Fantasy Writers, how do you choose the races for your stories?

This question is more out of curiosity than anything really. Is it alright to just use the common five races and call it a day, or come up with more unique ones to add more variety?

I’d say it’s fine to have the classic races, but you are always more likely to remember the choice that stands out.

Also…I never really got three of the standard five. Dwarves, halfings, and gnomes? I mean…do they really need three separate races of “Looks human, but is really short?” Just feels like a lot of wasted slots for something that could stand out.

9 Likes

I design them myself, of course. However, I’ve come across several really interesting creations in the past and decided to reuse them after minor adjustments.

As for your second question, it’s certainly acceptable to do whatever you desire regarding races, or any other aspect of your fantasy world in question. Depending what you or the audience your works are meant for (should there be such) wants to see, may your conceptions reflect this.

I think it depends on the story. If the differences between the races are really important then it might be good to design your own fantasy races, or tweak the standard elves, dwarves…etc. If you’re treating the differences as largely cosmetic then it’s probably best to use something familiar to your readers and just get on with the story.

One thing I’ll say about fantasy races, or alien races if we’re going to the sci-fi side of things…they’re all just limited humans.

Elves, Orcs, Vulcans, Klingons…they’re all take one or two traits that a human person can have, and define an entire species. No that that’s a bad thing. It can be a useful, and fun way to look at aspects of humanity, but distilling out everything else out, but if I were going to create a new non-human race (and if I were a much more talented person) I would try to make them every bit as diverse, and varied as humans.

4 Likes

I guess it’s okay. It’s about preference. Personally, I like to see different races. I find that much more interesting, both as a writer and reader. It requires a lot of research though. Atleast in my case. Not necessarily a bad thing if you like mythology, but if you don’t, maybe you should stick to the most common five. :upside_down_face:

1 Like

Personally, I find fantasy races to be a bit trite, at least in the way that most writers only use them to represent a few human qualities and nothing more

Basically, I find the use of races to fill stereotypes as rather unnecessary. If you can fulfill the same storyline but with an all-human cast, then your races aren’t really races, are they? They’re just humans with pointy ears.

Which is why I prefer when there’s larger cosmetic, physiological, or hell cultural differences in races.

Actually make them feel different. I don’t care if you use elves and orcs, but for the love of god, why are there elves and orcs if there aren’t any significant differences beyond an allegory for racism?
If elves live longer, how does this affect the way they live their day-to-day lives? Surely scheduling something a week ahead seems to them like scheduling something for an hour from now to us shorter lived races.
Do they have trouble remembering names of shorter lived races?
Do they not find it useful to remember names of non-elves?
Do they look down on other races?
What is the class system like when you’re effectively immortal?
Do they even need money when they have all the time in the world?
How are families kept track of over the millennia?

Do orcs hate signs of weakness, or do they find any form of expression acceptable?
Do they force their children not to cry, or do they encourage them to feel emotion and harness it for battle?
If they live in inpermanent structures, how does that affect their philosophy?
Do they find beauty in the ephemeral?
Do they think that permanent structures are against the will of nature or do they prefer mobility in their villages?
Do they have staple crops or do they rely entirely on protein?
How are their familial systems set up? Do they place more importance on certain familial bonds over others? Or do they find bonds formed in battle to be more important than familial ones?

For the love of god, just don’t make elves humans with pointy ears, or orcs Spartans, actually make them live different lives with different cultures. Make their physiology affect their daily lives, make their physiology inform their culture.

Focus less in race and focus more on culture. Take an athropological view of fantasy races.

That’s all I ask.

14 Likes

What I’ve always found odd is when the fantasy races are depicted as monocultural, while humans diverge wildly based on their environments and histories.

Anyway, I personally think the focus ought to be on depth over width. We’ve seen the 5 big races in fantasy media for generations, and in many incarnations they’re… rather milquetoast, unfortunately. However, If you compare the Orcs of Warcraft, Heroes of Might and Magic, and Warhammer, you can see where and why they stand out, not only from the family of “Orcishness” but from the heritage of fantasy/sci-fi tropes as a whole. Authors put a lot of effort into making them unique from their origins and it’s certainly paid off.

For a non-Orky example, we can look at the Dunmer (“Dark Elves”) of the Elder Scrolls. I’ll pick Morrowind, an RPG centred on an island indigenous to the Dunmer people, which is still lauded for the world-building.

Not only were there political dynamics between, say, the Aldmer (“high elves”) and the Dunmer, sub-cultural groups existed within the Dunmer as well. You had your Ashlanders (whose clans could have different government structures. eg. war chief vs. wise woman as a leader); the different settled Houses (with their own sub-sub-cultures, political views, and architecture); and the religious conflicts between the Old and the New religion. Then in turn, there would be some key differences between the Dunmer of Vvardenfell and the Dunmer living on mainland Morrowind.

So in spite of like 75% of the NPCs being Dunmer, it played out as a defining strength rather than a weakness. Morrowind where the Dunmer were culturally uniform just wouldn’t be Morrowind. I always try to keep this game in mind when I world-build.

5 Likes

I agree with most of your points, but my nerd nitpickiness is acting up.

Tolkein never invented orcs. It’s a word derived from Orcus, as in deity of the underworld. Hence how Italy derived the term Orco from that Roman culture. Orco describes a tusk like beast that captures and eats humans, and is generally believed to be at least partially demonic in nature.

Rooting back to an earlier literary example, the poem Beowulf had in fact had the concept of orcs before Tolkien did. Described as a race condemned by god along with the elves and giants(Ettins)

The term “Orke” can also be used to route back to fairy tales of the 16th century where it was a term to describe goblins and ogre like beings, which makes sense in the Dutch terms which defines “Ork” as “Devouring monster”

There. That’s all I know.

Capitan Pedantic Knowledge away!

6 Likes

You know, it’s so odd that Captain Pedantic and Frosty are never in the same room.

But seriously, I love reading about this stuff, thank you!

The monster Grendel was a prototype orc, wasn’t he? I read the book in my senior year English class when I was in high school then my teacher showed us the movie with Angelina Jolie and they pretty much showed his appearance as a orc.

Ahh, it’s being a super long time since I read it. Maybe. I’ll have to look into it later.

Well in the movie they called him a demon but Grendel really looked more like a deformed orc. But yeah it’s been years since I read the book too so I’m not sure if the movie was accurate on his description.

I like more variety to my fantasy species, which can range from different races entirely or creative versions of the classics.

For example:

Classic Elves: Pretty humanoids with pointed ears. Like nature and archery and live for a long time.

Neo Elves: Humanoids with pointed ears and skilled in the arcane. They age four times as slowly as normal humans, but mature at the same rate.
They get along well with humans, but find creatures like orcs and trolls utterly abhorrent, and may kill them on sight, even if they have done nothing to warrent such a reaction.
They are obsessed with beauty, and dislike anything that they see as unclean or unsightly.

1 Like

Thanks for the info!

Um, I went with the standard fantasy races because my plot demanded that I have a “generic fantasy world”.

I really like dwarves and halflings, so when I was making my fantasy world, I thought it would be funny if everyone in it was short, and make most other living things (trees, animals) gigantic, then build a world around it. :stuck_out_tongue: So I added in gnomes and goblins. I usually hate elves, but I eventually put them in and made them short (you know, like those Christmas elves).

I have other races I’ll lump into “fairy folk”, but I don’t really touch on them very much, except for this one treant named Morgan Treeman. I mostly just wanted to add them in because of the above reason, and they’re there if I ever need them. I was also playing with the idea of adding in orcs and exploring their point of view, but I haven’t found a way to introduce them yet.

Technically, the five races I have were pretty much all humans, but they were punished by their gods and made them all really short and separated them from each other. But before I go off on a worldbuilding rant…

I’d say go with what you want to see. If creating new races is too much of an effort, then change the other ones to your liking, and as your story needs it, as long as you don’t make them a one-dimensional race (you’ve seen one, you’ve seen all of them), but you probably know that already.

Mine aren’t supposed to have a long screen time (because of my premise and story structure), but I ended up developing their culture anyway (mostly the dwarves and halflings) because it was very fun playing around with the tropes. They were also a nice contrast to my (human) children MCs who are from another world, since they suddenly meet all these people almost the same height as them but are actually much much older. They even mistook some of them as couples. :smile:

Also, just imagine dwarves and halflings riding griffins, dragons, elephants, raptors and ornithopters. It’s just not the same with a “taller” race, you know?

1 Like

Just don’t go overboard and infodump the player :"

My magic word is, “starve them off the infos.”

My story is Urban Fantasy - taking place in a modern setting -, but I wanted to branch out beyond vampires and werewolves and into species that are considered ‘fantasy’ like Fae species and other mythological species.

If I were to write a High Fantasy story, I’d probably branch out or twist the common tropes associated with Elves, Orcs, Humans, and Dwarves.

There’s a choice early in my demo where you can pick between four choices - Jorōgumo, Coatl, Church Grim, and Gorgon - of species.

Jorōgumo based on the Japanese Yokai under the same name. Coatls are from South America, based off of Aztec mythology with the deity Quetzalcoatl. Church Grim is another spirit that’s from Europe and Gorgon is from Greek mythology. I purposefully chose those creatures because they were probably weren’t as well known.

Plus, it’s a fun brain exercise to think of how these species would operate in modern day life - just to name a few:

Gorgons would have to buy specific shampoo - maybe specially made brands - that wouldn’t cause an allergic reaction to their snake hair and also not cause eye irritation. Instead of growing longer and longer, their snakes would just shed their skin over and over again - maybe getting more vibrant scale patterns as they age - and the idea of hair cutting would be a big fear of theirs.

Jorōgumo could donate their spider thread for a multitude of things: military, medical, clothing - just to name a few. Maybe they’d even donate their time to volunteer at haunted houses and be that big spider that drops down the ceiling to give a good scare to customers. I imagine them being good air yoga and developing a coffee tasting substitute (spiders get drunk on coffee) so they can taste it without the side effects.

3 Likes

Not quite related, but I’ve been thinking. You know what I would want to see in a game? Jiangshi. I don’t think we’ve had a COG that’s even mentioned them before.

But would these Jorgogumo(Lady Spiders) be spirits or a kind of goblin in your work? There’s a few different variations though most remains consistent across the board. Mind you, Japanese goblins aren’t quite the same as Western ones.

Seeing Coatl around would be cool. You don’t get to see much of them in stories and there isn’t even that much widespread information about them.

Would the Grim be a humanized version or in keeping with the normal versions of their guardian hellhound nature?

1 Like

I find the problem is that people include elves and dwarves because it’s a fantasy story, not because they actually add anything to the themes and narrative.

3 Likes

I had to google those XD Unless someone know about them lol you can’t write about something you never heard of .