much taller, wider and robust, about 235 centimeters tall on average, they are nomadic barbarians, which means that their civilization is less advanced than most humans.

    But why should I make a race of giants, when I can make a human character who has gigantism?
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2017
  7. Holman

    Holman Minstrel

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    Or you simply have racial characteristics where the nomadic barbarians are on average 235cm tall - the fantasy element being there is a legend that they are descended from giants (which eveyrone knows don't exist - they are a myth)
     
  8. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    It is fun.

    -Mythic Scribes won't allow me to post only those three words so I type this.
     
  9. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Seems to me you can just as easily flip the "why" question around and ask "why not?" The "what is the purpose" question strikes me, basically, as a "why" question.

    Unless you're writing a fantasy that is set in the real world, your work is taking place somewhere that is entirely separate or distinct from earth. The idea that life came into being there in substantially the same form as on the real earth is pretty far-fetched. If you look at this from that standpoint, it makes a lot more sense to use made-up fantasy races than not to use them.

    But ultimately these questions come down to the writer's aesthetic choices. You use them or not because you like and/or want to use them or not.
     
  10. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    I find races to be useful.

    When I say "Elf" you suddenly know that 1) Elves are a thing and 2) Start thinking of what you consider to be elf-y stuff to apply to them. Depending on how my elves work compared to other people's elves I'll have to explain that, but that'll just refine your mental image of these elves. Afterwards whenever I say Elves it'll bring up that ready made image.

    For an original race, say "Xia" well the reader doesn't know what that is. I'll have to explain what it is from the start and there's not the pre-established connection with "Elves" to play with, but if done right it's useful to give your work a unique flavor.

    A lot of time a different race could be replaced with a country without changing the story any. Say "Alphlanders" instead of "Elves." I think people are willing to accept more from different races though. People are fine with Elves being more magical than humans just because they're elves, but you would need to do more to justify some other nation automatically being elite in magic.

    There's other things different races can stand in for instead of countries. Most of the ones I can think of tend to be in the same vein though different scales. I could see someone doing a bunch of different races in one country standing in for the melting pot nature of the USA for example, or for a story focused on a single city maybe different races are different scenes. Maybe the vampires are goths while werewolves are metal heads?

    Hell, there's a webcomic I read where the whole set up for it is the main character getting transformed into a different race. In that story there's major physical and emotional differences between the races due to them, you know, actually being different species instead of basically humans with pointy ears. The emotions involved in the main character's transformation, difference in how people look at him before and after and challenges dealing with his new body honestly reminds of the sort of challenges that someone who has an accident and winds up disabled would go through.

    That said, unless it's a major part of your story I feel that it's better to hew closer to the "humans with pointy ears" style of races.

    It's cool to say that your elves are beings of living light, but it'd take readers out of the story if you glurge on exposition about every little bit of their culture, biology, whatever.
     
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  11. Holman

    Holman Minstrel

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    The OP was discussing the need in a world that had humans in it - hence the previous response - I would agree with your post and add the following - Why include humans at all?

    The reader needs to relate - would be one answer - but back in the days when I spent hours at weekends with friends playing D&D and WHFRP (I am old enough to have had the basic D&D box set) - we all rarely played humans at all - we can relate to any well written character as long as we can imagine ourselves doing the deeds of that character and looking cool doing it.
     
  12. Peregrine

    Peregrine Troubadour

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    This bothers me a lot.
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2017
  13. Holman

    Holman Minstrel

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    Ignore me - have giants they are, as a previous poster has said, more fun.
     
  14. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    Well, my first thought reading that was "wouldn't they have a whole bunch of health problems from the gigantism?" Didn't have that when thinking about Ettins.
     
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  15. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Nonhuman races.

    First, my principle worlds were 'terraformed' many millennia ago by aliens (one bunch vaguely resembled meter tall insects, another giant crabs - truly alien entities.)

    World terraformed, these aliens began importing lifeforms from other worlds. Chief among these were the humans (drawn from isolated populations over a period of millennia) and goblins.

    A bit about goblins. Story wise, I was looking for a way to actually justify a race that continually exhibited cruel or aggressive behavior without resorting to the standard AD&D 'they're evil' approach. What I decided upon was this: Goblin males outnumber females by 100 to 1 or more - yet retain a very strong desire to breed. Goblins are not born; rather they are 'hatched' in groups of 2 to 20 - give or take. These groups - 'packs' - form 'family units' with a defined pecking order for each pack. The females choose their mates (a temporary position). Hence competition for breeding rights between packs, and even within packs is fierce. What humans would term murder is (often) acceptable in most goblin societies. Raiding the neighbors (of any race) is also common. For more civilized goblins, its (usually) tournaments or duels instead of murder, and agreements with the neighbors are (usually) honored. Leadership is the top goblins from each of the top packs, with 'input' from the females - though there are also rare 'goblin kings' - near unique beings with formidable magical skills. Despite their alien biology, a goblin could pass as a short human in poor light, if one overlooked the pig-like noses and four fingered hands.

    Yes, I have elves. Their ancestors were humans who had alien 'souls' implanted within them as a result of bizarre experimentation by the ancient aliens. Their souls are essentially trapped in this realm of existence. These alien souls altered the bodies physically, giving elves a mystical connection - and an aura which can have strange effects on humans. (Remember your Tolkien - yes, there were several small nations of elves, with neighbors of other races - but they had very little to do with each other. Reason: elves were regarded as dangerous to associate with - think what happened to the dwarves in the hobbit when they tried crashing an elf celebration, and Boromir's reservations about another elf nation.) In my world, these issues resulted in the 'March' a sort of anything goes buffer region between the elf realm proper and the human nations.

    Then there are the rachasa, another hybrid creation of the ancient aliens, apparently created to be roving warriors/enforcers. These are 'cat-people' possessed of near superhero level physical abilities: they can jump straight up for several meters, and with a running start can leap a twenty meter plus chasm. Fur ranging from white to black (usually brown/tan/gold), three fingered hands and feet with long retractable claws. While there are larger groups - tribes/cities into the thousands, most ae in tiny hamlets or nomadic groups of no more than a few dozen. Not interested in commerce, except in an academic/game sense; not big on making things, though they're fond enough of baubles. Rachasa dislike fire. They will often keep members of other races around for cooking and making things. Instead, they are warriors/hunters. Rachasa enclaves in large, mixed race communities tend towards herders or enforcers.

    Or to boil it all down, the needs of the story determine if a new race is needed or not, and what attributes that race should have.

    (And yes, I have dwarves...though not the classical game variety)
     
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  16. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    A couple of people have made this point, so Captain Redundant here will make it again. When you take humans and exaggerate them, readers immediately start wondering how that would work (the example was gigantism). But if you posit a giant race (ettins), then readers accept the unusual more readily. To put it differently, the former verges on SF while the latter is fantasy. SF is a tough crowd.

    It's true that human societies vary quite a bit. Rather than conclude that I can just have humans, I decided that my non-human races ought to exhibit a similar variety. That has led me down some interesting (to me) roads.

    For example, gnomes are subservient. It's in their nature. They are almost dog-like in that they feel most comfortable when working around and for others. There are historical reasons for this, but the result is that for every human community you will nearly always find a gnome community. I essentially removed serfs from the human side of the socio-economic equation and used gnomes instead. In later centuries of Altearth this produces some serious social introspection. But being a gnome has other consequences as well--in how they organize themselves socially, how gnome law intersects with human or dwarf law (elves are a separate matter), and how they get treated when they get conquered by orcs or trolls.

    To offer another example, my elves are a shattered, scattered people. They do not build cities. They have little to do with humans or dwarves. Fisher elves are quite different from wagoneers who differ in turn from field elves. The differences stem from how they came to Europa in the first place. At the same time, though, they share certain characteristics that set them apart from the other peoples.

    The world building fun for me has come from finding ways to create diversity within each nation (elf, dwarf, orc, etc) while at the same time coming up with commonalities that make all humans recognizably human rather than elf, for example. In doing so I've been rather surprised to find that the two nations that share the most in common are human and orc. I didn't expect that one. But it helps explain why those two fight more bitterly and for longer than any others.

    And, as a final comment to this long post, I don't think I could have achieved this wide of variety had I populated my world only with humans.
     
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  17. Peregrine

    Peregrine Troubadour

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    Thanks for advice.

    I will have 5 "races".

    Actually only two of my "races" are inspired by Norse Mythology, I have the "race" of trolls, but the only thing that is Norse mythology about my trolls is that I named my "race" trolls and nothing else.

    HOW DO I MAKE DWARFS AND TROLLS SPECIAL/UNIQUE?

    Every "race" is different from each other, but I wonder how do I make the "races" special, I don't mean a unique society/civilization, but inherently/biologically/physically/mentally different? I mean what is the advantage/benefits and abilities of being a dwarf for example?

    What makes the ettin race special?
    - The ettins are the physically strongest of all "races". (I succeeded in making the ettins unique).

    What makes the dwarf race special?
    - I don't know...

    What makes the troll race special?
    - The trolls are more resistant to cold/icy weather than humans or dwarfs. They are so well adapted to cold weather, that they need less clothes than humans or dwarfs.

    How do I make my dwarfs special? I am clueless how to make my dwarfs unique (not societies/civilizations but as a biological species).

    But there is a problem with trolls, actually trolls are not completely unique because my vampires are completely immune to cold temperature, trolls are not immune to cold weather, they are just better adapted to it.
    What can I do? What ability/advantage could trolls have?
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2017
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  18. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    You might take another look at the mythology. 'Trolls' in Norse mythology, are noted for being bigger, stronger, and uglier than humans. But what makes them feared is their skill with magic and dislike of humans.

    Likewise, dwarves in Norse mythology are noted for their magic and dislike of humanity. They may actually be a variant of elves.

    I have 'Trollborn' in my world, descendants of humans who dwelt too long near potent magical sites. They are noted for their size (usually six foot plus), strength (substantial, but not extreme), homeliness (none will win a beauty contest) and unstable temperament. The 'true strains' - the ones that mutated the most - are reputed to live for centuries and also have reputations as powerful sorcerers. The others often have the potential for magic, but lack the focus to learn more than the simplest spells - though there are exceptions. (I have a series of short stories featuring the adventures of Toki Trollborn the mage/thief and his hobgoblin warrior companion Hock-Nar.)

    Dwarves in my worlds are merely very short humans who sometimes dwell in enclaves or settlements of their kind. They are considered to be clever in mind and hand, and are often found as servants/advisors to the powerful, or in large artisan shops. Their physique pretty much rules out warrior careers, though some enlist in the army anyhow, where they serve as 'specialists.' Apart from their size, the only other thing that distinguishes them from humans is a slightly longer lifespan (a few decades).
     
  19. DeathtoTrite

    DeathtoTrite Troubadour

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    So, I'm rather a fan of human only or human dominated fantasy worlds but fantasy races have their role. What I really, really loathe is "race as culture". Real life humans aren't homogeneous, so why should dwarfs, elves, or orcs be? (they can be, but that should be a major point)

    The giantism thing is a good example though. You could have some explanation about a human subspecies that becomes a race of giants... or just call them giants and you've accomplished the same thing much more neatly.
     
  20. Annoyingkid

    Annoyingkid Banned

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    Fantasy races are an easy way to justify superhuman abilities without having to go into a long convoluted explanation/ magic system for why a human being can do whatever. Allows for more freedom in fights. without being burdened by realism, meaning no need to worry about high infection risk, cumulative brain injury with every impact, easily broken bones vulnerability to temperature change, loud sound, and other human frailties. As individuals, human beings are pretty pathetic. It's as a society, as a collective that the human race comes into it's own.
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2017
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