If this is not the place for this type of question, redirect me - I am new here, and apologize in advance.

So. My group is looking for something new. Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 in my own setting is our norm. We played a couple of months of Song of Ice and Fire RP, a while back, and liked some of that, but wanted to return to more fantasy. A few players have been wanting me to run a GURPS4 game, so I am - on the condition that we use the new world I've been developing.

I have ideas running out the nose, here, I'm using evernote to organize myself and have a blog/wiki for an adventure log and to reveal wiki info to the players as their characters learn more about this world.

All of that said - I'd also kind of like to toy with the idea of writing a book out of this world - all the world building could be used twice over, if I do that. My writing ideas are where the material for this world is coming from, anyway.

So the actual question, with that background is: Should I use the 'alien' races as commonly presented in High Fantasy (Elves, Dragons, Orcs, Drow, Dwarves, Gnomes, Halflings, Duergar... etc) or should I create all my own. Or just use different 'races' of Men, and leave it at that. If I chose the latter, should I have non sentient monsters?

I guess I'm asking for opinions. Are standard races/monsters tired? Would you rather play, or read about, new ones? Just humans? Old ones, with new twists?

Thanks in advance.

Edit: I've decided to go with primarily human species in this world, with a couple of other intelligent races that are less prevalent, and some monsters, specifically in cave/wilderness scenarios. But overall, it'll be humankind, in all of its black, white, and shades of grey. Thanks for the insights.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ I think that we need to know more about your ideas / settings / times in order to give you proper suggestions instead of our own personal preferences. For example, if you set your campaign deep underground in a mithycal age we may suggest to include Trolls, Kobolds and Dwarves, while in a Space Station 10,000 years in the future we may suggest to stick to humans and maybe aliens. Instead, if you want to re-create Sherlock Holmes world, well... I wouldn't recommend Ogres nor Starmen... as I can read the question now, sounds a bit too vague to me ;-) \$\endgroup\$
    – Yaztromo
    Commented May 5, 2012 at 19:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ A comment similar to previous can be done wrt how you want to set the good/evil scenario: if you want it simple and black and white (men vs beastmen or similar), then having "monsters" (Orcs, Giants, etc.) that look different and that you know are your deadly enemies is perfect. If you want a "complex" world, where you don't know for sure who's your friend and who's your enemy and maybe your own characters can have plenty of shades of grey, then I'd stay with "apparently" a single race (it can be humans as well as Gnomes as well as Vampires as well as Aliens living as humans between humans...) \$\endgroup\$
    – Yaztromo
    Commented May 5, 2012 at 19:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Shades of grey, definitely... and there's going to be a mix of locales in the world, it certainly won't be all underdarkish, nor will it be surreally cloud city like or anything. It'll be high fantasy, as stated, and probably in a tech 3 environment if you're familiar with GURPS4. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 5, 2012 at 21:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Locked because this is not on topic for the site as currently stated. Though restating as "What are the pros and cons of using the standard fantasy races in a new fantasy setting?" would probably result in an on topic question. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 3:01

4 Answers 4


On the one hand, the standard races work because they resonate with historical myths and the seminal works of the fantasy genre. They're also a convenient set of tropes and stereotypes; when you say "dwarven city", players immediately know what you're talking about and how it likely differs from a human city. Thus, they're useful for efficiently communicating ideas with your audience.

On the other hand, having run and played in a few humans-only games, I find that you get somewhat better characterisation in PCs when you start with a blank slate and are free to choose any trope of human nature that you desire. The same tropes that make races useful for communicating with your players also put pressure on your players; if you've ever tried to convince your fellow players that your dwarf is a teetotaller, you know what I'm talking about.

I also find that human-only games tend to lead to better-developed villains. No longer is "He has green skin and tusks, therefore he's homicidal and evil" a valid mode of reasoning; you as a GM are forced to flesh out the reasons for villainy, and your players must be a bit more reasonable about who they decide to off. The impact of villainy is somewhat magnified, too; that guy could've been you, if you were terribly wronged, deluded about the validity of means to certain ends, or otherwise a desperate man. You also run into human compassion on the players' side; I once played in a humans-only Traveller game where we didn't intentionally kill a single person over the course of the entire campaign, not for lack of firepower, but because we were reasonable human beings opposed to killing our fellow men (well, except the marine, but that generated interesting in-party conflicts). When you have a racial stereotype that is always in open hunting season, players in my experience tend to play much more to the Murder Hobo standard.

In sum - for my money, humans-only campaigns generate better developed PCs, saner PC behavior, more investment with NPCs by way of empathy, and villains who have motives rather than "We're evil; this is what we do." Ultimately, while players understand the tropes behind the fantasy races, our understanding of humanity is both stronger and weaker; we're familiar enough to provide empathy and an ability to easily get into the headspace of a human PC, but we also observe enough breadth in the way humans behave that human PCs who break the mold a little are believable where an odd PC of a fantasy race might not be.

  • \$\begingroup\$ That's exactly the kind of responses I'm wanting, thanks. Makes a lot of sense! \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 5, 2012 at 17:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm still interested in other comments, but I think that I may go for mostly human, with some humans that are 'altered' for reasons to back-storied to discuss, some racial/regional modifiers, as well as at least two home brew species - who will be introduced a good while later into this campaign, and neither of which will be able to be justifiably 'kill on sight'. At least, that's the way I'm headed. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 6, 2012 at 2:50

I think it's good you are questioning this, Asherion. I've seen several variations on "races" in original, fantasy campaign settings. I think one of the biggest issues for me has been distinguishing species from race. I don't think there's a perfect setting but I'll tell you my personal preference, because it looks like that is what you're after.

1) Classic races as you've mentioned. Difficulty here for story if you intend to adapt into novel form is realism. D&D offers up a huge variety of races that have been established and have coexisted for millennia in some cases. The relative lack of interbreeding, then, is almost uncanny. The rules system gives statistics for half-elves and half-orcs, which seems to suggest that most bipedal sentient races can reproduce. If that's the case then why don't we see all variations of genetic mixture? (ie - I'm 1/4 orc, 1/4 dwarf, 1/4 human, and 1/4 drow.) I think you would have to address this inconsistency if you want to satisfy readers/players like myself.

2) All new races. Presenting new cultures and physical beings is a treat to readers if done well. This could take the form of non-humanoid sentient beings as in the children's series Redwall. You can also design completely new alien races, but you have to be careful to establish rules of reproduction.

3) Race re-envisioning. You can choose to utilize established fantasy tropes such as dwarves and elves, but set clear species boundaries. Establishing that no "race" can breed with another "race" can clear up all confusion, but some may find this limiting in game play. You could also choose to blur the lines between "races" and write the history of your setting such that long ago the various alien races came into contact and found that they could interbreed. In the current era, however, after long centuries of coexistence the pedigrees of most peoples is fuzzy at best. Only a few remote regions would have a majority of pure blood descendants then.

As you might have guessed, my preference leans towards the definition of "race" in its literal sense, where all peoples are potential mates. If you include a large number of dramatically different fantasy races, this could make for quite a motley world population. You might be better off choosing just a few fantasy races to adapt so things don't get too ridiculous.

  • \$\begingroup\$ You make a good point regarding species vs race. Most players tend to use race for both, but the point is taken. Are you more prone to envision either a canon or newly created set of species, with reproduction rules set one way or the other, or do you like the all human variations as well? Some people I've talked to think that 'all human' would be too boring. Others feel as lorimer, above. I'm unsure, myself. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 5, 2012 at 17:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ In games that I run, I tend to utilize a few high fantasy races and a few unique species, with clear rules established for reproduction (either yes or no). I think a human-PC-only campaign can be great, but you do tend to lose a little fantasy flavor. The best way I've found to compromise is to include a few racial lineages that PCs and NPCs may be more or less genetically related to. This means that physical traits will tend to be more subtle. \$\endgroup\$
    – Vestrik
    Commented May 5, 2012 at 18:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ A whole bunch of races all capable of interbreeding ... And the 'humans' of the setting are the interbred mongrels of the bunch that have been kicked outs the purebred areas and bred like rabbits, becoming the dominant group ... \$\endgroup\$
    – RDM
    Commented Dec 18, 2012 at 3:17

Draw up a list of sentients and their biomes and standard economic relations. Look down the list of biomes and relations, if there are missing biomes (swamps) or economics (not even Elves have clan based independent villages ala Balkan highlands) add the missing ones.


Humans are swamp dwellers known for their iron working and craftsmanship. Gnomes dwell primarily in flatlands and are known for their mastery of the distant pasts of the world. Dwarfs dwell in forests and live crudely by raiding more advanced species. Goblins live underground and are known for their semi-independent networks of feudal states, currently they are the dominant race.

Reconsider if any of this is interesting, take the interesting bits, abandon the rest.

Take the interesting bits and work them, so they're not just "all dwarves are now elves with beards."


If I remember properly, tech 3 scenario (that you mention in your comment) is roughly medioeval... in that case you can do a bit what you want!... probably you can go for a single race world (at least, as far as it can be seen...) and a single "official" religion (but presence of strange heresies is whispered...), whidespread hypocrisy, then you can add all the shades of grey that you want...;-)

Having a scenario that APPEARS to be homogeneous helps to complexity more than having the "baddies" with green skin and foul smelling: in the first case you never know who's against you and widely practiced hypocrisy helps traitors and similar surprises (your best friend or familiar may denounce your suspicious behaviours or words in an hexalted religiuos/philosophical cuture), while if the "baddy" is green and growls, you know immediately that you can kill him with no second thought, otherwise he'll kill you.


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