In doing this (Race’s of Jimano’s World), I found myself thinking about the common knowledge that comes with the use of standard races. I could paint onto a completely blank canvas and create entirely new races. This is something I’ve done before for an on hiatus science fiction setting. On this occasion, I want the game to be easily recognisable as a magic-fantasy setting, so I’m going to be using some existing fantasy tropes and rejecting others. A lot of the changes are caused by adapting the society to the nomadic nature forced on them by the volatile geography. For on Jimano’s World, island chains form in months as the god at the centre of the planet shifts.
A lot of fantasy games just make the elves more sparkly versions of humans. I want mine to have greater physical differences. As an arboreal race, they have longer arms and more muscular upper bodies as they move through the trees mostly at canopy level. They retain their dexterous stereotype, but this now comes with orangutan like arm strength. They have a more brutish appearance, enhanced by the simply clothing they wear. The wise trope remains, but these are not elves of enlightenment and old books – paper doesn’t keep in the moist tropics. Their wisdom instead is much more practical and their knowledge the aural traditions and history of their people. The better climate and food supply of the jungle gives the elves a much longer lifespan than the other races, but they are not immortal. It being nearly impossible to carry much across tree tops, they have few possessions. This greatly reduces their technology, a deficit they’ve made up with more developed magics. If it’s more difficult than woodcrafting, the elves do it by magic.
A race that likes to mine is going to move less often that farmers or gatherers. Not just because the ore moves less (it still moves with the mountains) but because the infrastructure that wants the ore is going to be heavier and more troublesome to move. So the dwarves don’t like to leave their mountains, like their cousins on other worlds. But staying on the mountain will give you a food problem, as the high hard rocks aren’t suitable for farming, particularly as there won’t be much soil on these young peaks. The solution was that the dwarves move not just their machines, they move their farms. Every dwarf has their own little garden. So rather than a grander hall being a mark of status, a grander garden that grows rarer or more prodigious foods is. My dwarves are still stout miners, but they don’t live underground. You wouldn’t want to in a world of frequent earthquakes. Why are they more friendly? This is a survival trait. Nomads who are unfriendly will quickly find themselves lacking in friends and trading partners. The preferred highland habitats of the dwarves means that if they don’t trade with the other races for food and supplies, they’ll struggle in times of hardship or if they need to replant their gardens.
So often cast as the trickster race, other than their appearance my gnomes are very different. Having placed races on the plains, the mountains, the jungles and the deserts (the Djinn), the next obvious biome was the sea. Sea nomads are going to survive by fishing and some limited sea-flora farming (like baleen whales). That solves your food problem but there are other big ones to deal with – material supplies and fresh water. The need for fresh water didn’t influence the design of the gnomes (magic is the solution), but the need for material supplies did. Fish doesn’t keep for very long, so when they come to land the gnomes have little to trade. It’s not surprising then that some flotillas turned to piracy and raiding to take what they need. The nature of ship science means that larger ships are better at surviving for longer periods of time and can weather tougher conditions. Take something like a medieval galleon and resize the decks for a being two feet tall and you’ve suddenly got a lot more internal deck space. I talked previously about frigates and ships of the line. I’m going to need some to do some reading and thinking to work out what ships medieval technology allows and if I need to invoke magic to get me the larger ships I want.
If you have any thoughts and comments on how these semi-standard fantasy races might be further adapted to the terrain and nomadicity, please post them.
Image Credit: Jungle by Breen Jones (CC BY-NC 2.0)