Non-humans

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Non-humans

Postby Olaus Petrus » Wed Apr 03, 2013 12:04 pm

When I was younger I thought that it's cool to have all the standard fantasy races in my campaign settings, but more older I grow the less I include those into my own campaigns. I have nothing against Tolkienesque elfs, dwarfs, orcs, halflings etc. (I still love his books, especially the first age stories), but I have noticed that besides Tolkien, D&D and Warhammer novels they are rare in fantasy literature and many writers prefer their own unique non-human races and in similar manner I have started to use standard races less and less, because I feel that fantasy RPG settings overuse them. While I prefer settings which are mostly human, I think that non-human races similar to R. E. Howard's serpent men or George R. R. Martin's the others suit well with Legend campaigns. And I would be thrilled if some future Monster of Legends books would introduce original creatures instead of your standard fantasy monsters which almost every RPG has.

I was wondering am I alone with this and what do other Legend GMs and players think about this?
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Re: Non-humans

Postby @stroval » Wed Apr 03, 2013 12:27 pm

Personally humans bore me.If I want a billion different cultures of humans I would play in a historical setting or Greyhawk(which I dislike btw)

'Standard' races don't have to be stereotypical at all.

I love Elves but just because they have pointy ears doesn't mean they have to be Tolkinesque.
There are myriads of myths to draw inspiration from,or like you said, modern custom-made unique non-humans.
Imagine living shades as a race or Elves cursed by nature and shunned by all...that sort of thing excites me to roleplay
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Re: Non-humans

Postby Olaus Petrus » Wed Apr 03, 2013 2:49 pm

@stroval wrote:Personally humans bore me.If I want a billion different cultures of humans I would play in a historical setting or Greyhawk(which I dislike btw)

'Standard' races don't have to be stereotypical at all.

I love Elves but just because they have pointy ears doesn't mean they have to be Tolkinesque.
There are myriads of myths to draw inspiration from,or like you said, modern custom-made unique non-humans.
Imagine living shades as a race or Elves cursed by nature and shunned by all...that sort of thing excites me to roleplay
You mean some sort of dark elves?

Personally I've been thinking creating my own variant of elves with the idea that I make them truly otherworldly. I've been thinking that they probably don't look much like humans, but they have alien features and their logic and moral are completely incomprehensible for humans, who fear them because they don't understand elves or their powers.

Another race I've been thinking for the same setting are hairless dwarves who have evolved from worms and still share some characteristics of their ancestors.

Neither is particularly original concept, but with some thought I think I can make them unique enough. But then again I don't know if you can really call them elves and dwarves after the transformation.
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Re: Non-humans

Postby Hopeless » Wed Apr 03, 2013 3:09 pm

I've been wondering if given the chance would you run a goblin PC?

Or an Orc or Ogre for that matter?
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Re: Non-humans

Postby Ynas Midgard » Wed Apr 03, 2013 3:56 pm

I have posted some ideas on making dwarves less typical, you can find them here. I intend to create similar posts concerning elves and halflings, too.
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Re: Non-humans

Postby The Wolf » Wed Apr 03, 2013 4:14 pm

I like the take in Eberron on dwarves, and I really liked the Athasian races in general from Dark Sun.
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Re: Non-humans

Postby auyl » Wed Apr 03, 2013 4:43 pm

Hopeless wrote:I've been wondering if given the chance would you run a goblin PC?

Or an Orc or Ogre for that matter?
I have on several occasions played in Orc in some campaigns, besides being a brutal fighter, he has always also been dumb as a rock. It's been so much fun to roleplay. Many of the other players are usually excited when I decide to play the orc due to the comic relief it brings.
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Re: Non-humans

Postby Rikki Tikki Traveller » Wed Apr 03, 2013 6:30 pm

My son recently played in a game (D&D sorry) where all the PCs were Kobolds.

They were the "warriors" of their village and had to defend it against all manner of nasty creatures that wanted to eat them all.

Legend has several nice variations of the "traditional" fantasy creatures and the rules are flexible enough to allow you to do just about anything you want.

Personally, if I include traditional fantasy humanoids, I tend to give them a twist that makes them unique to my setting.

My current setting, Gaer, has only Elves, Dwarves, Orcs/Goblins (two names for the same creatures) and humans. There is a SCIENTIFIC explanation for why there are all these intelligent races on the same world.

HOWEVER, I also REALLY like Spirit Magic and trying to combine the idea of "everything is alive and has a spirit" with "not too many intelligent races" has been a bit of a problem...
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Re: Non-humans

Postby soltakss » Wed Apr 03, 2013 8:04 pm

One of my favourite PCs was a centaur, so I enjoy playing non-humans.

However, I know a lot of people who just play humans, and some who won't play in a setting with non-humans.

As to which is better, it all depends on who's asking and who's answering.
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Re: Non-humans

Postby Olaus Petrus » Thu Apr 04, 2013 9:17 am

Hopeless wrote:I've been wondering if given the chance would you run a goblin PC?

Or an Orc or Ogre for that matter?
My current campaign doesn't include any of those races, but I have played as an orc in a campaign setting where they weren't evil race (although they were barbaric and warlike), but they had diplomatic relations with the other intelligent races and they traded with the humans.
soltakss wrote:One of my favourite PCs was a centaur, so I enjoy playing non-humans.

However, I know a lot of people who just play humans, and some who won't play in a setting with non-humans.

As to which is better, it all depends on who's asking and who's answering.
I know that it's a matter of personal preference, but I was asking, because I was curious how most people feel about this topic. Like I said earlier, I have grown tired to standard portrayal of these races and sometimes I feel that fantasy worlds are too crowded places. Average D&D style RPG setting has at least humans, elves, dwarves, halflings, gnomes, orcs, goblins, trolls, ogres etc. I think that you could do just fine with maybe one or two non-human races.

Let's take Glorantha for example, I love how it has it's unique take on standard fantasy races and it even introduces a huge variety of completely unique races, but sometimes I just feel that there are too many intelligent races in that setting and that some of them, like Jack-O-Bear, don't really make much sense. My friend who is novice to Glorantha said that he finds the sheer amount of races and cultures in that setting intimidating, even when it's one of my all time favourite settings, I couldn't but agree.
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Re: Non-humans

Postby DamonJynx » Thu Apr 04, 2013 12:17 pm

I think, as has been mentioned, one way of dealing with non-humans, is to put a twist on them. For a example, perhaps the Elves instead of being tree-loving hippies, can be more akin to the Mongol's or if you prefer a literary reference, the Flamebringers from M Moorcock's Elric story, perhaps even not the elves of Tolkien, but the Riders of Rohan instead. It's easy enough to use 'standard' non-human races and up-end them by giving them non-typical cultural backgrounds and so forth.

But don't overdo that either, otherwise it will also become stale.
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Re: Non-humans

Postby Faelan Niall » Thu Apr 04, 2013 12:26 pm

I can only see this being a problem when the non human races become simply tall skinny humans with pointy ears, or short stocky humans who are really tough, or green skinned really strong ugly humans, etc. It is the D&D disease that keeps on giving. One way to avoid this syndrome is to truly mess with their senses. For instance in a setting I am working on dwarves are sun blind, with rock colored skin, and acute hearing. The way they react to things, or think of things is entirely different from a human, and this is largely molded by their senses. They literally don't see things the same way, so naturally they won'tperceive of them in the same way. They wear veils of maille uniquely adorned as a means of identifying an individual when above ground, because in addition to having light sensitive vision they tend to get a bad case of sunburn pretty easily. Their physical limitations and advantages affect their world view and their society in everyway. Unlike other dwarves who are short stocky humans, who like to fight, are tough, and all talk with a scottish accent, oh and drink lots of ale, because you know farming and the cultivation of grains is a very important underground activity.
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Re: Non-humans

Postby superc0ntra » Thu Apr 04, 2013 1:17 pm

Take a look at Talislanta if you want diverse races. And if someone converts it to Legend, I'll be the first to download it. I'd love to run a Legend game set in Talislanta.
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Re: Non-humans

Postby Prime_Evil » Fri Apr 05, 2013 8:51 am

My favourite take on Elves is not that of Tolkien, but that of Poul Anderson - who based his version on the same source material as Tolkien, but drew some very different conclusions. Interestingly, Anderson's The Broken Sword was published in the same year as the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings, so Anderson can't be accused of plagiarizing Tolkien. Anderson's Elves are amoral immortals who are noted for capriciousness and cruelty. Michael Moorcock freely acknowledges the influence that Anderson work had upon the conception of Elric.

For my money, Anderson's vision of Elves is interesting because it is both familiar and different. It is certainly much darker than the one presented by Tolkien - Anderson's elves scorn human morality and think nothing of slaughtering innocent bystanders, enslaving thralls, or kidnapping unbaptised children to be raised as changelings.

To give an example of how he treats the source material, Poul Anderson describes the arrival of elf-lord Imric in his stronghold like this:
In those days the elves and other folk of faerie still dwelt upon the earth, but even then a strangeness hung over their holdings, as if these wavered halfway between this world and another; and there were places which might at one time be a simple lonely hill or lake or forest and then at another gleam forth in all the ancient splendor of the true dwellers. Now and again the gaunt bare crags of the northern highlands known as the elf-hills might be seen by men as halls and castles, and thus they were shunned.

Imric rode to the grim form of Elfheugh, which he saw as a castle tall and slender-spired, having gates of bronze and floors of marble, hung with the fairest shifty-patterned tapestries of magic weave and crusted with great blazing gems. In the moonlight the faerie folk were dancing on the green before the castle, but Imric rode by into the courtyard. His horse’s hoof-beats echoed hollowly from the massive outer walls, and the dwarf thralls hurried forth to attend him. He swung to the ground and hastened into the keep.

The clear unwavering light of the tapers was broken into a shifting, tricky dazzle of many colors by the gems and the gold in the walls. Music breathed through the vaulted rooms, rippling harps and keening viols and the voices of flutes like mountain brooks under darkling pines. The patterns on the rugs and tapestries moved slowly, like live figures. The very walls and floors, and the groined ceiling in its dim blue twilight of height, had a fluid quicksilver instability, they were never the same and yet one could not say just how they changed.
He describes the upbringing of the stolen human child Skafloc amongst the elves in these terms:
Skafloc learned also the manners of the elves, their courtly grace and their guileful intriguing and their subtle speech. He could dance in the drenching moonlight to the wild harps and pipes, naked and drunken and abandoned as any of them. He could himself play, and sing the strange lilting lays older than man. He learned the skaldic arts so well that he spoke in verses as easily as in ordinary speech. He could discriminate between the rare and subtle viands of the elves, and drink the liquid fire which smoldered in dusty spider-shrouded bottles below the castle, but for all that his taste for the hunter’s black bread and salt meat, or the rainy sunny earthy savor of berries, or the clear cool springs in distant woodlands, was not spoiled.

As he grew up, he had much attention from the supernally lovely elf women. Without gods, and with few children, the elves know not marriage, but their nature was such that their women had more wish of love and their men less than among humans. Thus Skafloc found himself in great favor, and many a good time did he have in the light nights of summer.
In Three Hearts and Three Lions, Anderson describes the appearance of the Elf-Lords on these terms:
They were clad in colors that seemed luminous against the twilight, crimson, gold, purple, green, but the hue of each garment shimmered and flickered and changed from moment to moment. Some wore chain mail or plate, argent metal elaborately shaped and chased; others had robes and coronets. They were a tall people, moving with a liquid grace no human could rival, nor even a cat. A cold haughtiness marked their features, which were of a strange cast, high tilted cheekbones, winged nostrils, narrow chin. Their skin was white, their long fine hair blue-silver, most of the men beardless. When they got close enough, Holger thought at first they were blind, for the oblique eyes held only an azure blankness. But he soon realized their vision was better than his.


Contrast this with the description of Imric from The Broken Sword:
He looked at her with the strange slant eyes of the elf-folk, all cloudy-blue without pupil or white. There were little moon-flecks drifting in Imric’s eyes, and shadows of ancient wisdom, for Imric had dwelt long in the land when the first men came. But he was ever youthful, with the broad forehead and high cheekbones, the narrow jaw and the straight thin-chiseled nose of the elf lords. His hair floated silvery-gold, finer than spider silk, from under his horned helmet down to his wide red-caped shoulders.
Or the description of Imric's sister Leea:
She was as beautiful as her brother, with thinly graven ivory features, unbound silvery-gold tresses floating in the air under a jeweled coronet, and the same moon-flecked twilight-blue eyes as he. Tenuous spider-silk garments drifted about the slender white wonder of her body, and when she danced in the moonlight it was as a ripple of light and madness to those who watched.
In Three Hearts and Three Lions, the protagonist also makes this interesting observation of Elven culture:
From what he overheard Holger gathered that talk was a high art here: swift, witty, poetic, cynical, always a hint of delicate malice, always with elaborate rules he didn’t begin to comprehend. Well, he thought, immortals who had nothing to do but hunt, magic, intrigue, and wage war, would develop sophistication out of sheer necessity.
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Re: Non-humans

Postby strega » Fri Apr 05, 2013 10:10 am

The nearest typical RPG fantasy elves to the image of Andersen's elves is the Drow and they are but a poor reflection of those immortal pieces of prose.

Someone needs to do an Anderson RPG set in those novels.
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Re: Non-humans

Postby warlock1971 » Fri Apr 05, 2013 11:09 am

Steven Erickson's Tiste races spring to mind after reading those passages.
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Re: Non-humans

Postby @stroval » Sat Apr 06, 2013 9:19 pm

Olaus Petrus wrote:
@stroval wrote:Personally humans bore me.If I want a billion different cultures of humans I would play in a historical setting or Greyhawk(which I dislike btw)

'Standard' races don't have to be stereotypical at all.

I love Elves but just because they have pointy ears doesn't mean they have to be Tolkinesque.
There are myriads of myths to draw inspiration from,or like you said, modern custom-made unique non-humans.
Imagine living shades as a race or Elves cursed by nature and shunned by all...that sort of thing excites me to roleplay
You mean some sort of dark elves?

Personally I've been thinking creating my own variant of elves with the idea that I make them truly otherworldly. I've been thinking that they probably don't look much like humans, but they have alien features and their logic and moral are completely incomprehensible for humans, who fear them because they don't understand elves or their powers.

Another race I've been thinking for the same setting are hairless dwarves who have evolved from worms and still share some characteristics of their ancestors.

Neither is particularly original concept, but with some thought I think I can make them unique enough. But then again I don't know if you can really call them elves and dwarves after the transformation.
No I had a 'fallen from grace' concept in mind when I wrote that.
And the other race was intelligent living shadows...

Why not call your aliens elves? Its just a name


:)
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Re: Non-humans

Postby Olaus Petrus » Sun Apr 07, 2013 5:14 pm

@stroval wrote:
Olaus Petrus wrote:
@stroval wrote:Personally humans bore me.If I want a billion different cultures of humans I would play in a historical setting or Greyhawk(which I dislike btw)

'Standard' races don't have to be stereotypical at all.

I love Elves but just because they have pointy ears doesn't mean they have to be Tolkinesque.
There are myriads of myths to draw inspiration from,or like you said, modern custom-made unique non-humans.
Imagine living shades as a race or Elves cursed by nature and shunned by all...that sort of thing excites me to roleplay
You mean some sort of dark elves?

Personally I've been thinking creating my own variant of elves with the idea that I make them truly otherworldly. I've been thinking that they probably don't look much like humans, but they have alien features and their logic and moral are completely incomprehensible for humans, who fear them because they don't understand elves or their powers.

Another race I've been thinking for the same setting are hairless dwarves who have evolved from worms and still share some characteristics of their ancestors.

Neither is particularly original concept, but with some thought I think I can make them unique enough. But then again I don't know if you can really call them elves and dwarves after the transformation.
No I had a 'fallen from grace' concept in mind when I wrote that.
And the other race was intelligent living shadows...

Why not call your aliens elves? Its just a name


:)
OK, my bad. I read your post hastily and thought that living shades and fallen elves were somehow related or allied.
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Re: Non-humans

Postby Torque2100 » Fri May 17, 2013 2:58 am

My personal favorite style of Elves are the kind described by Andzrej Sapkowski in the Witcher. Sapkowski's Elves are definitely of the Poul Anderson school. They are a strange, immortal race with an alien system of morality which can seem totally immoral to the Humans. This is precisely why the early human Kingdoms on the Continent beat the snot out of them, took their lands and harried the Elves into the Blue Mountains where they are starving to death, or forced them to live in human cities relegated to Non-Human districts. The Elves are definitely not blameless in this conflict. They struck first, the Elves elders refuse to give up the fight and instead send entire generations to be killed. They are resigned to the eventual extinction of their race. It's nice to see the supposed Elven flaws of "arrogance" or "haughtiness" finally be, ya know, flaws.

I must also confess to having a particular weakness for Catfolk, particular the Mithra-esque variety. I've always wanted to create a Conan-esque or Slaine-esque, Swords and Sorcery fantasy setting but I've never quite been able to create a setting that clicks where the non-humans don't feel tacked on.
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Re: Non-humans

Postby alex_greene » Fri May 17, 2013 9:42 am

There is a problem with designing fantasy races nowadays. Since everybody's already been immersed in dozens of different games and fantasy settings, when something crops up that looks like something we're already familiar with, the general reaction is to trammel that alien species down that pre-dug rut.

Cat people? Aslan. Kzinti, maybe, or those Catholic nuns from Doctor Who. Bipedal hominids with wolf heads? Vargr. If they shapeshift, wolfweres or werewolves. Break out those White Wolf books, and stat them up for Crinos form.

There's no mystique surrounding them. "Oh, they're elves," "Oh, they're dwarves." Suddenly, whatever eigenform of mystery you were hoping to have surrounding these strange new individuals collapses into a familiar form. You know what elves and dwarves are; you know what they look like; you know what they want; you know how they behave.

That sense of being in the presence of a supernatural being just ... evaporates. The unknown disappears, and what started out looking like a misty landscape of deep mystery turns out to be an NCP car park in Dudley, once the early morning mist has blown away.

Put some mystique into the non-human people you are designing. Throw in a little mystery, add some alien and unknown taboos and cultural norms for the characters to discover, keep them in the dark and let them take notes.

Let's take a Star Trek analogy, seeing as there's this movie making the rounds right now. Spock has pointy ears - yet you would not have called him an elf during the original run of Star Trek. Nobody knew what Klingons were really like - until Star Trek: The Next Generation came along, with its heavy Dune influences, and painted a rich tapestry of warring alien Great Houses and a culture predicated on Nietzschean principles, tempered with honour and a sense of duty - a tapestry which was only revealed to us slowly, over the course of several years; a tapestry woven further and enriched in Deep Space Nine.

Whatever form your fantasy beings (I detest the term "race" as much as I loathe the sterile scientific term "species" to describe supernatural entities) take, unless you take the time to throw in a little mystique you're just going to end up with what I call Star Trek Syndrome - humans with lumpy foreheads who all speak perfect English, even in a First Contact situation where they've never met humans before.
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