Monday, June 14, 2010

Worldbuilding: Races, Part 2

Sweet Turbo Christ it's cold down here right now. Damn you Northern Hemispherers and your mid-year summers.

I am back, anyway. One of these days I'll make a few posts in the space of a week and you guys will be like "woah! How did he do that?".

So anyway, races.

Standard Races?

We covered this last time. I said that I was going to use a few of the "standard" races and make them The Same But Different (TM) for now, and throw in some homebrew stuff. There's nothing wrong with familiarity, after all.



I mentioned briefly like two years ago that I really don't like subraces. So let me get this straight: humans are "renowned for their diversity and ambition", which means they get to swank around with their bonus feats and tool-making skills and survive anywhere, but when elves or dwarves or orcs or whatever give it a try they split off into a new taxonomic subdivision? What the hell? The only scientific explanation I can think of is that Lamarck was right, and that is causing Charles Darwin to spin in his grave and emit mutating radiation.

I don't hate subraces, it's just... why do we need so many? In a lot of cases the original race would do just fine in whereever they are without physically mutating. I guess they would after a long time, but still.

On a similar note, though, I should start introducing ethnicities. I've seen a few settings do this - keep the races simple but describe the different physical characteristics and cultures they develop in certain regions, usually by nation. For some reason it's mostly humans I see doing this.

Also, I could use some black people in my setting. JUST SAYING.


I kind of mentioned this last time, but I am not averse to just making up a bunch of stuff and throwing it in there when I feel like it, or even on request. If someone really likes, say, warforged, then what the hell, right? As long as it's not something messed up, like triple-breasted hermaphrodite elephant-men or kender or something.

With that in mind, I think I will leave the roster of races open to a little tinkering later. I don't even have a whole setting mapped out, so there's no reason not to include STAR GOBLINS or something if I feel like it.


I went and dug through the "old" notes for my setting which, admittedly, is easy because most of them are in my head. Actually it's just a list of what I remember settling on over the years, and a lot of it (thanks to my penchant for retconning) is at best a year old. Whatever, let's do this.


Ah, humans. Always ambitious and flexible and blah de blah. This was always a little hard for me to jive with, though I can see it.

They are pretty much as they are in most other settings. I tend to give them a bit of a focus on religion - humans tend to be more influenced by their gods, and sustain larger pantheons compared to other races. They also have more clerics and paladins. That's fine with me, though I am thinking of de-emphasising that slightly, or at least playing it up a little in the other races so they don't all look like terrible atheists or something.


Two things that can fuck right off:

  1. Mining

  2. Alcohol

Well, okay, they are kind of still there. So far the dwarves (for reasons which change every time I mention this because the reasons I come up with are universally forgettable) tend to see the world in terms of a "harmony of opposites": fire water, air and earth, light and dark, etc. all balancing each other out to create a nice neutral place for people to live in.

This has been a little awkward for me to explain, though, since a lot of people assume that means the dwarves are all True Neutral, completely obsessed with that philosophy and have to go kick a puppy to "balance it out" every time they fight evil. This isn't the case for the same reason that being French doesn't make you prance around in a weird beret and eat baguettes while watching extremely weird high-class pornography.

They do tend to do things like try and see both sides of an argument, though. They also make lairs deep underground and high up on the slopes of mountains because they enjoy the asymmetry, though. Having a philosophical outlook based on duality and opposing extremes doesn't mean you have to tend toward the middle ground.

Other than that... dwarves are honest, hard-working, direct, fond of the outdoors (indoors counts if it's natural) and the art of creation, and a deep love of brewing and drink which many outsiders might mistake for rampant alcoholism, possibly because that is mostly true and who doesn't like bearded men getting hammered? It is a silly thing to niggle over. As long as they drop those goddamn accents I am fine with it.

Speaking of, since most of the dwarves I see are bearded dwarven men and I don't feel like doing the "derp women have beards" thing, so far I have written them as having a low number of females compared to males for whatever reason, and so dwarf women are allowed multiple husbands. Also, they are more inclined towards the arcane arts (so favoured class: wizard for the ladies) and style their hair like crazy since they do not have beards. I am not sure if putting a bunch of unusually influential wizard-hairdressers in there makes dwarves more interesting or if it seems that way, but I am fine with it for now.


While I am confident enough in my sexuality to use the hippy tree-hugging version of elves (I really should make a new post and explain my thoughts on this more clearly, but I may just have a penchant for hating anything I wrote more than a year ago and I think I covered the salient points anyway), I tweaked them a little until I liked them.

Most of the change was relocating elves, really. I dropped them on a different continent to the east, in the middle of a jungle, and also there were dinosaurs because I like dinosaurs. That naturally made them a little tougher.

Their past is a little all over the place, because I never got around to solidifying the different things I've said into a cohesive whole that actually makes sense. So far they have been stated to be immortal or at least live an extremely long time (but tend to get bored and either go exploring/planeswalking and never come back or undergo an elaborate, magical suicide ritual after thousands of years), to have had at least one advanced civilisation in the past (which was either decimated when the elves took a side in a war between dragons and archomentals or relied on being very high-magic and fell apart when the moon decided to cast Antimagic Cone at everyone, depending on what game you heard it in - maybe two civilisations?), and to have started aping human culture a little after being impressed by how well their allies are doing, though so far that has only seemed to happen in large elf cities in contact with humans or near human lands. Elf otaku?

I should probably bash those together and work out something that makes good sense. My main issue is that I am not exactly sure how to keep their history sensible while explaining why they are currently roughly equal with humans technologically. I don't want to do the whole "dying race whose time has passed" bit, though.

Oh, and just because some players wanted to play the usual elf, I picked up some elves again and dropped them back near human lands, in a relatively tranquil forest called Linde'taure (which is a stupid name I came up in my teens and intend to replace with something that doesn't have a turtlefucking apostrophe in it), where some elves split off to make their own country and do more "standard" elfy stuff. Also they live in giant mushrooms. They don't get to be their own subrace, though.


You will never guess which way I went with this one.

So, gnomes like creativity. They don't care where it's directed. Studying arcana or divine magic is cool. Natural philosophy is also great, so there's your tinker gnomes if you want them. Art and music are also great, though, so you see a lot of bards.

The more noticeable things are the seemingly crazy ones, though, like the few floating cities they have hovering in their homeland. To be fair, their homeland is a swamp and smells like one.

There are a couple of bad things about the gnomes, though: One, they are secretive and see no reason not to be, especially about dangerous knowledge (if it's dangerous, hide it. If it's safe, use it!). Most of them just see things like a free press reckless and silly, but some take it further and actively hoard knowledge and inventions for themselves, and the primary gnome nation of Brellan tends to send out spies more often than necessary, worried what others - even their allies - are keeping from them. Two, the more intellectual (especially older) gnomes tend to go a little funny in the head sometimes, which is where most of their "wacky tinkers" come from. They are usually treated with pity. Sometimes they turn into mad scientists. Sucks to be them.

Oh yeah, and a game I ran once may or may not have implied that gnomes were actually refugees from another world in the same solar system, where they had an advanced civilisation before magically nuking most of it during a war and either retreating to Otherworld via portals or to other systems via spelljammers. If that is true, though, the gnomes aren't aware of their own past and their historians have failed to uncover the truth from the murky swamps of their homeland.

Also, by implied I mean the PCs found a portal back there, and it was filled with grues and beholders.


I have barely used halflings, actually. I'm just not a fan. Why do I need a second (or third, if you count the dwarves) race of midgets? I have no idea what to do with them and have left them out almost entirely, though I have been considering just making them gnome gypsies or something.


These are the first major homebrew race I threw in... Kind of. They are humanoids from the elemental planes, and have had wings. Kind of like elemental fey; their first name was actually the Faeri before I decided to stop using a shitty placeholder name and stole one from Planescape instead. Their history is tied to the archomentals in this setting and they haven't had much of a presence yet, possibly because their homelands are extraplanar.

They suit me find as background characters, though.


I am running out of things to say about them all, so I'm just going through them all quickly as they come to me.

Drow still live in Subterra (the Underdark, more or less) and stay pretty faithful to usual depictions, though after reading a Forgotten Realms book which suggested that the favourite hobby of most drow is backstabbing other drow, I put their civilisation in decline due to all the backstabbing going on. Some drow in outlying communities have either turned to demonic patrons other than Lolth or turned away from the path of evil - mostly PCs, though there's a small subsection of surface drow in one of the human kingdoms and another group resides in a chaotic good mountain city called Drizzimatizz which is guarded by dual-wielding rangers.

Naga are an evil humanoid race here, which a few elements nicked from Warcraft (3, not World of, thank you very much). Watery, snake tails, may have been spawned by a marilith lord from some elves, generally hate people. Oh, and they can produce...

Sthein, which I stole from the Green Ronin book Bastards & Bloodlines. Basically, they are elf/naga crossbreeds which look like elves with snake tails and probably have a lot more daddy issues than half-orcs.

Half-elves are just kind of there I guess. Do these need much changing?

Goblins have shown up, as a bunch of green-skinned flat-headed little bastards who usually worship demons and serve as cannon fodder. They could use some expanding.

Orcs tend to run a little closer to the, er, "Blizzard" version described here, but apart from a pretty strong showing in one part of my setting which is mostly tropical islands and pirates they tend to serve as cannon fodder like the goblins. Could use some tweaking, but I'd like to do something that hasn't been done before. Or at least, not done in the exact same way.

Half-orcs might change a little depending on how the orcs are portrayed, though I never quite imagined them as being integral to a setting. Can probably leave as-is.

Kobolds are even more over the place than goblins, but they also have a powerful nation of their own. And by that I mean one particular magocracy in the setting lets the kobolds claim a small part of their territory as their own in exchange for cheap labor. Also, by nation, I mean town.

Gnolls are basically Yeenoghu-worshipping tribal cannon fodder for the lands closer to elf territory, though they have also been seen far away from it serving as backup cannon fodder for orcs, goblins and kobolds for some reason. Demon worship is starting to become a pattern for these Generically Evil Humanoids, but

There might be more, but frankly it's not coming to me right now. I am going to leave the "lesser", or at least less important, races for now so I can work them as needed later.

Next up I am not sure what to do. I was thinking of diving into pantheons, but I could also work out some geography stuff and insert nations and ethnicities. The latter seems more complicated, so why don't I skim the basics like a lazy asshole and post about that next?

See you soon, I hope!


Ettin said...

Son of a...

I am used to going back and correcting errors and typos I somehow only noticed after it was posted, but that is the first time in a while I forgot to post the comic.

There we go.

Mozai said...

They're not sub-races, they're breeds. Halflings are usually portrayed as the 'heavily inbred toy poodle' to humans's 'full-sized hunting dog'.
Although if they can all interbreed, then technically they're all the same species and elves are just a breed of human or vice-versa... genetic biology in a fantasy setting makes my head hurt.

Something Warcraft (World of) did right was having a detailed backstory for each race as a culture. Much more interesting than just "and there's elves over here for no reason." Yeah, the 'ancient fallen civilization' is a cliché, but it's everywhere in real life too -- the Italian Renaissance was all about uncovering the Roman and Greek culture from centuries ago, and Moslems were the local elves with powerful ancient magic like medicine and silk and hygiene.

Mozai said...

More on breeds: are tall pale blonde Swedes a different 'sub-race' than swarthy exotic Arabs? Nope. So drow/mountain/forest/plains elves are just different cultures.

Why is it okay to call subterra elves and forest elves different 'races', but you try that shit with coastal humans, plains humans and mountain humans and you get the hate crimes police asking you to 'please just take a seat over there' ?

Fluffums said...

It would be a nice change for elves to be a relatively new race in relation to humans. They could even be descended from humans due to wild magic or gnomish experiments or something, and half-elves would be an OLDER race since they're the halfway point between humans and elves.

Ettin said...

The common term is subraces. Breeds are for pets and plants, not people.

And yes, the different subraces have different cultures as well, but they also usually get different stat blocks and abilities compared to the "standard" version. Look at the drow: Apparently while living underground and whipping each other or whatever they managed to evolve spell resistance and a few SLAs. Most elf subraces at least get different bonuses to their physical and mental scores, sometimes for something as simple as living in a different kind of forest.

It makes sense on a small scale (one thing WoW actually did right for once was have its elf subraces differ in realistic, understandable ways and not give them different stats because they live in a warmer climate than their pals.

Also no, the main reason different kinds of human don't get called subraces is because they all have the same stats - getting to pick extra skills and bonus feats of their choice - and those stats are specifically designed to make humans out to be an adaptable race that can survive anywhere.

And "races" is the right term, it is "subraces" that is weird. And I've only ever seen that applied to fictional species anyway.

Mozai said...

WoW's racial lore actually makes a lot of sense if you're willing to slog through it all. The only playable races they don't have origin stories for are the minotaurs, and (oddly enough) humans.

Game designers get really weird about making the human playable character race a special and unique snowflake... just like how we're not supposed to use "breeds" for humans.

Still, if wood/sylvain elves are gonna get +1 DEX, then I wanna see Inuit humans get DR 1/- vs. cold, and Azns get -2 on saving throws vs. alcohol.

Some of the other "racial" advantages should come from culture, not biology. Just as the Drow elves get their SLAs from spending so much time in their arcane S&M dungeons and giving their children to spider demons, same as Azns get their rep for being studious and psycho kung-fu artists by growing up in a society where death by overwork is common enough it has its own word ("karoshi").

i.e.: Sandwich Stoutaxe might not get the dwarven resistance to poisons, but she should totally get the +dam versus giants, craft proficiencies, and the extra Constitution score.

Kyle said...

Mozai there's something fucking wrong with you.


I don't like subraces either. 4e's approach is actually pretty nice - you have forest elves, magic elves, and drow (because everyone loves drow), and that's it. And all three are radically distinctive and different from each other, instead of being vaguely related.

I actually like lizardmen (or dragonmen, if you want!) being in games. I typically throw them in a desert and blatently rip off from the Sliths from the Avernum series.

One thing I never liked were the psionic races, despite being a GIANT PSION FAG. Elan were just too bizarro. Dromites, Maenads, and Xeph are just lame and have no purpose. And half-giants? Half-giants are only psionic if you're in Dark Sun, which you typically aren't. Blah.

Ran said...

You need more midget races, proably; try adding pixies and sprites and so on.

Anonymous said...

Mozai, you should not try to apply fantasy conventions to real life anyway, seeing as you're going to come across as fucking insane. Or at the very least very ignorant and rude. Probably all of the above.
Also, Elves don't have human rights, considering they don't exist, so you should not be overly concerned with the plight and oppression they face when we label them.

But now I'll talk about dwarves

The dwarves I've used once or twice were somewhat ripped off from the stereotypical Shaolin monks. So they were mostly bald (by nature, actually) short men who spent their lives sitting down, meditating on the mysteries of life and then getting up and kicking ass. Only as they aged, they slowly became more and more like stone. Their skin would thicken and become darker and their movements would slow down by the year. Often the elders would simply spend very long times frozen in place like statues, contemplating big things and menacing innocent passer-bys with stubbed toes.
In the end, the dwarves wouldn't really die as dying tends to be seen. They didn't really fall down and stop breathing. They simply stopped moving permanently, which sometimes took years for the others to realize. Afterwards they were used as interior decoration, and those who had the foresight to stop living in an useful position were considered great and wise.

Sometimes the only sign that an old dwarf had realized his end was nigh was that he'd spend long times asking people to sit on him so he could get a good position.

Argus said...

I've been working on and off on my own little campaign world for my group to fuck (up) around in, and races are certainly one of the more annoying things (behind pantheons. I am no good at pantheons). Trying to get somewhere between recogniseable, different enough to be unique to the world, and making sense in the context of the world is a tricky balancing act that can drive men insane.

Stealing prolifically from other settings (and occasionally reality) works wonders most of the time, with a little tweaking to make the idea fit. Now I will admit to having a (massive hardon) fondness for goblinoid races, especially the way Eberron handled them. That I ripped off completely, adjusting to fit in with the world I had created (dragon worshipping tribes hiding in the wastelands). They are essentially the first civilisation, now broken and in decline.

Orcs are always depicted as either brutal savage barbarians or your classical WoW noble savage barbarians. So I based them on dark age vikings and made them coastal raiders, often sailing down the major rivers and water ways to hit cities further in. A step away from RARG SMASH barbarianism, but still RARG ORC SMASH enough to be liked. You can guess where half-orcs fit into this.

Elves are always a pain in the ass and the subraces bug the hell out of me. How do you make them different without just adding "Elves of Land X, bonuses as follows" subraces to them? I'm not a huge fan of pointless LAs in 3.5 either. Player races like Tieflings and Drow seem to be almost fan created stupidity that had supernatural abilities stacked on haphazardly without any real insight as to why besides "Its magic bitch".

One way to get past subraces was to actually address the culture. In nearly every setting I have read Elves take magic to the primitive humans. I thought what if we reverse it and have humans take arcane magic to the druidic elves. Now I have 2 groups of elves, not all that different, one druidic and one arcane, and the wonderful setting plot point of an idealistic schism forming in their society between the two groups. Enough of a difference without having to dive into subrace nonsense too rediculously.

Until someone wants to play a dual katana wielding LG drow ranger with huge breasts that tries to seduce all the men and bar wenches within a 100 mile radius just by giggling like a school girl.

Ettin said...

Sir, I will be that drow.

Disgruntled said...

Halflings are basically humans, only short and quick. Just toss them on another continent as a branch-off/replacement for humans, I'd suggest. Like that LAND OF MYSTERY or whatnot.

Mozai said...

... at first I thought you guys were calling me "something fucking wrong with you," "fucking insane," "very ignorant and rude" because I said something racist about real-life humans.

... 'cept I said that Swedes and Arabs *aren't* different subraces. And I suggested that the so-called "racial differences" for dwarves are really cultural differences that could be enjoyed by an elf if she was raised in a dwarf family.

I think y'all are a little TOO highly trained to look for racists. And I think I'm trying to pull real science into a fantasy story, and that means God is gonna have to kill a catgirl. For that, I am truly sorry.

(But I won't take back what I said about halflings being the "toy poodle" of humans. Because I think that's hilarious.)

Halflings were clones of hobbits, since much of the D&D setting was fanwork of JRR Tolkien's books. Hobbits came from the Snergs in a children's book Tolkien knew about called "The Marvellous Land of Snergs," short, heavy-built and helpful sprite things.

I like the idea Fluffnums had for different fantasy races being mutations off a core geneline. It would explain why we can have so many half-elf and half-orc charact-- GOD! PUT THE CATGIRL DOWN! I'M SORRY GOD! I'LL SHUT UP NOW!

Anonymous, I adore your dwarves.

Argus, your idea of dividing the elves into separate cultures over a decision to use disruptive technology is EXACTLY what I was going for. Blizzard used it too: their trolls, n.elves, b.elves, and naga all have the same "neandertroll" missing link, but there were three events that split the culture with technology/magic so disruptive it mutated their biology. I have this theory about troll resilience to cancer, but I already have the blood of two catgirls on my hands today.

Mozai said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I'll try to be brief. First of all I really like what your doing. I just wanted to mention that the dwarves you have seem a bit like warhammer dwarves before their decline. Minus the grudges. I always liked warhammer dwarves cause they have a reason to drink so much, and be so gruff. Their race is almost extinct. Anyway keep up the good work. Its 4:23 AM where I'm from and I'm tired as hell, so this is likely going to seem like a really stupid post in the morning.