• Roundtable: Favorite Fantasy Races

    by , , and  • September 7, 2012 • People & Events • 2 Comments

    Fantasy is one of the classic gaming genres – and more often than not, it features all kinds of fantasy races. Elves! Dwarves! Tieflings! Dragonborn! Kender, for the Margaret-Weis-inclined! Sometimes it feels like there’s an embarrassment of riches – so many options, so little time.

    Today we’ll share what fantasy races we prefer to play, and why we like our favorites so very much.

    Jess: Culture First

    When it comes to fantasy races, I’m Team Humans. My favorite part of playing in a fantasy world is inventing new cultures. Playing a human gives me the most flexibility to do that. If I play an elf, or a dwarf, or an orc, I’m always going to be reacting against the ways in which fantasy literature has defined and re-defined those races. If I play a human, on the other hand, I get all of human history and culture to draw from. The stereotypes and assumptions are a lot less limiting, assuming you enjoy cultural research as much as I do.

    Another reason I usually play humans is that my personal style involves pulling elements from lots of different genres. If I’m playing a fantastic character race, I’m a lot less likely to draw on fantasy tropes for other parts of the game. I’d rather play a human and save my “fantasy points” for magic weapons, ancient prophecies, or even that good old stand-by, killing dragons.

    Melody: Racial Traits

    For me, I love Elves and similar races. Not because of any modification to traits, but more how they are presented. For me, Elves have a grace that I wish I had myself most of the time. They also have an innate link to magic and music, two things I also lack talent in. And lastly, they have madness. That’s right, they’re all insane. They’re fae, a term that at times became linked to the idea of being insane. Often a very sort of ordered madness that the whole race shares to greater or lesser degree. I know that isn’t the way they’re usually presented, but that’s the way I like to see them.

    Renee: Humans are Everything I Need, Minus Darkvision

    I’ll admit, I can totally empathize with Melody. In life, I’m tall and somewhat ungainly; in my games, I prefer to be swift and agile and graceful. But like Jess, my play preference is very humanocentric…hey, a 20 Dex is a 20 Dex, right? My reasons for playing humans mostly relate to the kinds of stories I like to tell (and be told). Point of fact, I find high fantasy boring in the extreme, and while some games do an admirable job of spinning dwarves and elves and the like in interesting ways that do not overly depend on Tolkien and his imitators, most do not. Plus, if I don’t play a human, there’s not likely to be any humans in my play group – in addition to the standard plethora of gnomes and elves, we’ve seen giant lizardfolk, strix archers, sentient homunculi, and various other weirdness in just the last few runs – which I (perhaps irrationally, considering the games we’re playing) find implausible and ungrounded. I guess others find humans boring maybe; they want to play something else…something with wings or scales or darkvision 60′. Me, I find humans infinitely complex and fascinating…in real life and in fictional spaces.

    Relatedly, and something I’ve been increasingly concerned with the last couple years, is the way fantasy races are coded. And that’s not to say that such things are always bad; I think fantasy races can provide an interesting vehicle to talk about real-world race, I just don’t think it happens all that often. In fact, I think it often becomes a way for us to sidestep the issue of race in service to our daydreams, and that’s a problem.

    Elin: How would the biological difference affect things?

    For me fantasy races is about biological differences, and that that difference will affect the characters, the world and how that in turn will shape the story. For example: Immortality is interesting as a contrast to the mortality of human life. Having cannibalistic predators/parasites hiding among humanity provides a new perspective to look at society. Shape shifting is interesting because it poses the question how would life be different from living it in two different body shapes. That was for example makes elves, vampires and werewolves interesting to me, they are biologically different and that shapes their existence.
    For this reason I like animal inspired fantasy races a little bit extra. I can research wolves, lizards, birds or spiders. Then I can use that knowledge to explore how the animal traits combined with humanity create a being somewhat alike,yet different from a human.

    Words from the Peanut Gallery

    What’s your favorite fantasy race to play, and why?



    Game scholar, game design educator, game designer, and most of all enthusiastic game player!




    I am a young trans woman living out in a small town. I mostly game online, as I can't find players for meatspace. I write, most often prose, and consider myself passing good at such. I have a recent surge in my interest in feminism, though it has always been there. I love to read, play video games on occasion, and be outside.



    I'm a queer trans woman who lives somewhere in Michigan with my cat Rufus. Yes, he *is* named after the cat in Re-Animator, how kind of you to ask.



    Elin Dalstål is a game designer, larp and convention organizer living in Luleå, Sweden.

    2 Responses to Roundtable: Favorite Fantasy Races

    1. avatar
      September 7, 2012 at 16:47

      I think mine almost always tend to be mixed species. Half-elf has always been a favorite of mine because they get best of elves and humans – good vision, more sturdy constitution, etc. I have played humans just straight up, but I like to have characters that can see in the dark better without having to take feats or edges (reflecting my real-life lack of night vision and fear of the dark, I think!).

      However, in some games there is no mixing of species, like Shadowrun. In Shadowrun, I have two favorite races: Night One Elves, and Satyrs. They’re expensive, but incredibly fun to play because of the interesting balances of good and “bad” qualities. Satyrs are amazingly exciting to play! They’re very hardy and tough, but fast! I like Night One Elves because they’re similar to regular elves, but are almost vampiric in their genetic makeup – plus they have fur!

      I tend to like races that are slightly unusual, but that enable generalizing and averaging out your characters – as always, I like to rest somewhere around the middle, without losing any ground. :)

      (x-posted to G+)

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      • avatar
        Melody Haren Anderson
        September 7, 2012 at 17:35

        I can officially say, my most recent favorite character race has become dark elves due to a 13th Age character of mine and another half-dark elf character. They’re fun to play, but there’s always this undercurrent of potential cruelty there. Rashel (My character) doesn’t like causing pain for no reason, but she’ll threaten it for years to you if it gets results. She’s pretty much our seriously Chaotic Neutral (wavering back and forth between favoring good and evil sometimes) character, while Zila (the half-dark elf cleric) is Lawful Neutral with similar wavering.

        All in all, they are very much dark elves, but without a lot of some things that I really dislike about a few presentations I’ve seen of dark elves.

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