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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. Tom

    Tom Istar

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    I think humans are a lot better equipped for fantasy than you give us credit for. We may not be the strongest, but we're incredibly resilient, inventive, and highly adaptable. Those are our main strengths. Despite being unable to go toe-to-toe with larger species like bears or other primates, we have a number of inherent advantages. Endurance is the biggest--our ancestors survived by persistence hunting, a method in which we simply followed prey on foot until it was too exhausted to keep going. Our gaits have a crazy energy curve that allows us to spend less energy switching between gait types for rest, owing to our unique ability to modulate the way we breathe (which is in turn a perk of having no weight-bearing limbs attached to our ribcages).

    In fantasy, we're also not playing with real-world rules. The term human is very subjective in the fantasy genre. People who can use magic are (usually) still seen as human. Humans may live longer, be stronger or faster, or have other inhuman traits, but they can still be considered human. I started a thread going on here a while ago, actually, where we discussed just when fantasy humans stopped being human. It seems you can stretch humanity quite a bit before we become unrecognizable--our most distinctive traits, after all, are not our physical abilities but our psychology. It's true that it can get a bit ridiculous when you take our natural abilities into the realm of the implausible (like Roran in your example), but I think humans can take almost anything the fantasy genre can sling at us with a little grit and ingenuity.

    (Besides, kings and generals have no place leading at the front anyway. That's just some inaccurate ridiculousness, not evidence of human inferiority.)
     
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  2. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

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    But see, now you're making assumptions. You're assuming that I mean giving them super-endurance. I don't mean that. I mean give them baseline human endurance, and make that their advantage, meaning that your regular elf or orc or whatever would have less endurance than a typical person. Maybe not a typical modern person due to couch potato syndrome, but you know, someone from before the internal combustion engine ended walking as the primary mode of transportation.

    Also, regarding great apes, they may have greater power, but they do not have greater endurance than we do. And if you give me a chimp or even a gorilla with a rock or a human with a rock, I will take the human every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Humans can pitch. We are the only animals that can do so.
     
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  3. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    Tell that to Stonewall Jackson, Erwin Rommel, George Washington, Hannibal Barca and even Julius Caesar on occasion. Annoyingkid, humans really are not as feeble as you think they are.
     
  4. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

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    I think it's not just him, but lots of people think the same way. I think it's because we don't tend to be impressed by stuff we ourselves can do and I think the portrayal of humans in comparison to other sapients in speculative fiction is a testament to that. It's also partly why I suggested giving humans their real world advantage in a world with other races. Humanity is awesome and more people need to see that.
     
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  5. Tom

    Tom Istar

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    Hear hear! As someone who just barely decided against becoming an anthropology major, I appreciate it when authors give humanity our due.
     
  6. glutton

    glutton Inkling

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    But many rulers fought and even died in battle:

    Did Kings really fight on the front lines? : history
     
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  7. Viorp

    Viorp Minstrel

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    We have a hell lot of proof that in medieval times Kings were on the battlefield.
    Even when Spain had a Queen she was present on the frontline in battle just to lift the spirits of her subordinates.
    The practice was not really good from a tactical standpoint, but genious from a psychological one.
     
  8. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I think it is relatively recently that this sort of thing stopped. Early to mid 1800s, with the advent of more modern warfare.
     
  9. Annoyingkid

    Annoyingkid Banned

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    For a start, many fantasy races are humanoid in form, so already have these listed advantages by default.
    As I said before, humans were only able to do this through numbers and teamwork. If you want powerful special characters, humans are the wrong race to pick. You can have a tactical genius, but that's about it. In terms of might, humans are all about the same. Those who specialize in one thing, lose ability in another.


    If you're going to do that, the rationale mentioned earlier for sticking with humans as default becomes weaker the more the enhanced they are. The topic question becomes incoherent because in terms of story effect there isn't any inherent difference between a superhuman and a fantasy race that can do the exact same things. Only the names are different. You may as well toss a coin then.

    In Warhammer 40,000, without The Space Marines, the humans could not have survived. Period.

    I know in my own story, humans wouldn't have made it out of book 1. The reason for this is the final battle. First wave is countless monsters each ripped to shreds and three times the height of a man. They're joined by 2 city sinking godzilla sized monsters. Then there's a man, who tough enough to survive atomic bombs with the strength of Superman. Then after that, you have an hour to find the main villain who could be anywhere, and if you don't, he blows up the world. Good luck, humans. LOL.

    In my friend's story, an ancient demon sucks out the souls of mortals just by being anywhere near it. Instant Death.

    And then there's this:
    https://static.comicvine.com/upload...59-281537_1201837_heat_vizion_super_super.jpg

    Truth is there are plenty things in fantasy that can already stomp humans. Much less the things that can be thrown.

    It ties into what I said earlier about the difficulty of having human special characters that aren't arbitrary. Human leaders can be at the "front" as a morale token, but they aren't at the front front. They ain't fighting with the men. Maybe a few idiots were, but that's foolishness. The whole idea of this Aragorn type king with the magic sword who charges in and runs at the enemy first is utter ridiculousness. Fantasy races can get away with this though as the power scale is open ended. It's possible to have a dwarven king who's ancient and say, a hundred times stronger than the next dwarf.
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2017
  10. Holman

    Holman Minstrel

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    Perhaps the antagonist of the piece needs to be toned down a bit to make the victory more believable for a mere human to defeat it. That said, we are dealing with fantasy, why can't we have Human 2.1 instead of Human 1.0? Isn't that kind of the point? Our heroes may start out as apparently ordinary people and discover their talents to become more - we want to go on that journey. Or they may already start out at their pinnacle and fall from grace in someway before redeeming themselves, again we enjoy the journey.

    The journey is for me more important than the destination - often we believe we are heading in one direction, only to take an unexpected turn and seem to be heading elsewhere. As long as the journey is interesting - a trip along a narrow lane with grass growing in the middle was always more interesting as a child than blasting down the motorway.

    I do agree that heroes that can defeat hordes of monsters single-handed can be irritating if there is no journey that explains how they are able to manage it. But again that comes down to the choice of enemy rather than the race of the hero.
     
  11. Annoyingkid

    Annoyingkid Banned

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    Of course one can have Human 2.0, but let's not pretend the writer is being any more realistic or gritty than the writer who uses fantasy race 1.0
     
  12. Holman

    Holman Minstrel

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    The use of the word gritty, was perhaps a poor word choice. I was trying to distinguish between standardised styles in a genre that has so many subsidiary labels. Fantasy races associated with High and Epic fantasy, as opposed to other "realistic" (a term I used very loosely as catch-all for fantasy that doesn't have standard fantasy races and focuses more on human races).

    There have been "gritty" books in the High fantasy genre - The Malazan Book of The Fallen being one of my favourite series. Man's inhumanity to man will however always be a theme that is more strongly related in books that don't have fantasy races - this is what I meant by gritty. You can't blame the horrors that happen on a fantasy race of giants, orcs or other monstrosity.
     
  13. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

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    Again, assumptions. Our gait is only one of the things that gives us our endurance. Another is the type of muscle fibre on our legs, and then there are other factors. There is no reason a fantasy race would necessarily have all our advantages in the endurance department AND other physical advantages as well. If you choose to make your fantasy races stronger, that's your prerogative. Good for you. But please don't pretend that's the only way it can or should be. The other choices are equally valid.
     
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  14. glutton

    glutton Inkling

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    You mean real men/women. Some rulers/cultures would probably consider not fighting at the front if one is able bodied to be cowardice. :D
     
  15. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    To me this just sounds like someone doesn't have a very interesting imagination. :rolleyes: You can do anything in fantasy. Literally anything. That's the whole point of fantasy.
     
  16. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Yes, I was going to mention the Malayan books as an example. However, even with man's inhumanity to man, you could do it effectively with these other types of fantasy races. Imagine a world where orcs or trolls present a danger to humans, but other humans are still the worst bastards you'll ever meet. You could highlight that inhumanity by setting it up in contrast or comparison to the other races.
     
  17. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    This is simply factually incorrect. It's just wrong, absolutely wrong. Alexander comes to mind; but other commenters have already given examples.

    Montaigne wrote an essay in the 16th C. in which he included considerations of this, the relative benefits and disadvantages of generals fighting in the front and from the back, surveying examples through history. He has some great examples of both. That he would even consider the question signals the fact that, throughout history, both have occurred. (Not that we need his word on this matter; there are plenty of other sources.)

    It's true that one of the major advantages of having a king or general fighting at the front was morale. One of the disadvantages was having that morale broken if the leader was killed. But there may have been other advantages, such as having a close view of unfolding circumstances and being able to lead men to where they could accomplish the most during combat. Plus, morale is not nothing. Having men fight harder to defend the leader while going where he directed or led would not have been an insignificant advantage.

    Your story and your friend's story are mere examples out of a broad set of potentials. I'd rather think that the overpowered non-human types might be less realistic than resourceful humans who have the endurance and strength to fight on. In fact, those non-human types, with our without super abilities, are by definition fantasy, a mere creation of the author's mind.
     
  18. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Are there examples of fantasy novels in which the non-human races are designed with weaknesses, so that the humans are actually the strongest in the world? I mean, inherent physiological and mental weaknesses, not technology. It could be fun to write that story from the perspective of some of those non-human characters, with the humans as the boogeymen of the story. (I'm not counting Bambi or various other Disney movies. Heck, I suppose Finding Nemo counts, also, among others.)
     
  19. glutton

    glutton Inkling

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    Well, sort of related - when I've had elves appear in one of my stories, the male elves were compared unfavorably in physical terms to the female human MC. Not sure how much that counts considering how sturdy my female MCs (including that one in particular) tend to be though. She's a boogeywoman who can outfight male boxing, kickboxing and MMA champions for fun, beat up and toss around a 400 lb lizard-ape creature, tank multiple assault rifle bullets, undent her car hood by punching it, etc. :D
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2017
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  20. Annoyingkid

    Annoyingkid Banned

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    It's not assumptions. The title of this topic is asking what the purpose of using fantasy races are. The answer is so you don't have to limit the power scaling to human levels. If you want to you could make your elves weak enough to die with a single punch from a human. Which is a valid way of writing fantasy. But then the question is if you want to play around with the epic power levels, how is an endurance muscle fibre going to help you against oh I don't know, a Great Unclean One http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net...ean_One.png/revision/latest?cb=20150810201802
    Which would ravage the body of any human with every single plague in existence. The point isn't that this is the only way you can write a fantasy, the point is you'd have to write around human limitations. If you don't want to have to do that, and you need someone to fight things like that, then fantasy races can do it as their limits aren't known factors.
     
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