Worldbuilding

155 – Fantasy Races

The Mythcreant Podcast
This podcast goes great with breakfast, or even second breakfast, because we’re talking about fantasy races. We cover everything from Tolkien to more Tolkien to even a few things that aren’t Tolkien. But first, why are they called “races” and not “species”? Second, how do you even define a species anyway?

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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

The Lord of the Rings

The Goblin Emperor

Dragon Age

Blue Rose

The Stormlight Archive

Lost Girl

Skyrim

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Comments

  1. SunlessNick

    I’m surprised you didn’t bring up the Qunari when you got to Dragon Age.

  2. Reiksson

    As far as tabletop role-playing games go, I have never been a fan of races have specific one sided buffs because it causes right and wrong choices of race-class combinations. People feel penalized for interesting choices because they are not as strong as they could be. It has caused me to attempt to create/alter races that are different for narrative purposes, would not just feel like a bunch of different humans, and would not give mechanical advantage to a specific play style. Any mechanical ability that is given, I have to ask myself, could a fighter, mage and rogue all use this to the same effect. It has become my Gordian knot.

  3. April

    Is it really that hard to think of non Tolkien races or species? Werewolves (and werecats etc) and vampires, anyone? Also satyrs and fauns, gnomes and leprechauns are really well known ones. I don’t think he had plain, old giants either…

    Spoilers for Fablehaven below.

    These days I’m seeing a lot of people who can transform into dragons (ie Fablehaven, Seraphina, and this one series I can’t remember the name of). They might qualify as a fantasy race. Even if they are just a subset of the general shapeshifters that just proves that it should be easy to name a non Tolkien race because shapeshifters are so prevelant.

    One really memorable new race can be found in N.K.Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. They are called stone eaters and they are sort of like living statues or people made of rock.

    • Chris Winkle

      I was actually trying to think of completely original fantasy races – not based on folklore or anything, and that’s why I was having trouble. The stone eaters sound cool.

    • Deana

      Actually werewolves and vampires are in the Silmarilion. There was something odd about the elvish war cats but I don’t think they were shapeshifters.

  4. Julia

    So are centaurs considered a race or a creature?

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Good question. A race in most cases I’d say, since they’re fully sapient. But they do tend to get treated as beasts a lot.

  5. Katie

    Speaking of Dullahans, there’s actually an anime/light novel series called Durarara!! that has a character who is a Dullahan searching for her stolen head. She turned her horse into a motorcycle and wears a motorcycle helmet to hide her lack of a head so she can blend in with the modern world. There’s not much other fantastical stuff in the series, but she’s an interesting character.

  6. Fay Onyx

    Calling them fantasy races feels weird to me. It makes it harder to talk about race within both humans and the different fantasy races. For example, we say that “wood elves and high elves are different kinds of elves,” but it seems like the way that they are presented they should be different races of elves (I think this point was brought up in the discussion). Probably the main reason that we don’t call them races of elves is because we are using the term race for elves themselves. This language choice forces us into changing how we talk about race to a system that is different than the way we talk about race in the real world. This is concerning to me, because the real world conversation about race has been shaped as a response to oppression, and it is important to bring this conversation into our discussion of fantasy worlds.

    Also, it feels weird talking about nonhumans in ways that are different than how we talk about humans. Talking about “different kinds of humans” in the way that we do “different kinds of elves” is not good (and has the potential to be very racist), so why are we talking about nonhumans that way? I am uncomfortable with normalizing essentialist ways of talking and thinking about fantasy races that are racist when applied to humans.

    This is one of the reasons why in my own high fantasy RPG system (Magic Goes Awry), I’m choosing to call them all species. The fact that the species options in my game include anthropomorphized animals and sentient talking animals makes that choice easier.

  7. Fay Onyx

    It is interesting to me that you couldn’t think of reason to have fantasy species (fantasy races) in stories that does not involve subverting species tropes.

    At some point the suggestion has been made on the podcast that depicting racism with fantasy species can be a good place to start for white writers who want to depict racism. (A very important note that should go with that suggestion is that it that it is extremely important to make sure that the rest of the story is being analyzed for racism, such as all white human casts, to avoid recreating real world racism in a story that is supposed to be sending an anti-racism message.)

    In general, I think the biggest reason to have multiple species in a story is to be able to explore different aspects of social diversity on a grand scale with a large amount of novelty that makes exploring it entertaining. Zootopia is a great example of the high degree of novelty that can come with a fantasy society of this kind, as well as a plot that dove deeply into to the setting’s complexity.

    As a person with a disability who is interested in representing the social dynamics around disability, a society with diverse species really centers these issues of how a society can be created to accommodate a wide range of physical and social needs (and what happens if it fails to do so). For example, If there are centaurs and merfolk living in the same city as humans, all sorts of things need to be rethought. Is there a form of seating that could be made to accommodate all three species? Or do we give up on one-size-fits-all and go for rooms with extremely diverse seating options? If effective seating and transportation options are not available for merfolk, how does that effect their inclusion within the society?

  8. Adam

    While listening to this, I also wondered why humans in most RPGs have many many languages, but dwarves only have… dwarven; elves only have elven. How can a dwarf who lives in Neverwinter speak the same language as a dwarf native from Chult? Why do humans get all the diversity in languages?

    • Cay Reet

      Because most RPGs treat non-human races as ‘humans with something odd about them’ and thus only as a fraction in itself. A fraction which only gets one culture and one language. That’s sad, because I’m pretty sure it would be more interesting otherwise.

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