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Wednesday 26 April 2017

Games Day: LeCraft - Humans in Fantasy (Additional)

It occurred to me that in my previous post I could have said something more descriptive about the humans in my setting; what they look like, what they believe, how they vary, what makes them distinctive as  a species, where (or when) they have come from, and many other specifying things. Without giving you, the reader, this information I feel it becomes too easy for us to fall back on the idea that we are dealing with something like a direct transposition of Earth to ‘Fantasy Setting X’ (I’ll keep this as a backup name for my world). 

This is something that I’m keen to avoid, but realise that I’ll have to provide something like a map or guide book for my setting in order to get the ‘feeling’ of the place over. I’ll add a link to a pinterest board of landscapes that evoke my image of the world’s look, and I’ll also add a link to a youtube playlist with some appropriate ‘mood’ music. These will be added to as often as I can manage, so keep checking back.

Before I go into more about humanity in the LeCraft setting, I’d like to list a selection of descriptive paragraphs about humans from several other fantasy RPGs, with a view to showing how we (that is, how humans) are most often portrayed in fantasy settings:

13th Age
As in most recent fantasy games, we like using humans of various ethnicities and styles. Some map to cultures in the game world, while others are part of the magical mixing pot.

Anima - Beyond Fantasy
Race here does not refer to ethnicity, but rather to a true supernatural species with attributes distinct from ours. The world of Anima is predominantly human …

Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition
There is no typical human. An individual can stand from 5 feet to a little over 6 feet tall and weigh from 125 to 250 pounds. Human skin shades range from nearly black to very pale, and hair colors from black to blond (curly, kinky, or straight); males might sport facial hair that is sparse or thick.
Humans are the most adaptable and ambitious people among the common races. They have widely varying tastes, morals, and customs in the many different lands where they have settled.
The material culture and physical characteristics of humans can change wildly from region to region. In the Forgotten Realms, for example, the cl0thing, architecture, cuisine, music, and literature are different…
In the Forgotten Realms, nine human ethnic groups are widely recognized…

Fantasy Craft
You’re a human, standing 5 ft. to 6 ft. tall and weighing between 100 to 250 lbs. Your hair, eyes, skin tone, and other physical features vary as much as your culture, which spreads quickly and borrows heavily from all others. You’re extremely inquisitive, trading ideas like most trade supplies, and adopting customs and terms from friends and foes alike. You’re also wildly ambitious, your culture making in-roads everywhere, sometimes through diplomacy, often through conquest. For all these reasons your appearance, demeanor, society, laws, religion, accumulated knowledge, and even language may be completely different from those of other humans, even your neighbors. Unlike other races, it is this very difference that defines you as a species. As a relatively short-lived breed, you view life as an adventure, an undiscovered country to explore and command. You blaze new trails every day, sampling and savoring every experience as a great treasure, and with every step you shape your own unique destiny. You haven’t the time or the patience for your brother’s means and aims, though sometimes you accept those of your father; you’re his legacy, after all, and how else will he be remembered? You make your own friends and enemies and cherish both as part of what makes you special.

Humans possess exceptional drive and a great capacity to endure and expand, and as such are currently the dominant race in the world. Their empires and nations are vast, sprawling things, and the citizens of these societies carve names for themselves with the strength of their sword arms and the power of their spells. Humanity is best characterized by its tumultuousness and diversity, and human cultures run the gamut from savage but honorable tribes to decadent, devil-worshiping noble families in the most cosmopolitan cities. Human curiosity and ambition often triumph over their predilection for a sedentary lifestyle, and many leave their homes to explore the innumerable forgotten corners of the world or lead mighty armies to conquer their neighbors, simply because they can. Physical Description: The physical characteristics of humans are as varied as the world’s climes. From the dark-skinned tribesmen of the southern continents to the pale and barbaric raiders of the northern lands, humans possess a wide variety of skin colors, body types, and facial features. Generally speaking, humans’ skin color assumes a darker hue the closer to the equator they live.

Savage Worlds
Humans in most settings should get the usual benefit — one free Edge of their choice. This option reflects their versatility and adaptability compared to other races. If you like more variety, you might also give humans abilities based on culture rather than race.

This is the default background for True20 heroes in a game using backgrounds. Human heroes may have cultural backgrounds in addition to their racial background to provide additional depth and options for the players.


The paragraphs above all the give the typical descriptions of humans in contemporary fantasy games. Firstly, note that most make an effort to capture the ‘diversity’ of humanity. This is, of course, handled in different ways in some games. For example, although D&D goes to great, expansive and unnecessary lengths to describe all the differing ways in which people can physically appear (something we’re hopefully well aware of already, but it also highlights, I suppose, that all these ethnic differences are also carried over to the D&D Forgotten Realms setting. So, no “we’re all white Vikings” settings for you, unless you do that anyway…). However, in the longer print version of the human description in D&D they also describe the numerous different Forgotten Realms ‘ethnicities’ of humans, which can be easily mapped to ethnicities of our own world without much difficulty. Quite what the point of all these descriptions is when it is hand-waved into “just play humans as the ethnicity you’re most comfortable with, i.e. your own” is beyond me. There’s a great deal of descriptive ‘fluff’ (especially from D&D) with it all amounting to pretty much what the 13th Age description says, “[s]ome map to cultures in the game world, while others are part of the magical mixing pot.” Needless to say then, I have purposely set out with the idea of humanity being of the second category, that is, of an entirely different ‘ethnicity’ than anything we might see on earth and that the whole species thinks of itself as one (albeit residing in different city-states).

Second, I think the descriptions also give a strong indication why it is that other fantasy ‘races’ all end up being rather one-note, because the idea of a diverse, versatile, and adaptive species is pretty given as the human’s shtick. This is due to the fact that it’s actually quite hard to sum up an entire species in terms of these sorts of characteristics. If we were to think about any of the descriptions given about the usual fantasy races, these could also be applied to a general appraisal of humanity. The industry and stubbornness of dwarves, the wisdom and detachment of elves, the connection to nature and warmth of hobbits, the conniving cowardly nature of goblins, the ferocious warlike animalism of orcs, and so forth. All of these can apply to an aspect of humanity, but rather than allow diversity in these other fantasy species we’re left instead with simplistic archetypes, which is understandable in terms of basic gameplay, but at the level of role-playing it seems rather dull. (At the level of story-telling it’s almost monstrous…)

So, rather than limit what a particular species can be, I intend to provide the psychological perspectives and stereotypes of each of the fantasy species on LeCraft, both from the internal angle of the species and as they are seen by others. I also think that rather than the fantasy concept of the different ‘races’ being basically humanoid but with specific racial characters, I will employ what could be thought of as the science-fiction approach, where differences in species are regarded as a result of a specific outcome of an imagined evolutionary process of a physiologically different species from humans. Iain M. Banks’s ‘Culture’ novels are a good example of this.

i.e. Not this

Now, I’m trying to envisage a world wherein humans have lived alongside varied alien species for some time and they have all (as species if not as individuals or groups) made a commitment to work with each other, rather than develop separately, because as this is an alien world for the majority and it is a hostile world at that, the reason need not be much more than basic survival. Further to that, working together to learn what magick is, how they can escape from this place (if, indeed, that is possible), and what purpose they are there for. Remember that, as I’ve previously said, time manipulation magick is somehow blocked and further to this that each species historic records are not fully know to them (the R’thexe seem to have some deep understanding of this but they are too confusingly obtuse to properly explain their knowledge).

What then “are humans like” on LeCraft?
  1. Mixed ‘ethnically’ speaking. Some diversity in appearance, but have lost the culture for analysing this minor cosmetic information. To us they would look like a people that have been thoroughly mixed to the point of appearing like being from pretty much everywhere.
  2. Physically what divides humanity from other species is the sexual dimorphism that is more pronounced than other species (some of which have more, or less, sexes than humans do).
  3. The most pronounced psychological attribute of humanity is seen by other species as being their need for society, for building and maintaining groups. Perhaps ironically, humans are seen as the most diplomatic of the species. Although this is partially for historic reasons.
  4. The main flaw of humanity, which can also be a strength, is their tendency towards self-deception, cognitive blindness, or ‘group-think’. The ability to believe something without evidence or even in the face of contradictory facts.