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?