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Why use D&D races in our stories?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Dreamhand, May 19, 2012.

  1. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

    Perhaps an evil race may be hard to swallow for some, but what about a race that has no morality at all? I mean, animals don't have morality. They're pretty much shaped by their environment. A wild dog may attack people on sight if they get close to him, while a pet dog, if trained well, may lick that person's hand. What if there was a fantasy race that functioned to that capacity? They weren't necessarily good or evil, but they just existed the same way animals do, to reproduce, to eat, etc. To me, that would be more terrifying than if there was an evil race.

    I mean, what if sharks suddenly grew legs and decided to band together to form societies on land? We'd all be dead.
  2. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    When people say "race" 9 times out of 10 they mean beings with at roughly human-level intelligence and reasoning skills. Animals is another subject entirely.
    An intelligent race that lacks all semblance of morality is not unheard of but can be difficult to convincingly write. Often, how good or evil they are is shown in relation to other races. Again, that's a whole other topic.
  3. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    Maybe it's not a case of lacking morals entirely, but a moral compass that's totally askew from what humans consider "normal". A blue-and-orange scale versus black-and-white, for instance.
  4. Sir Tristram

    Sir Tristram Scribe

  5. Guy

    Guy Inkling

    It would depend on how intelligent they are. If we're talking animal intelligence, then this could work. The xenomorphs in the Alien movies, for example. Or zombies. But the term "race" implies intelligent creatures, and that would make this concept difficult. In order for a society to exist, it has to have rules of operation. That's a primary function of morals - they provide some sort of structural cohesion for the group. Any cohesive group, from human societies to wolf packs to herd animals, has some sort of hierarchy, behaviors that are required, behaviors that will not be tolerated, etc., which could be considered very rudimentary morals. With no morals whatsoever, without anything that could even be remotely considered morals, it wouldn't be a cohesive group, which sort of defeats the purpose of a group.
  6. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    This is kind of / sort of what I did with goblins/hobgoblins on my world...then again, on my world these creatures are *aliens* of the low tech variety. There is also a strong biological/reproductive component to their psychology and subsequent actions.
  7. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    I do that all the time with my Fae characters. They might seem amoral to humans, but they have their own codes of conduct.
  8. Ryan_Crown

    Ryan_Crown Troubadour

    I've never really understood the viewpoint that not creating your own unique, original races and instead using the old standbyes means that a writer's work is (or is likely to be) derivative and/or unoriginal. While sure, world-building can be fun, in most cases I look at the time I would spend developing all these brand new races (especially knowing I'm going to have to spend further time in the story describing/explaining them) as time that would be better spent developing the specific characters of my story, and well . . . actually writing my story.

    Instead of spending hours developing some brand new original race for my surly blacksmith character, and then having to explain his racial characteristics to my readers, I'd much rather just call him a dwarf and move on to who he is and what he does in the story, feeling my time is better spent there.

    Which is not to say there's anything wrong with developing your own races, I just don't see how that could be considered a basic requirement for a story to be "original". I would say the same thing applies to character archetypes (or "classes" if you want to look at it from a D&D perspective). So you've got an elf ranger, human paladin, halfling thief, dwarf fighter, and human wizard as your main characters? So what? The Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy, for example, uses about as standard/generic a group of adventurers as you're likely to find, and yet in my opinion they're a brilliantly written set of stories.

    As I've seen many people say (in one form or another) -- ideas are cheap, it's how you execute them that matters. I would say that a talented writer could take the most cliched, over-used story ideas and still make a very enjoyable story out of them. And conversedly, a not-so-talented writer can have all the original, unique, no one has ever done this before concepts that they want, and still not be able to make a decent story out of them.

    But that's just my personal view of things. Take it for what it's worth.
  9. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

    I think that one of the reasons as to why D&D races should be avoided is because they often lead to lazy thinking.

    For example you can start to throw in races into the world without making them having any noteable relevance for the plot and so get the thing bloated. If you have to come up with someonething of your own then you are less likely to just throw something in because you thought it would be nice right now and you may be more likely to invest something into your labor.

    However I will agree that to some degree its ok to use certain races but its not ok to go down into to specific parts. It can be ok to have elves, I wouldn't recommend it, but it can be ok. But if an author have Drow or Noldor elves in his story then I most certainly think that he is copying and that's to specifically tied to a world to be used like that.
  10. Ryan_Crown

    Ryan_Crown Troubadour

    That I can certainly agree with. It's one of the reasons I would never use half-orcs in a story -- because (at least for me) that is even more specifically D&D than orcs are specifically Tolkien. I can also see your point about standard races being too easy to just throw into your story, even if you don't need them, just because there's no real work necessary in developing them. I think that's part of why I've never really sat down and thought, "Okay, what races do I want in my story?" I work through each individual character and ask myself, "Okay, based on what I want from this character, what would be a good race for him/her?" The races that end up populating my story world then build up out of that process.
  11. Bortasz

    Bortasz Troubadour

    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 10, 2017
  12. gumsoul

    gumsoul New Member

    Im glad I came across this thread, as it applies directly to something ive struggled with over the years in developing my fantasy epic. I agree with both sides, but the OP's eloquent and well made points have convinced me to revise my current draft. Like many here, i grew up with Tolkien, D&D and video games. RPGs are the inspiration for many of my characters. In fact, I still create D&D character sheets as the foundation for the characters i write, just to quantify their strengths and weaknesses. Its a visual aid that helps me, but I digress.

    The number one rule of writing is knowing your audience. As a fantasy writer, i know my work will not be anyone's introduction to the genre, and they will have read and been familiar with themes, elements and tropes. Many readers, myself included, naturally begin to predict where the story is going early on. I wish to challenge those readers. It has been my self appointed mission to use terminology most fantasy audiences are familiar with, then add my own twist on it, to challenge their assumptions. I was asked recently when discussing my project with an old friend, "So youre writing a book? Whats the point of your book?" I couldnt think of the answer, as i was mentally caught up in the adventure of the narrative, so i just told him, "entertainment." But going back home and reflecting on the conversation, i remembered my purpose. If there was a theme or "point" i want my audience to take away, its the dangers of assumption and complacency, especially pertaining to students and teachers of history. I wanted this is be a theme and lesson learned by the characters AND the audience, as the story progresses.

    Assumptions such as "oh, this is the hero of the story, he just doesnt know it yet," to "oh, he has werewolves and vampires in his story, good thing ive watched all of the Underworld and Twilight movies!"

    The "Orcs and mithril" example discussed here is along those same lines of thought. Ive been a forum member here for less than a day, and have greatly benefited from the discussions. I think there are certain terms and ideas that should be respected as intellectual property, but not legally defined as such. Orcs are becoming part of folklore just as goblins and ghouls have centuries ago. We as writers can choose to strengthen that folklore, or challenge ourselves to add completely new creations into the fantasy genre's lexicon.

    Long story short, I am removing the word "orc" from my WIP, as well as others that are pulled directly from D&D, to further distance my work from fan fiction. Thank you all for your contributions to this thread.

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