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Rasch
2014-10-14, 07:07 AM
Iíve been thinking a bit about what is typically called races in most fantasy settings lately. Personally, Iíd call most of these different species, but anyway: Iíve been wondering a bit about what purpose they actually serve. Do they really serve any purpose beyond a mechanical +2 to some attribute?

Different species/strange creatures have been a part of our culture for as long as we have written tradition: Elves, dwarves, trolls, centaurs, minotaurs and dragons. What is it that fascinates people so about them? Does it play directly on our desire to be different and unique?
These article talks a bit about the cultural aspect, and how itís typically underutilized by players:
http://dungeonsmaster.com/2010/02/one-race/
http://savagelegend.com/2011/12/20/race-and-cultural-background-in-rpgs-different-icing-same-cake/
The general idea seems to be that players play different races/species as humans with some slightly different attributes, skin colors, pointy ears or whatever.

Iím not looking for an explanation of races in some specific ruleset here, but more a discussion of what races really gives these games. Would you really notice if this feature was taken away?

EDIT: As the replies are coming in, this seems to be the general consensus:
What races brings to the table in games:

An in-universe explanation for mechanical/biological differences between characters that would have otherwise been the same: some see in the dark, some can teleport and some are extra resilient etc.
It is fun and interesting to be something that you cannot be in real life.
"It allows you to create differences that are more than merely cultural, and lets everyone wear a nice convenient sign suggesting what those differences are." - Red Fel
Will give your players some expectations on how their characters will be viewed by others in that world.
Something, something cultureÖ

Dimers
2014-10-14, 09:04 AM
Personally, Iíd call most of these different species ...

Which is correct, but just try to get massive numbers of people to change a collectively-used term, even when it doesn't make sense. I have to remind myself that the point of playing a game is relaxing and having fun rather than being accurate ... which is why I say "race" for my game system with three nonhuman species and six varieties of human differentiated by ability rather than ethnicity.


Iíve been wondering a bit about what purpose they actually serve. Do they really serve any purpose beyond a mechanical +2 to some attribute?

Races can play much differently from each other, mechanically, depending on the system used. Our fellow Playgrounder Obryn points out that the traits mostly likely to make a race feel different are those with active use, not passive abilities. In D&D 4e, eladrin fighters can teleport through a battle occasionally -- other fighters don't do that, and it's a difference that's easy to see. Dwarven invokers can grit their teeth and keep fighting after a nasty wound, and other invokers can't.

When you read (or design) mechanics for a race, think about how each trait will look during play, and if it doesn't look like much, try to change it into something more active-use.


Elves, dwarves, trolls, centaurs, minotaurs and dragons. What is it that fascinates people so about them? Does it play directly on our desire to be different and unique?

Sure, there's some of that. And people like to see different cultures. They don't generally want to become a different culture themselves, though. IRL many people travel and see foreign places, but few of them decide to move permanently and leave their old lives behind. It's fun and occasionally enlightening to get a different perspective once in a while.

It's also sometimes fun to be monstrous, atavistic, amoral or freakishly weird, though again, it's not something a player may want to adopt in their day-to-day life. Being explicitly nonhuman for the duration of a game can be a good way to play that out. It's part of the reason for the success of the GTA video game series.


These articles talk a bit about the cultural aspect, and how itís typically underutilized by players ... The general idea seems to be that players play different races/species as humans with some slightly different attributes, skin colors, pointy ears or whatever.

There are folks who just select a race for its mechanical benefits, of course. And there are many GMs who don't have a clear concept of a nonhuman race's culture or any great interest in making that race culturally different, which damps down their players' ability to partake of the culture. But I'll emphasize again that it *is* a game, not a social science experiment or a course in acting. Players already know how to be human, so if there's not much reason to be nonhuman, that's the default. And in many cases what's important to the player is the adventure or story, not the character, and there's nothing wrong with that emphasis.


Iím not looking for an explanation of races in some specific ruleset here, but more a discussion of what races really gives these games. Would you really notice if this feature was taken away?

Even just mechanically, it's nice to have more ways to differentiate character A from character B. Sure, you can roleplay them differently, but presumably you're going to do that anyway -- you can also make them feel different with race. I definitely notice when race isn't present, like in many modern-setting games or one based on the Black Company books; I instinctively look for more ways to play something original and different (as well as ways to make my character more effective).

Aedilred
2014-10-14, 09:26 AM
I don't particularly like the term "race" either, although as was pointed out to me surprisingly recently, if peoples can interbreed and produce fertile offspring, as in most fantasy settings humans, orcs and elves can, if not always dwarves and other humanoids, then "race" is rather more appropriate than "species".

I incline towards relatively humanocentric settings and when RPing tend to prefer parties comprised mostly or entirely of humans or demihumans unless there's a good reason for a nonhuman to be present. I don't have anything against nonhumans per se, but I do like them to have differentiated cultures, and in the standard fantasy 'verse, that's going to present some serious barriers to integration.

I guess that's an element of it - while there is a tendency for higher-fantasy 'verses to be fairly Benetton-esque in their attitude towards diversity of cultures except in certain predefined and largely fantastic elements (dwarves vs elves; elves vs dark elves; dwarves vs orcs/goblins/ogres/giants) I feel like there's a verisimilitude issue with that given the tendency of humans (which obviously form the base standard for humanoids) to fear and hate the unfamiliar and the different. While you can work with or around that or just ignore it I find it easier to deal with if you don't have a party comprised of people of all different races and cultures from the four corners of the earth.

'Course, there is an argument to be made that fantasy worlds don't have to mirror the negative traits of the real one, but I guess my preference lies towards the grittier end of the scale, and if you want to airbrush that stuff out, having done so should be part of the point in the setting, rather than just an ongoing elephant in the room.

Yora
2014-10-14, 09:29 AM
It seems to be one of the big mysteries of fantasy in general. Nonhuman people are seen very often and most people love having them, but nobody seems really have an explaination why they are there in the first place.

Rasch
2014-10-14, 10:50 AM
1. Which is correct, but just try to get massive numbers of people to change a collectively-used term, even when it doesn't make sense.
(...)
2. When you read (or design) mechanics for a race, think about how each trait will look during play, and if it doesn't look like much, try to change it into something more active-use.
(...)
3. Sure, there's some of that. And people like to see different cultures. They don't generally want to become a different culture themselves, though. IRL many people travel and see foreign places, but few of them decide to move permanently and leave their old lives behind. It's fun and occasionally enlightening to get a different perspective once in a while.
(...)
4. Even just mechanically, it's nice to have more ways to differentiate character A from character B.

1. Challenge accepted.
2. That's a good tip. Thanks for sharing. :smallsmile:
3. I think this is a good point, that reflects humans natural tendency to follow the groups socially acceptable behavior, and resist change. Though races and species have varying cultures, you regularly see one without the other. You could for example have a game with great cultural diversity, and only humans, and the other way around.
4. Agreed. At least when one is familiar enough with a game to make informed choices of the available options. Still, you don't really need races or species to add mechanical diversity.


'Course, there is an argument to be made that fantasy worlds don't have to mirror the negative traits of the real one, but I guess my preference lies towards the grittier end of the scale, and if you want to airbrush that stuff out, having done so should be part of the point in the setting, rather than just an ongoing elephant in the room.

The interesting thing is that when I've searched for this topic I am asking about, this is where many of the discussions instantly head. Some groupings of people are rejected by the handling of races within games. This is not really a path I want to steer the discussion towards though, because I feel it's relatively easy to find discussions on that elsewhere. I'm more interested in the positive sides of races than the negative. It is a very valid point though, because if this is not done well, many people could potentially be turned away by a game.


It seems to be one of the big mysteries of fantasy in general. Nonhuman people are seen very often and most people love having them, but nobody seems really have an explaination why they are there in the first place.

Very true. Then again, I've played many games that do not feature anything other than humans, without feeling worse off.

I'm not trying to say that races/species are bad or wrong here, but rather trying to cut down to the core of what they bring to the experience. Is it simply the different physical features? Is it the part of alienating the world/setting from our own world, and make it feel more fantastic?

Red Fel
2014-10-14, 11:24 AM
One of the biggest advantages of using a distinct race, as opposed to merely a distinct culture, is the total package.

For example, this is Hrolfgar, mighty proud warrior from the frozen north, who kills and drinks and whores, sometimes all at once. And this is Subotai, from the eastern steppes, a skilled archer who may travel for weeks on end with only his horse for companionship. And this is Mutumba, a hunter from the southern jungles, who provides for and protects his village. They are all human, despite having different cultures. As such, there is a certain commonality between them - once they get past the cultural differences, they can relate to one another. They have reasons for fighting, things to come home to, people that matter to them, and so forth. At their cores, they're not so different.

Now let's try that again. This is Erdrick, noble swordsman from the west. He is human, lives in a castle, and is adored by his people. This is Lyrandar, elven hermit from the Sea of Trees. He has lived for centuries, rarely sees people, and is deeply attuned to nature. And this is Berthe Stonesdottr, a dwarven smith who considers a day spent without hearing anvils echoing in caves to be a day spent in terrifying silence. They are all humanoid, but they are not all human. Their physical differences are minor, but enough to evidence the cultural differences underlying them. And there are more than cultural differences. Berthe lives in caves. Lyrandar doesn't sleep. Erdrick eats beef. There are deep, profound differences between them, gulfs that cannot be breached. They can set aside those differences and be friends, of course, but these are more than mere cultural distinctions. These differences escalate when we replace Lyrandar with Xqybrgar, a tentacle-beast from the planet Callufrax 5, and Berthe with Elvixia, silver dragoness and queen of the mushroom people.

That's what having non-humans does. It allows you to create differences that are more than merely cultural, and lets everyone wear a nice convenient sign suggesting what those differences are. That's not to say, for example, that everyone from the Planet Gulbsmax is a neurophage; some may have abandoned that practice in order to find a place in society. But if you have a vampire character, it will need to feed on something, and this is a distinction that no human character will fully share (even those who feed on their victims don't do so because of a biological imperative).

Yora
2014-10-14, 11:41 AM
Though I don't think there is any reason why you couldn't have incompatible cultures that are all human.
Say one is from the mountains, one from the desert, one from the forest, and one from a culture of sailors. They would have a lot greater differences than a human, an orc, and a lizardman who all live in the plains.

Rasch
2014-10-14, 11:50 AM
Now let's try that again. This is Erdrick, noble swordsman from the west. He is human, lives in a castle, and is adored by his people. This is Lyrandar, elven hermit from the Sea of Trees. He has lived for centuries, rarely sees people, and is deeply attuned to nature. And this is Berthe Stonesdottr, a dwarven smith who considers a day spent without hearing anvils echoing in caves to be a day spent in terrifying silence. They are all humanoid, but they are not all human. Their physical differences are minor, but enough to evidence the cultural differences underlying them. And there are more than cultural differences. Berthe lives in caves. Lyrandar doesn't sleep. Erdrick eats beef. There are deep, profound differences between them, gulfs that cannot be breached. They can set aside those differences and be friends, of course, but these are more than mere cultural distinctions. These differences escalate when we replace Lyrandar with Xqybrgar, a tentacle-beast from the planet Callufrax 5, and Berthe with Elvixia, silver dragoness and queen of the mushroom people.

That's what having non-humans does. It allows you to create differences that are more than merely cultural, and lets everyone wear a nice convenient sign suggesting what those differences are. That's not to say, for example, that everyone from the Planet Gulbsmax is a neurophage; some may have abandoned that practice in order to find a place in society. But if you have a vampire character, it will need to feed on something, and this is a distinction that no human character will fully share (even those who feed on their victims don't do so because of a biological imperative).

I'm not sure I agree with you. Let me flip this around; Meet Erdrick (same as above), Lyrandar, a human hermit from (same as you wrote) and Berthe Stonesdottr, a human smith. Berthe and her friends lives in caves. These guys can also set aside their cultural differences and be friends. Except from the name of the race you called them, didn't you use only cultural descriptions on all of them?

I'm starting to think that the race part has very little to do with cultural differences. Yes, different races would likely have their own cultures, or subcultures at the least, but that's not what sets them apart. Come to think of it, I think a large part of it is actually the biological differences that are the most pronounced.
How would Erdrick really relate to the two others? Well, his best friend during growing up could have been a smith or nature-lover, and he can relate to that. However, what Erdrick can not relate to, is that when they are attacked in the middle of the night, the other two can see in the dark while he can't.

EDIT (Didn't see until after I posted):

Though I don't think there is any reason why you couldn't have incompatible cultures that are all human.
Say one is from the mountains, one from the desert, one from the forest, and one from a culture of sailors. They would have a lot greater differences than a human, an orc, and a lizardman who all live in the plains.
Exactly

mephnick
2014-10-14, 12:11 PM
In terms of 3.5, I think they just exist so min-maxers can find an oni-spawned tiefling, or an arctic dwarf to munchkin out their stats even if the character makes no sense in the world.

That was only partially sarcastic.

I think the real reason is that "Tolkien did it." Different species were never really represented as protagonists in literature until recently. Fey and monsters certainly existed, but usually as enemies or pranksters, never as heroic forces driving the main thrust of the story.

A heroic group including elves, dwarves and men was never the standard. Just men getting through challenges posed by elves and dwarves, etc.

Mr. Mask
2014-10-14, 12:20 PM
Have you ever thought it'd be fun to play a dragon? Ever pretended to be an animal as a child? Ever listened to stories about adventures in fairyland or somesuch?

Those bite at the root of it. Being a fairy or elf simply has a very foreign feeling to it. Most gamers aren't much like cowboys, but relate to cowboy characters enough that they don't get a strong sense of a foreign world and creature when we playing as one. (Even if gamers and cowboys may as well be foreign creatures from foreign worlds.)

Why is it that we say, "rawr I'm a dragon!" rather than, "rawr I am me with significantly more size and power and my breath wreaks flame!" Because a dragon embodies those things, and is a stronger narrative presentation than a bigger stronger you.

It's a little like why scifi so often has aliens in it. And really, the short answer is, "because it's interesting," and that seems reason enough.

Red Fel
2014-10-14, 12:33 PM
I'm not sure I agree with you. Let me flip this around; Meet Erdrick (same as above), Lyrandar, a human hermit from (same as you wrote) and Berthe Stonesdottr, a human smith. Berthe and her friends lives in caves. These guys can also set aside their cultural differences and be friends. Except from the name of the race you called them, didn't you use only cultural descriptions on all of them?

I'm starting to think that the race part has very little to do with cultural differences. Yes, different races would likely have their own cultures, or subcultures at the least, but that's not what sets them apart. Come to think of it, I think a large part of it is actually the biological differences that are the most pronounced.
How would Erdrick really relate to the two others? Well, his best friend during growing up could have been a smith or nature-lover, and he can relate to that. However, what Erdrick can not relate to, is that when they are attacked in the middle of the night, the other two can see in the dark while he can't.

Well, part of it is cultural, as I said. But the other part is not.

In my illustration, Lyrandar is an Elf. He is extraordinarily long-lived by human standards. That's not cultural, it's biological. Erdrick's lifespan, to Lyrandar, is like the lifespan of Spot (Erdrick's faithful hunting dog) to Erdrick - fleeting. It's hard to grasp how someone so long-lived sees the world; and from Lyrandar's perspective, it's hard to understand how one so short-lived can expect to have any meaningful impact. Another example: Lyrandar does not sleep; he goes into a "trance." Again, biological. Because he does not sleep, he does not dream. How do you express the concept of "dream" to someone who doesn't even "sleep"?

I then took it a step further, and introduced a dragon and an alien. Let's go further. Xqybrgar the tentacle-beast is from Callufrax 5. The diplomats of Callufrax 5 devour the first member of any race they encounter. This is because they possess an ability to read the genetic memory of creatures they consume, thus learning the language and local custom. As a result of this biological function, they consider the consumption of members of intelligent species to be a diplomatic act. Peace treaties between Callufraxians are frequently sealed by the exchange of offspring for culinary purposes. Even humans from a cannibal culture are going to find that incredibly off-putting, at best. At worst, they will consider the consumption of a human diplomat to be an act of war.

Elvixia is a dragon. She does not die naturally; she simply ages and grows and ages and grows and becomes something akin to a physical god. There are very few beings in the world that can match her power, and she knows it. She loves humans, in the same sense that humans love puppies or think cows have adorably big eyes. She recognizes that humans are creatures with feelings and agency, but she doesn't fully view them as people; they are simply too weak, short-lived, and stupid to be considered responsible in any sense. Imagine if a four year-old child told you she was a big girl and could do what she wanted. You'd laugh, you'd pat her on the head, and you'd make sure there were no pointy things about on which she could hurt herself. That's what humans are to Elvixia. By contrast, to humans, Elvixia is a big terrifying lizard-creature that breathes death. She flies, she's smarter than their greatest minds by far, and the only reason humans can tell that she hasn't slaughtered them all out of boredom is that we amuse her. She is terrifying, fascinating, and completely alien in mentality.

Again, these are cultural differences in part, but also biological ones. Even the cultural differences stem from biological distinctions.

And also, as mentioned, part of the point is the visible label. We can assume, for example, that if we meet a Klingon, he comes from a proud warrior culture. If we met a human, we might not make that assumption. If we met a human wearing Klingon attire, perhaps we might assume he was emulating Klingons, and thus from a proud warrior culture. But what if we met a Klingon wearing a Starfleet uniform? Well, he's still probably from a proud warrior culture, although it's possible that he's a Drizz't-esque "I'm abandoning my people and full of loneliness" exception to the rule. But the convenient label is a big part of it. It's easier to say "this is a dwarf" than to say "this is a short hairy cave-dweller from a culture of craftsmanship and drinking who has a fondness for oversized axes and hammers." "Dwarf" conveniently sums up your description, assuming that the latter was an accurate description of dwarves in your setting.

Aedilred
2014-10-14, 12:34 PM
I'm not sure I agree with you. Let me flip this around; Meet Erdrick (same as above), Lyrandar, a human hermit from (same as you wrote) and Berthe Stonesdottr, a human smith. Berthe and her friends lives in caves. These guys can also set aside their cultural differences and be friends. Except from the name of the race you called them, didn't you use only cultural descriptions on all of them?

I'm starting to think that the race part has very little to do with cultural differences. Yes, different races would likely have their own cultures, or subcultures at the least, but that's not what sets them apart. Come to think of it, I think a large part of it is actually the biological differences that are the most pronounced.
How would Erdrick really relate to the two others? Well, his best friend during growing up could have been a smith or nature-lover, and he can relate to that. However, what Erdrick can not relate to, is that when they are attacked in the middle of the night, the other two can see in the dark while he can't.


I think this is as a result of the development of conventional fantasy over the last ~fifty years and - in part - to do with a real-world reaction to the sort of fantasy racism I alluded to earlier (and which you understandably don't want to discuss in detail). Back when D&D started out the different races were all pretty archetypal and drew on the stuff produced by Papa Tolkien among others, for what were at the time perfectly good reasons. So dwarves lived underground, elves were ancient and mysterious and lived either in the trees or in the ancient remnants of a decaying civilisation, orcs were relentless destroyers of civilisation, and so on.

As time has worn on, and for various reasons, these stereotypes have been challenged and diluted and generally cast aside. Sometimes it's for real-world social reasons to present the orcs as misunderstood or trying to see things from their perspective or whatever (see: Order of the Stick, Goblins). Sometimes it's because people like the attributes of a given race but don't like the cultural baggage. Sometimes it's just a desire to challenge stereotype and "clichť". So now we have a million varieties of elves (and elves-lite, like the eladrin) filling every possible niche. Orcs can be anywhere from howling green barbarians to relatively functional members of society (and half-orcs, even moreso), and so on. So the "race" part of the character description without further qualification is really just an indicator of likely lifespan and ear dimensions and doesn't tell you anything deeper about the character.

cobaltstarfire
2014-10-14, 01:07 PM
Why shouldn't rpgs have different races/species?

I don't care that it isn't realistic or whatever else, it's more interesting and fun to get to run around as a kobold or gnoll or something like that than it is to play a human or human like creature.

Even if I could play a human with powers and abilities I could never have in real life it just isn't as interesting to me most of the time.

So yeah, I would notice it if such a "feature" was taken away, because humans don't really ever grab my imagination in the same way that creatures do.

Mastikator
2014-10-14, 01:17 PM
It seems to be one of the big mysteries of fantasy in general. Nonhuman people are seen very often and most people love having them, but nobody seems really have an explaination why they are there in the first place.

There were elves, hobbits and dwarves in Tolkien's world. People keep adding them because they're taken for granted.

Yora
2014-10-14, 01:31 PM
Nobody wants humans with pointy ears. And most people don't want humanoids that are universaly superior to humans or always evil either.

The simple answer is to just have only humans. But there's probably better ways to deal with that, which maintain the presence of humanoids.

AuraTwilight
2014-10-14, 01:44 PM
For the same reason magic exists. Pretending to be something that isn't real is fun.

Honest Tiefling
2014-10-14, 01:49 PM
1) I assume it is easier to remove races then add them in later on into an RPG. So put in races in the RPG and if people don't like them, they can chuck it out.

2) If I wanted to see other humans, I'd leave my basement. Fantasy, implied with the name, is well, fantasy. I want something fantastical! That's why there's flying castles and dragons and goblins and stuff. I don't mean to say that historical is bad, but there's nothing wrong with inventing something new, something you cannot see without imagination.

3) The challenge. How do I make something somewhat human, but not? I am running a game with someone who is RPing a race with scent, and its been a blast incorporating that into how the character acts and why their race act slightly differently from normal humans, despite being mostly human. A part of the fun is trying to figure out what could be like a human, but isn't in some fundamental way.

Rasch
2014-10-14, 02:02 PM
1) I assume it is easier to remove races then add them in later on into an RPG. So put in races in the RPG and if people don't like them, they can chuck it out.

2) If I wanted to see other humans, I'd leave my basement. Fantasy, implied with the name, is well, fantasy. I want something fantastical! That's why there's flying castles and dragons and goblins and stuff. I don't mean to say that historical is bad, but there's nothing wrong with inventing something new, something you cannot see without imagination.

3) The challenge. How do I make something somewhat human, but not? I am running a game with someone who is RPing a race with scent, and its been a blast incorporating that into how the character acts and why their race act slightly differently from normal humans, despite being mostly human. A part of the fun is trying to figure out what could be like a human, but isn't in some fundamental way.

But why do people want to play as another race when they don't want to "be" that race? People play as "humans with pointy ears". Most don't care about all the cultural stuff.
EDIT: I don't typically edit posts long after I've posted them, but everyone seems to get what I meant here completely wrong. When players choose to play as i.e. an elf, they do not actually do anything typically elven in game. They talk like everyone else, they eat the same food as everyone else, they do everything exactly like a human would. I just wanted to point this out, since everyone seems to think that I believe you need to need to have elf fantasies in real life, and are at the verge of doing plastic surgery to get pointy ears in real life. That's not what I'm trying to convey at all. It probably boils down to some of the stuff discussed here, like how it's hard for a DM to convey culture and that a lot of players are happily content with casual gaming.[/EDIT]

Thanks for all the replies guys. Just for the record, I'm not against races in games. I'm just curious of why we all like them, and what purpose they serve in the game. Understanding that, I think, could lead to "better" races/species and probably even monsters during design.

Honest Tiefling
2014-10-14, 02:08 PM
I don't want to be a lady, but that doesn't mean I don't dislike stories with ladies or decide not to play as one. And I certainly don't assume things of people who like series like Breaking Bad or Dexter. We like stories of things we can sympathize, understand or empathize with, even if we do not fully get or agree with everything they do. Other races have emotions, but to such extremes or think so differently that they are similar, but different. Familiar, but also alien.

And if you're just a human with pointy ears...You've probably missed the designer's intent in 99% of cases. Maybe you should RP a character of a different race without doing that and see if you like it?

Mr. Mask
2014-10-14, 02:14 PM
Rasch: Well, some people play for the shallowest part of being an elf or whichever. "I want to use bows and swords... I'll be an elf like Legolas!" but there character doesn't behave anything like Legolas or elves in general because they just thought, "bows and swords." Or they think, "elves look cool," or, "elves' racial bonuses fit my character build," or even, "humans are boring, so I'll be an elf."

Often when people want to play elves for cultural/etc. reasons, its for shallow, thematic parts of the race. They want to be the person who acts wizened by age, or sort of uptight, or superior to others. Sometimes, these themes are actually very contrary to what the elves/etc. are meant to be. Nevertheless, there's a theme that they think that their race represents, which intrigued them. They might want to make a drow because they read about Drizzt, even though they don't act like they're from drow culture (admittedly, Drizzt doesn't either).

Segev
2014-10-14, 02:25 PM
In a small part inspired by thoughts similar to those raised in this discussion, I came wrote this thread (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?336883-Thought-Experiment-What-if-Races-AND-Classes-had-levels) on races having levels, too, with an eye towards the advancement as a "dwarf," for instance, making you more and more distinct from those who are not dwarves.

Coidzor
2014-10-14, 02:35 PM
Different races and species existed in fantasy and science-fiction long before RPGs existed.* Naturally some people wanted to play as some of those.

You'll still find people occasionally wanting to find a way to translate a fantastical species from some IP or another into their favored RPG on these very boards from time to time.

So the real question becomes why are there different races and species in fiction which then becomes why are there different races and species in myths and legends(because that's at least one of the reasons why we have them in fiction) which then becomes why is the human mind what it is.

*We've got, what, 1895 for The Time Machine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Time_Machine), 1912ish for John Carter of Mars (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Carter_of_Mars) vs the 1960s for early RPGs?


The general idea seems to be that players play different races/species as humans with some slightly different attributes, skin colors, pointy ears or whatever.

Play. Are. You have to have it be something which can actually be played by a person if it's going to be playable. And some way of running them for the GM even if they're not for the rest of the players.

This is, by necessity, going to limit our options to things we can design and use as humans. :smalltongue:


Iím not looking for an explanation of races in some specific ruleset here, but more a discussion of what races really gives these games. Would you really notice if this feature was taken away?

Yes. A science-fiction game with only humans would have a very noticeable tone difference from a science-fiction game where there are multiple species, especially if it were a space-faring game.

It's the difference between LOTR and A Song of Ice and Fire or Deus Ex and Mass Effect. The choices you make are by definition going to shape the stories you can tell.

Yora
2014-10-14, 02:37 PM
And if you're just a human with pointy ears...You've probably missed the designer's intent in 99% of cases. Maybe you should RP a character of a different race without doing that and see if you like it?

That seems to be mounting the horse from the wrong side. If human with pointy ears is doing it wrong, then what is doing it right?
What is the designers intent? That's the big question here.

Tengu_temp
2014-10-14, 02:45 PM
Dwarves, elves and other common fantasy races are there because Tolkien had them. More bizarre races are there to placate people who want to feel like special snowflakes without having to put effort into their character's personality.

Only partially tongue-in-the-cheek.

Aedilred
2014-10-14, 02:52 PM
1) I assume it is easier to remove races then add them in later on into an RPG. So put in races in the RPG and if people don't like them, they can chuck it out.
I tend to find it's the other way round. Once you've got something in a setting, you can only get rid of it neatly if nobody ever knew it was there in the first place. If you find there's something missing it's often easier to slot it in. There can be an issue with pretending things were always this way... but you get that either way. Just look at the issues 40K has had trying to remove the Squats and Zoats: it's taken them 25 years to fail to remove them entirely.


2) If I wanted to see other humans, I'd leave my basement. Fantasy, implied with the name, is well, fantasy. I want something fantastical! That's why there's flying castles and dragons and goblins and stuff. I don't mean to say that historical is bad, but there's nothing wrong with inventing something new, something you cannot see without imagination.

There is plenty of fantasy that's effectively human-only, though, and indeed introducing other sentient races that fill effectively human niches just leads to humans becoming more vanilla.


Dwarves, elves and other common fantasy races are there because Tolkien had them. More bizarre races are there to placate people who want to feel like special snowflakes without having to put effort into their character's personality.
Indeed.

Rasch
2014-10-14, 02:58 PM
Again, thanks for all the great replies.
I've tried to gather the things we seem agree on into a list:

What races brings to the table in games:

An in-universe explanation for mechanical/biological differences between characters that would have otherwise been the same: some see in the dark, some can teleport and some are extra resilient etc.
It is fun and interesting to be something that you cannot be in real life.
"It allows you to create differences that are more than merely cultural, and lets everyone wear a nice convenient sign suggesting what those differences are." - Red Fel
Will give your players some expectations on how their characters will be viewed by others in that world.
Something, something cultureÖ


I'll expand this, and add it to the first post as we go along.

Coidzor
2014-10-14, 03:00 PM
There is plenty of fantasy that's effectively human-only, though, and indeed introducing other sentient races that fill effectively human niches just leads to humans becoming more vanilla.

That's a case by case thing, though. Certainly people should actually use their brains when designing, but, well, humans.

As for the Squats, there's quite a bit of difference between removing them before publication and trying to retcon them out after publication. :smalltongue: As Extra Credits says, Fail Faster (www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDjrOaoHz9s).

Terraoblivion
2014-10-14, 03:09 PM
Actually, does anybody have a survey of how common this actually is? Because outside of D&D, Warhammer and settings explicitly drawn from those races in their sense tend to be pretty rare in my experience. Sure there are monsters, some of them humanoid but they're distinctly more alien than that and not really meant to be playable in most cases. The naga and nezumi in Legend of the Five Rings are some of the most human-like races in settings that aren't heavily inspired by D&D and the naga are the more human of the two and they have a hivemind. It's just not something I'm really used to seeing outside of major D&D inspiration for the setting.

Dimers
2014-10-14, 03:19 PM
But why do people want to play as another race when they don't want to "be" that race?

Same reason almost all cultures have come up with masks or face painting or both, and the same reason children inherently know how to play pretend: People enjoy temporarily expressing something that is not their usual self.* Same reason fiction literature and thought exercises exist: To explore beyond the real. Heck, same reason science and mathematics have progressed: Finding new ways of looking at things and searching for ways to show other people their truth.

* Go ahead, ask why people enjoy that. I'll start looking up citations to human-psych textbooks for you to read. </snark>


People play as "humans with pointy ears". Most don't care about all the cultural stuff.

I think that's overreaching. People don't just care about culture for nonhuman species, but that's true of all-human games too -- many players are interested more in what their character is doing now than what her ancestors were like over the last couple hundred years. (Understandable, given that she, not the whole culture, is their individual character.) And I'll say again that not all GMs can both imagine and convey cultures vibrant enough for a player to latch onto, making expression of culture a difficult proposition in such a circumstance.

Dimers
2014-10-14, 03:26 PM
Actually, does anybody have a survey of how common this actually is? Because outside of D&D, Warhammer and settings explicitly drawn from those races in their sense tend to be pretty rare in my experience. Sure there are monsters, some of them humanoid but they're distinctly more alien than that and not really meant to be playable in most cases. The naga and nezumi in Legend of the Five Rings are some of the most human-like races in settings that aren't heavily inspired by D&D and the naga are the more human of the two and they have a hivemind. It's just not something I'm really used to seeing outside of major D&D inspiration for the setting.

Star Wars setting games, the various White Wolf monster games, many superhero games, Shadowrun, and to a degree Deadlands. (Just quickly listing the few I have any personal experience with.) I could understand the argument that Shadowrun draws from D&D/Tolkien, but not the others. Heck, each of the White Wolf games might be considered one race itself but has multiple races/species/types within it.

Oh, and adding in non-D&D CRPGs -- the main Fallout series only has humans but Fallout Tactics lets you play as a dog, deathclaw, ghoul or robot.

Rasch
2014-10-14, 03:30 PM
Same reason almost all cultures have come up with masks or face painting or both, and the same reason children inherently know how to play pretend: People enjoy temporarily expressing something that is not their usual self.* Same reason fiction literature and thought exercises exist: To explore beyond the real. Heck, same reason science and mathematics have progressed: Finding new ways of looking at things and searching for ways to show other people their truth.

* Go ahead, ask why people enjoy that. I'll start looking up citations to human-psych textbooks for you to read. </snark>


Hmm, well now I just have to, don't I? :smallbiggrin: Why?
But yeah, I agree. Maybe I'm not expressing myself very clearly, but what I meant isn't that you should try to or wish to be some other species in real life. It's fun to pretend. I mearly meant it in the sense that if you where listening in on a table-top game, chances are pretty high that you would not be able to tell a persons race from what was going on, unless someone stated it. Players play a dwarf, out of combat wise, as they would play a human. I think this boils down to the fact that a lot of players merely play as their character as a proxy for themselves, in that race/world/situation. And there is nothing wrong with that. Which brings us to a part of the why:


I think that's overreaching. People don't just care about culture for nonhuman species, but that's true of all-human games too -- many players are interested more in what their character is doing now than what her ancestors were like over the last couple hundred years. (Understandable, given that she, not the whole culture, is their individual character.) And I'll say again that not all GMs can both imagine and convey cultures vibrant enough for a player to latch onto, making expression of culture a difficult proposition in such a circumstance.

I agree completely; It's very hard for a GM to convey culture.
(If it wasn't obvious btw, I was kidding, and you don't have to look up human psychology books. If you have good recommendations though, feel free to share)

Terraoblivion
2014-10-14, 03:44 PM
Shadowrun is basically about the question of what you get if you mash up D&D-style fantasy with cyberpunk, so I'd say it is D&D derived.

And you haven't played a lot of White Wolf stuff have you? They're all about being human and then turning into something weird, monstrous and inhuman. These aren't D&D-style races that are there with their own culture, history and physiology that could exist without humanity, they're explicitly human and the entire source of drama is the tension between your humanity and the inhumanity of what you have become. Except for Promethean, which is instead between the inhumanity that you are and the humanity you desire to attain. These are all about humanity and humans, the inhumanity is there to serve as a contrast and asking tough questions about the essential nature of humanity.

I'll give you Star Wars, though. Same with any Star Trek systems out there. And Warhammer 40k if you ignore its history which, surprise, goes back to D&D by way of Warhammer Fantasy.

Dimers
2014-10-14, 03:55 PM
if you where listening in on a table-top game, chances are pretty high that you would not be able to tell a persons race from what was going on, unless someone stated it. Players play a dwarf, out of combat wise, as they would play a human.

Setting aside the many instances where something doesn't need to be said because the party is already familiar with it ... e.g. "We set up camp and go to sleep" doesn't mean that the lich's player and the elf's player both have to say "I don't sleep!" for the hundredth time ...

The more physical differences there are, the more likely you are to hear such things. Robots function very differently from humans, never mind how they think. But in terms of just cultural differences, well, the possible range of human experiences is very very broad, and because of that it's hard not to play like some variety of human. Humans can be grumpy, drunken cavedwellers fixated on material wealth / melee combat using heavy objects / clan honor -- how do you differentiate a dwarf from that? Aside from movement speed and drinking ridiculous amounts because your Fortitude save can handle it, which are both physical differences?


I think this boils down to the fact that a lot of players merely play as their character as a proxy for themselves, in that race/world/situation.

I don't disagree that many players do that, but I do feel that the sheer breadth of human culture is the bigger obstacle to playing in a distinctly non-human way. I mean, take Red Fel's dragon -- I've seen humans played that way in high-level D&D.


I agree completely; It's very hard for a GM to convey culture.

Word, brother. *thumps chest with one hand*


Shadowrun is basically about the question of what you get if you mash up D&D-style fantasy with cyberpunk, so I'd say it is D&D derived.

Yeah, I saw that argument coming a mile away. :smallsmile:


And you haven't played a lot of White Wolf stuff have you?

Rudely put and incorrect.


They're all about being human and then turning into something weird, monstrous and inhuman.

That depends entirely on playstyle -- you can focus on use of non-human abilities and worlds, ignoring the "inevitable descent into darkness" bullcrap totally valid way of playing the game. Even if you accept the default setting, well, werewolves and mages and changelings can spend entire campaigns off-world and wraiths can barely even interact with the human world in the first place. A court-heavy vampire game will involve humanity only as food or pawns. Sure, the gamebooks give you a way to express that human-and-monster internal struggle if you want ... but that one mechanic hardly means that there aren't numerous playable ability-plus-culture groupings that set what you look like and how the people act where you come from.


they're explicitly human and the entire source of drama is the tension between your humanity and the inhumanity of what you have become.

It's just as valid to say "formerly human" as it is to say "explicitly human" for vampires, changelings, werewolves and some mages, and mummies and wraiths aren't even close. And as for drama? No, the source for drama in the groups I've played with is the plot that the ST throws us into. Because White Wolf doesn't have some sign that says "you must play this character-driven, you nasty little D&Ders".

Haldir
2014-10-14, 03:58 PM
In a world where the physics are more malleable it is perfectly meet that evolution might produce a great variation in species. Worlds that are species-specific likely went through several extinction phases before becoming that way.

A world without species variation is anachronistic, given the baseline assumption of fantastic/abstract laws of nature.

Terraoblivion
2014-10-14, 04:06 PM
In a world where the physics are more malleable it is perfectly meet that evolution might produce a great variation in species. Worlds that are species-specific likely went through several extinction phases before becoming that way.

A world without species variation is anachronistic, given the baseline assumption of fantastic/abstract laws of nature.

Or the worlds in question operate on entirely different laws than Earth does, including not actually having evolution, or they were made for narrative purposes not to be simulations of what kind of world you'd get with changed physics. :smalltongue:

Not to mention that I'm pretty sure changing physics wouldn't create species where it takes centuries for a single generation to roll around, that kind of speed makes it a lot less adaptable and thus a lot less likely to actually survive.

Yora
2014-10-14, 04:34 PM
Here's some things I've been doing with my nonhumans (and humans).
Goblins and gnomes feel at home underground and are very small. Which means they can fit through spaces much too narrow for anyone else, and the square-cube-law works in their favor, giving them more relative strength for their body weight.
Goblins and gnomes can also see in the dark, being only slightly limited in conditions where most others are completely blind.
Lizardmen are native to tropical lands and don't do good in cold weather, quickly suffering from hypothermia.
Lizardmen are also somewhat nearsighted, living mostly in swamps or jungles where range of sight is rarely over 100 meters.
Being relatively long lived with often huge age gaps between family members, elves are relatively flexible about who they form households with and often live in several different places throughout their lives. Old elves (age 300+) often return to the place they grew up and form very tight groups with the few other elves they grew up with who are still alive. These elders usually don't take charge of a village or town, but no chief or king can rule without their support. They know each other for an extremely long time, have seen much of the world, remember events that go back centuries, tend to act according to customs that went out of fashion long before most of the clans living members were born, and don't generally feel the need to explain themselves, which gives them a kind of semi-mythical reputation. And if you lived for 300 years surviving every disease and accident and not falling victim to war and bandits, people tend to assume you were some kind of badass. In truth, they are really just a group of old people who enjoy the company of others that share a common background, but to many other people, elves treat them way more revenrently than would be normal for respecting elders.
Dark elves are native to the tropics where night last 10 hours all year round and are semi-nocturnal. They usually get up close to noon and spend midday inside taking care of chores with outdoor activities only starting in the late afternoon when the sun is starting to get low and the trees offer good amounts of shade.
With a few hours headstart, humans can outrun almost anything except mounted riders (and even then horses are not really faster over long distances than humans). Even humans who are not particularly fit can keep going much longer than most nonhumans over long distances.
Humans have quite durable digestive system, being able to find something edible in almost any environment where most nonhumans start showing malnutrition after a few weeks.
Water genasi are highly at risk from sunburns, only traveling overland wearing hooded cloaks. (It's not an issue when indoors, but few people have seen them uncloaked if they were not guests in their homes.)


People don't just care about culture for nonhuman species, but that's true of all-human games too -- many players are interested more in what their character is doing now than what her ancestors were like over the last couple hundred years.
Objection! Culture is exactly what a character is doing now! How tasks are performed, roles assigned, and problems solved is what culture is all about.

Vrock_Summoner
2014-10-14, 04:44 PM
... Except that having such a long lifespan should, at least in theory if not in how it works out in-character, allow you to acquire more class levels over the course of your life, increasing your aptitude and making you a more desirable mate as well as giving you more opportunities to make contributions to your species.

As for the thread's main point, discussing the positives of multiple races, I do agree that a lot of interesting roleplay opportunities are borne from the fact that their experiences and drives based on their biologies are completely different from our human ones. I mean, it's relatively small (though still existent) with, say, dwarves, but playing a succubus and playing a human feel completely different, and not just because one is evil and tempts men to lust while the other could very well also be evil and tempt men to lust (and, given we're talking about D&D, probably even have a lot of the same special abilities as the Succubus if the human is, say, a Sorcerer) but because of the differences in their fundamental nature. They're just different in ways the culture and class abilities can't cover the gap of.

Dimers
2014-10-14, 04:52 PM
Objection! Culture is exactly what a character is doing now! How tasks are performed, roles assigned, and problems solved is what culture is all about.

You mean that, like all Americans, I drive everywhere I want to go, love watching sports and use them frequently as conversational lubricant, talk loudly into my cellphone in public, ask for help with my problems on Facebook, threaten to shoot people if they want to have sex with my daughter ... ? None of those things are true. I have a culture, and it has significant influence on how I do things, but I am nevertheless not identical to my culture. Someone playing as me would often do things that are not American but are, instead, me.

Yora
2014-10-14, 04:58 PM
No, but if you are doing those things, you are doing them in the american way. People in other countries may be doing very similar things, but they are doing them in somewhat different ways and have often quite different concepts of what it is they are doing.

cobaltstarfire
2014-10-14, 05:31 PM
It's also pretty fun to try to find little (and big) ways to make a character alien if they're not human. At least relative to ones own personal experience and awareness. And then to try to make sure to play those things out. In my case it apparently ends in characters with some really odd quirks over time, but that's what makes it fun.

All that said, as far as I'm aware, we're all human beings here, so everything we come up with is going to be grounded at least somewhat in humanity and such, it's kind of an inescapable thing after all.


Being an American doesn't mean one has to do something in an American way. Folks can have bits and pieces from more than one culture in their behaviors and such, especially if they grew up with a lot of exposure to different cultures, or simply with a culturally mixed family.

Haldir
2014-10-14, 08:48 PM
Or the worlds in question operate on entirely different laws than Earth does, including not actually having evolution, or they were made for narrative purposes not to be simulations of what kind of world you'd get with changed physics. :smalltongue:

Not to mention that I'm pretty sure changing physics wouldn't create species where it takes centuries for a single generation to roll around, that kind of speed makes it a lot less adaptable and thus a lot less likely to actually survive.

Most of this misses the point entirely, and the second paragraph makes no sense whatsoever, as there is no intelligible reason why long lifespans matter at all. So long as birthrates are at a workable level.

But yes, my answer does also pre-suppose that we want to create an internally consistent world, and most RPG worlds do function with changed physics. Many of them call it magic.

Sartharina
2014-10-14, 08:52 PM
Why do multiple races exist?

Because I want to be a catgirl, and, unfortunately, humans are not catgirls (or catboys, for that matter) in real life.

BeerMug Paladin
2014-10-14, 09:16 PM
Why do multiple races exist?

Because I want to be a catgirl, and, unfortunately, humans are not catgirls (or catboys, for that matter) in real life.
I never would've guessed!

In all seriousness, this is as good an explanation as any. I think lizardfolk, dragons, elves and a number of other fantasy critters are just generally provide a neat visual aesthetic.

I generally suspect that in a future with improved plastic surgery, we'll be seeing a lot of these running around in real life. I certainly wouldn't mind adding to such variety.

Scots Dragon
2014-10-15, 07:14 AM
The reason I think D&D has various non-human races can be summarised as such...

http://www.tolkien.it/images/tolkien_photo_c.jpg


That's the explanation for elves, dwarves, halflings, half-elves, orcs and half-orcs, at least.

Jay R
2014-10-15, 08:36 AM
Because Tolkien was so incredibly popular among the kind of people who would play D&D when it came out in 1974.

Gygax didn't even particularly like Tolkien, but of the five races mentioned in the first D&D game (including one mentioned only once in a side comment), two were Tolkien's inventions, two were elves & dwarves written to Tolkien's descriptions, and the other one was Men (not called humans yet).

TheCountAlucard
2014-10-15, 08:51 AM
Oh, look, a chance to plug that game I'm fanatical about. :smalltongue:

Haldir
2014-10-15, 10:47 AM
The reason I think D&D has various non-human races can be summarised as such...


That's the explanation for elves, dwarves, halflings, half-elves, orcs and half-orcs, at least.

The existence of those particular races predates Tolkien's work by appearing in mythologies.

Yora
2014-10-15, 11:16 AM
Yes, but he put them in, which is why it's now the default to have them.

Which I think is the reason for about 80% of all common elements in fantasy stories. He had reasons to include those things, pretty much everyone else is just copying it without knowing for what purpose.

Terraoblivion
2014-10-15, 11:46 AM
Most of this misses the point entirely, and the second paragraph makes no sense whatsoever, as there is no intelligible reason why long lifespans matter at all. So long as birthrates are at a workable level.

But yes, my answer does also pre-suppose that we want to create an internally consistent world, and most RPG worlds do function with changed physics. Many of them call it magic.

It also presupposes that said world includes evolution. Which is by no means a given for fantasy worlds and something I would hazard the guess that most don't. Nor is magic generally physical laws as we understand them, it's quite often weird and mystical and doesn't operate on the same type of rules as physics.

Also, long livespans are an evolutionary weakness, because it makes it take longer for a species to adapt to change. Incremental change over generations are a lot slower when it takes an average of 150 years for a member of the species to reproduce after it's born than if it takes two. This in turn means that the long-lived species will be very vulnerable to rapid environmental change unless it is a sapient, tool-using species...Which would still have to survive until that point.

Segev
2014-10-15, 01:48 PM
Most magical settings actually seem to presuppose Lamarkian evolution, as opposed to Darwinian. That is, creatures adapt to their environments throughout their lives, and that gets passed on to their next generation.

jedipotter
2014-10-15, 02:01 PM
The basic reason is, sadly, political correctness.

See we can talk about the drow all day long. They are evil, they kill their own children, worship an evil goddess, do acts of terrorism to surface elves and enslave others. And everyone is fine with that, as drow don't exist.

But to talk about real people, races and cultures? That is a big, NO!

Segev
2014-10-15, 02:34 PM
The basic reason is, sadly, political correctness.

See we can talk about the drow all day long. They are evil, they kill their own children, worship an evil goddess, do acts of terrorism to surface elves and enslave others. And everyone is fine with that, as drow don't exist.

But to talk about real people, races and cultures? That is a big, NO!

The most insidious racism in Western society these days is that which conflates race and culture. Just because a race is predominantly the practitioner of a culture doesn't mean that the race is inherently predisposed to it, nor incapable of growing up in or even choosing to join another one.

Having actually different races - in the RPG sense - changes this a bit; it is possible that honestly different races are inhuman enough to have ingrained, natural cultural tendencies. D&D usually doesn't bother making this distinction, but it's there. (Though even just the differing lifespans have some effect.)

Coidzor
2014-10-15, 02:43 PM
But why do people want to play as another race when they don't want to "be" that race? People play as "humans with pointy ears". Most don't care about all the cultural stuff.

You might as well ask "Why does anyone like Mickey Mouse (or, for Europeans, Donald Duck) without being a furry or otherkin?"

Non-furries can think that something is interesting or cool without having a yearning within our very cores to be that thing. The Japanese, for instance, are renowned as a culture for thinking that robots are the bee's knees. They are not known for wanting to actually be robots themselves. Now, this is just conjecture on my part, but I'd say that's probably because they're perfectly fine with being what they are and the world would lose something unique if we lost all of them.

Hell, lots of people of many different cultures around the world think robots are cool, but we're not all chomping at the bit to be like that one British guy who is obsessed with cybernetics to the point of being a human guinea pig to see how the body adapts to or rejects them.

Knaight
2014-10-15, 03:05 PM
The basic reason is, sadly, political correctness.

See we can talk about the drow all day long. They are evil, they kill their own children, worship an evil goddess, do acts of terrorism to surface elves and enslave others. And everyone is fine with that, as drow don't exist.

But to talk about real people, races and cultures? That is a big, NO!

Plenty of games also explicitly have distinct cultures, particularly those that don't introduce the fantasy races. Moreover, the literary and folklore traditions behind other species are very old. You've got anthropomorphic animals in varying degrees of humanized (animals which talk, humans with animal heads, etc.) in extremely ancient mythology. You've got aliens in early science fiction - take War of the Worlds as a classic example, and hardly the first. You've got Tolkein's work, but even before that there were staples in pre-Tolkein fantasy: heavily humanized lizards, intelligent apes closer to gorillas than any species in the homo genus, etc.

Moreover, in the context of RPGs, real people, races, and cultures are often not going to be directly in them anyways. There's a lot of fantasy that explicitly takes place in a fantasy world, with its own history. There's a lot of science fiction set way in the future, where the cultures there aren't extant ones at all. So on and so forth. Again, there's a literary tradition here. Early sword and sorcery generally was humanocentric, generally did focus heavily on cultures, and generally did use descriptions in terms of race. The cultures frequently weren't real ones at all.

In short, the "political correctness" hypothesis is completely out of line with the actual cultural data.

Rasch
2014-10-15, 03:15 PM
You might as well ask "Why does anyone like Mickey Mouse (or, for Europeans, Donald Duck) without being a furry or otherkin?"

Non-furries can think that something is interesting or cool without having a yearning within our very cores to be that thing. The Japanese, for instance, are renowned as a culture for thinking that robots are the bee's knees. They are not known for wanting to actually be robots themselves. Now, this is just conjecture on my part, but I'd say that's probably because they're perfectly fine with being what they are and the world would lose something unique if we lost all of them.

Hell, lots of people of many different cultures around the world think robots are cool, but we're not all chomping at the bit to be like that one British guy who is obsessed with cybernetics to the point of being a human guinea pig to see how the body adapts to or rejects them.

I've tried to clarify what I meant there afterwords, but I've just edited the post now:
I don't typically edit posts long after I've posted them, but everyone seems to get what I meant here completely wrong. When players choose to play as i.e. an elf, they do not actually do anything typically elven in game. They talk like everyone else, they eat the same food as everyone else, they do everything exactly like a human would. I just wanted to point this out, since everyone seems to think that I believe you need to need to have elf fantasies in real life, and are at the verge of doing plastic surgery to get pointy ears in real life. That's not what I'm trying to convey at all. It probably boils down to some of the stuff discussed here, like how it's hard for a DM to convey culture and that a lot of players are happily content with casual gaming.

Honest Tiefling
2014-10-15, 03:19 PM
Maybe your experiences are different. I keep seeing players of other races, in particular elves, try to out elf each other and make more and more fluff on how they different from measly and barbaric humans.

Rasch
2014-10-15, 03:22 PM
The basic reason is, sadly, political correctness.

See we can talk about the drow all day long. They are evil, they kill their own children, worship an evil goddess, do acts of terrorism to surface elves and enslave others. And everyone is fine with that, as drow don't exist.

But to talk about real people, races and cultures? That is a big, NO!


You might as well ask "Why does anyone like Mickey Mouse (or, for Europeans, Donald Duck) without being a furry or otherkin?"

Non-furries can think that something is interesting or cool without having a yearning within our very cores to be that thing. The Japanese, for instance, are renowned as a culture for thinking that robots are the bee's knees. They are not known for wanting to actually be robots themselves. Now, this is just conjecture on my part, but I'd say that's probably because they're perfectly fine with being what they are and the world would lose something unique if we lost all of them.

Hell, lots of people of many different cultures around the world think robots are cool, but we're not all chomping at the bit to be like that one British guy who is obsessed with cybernetics to the point of being a human guinea pig to see how the body adapts to or rejects them.

Like I mentioned earlier, there are a ton of discussions already on this, and it is really not where I hoped to go with this discussion. Quickly summarized though; There are a lot of people in the real world who see parallels to the real world, and are still offended by racial treatment in games.

I was kinda hoping this topic would steer back to what was intended, which is a discussion around what positive sides there are to different races/species in games, primarily focusing on how the enriches the playing experience.

Rasch
2014-10-15, 03:24 PM
Maybe your experiences are different. I keep seeing players of other races, in particular elves, try to out elf each other and make more and more fluff on how they different from measly and barbaric humans.

That's very cool. I've never actually seen that happen. My experience is that games with humans only feels exactly the same as games with a party of many races. I.e. people only treat race as a +2 to some stat and a few extra combat goodies, and that's it.

Honest Tiefling
2014-10-15, 03:45 PM
Actually, it got into the realm of annoying at time when the elves were trying to out elf each other all of the time. Maybe a better question is, what can people build on to attempt to make a not-so-human character, and what can be written into fluff and crunch to help this along?

Knaight
2014-10-15, 03:53 PM
That's very cool. I've never actually seen that happen. My experience is that games with humans only feels exactly the same as games with a party of many races. I.e. people only treat race as a +2 to some stat and a few extra combat goodies, and that's it.

Systems can really help here. Take Burning Wheel - there are race specific mechanics that provide a strong incentive to engage in activities appropriate to the cultures. Specifically, there's Grief, Greed, and Hate, for Elves, Dwarves, and Orcs respectively. It does a fair bit.

Yora
2014-10-15, 04:36 PM
Moreover, in the context of RPGs, real people, races, and cultures are often not going to be directly in them anyways. There's a lot of fantasy that explicitly takes place in a fantasy world, with its own history. There's a lot of science fiction set way in the future, where the cultures there aren't extant ones at all. So on and so forth. Again, there's a literary tradition here. Early sword and sorcery generally was humanocentric, generally did focus heavily on cultures, and generally did use descriptions in terms of race. The cultures frequently weren't real ones at all.
I think an important difference that started with Tolkien is treating nonhumans as being at roughly the same level as humans. In Middle-Earth, Humans and Elves can live together in the same settlement or even families, and Dwarves and Hobbits visit each other for some tea and biscuits.
Unless I am mistaken, outside the Tolkienesque style, nonhumans were either subhuman, savage primitives or alien spirits. Howards serpentment, Lovecrafts deep ones, and folkloristic elves were not human-like at all except for their body structure. And even that only served to disguise the fact that they are actually intelligent monsters. The idea of seeing eye to eye with these creatures in a relationship of mutual respect was completely out of the questions. Even in cultures where humanoid spirits are seen as benevolent or indifferent, it appears to be the normal reaction for people to stay away from them if possible, because there was just way too much that could go wrong when interacting with them, with humans always being in the much more vulnerable position.

Jay R
2014-10-15, 05:05 PM
The existence of those particular races predates Tolkien's work by appearing in mythologies.

True, and in many different forms. But the PC races in original D&D were exactly those races that made up the Fellowship of the Ring - Men, Elves, Dwarves, and Hobbits. The game also included Balrogs, ents, mithril, and cloaks that worked like Tolkien's. In an article in The Dragon #3, Durin's race was explicitly mentioned.

There was no question in anybody's mind what the PC races were based on when the game first came out. The nine members of the Fellowship of the Ring were on our minds when we set up our parties.


Footnote: Yes, Gandalf is one of the Maiar, not one of the other four races in the Fellowship, but the Silmarillion had just come out a year earlier, and people hadn't really processed that fact yet.

Honest Tiefling
2014-10-15, 05:08 PM
That, and I doubt that the DnD elves match up with the folklore unless there's some sort of prestige class centered around child kidnapping that I missed.

mephnick
2014-10-15, 05:13 PM
The existence of those particular races predates Tolkien's work by appearing in mythologies.

Never in a positive or co-operative image though. Elves, dwarves, gnomes etc were always pranksters or enemies in traditional folklore.

Can you name a work pre-Tolkien, where elves, dwarves and men worked together for a common goal? That's what led to RPGs having multiple PC races.

jedipotter
2014-10-15, 06:33 PM
I was kinda hoping this topic would steer back to what was intended, which is a discussion around what positive sides there are to different races/species in games, primarily focusing on how the enriches the playing experience.

Ok, so you want to ignore the reality part, got it.


When players choose to play as i.e. an elf, they do not actually do anything typically elven in game. They talk like everyone else, they eat the same food as everyone else, they do everything exactly like a human would.

The problem here is that most people think everyone is alike, you know in the ''thing'' we are not talking about. So when people think this way *** ****, they of course, make the fantasy just like that. So humans, elves and orcs are all the same. Everyone is all the same. They don't want to admit that ''people are different'' even for pretend.

Now, in the game, you can't really have the races too different from humans as then they won't interact or get along. Just take humans: humans are obsessed with value. They live their lives around the concept of ''how much value'' something has, and this leads to money and economy. Tell a human to do something, and the first thing they worry about is ''the cost''. A human needs something of value in trade for his time or help. A human will stand by and let all sorts of bad things happen as ''the cost is too much''. So now take elves. Lets say the elves have no concept of value( or money or cost), they just do what is right. Well, now the two societies can't interact as they are extremely different.

Most RPG's use a money standard, like gold. Every race agrees to the standard. Why? Because the game world can't function if one race thinks ''item A'' is of value, and ''item B'' is not.

Dimers
2014-10-15, 10:42 PM
That's very cool. I've never actually seen that happen. My experience is that games with humans only feels exactly the same as games with a party of many races. I.e. people only treat race as a +2 to some stat and a few extra combat goodies, and that's it.

Oh, heck, in that case -- read this ongoing PbP campaign (http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?318466-4E-A-City-Alone-IC-I). The warforged, kreen, gnoll and kenku are all quite clearly driven by racial tendencies and imperatives, and even the dragonborn does things that humans typically can't.* (It helps to know that gnolls age very quickly, so everything about this one's impatience is driven by racial reasoning. Gotta do what you can while you're still alive!)

Dunno if you're familiar with PbP etiquette, so let me add -- please do NOT post in game threads, which are for players only. But feel free to drop some PMs if you like what you see!

* The dragonborn also emphasizes the other PCs' racial traits himself, IC.

Arbane
2014-10-15, 11:08 PM
Ok, so you want to ignore the reality part, got it.
Because we must have REALISM in our games about elves, wizards, and fire-breathing dragons!


The problem here is that most people think everyone is alike, you know in the ''thing'' we are not talking about. So when people think this way *** ****, they of course, make the fantasy just like that. So humans, elves and orcs are all the same. Everyone is all the same. They don't want to admit that ''people are different'' even for pretend.

I think that in the case of D&D that has a lot more to do with D&D's absence of ANY mechanical support for role-playing beyond having alignments.


Most RPG's use a money standard, like gold. Every race agrees to the standard. Why? Because the game world can't function if one race thinks ''item A'' is of value, and ''item B'' is not.

Sure it can. It'll just likely turn into a Merchant Simulator pretty quickly, and D&D handles economics about as well as it handles medical problems via Hit Points. (Which is to say, vastly oversimplified for the sake of making the game playable.)

Sartharina
2014-10-15, 11:15 PM
I think that in the case of D&D that has a lot more to do with D&D's absence of ANY mechanical support for role-playing beyond having alignments.I take it you haven't read the currently-relevant Player's Handbook, then?

Aedilred
2014-10-15, 11:40 PM
I take it you haven't read the currently-relevant Player's Handbook, then?

Which currently-relevant Player's Handbook?

Sartharina
2014-10-16, 12:37 AM
Which currently-relevant Player's Handbook?

The one that isn't out of print.

TheOOB
2014-10-16, 12:46 AM
Differing races occure in RPGs because D&D did it, and D&D did it because Tolkien did it. The RPG industry is built on a mountain of tradition that goes very deep.

For my 2cp, I see fantasy races as being useful to portray a setting where people of other races/cultures are seen as strange or alien or even dangerous, when we ourself live in a society where other cultures are (usually/hopefully) seen as people just like us. The Romans didn't see the nrthern tribes as people like them, they were barbarians to be conquered(or be conquered by), and in fantasy it's easier to call them orcs then call then a different race of humans.

Note that most RPG's don't have racial selection as a major component to the game.

Coidzor
2014-10-16, 01:46 AM
The one that isn't out of print.

Then you need to think about your word choice better in the future, because that was woefully inadequate on your part.

D2R
2014-10-16, 01:54 AM
Now, in the game, you can't really have the races too different from humans as then they won't interact or get along. Just take humans: humans are obsessed with value. They live their lives around the concept of ''how much value'' something has, and this leads to money and economy. Tell a human to do something, and the first thing they worry about is ''the cost''. A human needs something of value in trade for his time or help. A human will stand by and let all sorts of bad things happen as ''the cost is too much''. So now take elves. Lets say the elves have no concept of value( or money or cost), they just do what is right. Well, now the two societies can't interact as they are extremely different.

Most RPG's use a money standard, like gold. Every race agrees to the standard. Why? Because the game world can't function if one race thinks ''item A'' is of value, and ''item B'' is not.

I have very similar ideas. However, I fail to see any fundamental problem with that other than, well, laziness of the designers who are hesitant to create races that *are* fundamentally different in this way. It is understandable, however, because it requires an in-depth knowledge of psychology, economy, history, ethnology, ethology and so many other things to predict how such social systems would work, evolve and interact with other cultures, at least semi-believably. And there is no guarantee that such approach would be praised by the potential audience. While potentially an extremely interesting setting may be the result.

On the contrary, following the already well established pattern "humans are warlike conquerors, elves are naturalistic forest-dwellers, dwarfs live in caves and are darn good smiths, and all of them are money-loving sons of bitches" requires nothing of that. Maybe the only significant modification made to this "canon" is the additional trope "elves and / or all demi-humans are a discriminated minority and humans (at least some of them) are racist sons of bitches". But that also doesn't require much elaboration as history gives some very readily available analogues, such as the Amerindians (for forest-dwelling people) or the Jews (for city-dwelling merchant folk).

Even slightly more obscure historical settings are yet to be discovered, and it is still very rare to depict elves or other demi-humans being as diverse as humans (which, by the way, is a proof that the demi-humans are treated just as "the other, slightly different humans" embodying one singular trait - not completely different alien species with their own internal cultural varieties). Maybe one the most honest attempts known to me are the Khadjiits and the Argonians from the Elder Scrolls 'verse. E.g., the Kahdjiits are described as not having the concept of "private property" (which however doesn't prevent them from being merchant quite often in-game), and the Argonians are described as completely alien in any sense of the word, amphibious and physiologically connected to sentient Hiss trees. However, their themes are yet to be fully discovered in this setting. And in-game, they are more or less human-like in behavior, most differences are just mentioned in the in-game books (which is partially justified by the fact that the player is interacting with the more human-like sub-species of them).

Personally, I decided for myself that my home-brewed settings would be human-only, because humans are enough to express any ideas I'd like to or to engage any or styles of gameplay I may need. And giving them cultures truly different from the "de-facto standard" is a challenge by itself. I tried, and just didn't feel capable enough, to create completely different species with unique behavior patterns, ethics and lifestyles.

Segev
2014-10-16, 08:56 AM
The problem with "humans are obsessed with value, but elves just do the right thing," is that you're (hopefully unintentionally) obscuring the fact that "the right thing" is just another measure of "value." Heck, unless you're evil or TN in alignment, you probably consider whatever measure of value you assign to be "the right thing." Lawful people will see "doing one's duty" and "serving one's culture" and tradition and often honor as "the right thing." Good people will see "helping others" and "working hard to support those who need it" and sometimes even "showing tough love to help somebody out of a self-destructive path" as "the right thing." Chaotic people will see "respecting others' freedom" and "protecting against those who'd impose external tyranny" and "being fair and even-handed in dealing with others as individuals" as "the right thing."

Not all of these are compatible, and not all will be agreed to as "the right thing" by all people.

Successful races - those that don't live in squalor and/or die out due to lack of necessary resources - will always respect value. Value, at its core, is a measure of utility, and valuing things of value is critical to an individual, as well as a species, being driven to create more things of value from things of lesser value in order to maximize survival.

Therefore, to make "alien" races that have different apparent values and drives than humans, you have to change their fundamental needs. You can do this lightly by altering their preferences on the higher levels of the hierarchy of needs - perhaps they find beauty in things other than what humans do, or they lack the sensitivity to differentiate "comfort" from "not harmful." The higher up the hierarchy you alter preferences, the more human they'll seem - the more relatable they'll be. The more fundamental their differing needs are, the more alien they will be.

Vampires are pretty alien and terrifying because their basic needs include human blood, which automatically shifts their priorities into at least tension with those of humankind. If it need not be fatal, the differences can be worked out, but that's a core difference that makes vampires distinct on a level of value. They value our blood at least as much as we do...and to them, it's a commodity rather than something we happen to have and wish to protect.

Elves and Dwarves - as D&D tends to depict them - are mostly different on the highest levels. They live longer, so their priorities tend to be a little different in the short-term (and their definition of short-term is quite a bit off from most humans'). But moreover, elves start at the most nature-loving of humans' aesthetic preferences. That's their average of what they appreciate in beauty. They go more and less by the individual, but the most urbane of elves is likely to be less impressed by New York City than the most urbane of humans. Similarly, dwarves put an even higher value on the appearance of wealth and the appreciation of fine craftsmanship than do humans.

But they're highly relatable because they are aspects of human culture writ larger than life. At their core, they eat and breathe and need shelter and crave families.

Render elves more innately magical, with all of them able to use magic to meet needs humans must struggle with, and you can make them more alien. Deny them some other capability humans have just for being human, but leave the need for what that innate capability provides, and they become more alien as their culture bends around producing substance to meet that need.

In one game setting, I had elves be literally incapable of sleep, but not have an innate capability to commit things to long-term memory without it any more than do humans. Elves developed their meditation cycles to compensate, but until their children learn to meditate, they don't learn nearly as fast as do humans. They stay infantile and childish for much longer because they truly aren't learning. Since meditation is, itself, learned, this is almost a Catch-22. But they can be shown how to do it for brief moments, and use that time to commit that lesson...and eventually figure out meditation as a whole.

This is a minor thing, but it does help shape a more distinct race. Tweak it further, and one could make elves more inhuman.

jedipotter
2014-10-16, 10:12 AM
The problem with "humans are obsessed with value, but elves just do the right thing," is that you're (hopefully unintentionally) obscuring the fact that "the right thing" is just another measure of "value."

I was trying to point out a culture that had no concept of human value. Such a culture would have no money, no sense of ownership and no mentality where people put costs on anything. So some people grow food, and just take it to the center spot for others to take and use. And all other people do the same. And even though a person did not ''own'' the house they lived in, they did not have to worry as no one would ever want to take or ''own'' their house.

But if you have a typical greedy human culture right next door.....then the elven lands would fall apart.

You get the same problems with alignment or whatever the game uses for good or bad. Most people(and most people who write game books too) are going to say ''killing is evil'', And this is fine as most games believe this too. But then it puts huge limits on the way races in the game can act. The player races need to be good, and the bad guy races need to be evil.

So you can't have good elves that are arrogant and kill anyone who speaks to them without permission. The rules would say ''the elves like that must be evil''. You can't have good dwarves that ''go crazy'' when they see a female alone and will attack and kill her. You can't have good halflings that say ''anyone over four feet tall is not a person and can be killed like an animal''.

D2R
2014-10-16, 10:50 AM
Successful races - those that don't live in squalor and/or die out due to lack of necessary resources - will always respect value. Value, at its core, is a measure of utility, and valuing things of value is critical to an individual, as well as a species, being driven to create more things of value from things of lesser value in order to maximize survival.

Well, actually I would disagree on this.

First of all, the very statement seems to be fundamentally wrong, because obsession with "value" naturally comes from the very "lack of necessary resources". If the resources were limitless and readily available, they would not have any value at all. Sunlight has no value, unless you get locked up in a dungeon, while its utility is difficult to underestimate. The more "successful" civilization becomes, the less value it would put into material goods, as a rule. You are mixing value and utility. Utility is and objective usefulness of something, and value is the subjective evaluation of what something is "worth", which differs greatly between people. People who live in better conditions (= farther from natural conditions) tend to value things of pure utility less. E.g., food is of great value in developing countries of Africa - but not so much in the US or Europe, where only tasteful or intricately cooked or "fashionable" food is of value. They also tend to create things, both material and immaterial, which are of great value to them, but of less objective utility. On the contrary, a piece of high-tech equipment would be of no value to people who have no access to electricity and the Internet, or to market to sell it. Even if they know that some other people put great value in such things.

Utility and value are just not directly related to each other, they are different concepts.

Second, there are different definitions of value, but jedipotter most likely meant "monetary value" = "cost". This is not an inherently human concept - just the opposite, many people didn't have it until very recent times. E.g., peasants of most preindustrial cultures believed that the land is a common property of humankind, "no one's" or simply "God's", and didn't have the very concept of private property on land, selling and buying it, etc. That doesn't mean they didn't value land or its utility - quite the contrary ! But it didn't have monetary value to them, they were not land owners in the legal sense of this word - just were working on the same plot of land which was recognized as "their" by the local community for generations. The only place they were dealing with monetary values of things was the market, and often they didn't interact with "the larger world" directly. Not the least to avoid "contamination" with such concepts. Such cultures may put a lot of value in e.g. gold, even killing people to get it, but they valued not its monetary value - the ability to be exchanged for some other goods - which is non-existent to them, but its beauty. This approach lasted until XIX-XX century in many cultures where most people were engaged in subsistence farming, and the elites were mostly warriors or priests.

Europeans call such cultures "primitive" for their lack of technological and cultural development, but subsistence farming combined with magic can support quite a developed culture... without *any* economy to speak of and, therefore, no concept of monetary value. So, it is absolutely possible to imagine a civilization which doesn't have or use the concept of monetary value without altering the basic needs of its people, especially in fantasy. E.g., every local community is absolutely self-sufficient and doesn't need trade or material exchange of any kind, but still is developed enough to be relatively invulnerable to natural disasters or invaders. They may still communicate with their neighbors, well, just for fun and exchange of ideas/genetic material/whatever, and be susceptible to things like conflicts and wars (not for material goods, but for other things they value, either sympathetic to humans - like freedom or justice - or not so sympathetic, maybe even sinister; it is possible to imagine a culture obsessed with procreation above all, for example, who, being not limited in resources, would have conflicts for sexual partners or even progeny; or have very strange concept of "justice" from human point of view).

And if we're speaking of a non-human civilization, it may be absolutely "immune" to such things as economy and money, even if introduced to the concepts (the history of humankind shows that such concepts are international so far, but that doesn't necessarily applies to different species; at least dolphins seem to be immune to such concepts, while at least semi-intelligent - e.g. you can't *make* them do something they don't want to, by offering them more food than they can eat at a time; with them either cruelty or using their natural desire to play are effective, they principally don't understand "economy" of any kind; by the way, a civilization based on the same principle as dolphin society is pretty imaginable). That would be just humans' curious ethnographic tradition to them. In such a setting, humans may be different in that economy came first, magic - second, and magic got completely consumed by economy, being used primarily to create costly things (not even necessarily useful).

And that is only the first thing which comes to mind.

Segev
2014-10-16, 11:22 AM
I was trying to point out a culture that had no concept of human value. Such a culture would have no money, no sense of ownership and no mentality where people put costs on anything. So some people grow food, and just take it to the center spot for others to take and use. And all other people do the same. And even though a person did not ''own'' the house they lived in, they did not have to worry as no one would ever want to take or ''own'' their house. Okay. But this culture you are thinking of...what becomes of those who don't feel like growing food? Maybe they are entertainers, who put on plays and other productions! Surely, this is worth enough that they should be allowed to take a share of the food put in the common store.

But what if nobody likes their productions? Nobody comes to see them? They just keep taking goods from the common stores to support themselves and get props and stage items, but nobody likes them. Should they be allowed to keep taking?

What if they are really hungry and take a lot? Or what if more people want to put on more plays and productions, so there are fewer and fewer farmers putting food in while there are still the same number taking food out?

Food is a scarce commodity, and therefore has value. A culture with literally no concept of value would not comprehend this, and would not be able to understand the link between number of farmers farming and amount of food in the store.

Without a concept of value, it becomes impossible to measure whether a given activity is worth doing. Whether that or something else should be done with the time and effort required.


But if you have a typical greedy human culture right next door.....then the elven lands would fall apart. It's not about greed. It's about scarcity. You don't need the alien humans next door; you just need elves who do something other than farm. Without a way to measure the value of their activities, it becomes impossible to tell if what they're doing is sponging off of the work of the farmers, or is a useful activity that actually increases the overall quality of life of the elven community. SOME metric of value must exist for the society to function.

First of all, the very statement seems to be fundamentally wrong, because obsession with "value" naturally comes from the very "lack of necessary resources".No, not really. It comes from scarcity of resources, necessary or not. If more people want stuff than there is stuff to be had, it is of higher value. If they NEED it rather than just WANT it, it is of higher value still, as NEED is just a higher value of WANT than WANT is.


If the resources were limitless and readily available, they would not have any value at all. Sunlight has no value, unless you get locked up in a dungeon, while its utility is difficult to underestimate. The more "successful" civilization becomes, the less value it would put into material goods, as a rule.More or less granted, but it doesn't change the point. I'm not going to quote directly, but you go on to talk about value vs. utility and how what is valuable to one group in one circumstance is different than what is valuable to another group in a different circumstance. This is true. Especially where you measure wealth by how many of your basic needs are met or exceeded, and by how much.

That doesn't stop resources from being scarce; they still must be produced, which takes time and effort, and there is still a finite amount. You may or may not want more than you have; if not, you won't be swayed by the offer of more. But that doesn't change that as long as somebody would be willing to take more if it were offered, it has value. Until you are producing so much of something that literally nobody could possibly want enough of it to deny anybody else their complete surfeit, it is scarce to a degree sufficient that it has value.

This includes things which must be continually produced. Even if you can produce enough that nobody wants for it, if you stopped producing it, it would become scarce again. Thus, the cost of continual production is met by continual payment for its value. If only because people stop making so much if they don't get rewarded for the extra effort. This isn't greed; this is optimization. They can do more to benefit themselves and society as a whole by spending the time they would be spending on "free" labor to make this stuff on something that is scarcer.



Second, there are different definitions of value, but jedipotter most likely meant "monetary value" = "cost". This is not an inherently human concept - just the opposite, many people didn't have it until very recent times. E.g., peasants of most preindustrial cultures believed that the land is a common property of humankind, "no one's" or simply "God's", and didn't have the very concept of private property on land, selling and buying it, etc. That doesn't mean they didn't value land or its utility - quite the contrary ! But it didn't have monetary value to them, they were not land owners in the legal sense of this word - just were working on the same plot of land which was recognized as "their" by the local community for generations.This is...not wholly accurate. They recognized the value of the land. They would even have recognized a barter value for it: offer them enough that they could guarantee a better life for themselves, free of fear of hunger and violence, and they'd give you their farm and land...usually. (Some place emotional value on things, which is a lot harder to measure.)

Peasants were often serfs, and worked because if they didn't, not only would they starve, but they would be beaten.

Defending "their" land, too, was vitally important. Farmers and herdsmen got very testy - often even violent - when another encroached on their land. They needed that land for their crops and livestock.

Money is a medium of exchange, nothing more. It's a fungible good. Barter systems often have de facto currency in the form of the smallest-value item most frequently bartered. Rice was common in Asia, for example, amongst those who didn't have wealth. Even in the mid-1900s in America, we had a de facto currency in our postage stamps; kids would frequently use them to buy things at general stores because they had a known agreed-upon value. But it was technically barter.

To say that peasants didn't understand value and money is not true. They had little use for money per se because denominations were too large in value for them to really buy anything they needed in quantities they could use. Let alone sell anything they had for even the lowest of those quantities. But they knew of it and understood that it made life easier to have more of it.



Such cultures may put a lot of value in e.g. gold, even killing people to get it, but they valued not its monetary value - the ability to be exchanged for some other goods - which is non-existent to them, but its beauty. This approach lasted until XIX-XX century in many cultures where most people were engaged in subsistence farming, and the elites were mostly warriors or priests. Now you're conflating a few things. Gold was valuable because it's pretty and rare. Scarcity made it a status symbol to have it, and fungibility made it a valid medium of exchange. Salt was similarly used. (Roman soldiers were paid in salt, for example.)

Warriors led societies in ancient times precisely because EVERYBODY recognized value in scarce items, and there were many - most of the world, in fact - who would TAKE through force what they could from those who could not defend it. They wanted the scarce resource, and violence was easier than creating/harvesting it, themselves. The rulers were the violent ones who realized that they could not just take from others, but could protect their own...and make others directly work for them in return for protecting their stuff from anybody but themselves.

Value is intrinsic, there. Even mindless animals recognize it. They take from each other even up to their own lives.

I don't really know where you're coming from with dolphins. They're NOT as intelligent as humans, and, despite being friendly towards humans for some reason, they're horribly violent buggers to each other and especially to other marine life. They have things they value for scarcity, and I think territory is amongst the biggest of them, given how viciously they drive certain other kinds of marine life away from their turf.

Scots Dragon
2014-10-16, 11:54 AM
The existence of those particular races predates Tolkien's work by appearing in mythologies.

Yes, but Tolkien used them in a series of stories that were tremendously popular and practically helped to define the fantasy genre as we understand it. The reason elves and dwarves are present as creatures in Dungeons & Dragons is that they were in mythology, but the reason elves and dwarves are playable alongside humans is largely because of Tolkien.

In addition the halflings and orcs were largely invented whole-cloth by Tolkien. The words existed, but the exact meaning and concept did not.

Haldir
2014-10-16, 11:58 AM
It also presupposes that said world includes evolution. Which is by no means a given for fantasy worlds and something I would hazard the guess that most don't. Nor is magic generally physical laws as we understand them, it's quite often weird and mystical and doesn't operate on the same type of rules as physics.

Also, long livespans are an evolutionary weakness, because it makes it take longer for a species to adapt to change. Incremental change over generations are a lot slower when it takes an average of 150 years for a member of the species to reproduce after it's born than if it takes two. This in turn means that the long-lived species will be very vulnerable to rapid environmental change unless it is a sapient, tool-using species...Which would still have to survive until that point.

Your arbitrary distinction between magic and physics saddens me. Especially the part where one gets to be rules for how matter-energy changes state and the other doesn't get to be rules for how matter-energy changes state.

Also you're quite confused on how evolution works. Longevity doesn't relate to fitness at all, even if it did, we're still discussing timeframes that are insignificant next to the rate of evolution. As I said, as long as birthrates stay up, everything is fine.

Terraoblivion
2014-10-16, 12:12 PM
Your arbitrary distinction between magic and physics saddens me. Especially the part where one gets to be rules for how matter-energy changes state and the other doesn't get to be rules for how matter-energy changes state.

Also you're quite confused on how evolution works. Longevity doesn't relate to fitness at all, even if it did, we're still discussing timeframes that are insignificant next to the rate of evolution. As I said, as long as birthrates stay up, everything is fine.

Magic and physics are distinct because they're presented as such in how they're used narratively and how they're studied. I know there is a certain trend in modern fantasy of treating magic as physics, but that's hardly the only approach taken in writing fiction. It's not even the most common, even currently. Your conflation of them suggests a rather shallow understanding of both. Also, magic and physics being rough analogues have nothing to do with whether or not fantasy worlds have evolution or if that evolution would produce multiple sapient, tool-using species that coexist about as peacefully as humans on Earth. Those are completely arbitrary assertions that you haven't even attempted to back up. They also run into the fact that quite a few fantasy worlds explicitly present origins of life that aren't based on evolution.

And you clearly haven't followed even the slightest discussion of evolution among biologists. The idea that it's something glacial that takes tens of thousands of years isn't current at all. The timing of snowshoe rabbits changing fur from brown summer fur to white winter fur has moved by a couple of weeks over the last two or three decades, for example. Elves literally can't do that, they don't reach maturity for more than a century and it'll take at least a couple thousand years for them to go through as many generations as the rabbits have in a couple of decades and climates can change dramatically on that timeframe, even without magic. Three thousand years ago Greece was covered in verdant forests and a mere four hundred years ago temperatures were notably colder than they were six hundred years ago (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Ice_Age). If a single generation takes 150 years to reproduce it would be quite at risk in the face of rapid climate change before developing tools and that kind of climate change is well-documented throughout the history of Earth.

cobaltstarfire
2014-10-16, 12:22 PM
It really doesn't do to compare a species of animal that has fast generations to a species of animal that has long ones. Doubly so since one is an intelligent, tool using species that isn't as much at the mercy of changes in the overal environment like a wild animal is.

I really doubt that the elves would go extinct just because the climate suddenly got warmer or colder for example. They're either going to move, or change their clothing/habits/buildings in response to something like that. In a world without magic, anything that could extinct elves would probably also extinct humans.

Gracht Grabmaw
2014-10-16, 12:25 PM
That, and I doubt that the DnD elves match up with the folklore unless there's some sort of prestige class centered around child kidnapping that I missed.

They do when I'm running the game.

I think non-human characters and especially player characters are important for keeping the world fantastical and weird. The worst sin you can commit in fantasy is to have your players think everyone and everythink thinks and acts in understandable human terms because it shouldn't. Not that it shouldn't make any sense at all, but it doesn't have to make sense to humans because they aren't humans.

Terraoblivion
2014-10-16, 12:36 PM
I really doubt that the elves would go extinct just because the climate suddenly got warmer or colder for example. They're either going to move, or change their clothing/habits/buildings in response to something like that. In a world without magic, anything that could extinct elves would probably also extinct humans.

I'd like to point out that if we assume evolution, elves didn't come into being as a tool-using species, they needed to learn to make them. Going by human evolution, that takes a very, very long time and humanity for all it's hardiness, resilience and adaptability almost went extinct due to climate change once, around 70,000 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toba_catastrophe_theory) years ago.

Segev
2014-10-16, 12:56 PM
I'm going to try coming at it from a different angle, rather than more point-counterpoint. I stand by my claim that all sentient things understand value. However, you can make them distinct by changing WHAT they value. On the most fundamental level, they all must value survival, whether of themselves or their culture/family/species. How they measure the elements that contribute to that should reflect the obvious things they must consider scarce. To humans, oxygen is not scarce. So we don't really value it in the sense that we measure its consumption or fight over access to it, as a general rule.

Change what a race needs for basic survival, and change what they find scarce versus what they find plentiful, and you will make them alien.

As we move up the hierarchy of needs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs) past base survival, we also gain freedom to change the ordering of the needs in that hierarchy. Physiological needs and safety pretty much have to come first, simply because failure to value those things leads to demise of self and species and culture. But the rest... Self-actualization, esteem, and love/family can be shuffled around.

A particularly individualistic species - for example, dragons - might value self-actualization right after personal safety. Then esteem of others, and only then would they care about family and love.

It is possible that some races, in the right environments with other races, could even put safety after esteem: physiological needs still come first, but halflings might value being thought well of and thinking well of themselves even more than they value personal safety and safety of their belongings. They can get away with this by dwelling amongst races which value safety and have moral codes which forbid them to take advantage of that esteem to convince the halflings to throw their safety away suicidally for aprobation. Perhaps orcs share that proclivity, but they take esteem from the respect of others, and thus throw safety to the wind in the name of honor and glory and being seen as tough.

A race capable of simply conjuring food, but which couldn't keep warm would value fire wood and other flammable substances and sources of constant heat.

cobaltstarfire
2014-10-16, 02:17 PM
I'd like to point out that if we assume evolution, elves didn't come into being as a tool-using species, they needed to learn to make them. Going by human evolution, that takes a very, very long time and humanity for all it's hardiness, resilience and adaptability almost went extinct due to climate change once, around 70,000 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toba_catastrophe_theory) years ago.

If you want to assume evolution you shouldn't assume the elves and their ancestors has always been a long lived species either.

Jay R
2014-10-16, 02:35 PM
In retrospect, I feel a bit silly having tried to demonstrate the pervasiveness of Tolkien's influence in a thread involving screen names like "Haldir" and "Narsil".

Terraoblivion
2014-10-16, 02:47 PM
If you want to assume evolution you shouldn't assume the elves and their ancestors has always been a long lived species either.

If elves were to evolve long lifespans after becoming an advanced tool-using society, they'd either have to do invention at a positively glacial pace, bringing all the evolutionary weaknesses of long lives with them, or they'd have had to evolve major alterations to their physiology and metabolism in a few thousand years, or a couple dozen generations, at most. That seems even more absurd.

Just face it, fantasy isn't based on biology and elves don't make any goddamn sense if looked at through the lense of evolution. And that's okay, there is no reason to demand that all fiction contains evolution, especially fiction that specifically seeks to deal with the fantastic.

Yora
2014-10-16, 02:48 PM
Longer life becomes more useful to species that are either very big, or make us of and teach aquired skills. If a person can stay in shape enough to be able to use all the learned skills, it's more efficient for the species to keep adults alive as long as possible instead of counting on replacing losses with new children that need to be educated and trained again.

On a genetic level, you could basically have humans whose cells are much better at repairing DNA that gets damaged during cell division. Some simple animals are astonishingly good at it, but their DNA isn't neccessarily "smaller" (some very primitive organisms have very complex DNA that does almost nothing, while some very complex animals have all their relevant genes on quite small numbers of chromosomes). If you have one mutation (in reality, it usually the interplay of several altered genes that just one) for better cell repair and another mutation for pointy ears, elves and humans could still be 99,999% genetically identical and have the same number of chromosomes, which would make half-elves completely viable. (After all, homo sapiens and neanderthal appear to have been able to interbred just fine.)
The only thing to look out for when making elves evolutionary relatives of humans, is to make them fully grown after about 25 years. Growing up even slower than humans already do with basically the same brain and nervous system doesn't provide any evolutionary benefit and would instead be a significant burden. A slowed degredation of bones, muscles, brains, and so on would not in any way require that the person grows up slower to full maturity. (Even with reduced cell degredation and avoidance of cancer from improved reliability of cell devision, you still would probably need a few more mutations that work against the buildup of harmful molecules in the body over decades. Alzheimer is suspected to be caused by something like this instead of the brain "just getting old".)

Sartharina
2014-10-16, 03:14 PM
Okay. But this culture you are thinking of...what becomes of those who don't feel like growing food? Maybe they are entertainers, who put on plays and other productions! Surely, this is worth enough that they should be allowed to take a share of the food put in the common store.Outside of D&D, Elves don't need food, sleep, shelter, clothes, or any other 'primary need' that drives humans - at least not to a degree that's more than trivial to acquire. They live in a non-scarcity society, and feel superior for it because they don't have to resort to taking from others because they don't need anything themselves.

jedipotter
2014-10-16, 03:19 PM
Okay. But this culture you are thinking of...what becomes of those who don't feel like growing food? Maybe they are entertainers, who put on plays and other productions! Surely, this is worth enough that they should be allowed to take a share of the food put in the common store.

But what if nobody likes their productions? Nobody comes to see them? They just keep taking goods from the common stores to support themselves and get props and stage items, but nobody likes them. Should they be allowed to keep taking?

Well, now see this is projecting human thinking onto everything(worse modern day thinking). The statement: Everyone must be free to do whatever they want with their life, does not have to be true.

I'd say such a culture would not promote ''artist'' as a full time job. It would be more part time. But then too, in a magical world, like say the default D&D world, and bard can have an unseen servant do their daily workload too.



What if they are really hungry and take a lot? Or what if more people want to put on more plays and productions, so there are fewer and fewer farmers putting food in while there are still the same number taking food out?

This would not be a problem as everyone would be good, decent people. The same way some neighborhoods have newspaper boxes where you put money in, open the door, and take a paper...but there is nothing stopping you from talking two, three, or all the newspapers. Yet...in some neighborhoods, it just does not happen.



Food is a scarce commodity, and therefore has value. A culture with literally no concept of value would not comprehend this, and would not be able to understand the link between number of farmers farming and amount of food in the store. Without a concept of value, it becomes impossible to measure whether a given activity is worth doing. Whether that or something else should be done with the time and effort required.

Though your still stuck on ''the human way is the only way''.

Arbane
2014-10-16, 08:15 PM
If elves were to evolve long lifespans after becoming an advanced tool-using society, they'd either have to do invention at a positively glacial pace, bringing all the evolutionary weaknesses of long lives with them, or they'd have had to evolve major alterations to their physiology and metabolism in a few thousand years, or a couple dozen generations, at most. That seems even more absurd.

I like an idea someone on RPGnet came up with: Elves are the result of an ancient wizard's association's try at transhumanism. Elves are everything they valued: Intelligent, magical, long-lived, and good-looking. Being physically tough was not on their list of priorities.

Terraoblivion
2014-10-16, 08:30 PM
That is pretty great, yeah. Basically there are dozens of good reasons for why elves exist. Evolution just isn't one of them.

Segev
2014-10-17, 10:09 AM
Well, now see this is projecting human thinking onto everything(worse modern day thinking). The statement: Everyone must be free to do whatever they want with their life, does not have to be true.

I'd say such a culture would not promote ''artist'' as a full time job. It would be more part time. But then too, in a magical world, like say the default D&D world, and bard can have an unseen servant do their daily workload too.So the solution for this hypothetical race would be slavery: some higher power dictates what you will do with your time, and can enforce that you will do so to the best of your ability. In return, you get what this higher power decides you need.

Don't get me wrong; this CAN work if the mindset is one of completely subordination of the individual to the group AND the higher, decision-making power is truly wise enough to know what is needed by each individual and to prioritize the resources where they're most needed with near-complete information. It would be distinctly alien, however, and would require a collective consciousness on some level. It would also treat many of its individual members as quite disposable. See: ants.




This would not be a problem as everyone would be good, decent people. The same way some neighborhoods have newspaper boxes where you put money in, open the door, and take a paper...but there is nothing stopping you from talking two, three, or all the newspapers. Yet...in some neighborhoods, it just does not happen. Ah, but there's a known and agreed-upon metric of value, here. The newspapers cost a specific amount, and if you want 10 of them, you can pay for 10 of them with a clean conscience. If this resulted in others not getting them who wanted them, prices would go up or more would be printed to meet demand.

Your example of a common food store has been replaced with a grocery store wherein everybody is good and noble and honestly leaves money for whatever food they take.

In all such cases, there IS money, if only as a measure of value of goods taken. It has to be earned somehow. Generally, it's earned by working to produce something others will pay for, whether that's being a farmer (and being paid for your food when you drop it off at the store) or something else.

Without the aforementioned fundamental change to the nature of the beings such that they have no concept of individual goals, there would be those who, absent a direct representation of the value they produce, do not work as hard as others, but claim they have and deserve/need just as much from the common store.

So, again, yes, if you make a non-human mindset, you can make this work, but it will be more alien than you perhaps intend, to the point of being difficult to relate to. As I suggested, this would seem a slave-based society, or one with only the top-level rulers being sentient-seeming. It would have a horrifying disposability complex regarding its less-active individuals, at least if those individuals were to seem like full-fledged people to a human observer.




Though your still stuck on ''the human way is the only way''.
Nonsense. This isn't "human way," this is "there are limited resources; something has to motivate production of them and ration distribution of them." The nature of the beings involved could radically alter what model works for this. But you are going to create not just alien, but in some ways horrifying-to-humans cultural traits, depending how you go about it.

(Conversely, if it's demonstrable that the individuals are not sentient, or the drone/slave caste at least is not, then it's not so different. It's just...well, that culture has a huge robot workforce.)

Knaight
2014-10-17, 10:30 AM
That is pretty great, yeah. Basically there are dozens of good reasons for why elves exist. Evolution just isn't one of them.

There have been multiple species in the homo genus, with a fair amount of variability in size, muscular development, skull shape, etc. Fully immortal elves being completely natural is hard to buy, but other than the longevity there's not necessarily much of an issue. The longevity is also not as much of a problem if it's kept comparatively low - a thousand years is excessive, 200 more believable.

Frozen_Feet
2014-10-17, 11:15 AM
On the deepest level, the reason for creatures that are "human-but-X" being so popular is due to how humans process information. Due to how we've evolved, our brains intuitively categorize information, with each category being defined by a list of traits. However, as these categories are heuristics born through evolution, they are irrational and not exact descriptors of the observable world. It's possible for an object to violate traits of its category or belong to several categories at once. Concepts violating these boundaries are more memorable than others because they allow for increased amount of strategic deductions - "strategic" here meaning "socially important".

For example, corpses and by extension undead creatures are so common objects of veneration and fear in human cultures because they violate the category between "a person" and "an object", with the former being defined by traits such as "can move, can speak, has agency" and the latter being defined by "cannot move, cannot speak, doesn't have agency" (etc.). A corpse (or undead creature) will, because it looks human, cause people to think of it as a "person" even though it is "an object", and this causes a mental struggle. This also the reason why people often act like the dead still have opinions etc. ("he would roll in his grave if...").

Another example would be talking animals and, by extension, all animal-human hybrids. A talking animal violates the boundary between category of "person" and "animal", because we generally don't expect animals to be able to speak; hence, when one does, it is remarkable and allows for spinning of new, memorable stories.

For in-depth discussion on this, read Pascal Boyer's "And men created gods: Religion explained".

Sartharina
2014-10-17, 12:24 PM
So the solution for this hypothetical race would be slavery: some higher power dictates what you will do with your time, and can enforce that you will do so to the best of your ability. In return, you get what this higher power decides you need.

[quote]Don't get me wrong; this CAN work if the mindset is one of completely subordination of the individual to the group AND the higher, decision-making power is truly wise enough to know what is needed by each individual and to prioritize the resources where they're most needed with near-complete information. It would be distinctly alien, however, and would require a collective consciousness on some level. It would also treat many of its individual members as quite disposable. See: ants.Dwarves fit the bill. And they have no problem being Disposable as long as they're disposed of properly. Everything's disposable to an extent.


Ah, but there's a known and agreed-upon metric of value, here. The newspapers cost a specific amount, and if you want 10 of them, you can pay for 10 of them with a clean conscience. If this resulted in others not getting them who wanted them, prices would go up or more would be printed to meet demand.

Your example of a common food store has been replaced with a grocery store wherein everybody is good and noble and honestly leaves money for whatever food they take.So remove the price, and have the Newspaper stand run by a guy who loves to inform the world of stuff going on around it, and finds the labor of producing such stuff to be self-gratifying.


In all such cases, there IS money, if only as a measure of value of goods taken. It has to be earned somehow. Generally, it's earned by working to produce something others will pay for, whether that's being a farmer (and being paid for your food when you drop it off at the store) or something else.... how much does Facebook pay people to watch over digital cows?


Without the aforementioned fundamental change to the nature of the beings such that they have no concept of individual goals, there would be those who, absent a direct representation of the value they produce, do not work as hard as others, but claim they have and deserve/need just as much from the common store. Eh... everything they do has value, even if said thing they do is slack off or entertain others with idle conversation. And the common store has enough for everyone to take from it anyway, and others don't want to be the 'slacker' because they have no desire to be such ("How are you not bored?")


So, again, yes, if you make a non-human mindset, you can make this work, but it will be more alien than you perhaps intend, to the point of being difficult to relate to. As I suggested, this would seem a slave-based society, or one with only the top-level rulers being sentient-seeming. It would have a horrifying disposability complex regarding its less-active individuals, at least if those individuals were to seem like full-fledged people to a human observer. You're continuing to overestimate the maintenance needed from each person.


Nonsense. This isn't "human way," this is "there are limited resources; something has to motivate production of them and ration distribution of them." The nature of the beings involved could radically alter what model works for this. But you are going to create not just alien, but in some ways horrifying-to-humans cultural traits, depending how you go about it.

(Conversely, if it's demonstrable that the individuals are not sentient, or the drone/slave caste at least is not, then it's not so different. It's just...well, that culture has a huge robot workforce.)Or, you have a case where "An individual's hour's worth of trivial labor feeds an entire village for a week" - such as Elfbread.

Too elves, humans are Tyrannids. And, Elves as divorced from nature as The Moon is from a forest.

Segev
2014-10-17, 01:25 PM
You'll note that I never said it couldn't work. Quite the opposite. You're kind-of making my point for me: you can design races to work that way. But you need to really consider what that MEANS about the individuals of that race. They will be more alien than what we normally expect to see from them.

Your "disposable" dwarves will genuinely see nothing wrong with sacrifice of self or others for the good of the whole. They do not value the individual, and would see an individual valuing itself as something worth preserving for a reason other than the benefit it can provide to the whole of its society as being defective, possibly dangerously insane. They cannot think there is something inherently precious about every individual, only specific ones who are special enough to really be irreplaceable in defined ways with recognized crucial talents.

Your elves, with their "one hour of work from one elf to feed a village," have completely different priorities. They're post-scarcity in that any of them can spend an hour to make sure that they have enough for themselves, at the least, so they're not truly dependent on anybody else for that, nor are they required to work particularly hard for it. For them, eating is as little effort, almost, as breathing is for most creatures. Do they have no other requirements? If so, they're definitely alien, and it will depend entirely on how you shape their psychology how they behave. If they value nothing, they won't MIND when others take from them and will become victims of more rapacious races. If the value things, then they will have conflict on some level between them over scarce items of desire, whatever those might be for these elves. It may not be violent, but there will be conflict, if only to decide who gets to have and use it. There may be many ways to resolve it, too. But it's still conflict.

Again, that isn't "human." It's the natural consequence whenever more beings want a scarce resource than the scarce resource can provide for all of their wants.

Yora
2014-10-17, 01:44 PM
On the deepest level, the reason for creatures that are "human-but-X" being so popular is due to how humans process information. Due to how we've evolved, our brains intuitively categorize information, with each category being defined by a list of traits. However, as these categories are heuristics born through evolution, they are irrational and not exact descriptors of the observable world. It's possible for an object to violate traits of its category or belong to several categories at once. Concepts violating these boundaries are more memorable than others because they allow for increased amount of strategic deductions - "strategic" here meaning "socially important".
You mean like "what if humans could live 500 years and lived in trees?" or "what if humans were really tough and lived underground?"

Which kind of leads me to another idea:
Perhaps fantasy races are seen as a way to plausibly move a culture from one setting to another? You can't really put Cimmerians into Forgotten Realms, play a Rohirim in Eberron, or make Rashemi show up in Middle Earth. But it has come to be perfectly acceptible to put dwarves, wood elves, orcs, or dark elves into every new fantasy setting someone creates. The same way you can have Vikings, Aztects, and Mongols in every setting, as long as you invent a new name for them. They are cultures that for some reason really got popular and people want to copy, and they are regarded as generic enough that it's not seen as a ripoff of other peoples original creations.

Sartharina
2014-10-17, 02:13 PM
You'll note that I never said it couldn't work. Quite the opposite. You're kind-of making my point for me: you can design races to work that way. But you need to really consider what that MEANS about the individuals of that race. They will be more alien than what we normally expect to see from them.

Your "disposable" dwarves will genuinely see nothing wrong with sacrifice of self or others for the good of the whole. They do not value the individual, and would see an individual valuing itself as something worth preserving for a reason other than the benefit it can provide to the whole of its society as being defective, possibly dangerously insane. They cannot think there is something inherently precious about every individual, only specific ones who are special enough to really be irreplaceable in defined ways with recognized crucial talents.All individuals are irreplaceable in Elven and Dwarven societies, though, because there is more an individual contributes to society than what humans would consider the value of their labor - from the friends they make, the the booze they drink, to the way their name fits on a postcard are all of value to these cultures. Everyone is special, and specialized. Trying to replace Olfgraf the Axedwarf with the younger Filli The Axedwarf is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole - it leaves a scar/wound as it reforms around the new slot but doesn't recover entirely. Dwarves see themselves as more replaceable than Elves, because of their emphasis on duty.

Elves, however.... you cannot replace one elf with another, because the former elf's personality is of irreplaceable value. Elves don't care how much food they make, how strong a wall they build, etc. - They care about individuals, and you can't fit a Fillianastri-shaped elf into a Sellistria-shaped hole. It's also one of the sorrows of the elves - new elves born expand the metaphorical 'tapestry' of the race, but do not fill in the gaps left from those that die - when an elf dies, it's an irreplaceable tragedy.

Elves are incapable of "replensihing" their numbers after a loss - only expanding their numbers, while being left with the bodies of their dead forever.

Arbane
2014-10-18, 04:41 AM
You mean like "what if humans could live 500 years and lived in trees?" or "what if humans were really tough and lived underground?"

One setting I like, Glorantha, goes in the opposite direction - the nonhuman races there are, for the most part, REALLY nonhuman. The elves are intelligent plants who serve as caretakers to their biomes, and dwarves are automatons made to repair the damaged World Machine - it's just that many of the new batch are made of flesh rather than metal. Trolls are creatures of darkness - they were created to live in the Underworld, and have a strong affinity for darkness magic.

But Glorantha is a world where mythology trumps all this God-Learner 'Natural Selection' stuff.



Which kind of leads me to another idea:
Perhaps fantasy races are seen as a way to plausibly move a culture from one setting to another? You can't really put Cimmerians into Forgotten Realms, play a Rohirim in Eberron, or make Rashemi show up in Middle Earth. But it has come to be perfectly acceptible to put dwarves, wood elves, orcs, or dark elves into every new fantasy setting someone creates. The same way you can have Vikings, Aztects, and Mongols in every setting, as long as you invent a new name for them. They are cultures that for some reason really got popular and people want to copy, and they are regarded as generic enough that it's not seen as a ripoff of other peoples original creations.

Interesting notion. You may be on to something with this. We certainly do have popular stereotypes of what Dwarfs/Elves/Orcs 'should' act like.

Yora
2014-10-18, 05:05 AM
Elves only appear more varied than dwarves because there's three distinct types instead of just one. But each of the three is probably just as narrow as dwarves are.
Even of the four elven races in Eberron, only one is actually something new. The drow are mostly wood elves with dark skin with the common wood elven xenophobia dialed up to max, Khorvaire elves are just generic high elves, and Valenar elves seem to be simply Huns with pointy ears and not actually a variation of existing elven traits. The Aernal elves who are ruled by their semi-devine undead ancestors are the exception, though. That concept is taking elven immortality/longlivity and resistance to change to completely new places.

I guess one of the reason I want to have wood elves in my world is because I always think I could make a better representation of that archetype than what most writers are doing. I decided to call my short mountain-folk gnomes, but I think you could very much call them an outlier of the otherwise quite uniform interpreations of dwarves.

And it's not just races. We also tend to see knights, berserkers, wizards, rangers, assassins, dragons, and demons in almost all fantasy works, but very few people question that. (Though I do roll my eyes any time I see a story about an assassin.) These are archetypes that are popular and we use them because we think it would be fun to do something with them. It's just that for some reason, the use of elves and dwarves in a fantasy work seem to be more noticable than all these other concepts that are pretty much universally used in all epic and heroic fantasy.

Frozen_Feet
2014-10-18, 11:14 AM
You mean like "what if humans could live 500 years and lived in trees?" or "what if humans were really tough and lived underground?"

Or "humans but without bodies" (=ghosts) or "humans but without inviduality" (=hivemind species / p-zombies). But yes. As Arbane noted, the process works from other directions (like "what if plants/animals could speak?") as well, but the versions based on human default tend to be most memorable, thus being most common.

Ghosts make a really good study of the subject, as the irrationality becomes very apparent when you think about it. A person without a body wouldn't have, say, eyes, but ghosts are nearly always portrayed as being able to see. Their behaviour is "as human except...", even if it makes no logical or physiological sense. This is direct contributor to "humans with pointy ears" problem. People automatically assume (and sometimes even insist) that demi-humans have the whole emotional spectrum ("free will") of humans, even if there's nothing necessitating that or it doesn't even make sense. (See the recent thread about mindset of angels for examples.)

Sartharina
2014-10-18, 11:16 AM
Elves only appear more varied than dwarves because there's three distinct types instead of just one. But each of the three is probably just as narrow as dwarves are.
Even of the four elven races in Eberron, only one is actually something new. The drow are mostly wood elves with dark skin with the common wood elven xenophobia dialed up to max, Khorvaire elves are just generic high elves, and Valenar elves seem to be simply Huns with pointy ears and not actually a variation of existing elven traits. The Aernal elves who are ruled by their semi-devine undead ancestors are the exception, though. That concept is taking elven immortality/longlivity and resistance to change to completely new places.Eh... I don't see Aernal elves as anything new. They're your standard high elves, except now Elrond and the Queen of Lothlorian need much better skin cream.

Valenar Elves are fun and new because they manage to swap the roles with the orcs, while still remaining undeniably Elven in their culture. As are Khorvaire elves, even though they don't try to be. Instead of reclusive, 'better than thou' forest-dwellers. And Khorvaire elves embrace "Humans with pointy ears"

Haldir
2014-10-18, 11:23 AM
There have been multiple species in the homo genus, with a fair amount of variability in size, muscular development, skull shape, etc. Fully immortal elves being completely natural is hard to buy, but other than the longevity there's not necessarily much of an issue. The longevity is also not as much of a problem if it's kept comparatively low - a thousand years is excessive, 200 more believable.

This exactly. By TerraObilivion's logic, tortoises and trees shouldn't exist- as things that live hundreds of years and sometimes take that long to successfully reproduce.

Terraoblivion
2014-10-18, 02:16 PM
This exactly. By TerraObilivion's logic, tortoises and trees shouldn't exist- as things that live hundreds of years and sometimes take that long to successfully reproduce.

Tortoises can't even reach two hundred years, you know. And they don't take until they're 120 to reach sexual maturity like D&D elves. Also, trees can indeed get ancient, as in several thousand years, but they're not exactly vertebrate animals and interact with the environment in a rather different manner. Also, even infamously slow-growing olives can grow from saplings to producing fruit over the course of the working life of a single farmer.

Sartharina
2014-10-18, 02:27 PM
Tortoises can't even reach two hundred years, you know. And they don't take until they're 120 to reach sexual maturity like D&D elves. Also, trees can indeed get ancient, as in several thousand years, but they're not exactly vertebrate animals and interact with the environment in a rather different manner. Also, even infamously slow-growing olives can grow from saplings to producing fruit over the course of the working life of a single farmer.D&D elves are sexually mature at 20.

120 is when they decide they've lived long enough to stop faffing about in trees and dancing in woods to go on an adventure.

Terraoblivion
2014-10-18, 04:09 PM
D&D elves are sexually mature at 20.

120 is when they decide they've lived long enough to stop faffing about in trees and dancing in woods to go on an adventure.

According to what exactly? Certainly not the aging tables in the 2e and 3e PHBs. I know that some fans like to say it, but that isn't the official word of the books. Which is fine, but can't discuss general aspects based on people's houserules, especially when they haven't even been stated yet.

Volthawk
2014-10-18, 10:16 PM
According to what exactly? Certainly not the aging tables in the 2e and 3e PHBs. I know that some fans like to say it, but that isn't the official word of the books. Which is fine, but can't discuss general aspects based on people's houserules, especially when they haven't even been stated yet.

How about Races of the Wild? That says that the PHB table isn't accurate when it comes to the physical side of things, that elves physically grow only a little slower than humans (with a 25-year old elf being the equivalent of a 20-year old human, while their minds develop at about the same rate at humans and that the PHB starting age is the age at which elf adventurers typically feel ready to leave, and some have left earlier.

1337 b4k4
2014-10-18, 11:07 PM
According to what exactly? Certainly not the aging tables in the 2e and 3e PHBs. I know that some fans like to say it, but that isn't the official word of the books. Which is fine, but can't discuss general aspects based on people's houserules, especially when they haven't even been stated yet.

Well, the 1e DMG lists age categories for each of the races. The young adult category for humans is categorized as 14-20. Elves range from 50-100 (drow) to 150-250 (gray) with your standard wood elf clocking in at 75-150, so while it's not 20, equally 150 is at the extreme high end for sexual maturity in elves.

The 3e PHB states that elves achieve adulthood at 110. Even under the most uncharitable interpretation (that adulthood here also means sexual maturity) that's still less than 150 (though admittedly closer to 150 than 20). Incidentally, humans are listed as reaching adulthood at 15, and half elves at 20.

Also of note is that 5e states:


Although elves reach physical maturity at about the same age as humans, the elven understanding of adulthood goes beyond physical growth to encompass worldly experience. An elf typically claims adulthood and an adult name around the age of 100 and can live to be 750 years old.

Edit
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Wikipedia cites Races of the Wilds and lists 25 as physical maturity (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elf_(Dungeons_%26_Dragons))


Edit 2
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The 2e book "The Complete Book of Elves" gives the starting range for "adolescence" for elves as (depending on subrace) as 60-80. Of course this same book notes the elves did not evolve, rendering this concern somewhat moot.

jedipotter
2014-10-19, 02:36 PM
Perhaps fantasy races are seen as a way to plausibly move a culture from one setting to another? You can't really put Cimmerians into Forgotten Realms, play a Rohirim in Eberron, or make Rashemi show up in Middle Earth.

Why not? You can have any culture anywhere.

Yora
2014-10-19, 02:56 PM
You could do it in your home campaign, though even then many players might have negative opinions about it. In published RPG materials, novels, movies, and videogames, it would be a clear case of plagiarism.
You could give them a different name, but then you would lose the recognition and introduce the entire culture to the audience. With fantasy vikings, you probably need to drop just a few words like "beards", "mead", "berserker", or "dragon ship", and have to say nothing more. Everyone knows you mean vikings.

Aedilred
2014-10-19, 04:58 PM
Why not? You can have any culture anywhere.

I'm not sure about that. Cultures are inevitably influenced by other cultures around them, and the geography of their habitation. There are some places which just don't support certain cultures without damaging verisimilitude.

Of course, swapping out the humans for nonhumans doesn't necessarily help with that.

Knaight
2014-10-19, 06:18 PM
Why not? You can have any culture anywhere.

Sure, but if you take things like hospitality expectations from cultures in really inhospitable environments (e.g Norse, Bedouin) and plop them down in areas of plenty with excellent climates, it looks really, really weird. Throw in a different species, and you get more leeway.

Honest Tiefling
2014-10-19, 07:42 PM
After seeing people argue about what elves are and are not, despite them not existing, I might change my answer to the idea that people just love certain concepts (such as elves) and want to use them super bad.

Rfkannen
2014-10-19, 07:57 PM
Lets say we have an rpg were you have 3 races, Humans, giant crab men, and werewolves.

Each of these 3 races are equal at all classes.

Now which do you pick?

For most people, the awnser is not humans. Because we know what a human is, they are what we are. What is more fun to roleplay, a person that is exactly like ourselves, or something diffrent. The vast majority of people do are not elves (as far as I know anyway), and as such when they see an elf they have a rather basic idea in there head that makes for good characters. If you are a human ranger, big woop your a human ranger. you could play that as anything from a woodsman to a bounty hunter, and most people would shrug because hay, were humans, we can do what we want.. If your a giant crab man ranger you are either some sort of shark hunter or have some cool backstory as to why you are racist against a sertain thing and have wilderness powers. If your a werewolf ranger you are probably a primal hunter, and if not you have an interesting character concept.

Because what people like are steryotypes. Whether they like them so that they can make characters more interesting by playing into there racial history or because they want to buck these steryotypes they still like the fact they exist.

Indesputably the best halflings are cannibal halflings. Why does every sane human enjoy these? Because even though humans are sometimes cannibals, we like the idea of short little people that have a consistant track record of eating people. And also because that is not what we expect the nice little hobbits to be like, it's cool.



Also giant crab men, who wouldn't want to play a giant crab man?

Jay R
2014-10-19, 08:06 PM
... how much does Facebook pay people to watch over digital cows?

Facebook does not have a producer/consumer relationship with the people playing games and networking.

Facebook makes its money by showing advertising to people. We aren't the customers. We're the product.

Terraoblivion
2014-10-19, 08:09 PM
I'm not sure that is a universal feeling. Yes, there are people who will play literally anything else to avoid playing human, but there are also people who only really want to play humans. My personal experiences have mostly been with the latter. In more than a decade of roleplaying I've essentially only seen humans, humans turned into something inhuman according to the theme of the game (vampires in VtM, sun deities in Exalted and so on), some elves and half-elves, some very rare halflings and dwarfs and very occasionally something else with a very strong theme to it. Overwhelmingly, it's just been humans or humans having to learn to adjust to being inhuman. This is the default I've seen from several dozen people. Which isn't to say that it is everyone or necessarily a majority, just that it's very common.

Which isn't to say that I haven't had fun with games where people played entirely inhuman beings. Like a game I'm in where we have the literal sun, incarnated as an amnesiac teenage girl, a girl who grew up suffused in magic and became some kind of embodiment of stories and the shattered remains of a world-ending monstrosity and it's a ton of fun...They're really quite human despite all the crazy visuals and special effects.

Yora
2014-10-20, 05:40 AM
Lets say we have an rpg were you have 3 races, Humans, giant crab men, and werewolves.

Each of these 3 races are equal at all classes.

Now which do you pick?

For most people, the awnser is not humans.

I don't think so. Even in games like AD&D, where humans are the weakest class, polls and first hand reports on several places on the internet almost always show that most people play humans. I've often seen 70% and more. Some people don't like to play humans when other options are available, but they seem to be a minority.

Segev
2014-10-20, 10:18 AM
All individuals are irreplaceable in Elven and Dwarven societies, though, because there is more an individual contributes to society than what humans would consider the value of their labor - from the friends they make, the the booze they drink, to the way their name fits on a postcard are all of value to these cultures. Everyone is special, and specialized. Trying to replace Olfgraf the Axedwarf with the younger Filli The Axedwarf is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole - it leaves a scar/wound as it reforms around the new slot but doesn't recover entirely. Dwarves see themselves as more replaceable than Elves, because of their emphasis on duty.

Elves, however.... you cannot replace one elf with another, because the former elf's personality is of irreplaceable value. Elves don't care how much food they make, how strong a wall they build, etc. - They care about individuals, and you can't fit a Fillianastri-shaped elf into a Sellistria-shaped hole. It's also one of the sorrows of the elves - new elves born expand the metaphorical 'tapestry' of the race, but do not fill in the gaps left from those that die - when an elf dies, it's an irreplaceable tragedy.

Elves are incapable of "replensihing" their numbers after a loss - only expanding their numbers, while being left with the bodies of their dead forever.

This really isn't any different than humanity's value for the individual, then. And the same problems arise.

Olgraf and Filli are different, and their value at least partially subjective to each individual. So if there are scarce resources, and both want the same ones, there has to be a way to resolve it fairly.

How that resolution happens is part of what makes a culture.

Dwarves might have a debate or a wrestling match, or might literally weigh their personal fortunes to see who has more worth and thus deserves something more. Or might be more "needs before abilities," and weigh fortunes and give it to the poorer of the two. The latter encourages a certain kind of cheating to hide one's wealth, of course, to make one's need appear greater. But if Olgraf claims he deserves the items in dispute because he contributes more to dwarven society, who judges that he's right? And if Fili feels that he's been slighted when it is judged that Olgraf is more of a contributor, does Fili feel like they're right and he should work harder...or does he feel like they're wrong and his work goes unrecognized, so he'll work less? When he works less, does he get less from the common stores?

With the elves, how do they resolve it if Fillianastri and Sellistria both want that tree for their new home, and both require the whole thing to make their plans work? Sure, you value the two of them as individuals, and they're not interchangeable, but who decides who gets the tree? How do you decide what's more valuable - Sellistria's happiness or Fillianastri's? Or if it's not their joy that's considered, how do you judge who will bring more value to the tree if it's given to them? Who decides? Do they vote on every such decision?

I assume your elves are #defined to be post-scarcity, so no matter what choices are made, none of them could possibly die of deprivation. It's purely luxury goods (including higher-quality/more-desirable versions of the standard default, like better locations for one's treehouse) that could possibly come into dispute.

Hytheter
2014-10-20, 07:29 PM
People probably play humans more often because of the bonus feat. :smallbiggrin:

I personally don't really like the standard fantasy races. I see a setting with elves and dwarves and just think "ugh, how original" and I tend to avoid playing them unless it's particularly useful from a thematic or optimisation perspective (in my next 5e game I plan to play an evil Warlock dwarf called Ganondwarf).

I think for the most part different human cultures should suffice, or at least non-human races should be something original - even if it's just a humourous or interesting twist on the usual standards.

Terraoblivion
2014-10-20, 08:00 PM
People probably play humans more often because of the bonus feat. :smallbiggrin:

There are systems other than D&D post-3e D&D out there. The one person who produced any kind of statistics specified AD&D where humans get the incredible power of...Being able to start as any class, if they have the ability scores for it. That's it. Literally no bonuses or racial abilities at all, just a wider selection of classes. They technically also get no level cap, but those were high enough to rarely be reached, there were rules for exceeding them and anecdotal evidence suggests that most people just plain ignored them, so...

Hytheter
2014-10-20, 08:05 PM
There are systems other than D&D post-3e D&D out there. The one person who produced any kind of statistics specified AD&D where humans get the incredible power of...Being able to start as any class, if they have the ability scores for it. That's it. Literally no bonuses or racial abilities at all, just a wider selection of classes. They technically also get no level cap, but those were high enough to rarely be reached, there were rules for exceeding them and anecdotal evidence suggests that most people just plain ignored them, so...

Yeah I know all that, I was just kidding.

Jay R
2014-10-20, 09:16 PM
People probably play humans more often because of the bonus feat. :smallbiggrin:

This is provably untrue, since more people played humans in Dungeons and Dragon, Basic D&D, AD&D 1E, and AD&D 2e, long before there were Feats at all.

Even when DMs threw out level limits, thus eliminating the only advantage humans had, more people played humans.


I personally don't really like the standard fantasy races. I see a setting with elves and dwarves and just think "ugh, how original" and I tend to avoid playing them unless it's particularly useful from a thematic or optimisation perspective (in my next 5e game I plan to play an evil Warlock dwarf called Ganondwarf).

I think for the most part different human cultures should suffice, or at least non-human races should be something original - even if it's just a humourous or interesting twist on the usual standards.

By contrast, I actively avoid "original" races in a fantasy RPG. In a science fiction RPG, sure, but in fantasy, I prefer to simulate classic fantasy. If I were after originality, or a humorous or interesting twist, why would I be carrying a sword?

Frozen_Feet
2014-10-21, 08:25 AM
1st Edition AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide deals extensively with the human-centered world-view of the game and why monsters should be discouraged as playable characters. Long story short, the main point was that since all players are humans, they relate best to human feelings, human issues and human narratives. Gygax was fairly convinced that most players would only pick non-humans for in-game bonuses, with only a minority actually being dedicated to exploring the concept and differences of non-human characters. Since Gygax had been GMing for a while at this point, I consider his opinion to hold a great deal of merit.

Eric Tolle
2014-10-22, 01:53 AM
Personally, I really REALLY hate the way D&D and other games make race=culture. It's a weird sort of biological essentialism that really grates. There's no reason why the hell an elf who was born and raised in the city should have the same skills and personalities as someone raised in the deep forest- it makes no sense whatsoever.

So, in my far-future science-fantasy, I've totally disconnected biology from culture. There are physical traits for the various post-human breeds- but, a two people from different breeds who hail from the Western Empire will have far more in common when it comes to culture than say, two members of the same breed, one from the Empire and the other from a nomad tribe. It's a setting that rejects the "race of hats" concept.

Yora
2014-10-22, 06:20 AM
It's a leftover from early D&D, where character customization wasn't a thing yet. You'd play Fighter, Cleric, Wizard, Thief, Elf, Dwarf, or Halfling, and that's it.

Aedilred
2014-10-22, 07:04 AM
Personally, I really REALLY hate the way D&D and other games make race=culture. It's a weird sort of biological essentialism that really grates. There's no reason why the hell an elf who was born and raised in the city should have the same skills and personalities as someone raised in the deep forest- it makes no sense whatsoever.

So, in my far-future science-fantasy, I've totally disconnected biology from culture. There are physical traits for the various post-human breeds- but, a two people from different breeds who hail from the Western Empire will have far more in common when it comes to culture than say, two members of the same breed, one from the Empire and the other from a nomad tribe. It's a setting that rejects the "race of hats" concept.
I don't entirely disagree, and I've seen it done. The question then becomes, however, why bother to have different races at all, if they're going to be defined by environment rather than genetics? Is it just for aesthetic diversity, or to give the players more mechanical options, or because it hasn't occurred to the setting designer to take some of them out?

Which is one of the reasons I tend to dislike heavily cosmopolitan settings; they can feel a bit lazy if not enough effort has been put into differentiating the races who live side by side in the same environment. If everyone in the setting is just a reskinned human, the apparent racial diversity is just fantasy exoticism in a can.

Knaight
2014-10-22, 09:33 AM
I don't entirely disagree, and I've seen it done. The question then becomes, however, why bother to have different races at all, if they're going to be defined by environment rather than genetics? Is it just for aesthetic diversity, or to give the players more mechanical options, or because it hasn't occurred to the setting designer to take some of them out?

Which is one of the reasons I tend to dislike heavily cosmopolitan settings; they can feel a bit lazy if not enough effort has been put into differentiating the races who live side by side in the same environment. If everyone in the setting is just a reskinned human, the apparent racial diversity is just fantasy exoticism in a can.

If they're sufficiently different, then cultural differences make sense. To use a futuristic example, the Humanx Commonwealth has a lot of distinct cultures (mostly varying between planets and social strata on planets complements of the effects of mass communication) and two distinct species. The cultures show up for both species, but physiological differences do inform things. One of the species is humans, the other thranx. Thranx are roughly insectoid and breathe through the lower thorax - which leads to a species wide disinclination towards water. Regardless of cultural differences, they're way, way more susceptible to drowning. Then there are temperatures, where humans generally dislike the 130F-140F thranx are fond of regardless of culture, and thranx find snow a dangerous and terrifying substance regardless of culture.

In a fantasy setting, you can have similar things. Physiological differences in lifespan will have an effect. Being amphibious will have an effect. Having extreme resistance to disease will have an effect. So on and so forth. That doesn't necessitate every species having some sort of distinct monoculture which never branches out into other species.