23
\$\begingroup\$

I find the term Humanoid to be (obviously) human centric, and am looking for a more generic term to use in place of it to define all intelligent creatures that exist in standard society of these fantasy worlds. A few examples of what I'm looking for:

  • A small hamlet town consisting mostly of gnomes, halflings, dwarves, and a small spattering of humans likely wouldn't refer to themselves as "humanoids," so what would they call themselves?
  • A human player character is new in town and walks up to an elven resident, the elf would find it quite rude to be asked "What humanoids make up the general population here?" I suppose 'races' or 'species' might work here, but I think those would also be taken offensively.
  • A Beholder looks down on the intelligent residents of the realm and laughs at "those pitiful humanoids!" What if the beholder had never met a human, only the more rare races; where did it get the term 'humanoid' then?

My campaign is DND 5e set in Eberron, but any term from any TTRPG setting would work.

One additional example to clarify what I'm looking for. In real life humans are naturally inclined to classify creatures and things however they can, I would assume that would roll over to in game humans as well; this example is more for the in-game classification of 'humanoids:'

  • A group or scholars in Morgrave University discuss what constitutes humanoids, and which the monstrous creatures from Droaam can be considered humanoids. Would they use the term humanoid here, or would they have a more 'scientific' word for them? Of course Latin doesn't exist in Eberron (or any other official setting) so it likely wouldn't be the 'language of science,' and with Common being so widely spoken it likely would be used for classification terms.
\$\endgroup\$
9
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Not sure how much has been said about the specifics of Common in canon sources, but mightn't it be Latin with a different name? Even if it isn't Latin, Common could still be that world's "language of science" for much the same reasons Latin filled that role IRL. \$\endgroup\$
    – Steve-O
    Oct 16 '20 at 13:26
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Can you clarify whether you're looking for a word for "all intelligent creatures" or a word for the human-shaped creatures? Different answers are based on different interpretations. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jetpack
    Oct 16 '20 at 14:03
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ This question is being discussed on meta: Is this question about alternatives to the word humanoid too broad or opinion based, or is it well scoped? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 16 '20 at 17:32
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @jetpack somewhere in between? human shaped isn't broad enough, as I'd like to include creatures like Aarakocra and Centaurs, but "all intelllegent creastures" is too wide as it includes beholders or dragons. My first thought was creatures of the type "humanoid," but that would exclude Centaurs (at least the NPC ones) and include Grimlocks, as examples. "Civilized Humanoids" comes to mind, but then that changes the question to what constitutes civilized (which may be what is discussed at Morgrave University). \$\endgroup\$ Oct 16 '20 at 23:17
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @RobbieGoodwin I believe I described Humanoid well enough above; I don't believe it is acceptable because there is many races that are not humans that my take offense to the word; the haughty elven stereotype would likely be more than displeased to be described as a 'humanoid,' Centaurs or Aarokocra likely wouldn't consider themselves to be humanoid, older races like dwarves or (in Eberron) goblins likely wouldn't be group in with a group that came after them. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 18 '20 at 2:06
54
\$\begingroup\$

People

In each of your examples the term "humanoid" could be replaced with "people". A more common-language approach may be easier to work in-game than trying to shoehorn a more awkward word.

The only thing lost is the distinction between humanoid and non-humanoid personages (for example, the Beholder mentioned in the question). However, in those cases whether or not the creature is a "person" is perhaps an interesting in-game question that can be fruitfully preserved.

Backing Up

In a comment I was reminded that answers should be appropriately backed up. In the Player's Handbook the authors use the word "people" to describe unspecified collections of creatures without feeling the need for further explanation:

In the worlds of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, practitioners of magic are rare, set apart from the masses of people by their extraordinary talent. (pg.8)

The word appears more than 100 times in that book alone. It's usage is the same as the common English usage in our world today. By browsing those usages you may develop or refine your intuition.

The word "people" is similarly used in every setting of every RPG I can think of. For illustration consider the 2e setting Planescape, which includes a race of playable centaur-like people called bariaur. They are distinctly not humanoid, but are referred to as "people" throughout discussions of Sigil and the planes. This usage appears frequently throughout both the Planescape Campaign Setting and In the Cage, and likely many other places.

... most people in Sigil are from out of town themselves. ... The core population of planars comprises humans, githzerai, bariaur, and tieflings, with a few prime elves, dwarves, and other obscure, Clueless races. (In the Cage, pg.13)

Clearly here "people" refers to humans, humanoid creatures such as elves and dwarves, as well as non-humanoid creatures like the bariaur. As with the 5e Player's Handbook this appears without note or explanation because it's an unremarkable usage of a common word.

I have no access to the 5e Eberron materials, but I hope that someone else will locate a setting-specific word that is helpful.

\$\endgroup\$
5
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Or "peoples", when talking about kinds of humanoids, like in the "What humanoids make up the general population here?" example ("What peoples live here"). Perhaps it's obvious for native English speakers, but took me a while to grasp how this second meaning of "people" works. \$\endgroup\$
    – Frax
    Oct 15 '20 at 21:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Frax "What people live here?" makes sense to me. "What people live in Japan" could be answered with a list of individuals, families, ethnic groups, political factions, religions, etc. "Peoples" works just as well, but of course use the language that makes sense for your table. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 15 '20 at 21:59
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The word "Humanoid" would likely almost never come up in an in-game conversation. Humanoid is a word used by us because the game was written by, well, humans! And since elves, goblins, and other such creatures aren't real, the only thing we have to reference on how these other creatures appear, is humans, which necessitated its use as a descriptor. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 16 '20 at 19:33
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Humanoid is just the term in human language, in dwarfish it may well translate as dwarfoid. I doubt lizardfolk refer to themselves as lizardfolk. \$\endgroup\$
    – John
    Oct 17 '20 at 14:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ In one setting (perhaps not D&D, I don't recall the details), the elvish word for "people" is frequently mistranslated, because in that language the equivalent of "people" explicitly refers to only elves; there's a different word for "sentient beings who are not elves". \$\endgroup\$
    – T.J.L.
    Oct 20 '20 at 12:35
20
\$\begingroup\$

Folk(s)

Means same as "people", especially "common people", or other somehow defined group of people.

Examples: Townsfolk. Folk of the realm. Poor folk. Hey folks! Those pitiful folk of the material plane! What kind of folks live here in this town?

Some examples of use from RPG and other fantasy texts I found:

\$\endgroup\$
4
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ This also complies with the observation (I think it might be a variant of Zipf's law) that frequently-used words tend to be shorter. Ground, earth, fork, spade, bread, drink, man, wife, kids... not to mention a vast number distinguished by having four letters. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 16 '20 at 8:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ I really enjoy "-folk" words as the gender-neutral varieties for various professions, e.g., "fisherfolk". \$\endgroup\$
    – Luke
    Oct 16 '20 at 13:16
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ OP states: "My campaign is DND 5e set in Eberron, but any term from any setting or TTRPG or otherwise would work." Additionally, we have some expectations for citing and sourcing answers: What are the citation expectations of answers on RPG Stack Exchange?. This answer should be updated to include citations to RPG-related sources, otherwise it does not answer the question. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 16 '20 at 13:52
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov I edited the answer, hopefully for the better. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 18 '20 at 21:16
16
\$\begingroup\$

Different languages are different.

We translate it all to English anyway, so the word that means that body-shape really is "humanoid" for us, with the etymology that entails. If Common is a human-dominated language in your world, then it may well do the same (to the likely annoyance of at least some members of the other races). If it's not, it won't... but that will be true of a great many words.

The dwarves, though, speaking Dwarvish, will have a different word for it, with a different etymology. The elves will likely have a third. These kinds of disconnects between languages happen all the time.

Evidence

Many languages on our Earth use 'humanoid' as a technical loan-word from English, but as an example of one that doesn't, Greek provides "ανθρωποειδής", which translates back to english approximately as "like a man" (referring to humanity as a race, rather than the male sex specifically). I don't speak any other languages well enough to find other examples, but this fits the general approach of languages in going from a specific, concrete idea (human) to a more general or conceptual idea (humanoid) [cf to 'door' meaning initially a physical door, but by extension an opportunity]. Linguistics says this is common across languages and cultures (sorry, can't find an actual citation for this to hand; I can ask my linguist friend if it'd be helpful, but it'll likely be behind an academic paywall)

So our words for 'humanoid' on Earth are approximately "like [word for us]".

This suggests that languages of humanoids on Faerun would use a word meaning "like [word for ourselves]" – which we might translate as "elfoid", "dwarfoid", etc.

However, beholders and other non-humanoids would use a word describing the difference as they perceive it.

So Centaurs might use "two-legs" (e.g. the use of "quadruped" in English), but beholders (who fly) might use a term like "ground-walkers" – and may well not particularly separate humanoids from other legged creatures in their common language (though likely they'll have technical terms).

\$\endgroup\$
5
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, humans say "humanoid" in common tongue to describe species looking like them, elves say something that means "elfoid" in their languages, etc. \$\endgroup\$
    – Echox
    Oct 16 '20 at 8:39
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ OP states: "My campaign is DND 5e set in Eberron, but any term from any setting or TTRPG or otherwise would work." Additionally, we have some expactations for citing and sourcing answers: What are the citation expectations of answers on RPG Stack Exchange?. This answer should be updated to include citations to RPG-related sources, otherwise it does not answer the question. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 16 '20 at 13:53
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov OP does say "or otherwise" and is looking for a suitable generic English term suitable for role playing context. But I'll try to improve the answer when I have time. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 16 '20 at 18:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov I think the best citations here will be to linguistic sources, as 5e doesn't comment much (at all?) on translation of languages. I'm lacking citations to specific linguistic papers, but I'll attempt to provide some evidence at least. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dan W
    Oct 21 '20 at 15:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ OP has confirmed they are only looking for TTRPG terms, can you either update with that or remove the answer that no longer fits the requirements? \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Oct 21 '20 at 18:02
6
\$\begingroup\$

There are two potential contexts for this:

Game mechanics

There is no alternative term in game mechanics. Period. End of story. Humanoid is a specifically defined creature type in D&D 5e (and 4e, 3e, 3.5e, and both first and second edition Pathfinder). In particular, it refers (just like the term in real life) to a standard tetrapod-derived body pattern (four limbs, one head, optional tail) with a bipedal stance, and has a number of associated ‘default’ statistics used in creating NPCs who have this creature type. There are a handful of things in the actual game mechanics that care about uniquely identifying this type of creature (though far fewer than in some other games), with the most notable example being the spell Hold Person (which only works on humanoids).

Do not go around changing these terms in your games in the context of game mechanics. Aside from probably confusing your players (‘I thought the villagers said they were attacked by a puddle, what the hell is this gelatinous cube doing here?’), you open yourself up to long complicated arguments resulting from misunderstandings of creature types (and I have seen plenty of those with the existing creature types).

However, this does not mean that this is the term used in-universe by most people. In-fact, while creature-type names may be used in-universe, chances are they are both language-specific and mostly relegated to discussion among adventurers or scholars, just like most normal people IRL talk about monkeys and apes instead of simians, or lizards and snakes instead of squamates, or earthworms and leeches instead of annelids.

Rather importantly, in-universe you can use whatever term makes sense in the context of the discussion, which brings us to the second context this question could be taken in.

In-Universe Prose

This gets more into a writing or story-telling question than one of game mechanics, but I’d argue it’s still on-topic here because storytelling is a core part of the game and it’s most of where you’re going to run into arguments about human-centrism.

For your first two examples, the proper way to phrase the questions is in terms of INT scores and contribution to local society. More specifically, in both cases what both examples care about is creatures with an INT >= 3 that actively contribute to society by their own choice. The simplest solution is to use the term almost all of your players would probably use here, which is ‘people’, or possibly ‘races’ if you care less about individuals and more about species. In other words, both are likely to be phrased exactly like they would be in real life.

For more intellectual discussions that aren’t trying to put down the individuals being talked about, ‘sapients’ (used to refer to individuals with sentience (language, tool-use, and self-awareness) and the ability to reason about the future, though this arguably includes a lot of INT 2 creatures also if you go by real life) or ‘sophunts’ (a term originally from sci-fi referring to sapient creatures that have a level of intelligence at least equivalent to humans). Both are more technical terms in real life, but there is no reason to believe that such terms would not exist (translated of course) in the languages in the game universe.

Where it gets interesting is cases like your beholder (or dragons, or other high INT creatures who do not have humanoid bodies). Here, I’d argue that ‘humanoid’ is out of place not because of the human-centrism of the term, but because it’s not insulting enough. Unless the character being portrayed has a serious lack of creativity or is known for a particularly clinical style of speech, the use of the term ‘humanoid’ would stick out to me as being strange because it’s too bland. You’re trying to portray bigotry and racism here, such characters don’t pull their punches. Terms like ‘monkeys’ or ‘apes’ are the first alternatives that come to mind. Perhaps ‘fleshbags’ if it’s a being that either has no corporeal form or has a synthetic body. Maybe ‘warm-bloods’ if it’s a naturally cold-blooded creature. Perhaps ‘trogoldutes’ (literally ‘cavemen’ in the real world, though they’re a particularly reviled species known for their stupidity and horrendous smell in the TTRPG settings in which they exist) if it’s supposed to be a truly generic insult. If they just care about intelligence, power, or social standing, then any of ‘peasants’, ‘plebians’ (the ancient Roman equivalent of ‘peasants’, usually used today to insult someone’s intelligence), ‘boors’ (derived from a Germanic root meaning ‘farmer’ or ‘peasant’, used today to refer to people who are uncivilized or socially inept), ‘neanderthals’, or something similar would work.

The important thing to remember here is that ‘Common’ is not ‘English’. Even things being said in Common are being heard through the lens of translation, so what matters is getting meaning across. Just because there wasn’t some ancient Greek warrior named Ἀχιλλεύς doesn’t mean that there isn’t an idiom that has exactly the same meaning as ‘Achilles heel’, but it would be stupid to spend time explaining the in-universe idiom to your players and then hope they remember it, so it just makes more sense to say ‘Achilles heel’ instead and be done with it. Similarly, you don’t need some ‘fancy’ politically correct word, you just need one that gets the meaning across sensibly, which usually translates to speaking as you would in real life.

\$\endgroup\$
3
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ OP states: "My campaign is DND 5e set in Eberron, but any term from any setting or TTRPG or otherwise would work." Additionally, we have some expectations for citing and sourcing answers: What are the citation expectations of answers on RPG Stack Exchange?. This answer should be updated to include citations to RPG-related sources, otherwise it does not answer the question. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 16 '20 at 13:53
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov This is both a subjective question (there is no 'standard' alternate term unless the setting defines it, and Eberron does not AFAIK define such an alternate term) and deals with linguistics and ‘writing’ style and not game mechanics other than the fact that ‘humanoid’ has specific meanings as a creature type in specific systems. If you’re going to argue citation rules on such a question, I’d argue you are better off voting to migrate it somewhere else (possibly Writing SE?), because it’s not even something where the subjective citation rules can be applied to most answers. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 16 '20 at 14:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ OP has confirmed they are only looking for TTRPG terms, can you either update with that or remove the answer that no longer fits the requirements? \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Oct 21 '20 at 18:02
4
\$\begingroup\$

In games I run, when problems such as this come up, I solve it by saying something along these lines:

Unlike English, Common has evolved in a world where there are many different races/species of beings similar to Earth humans. As such, it probably has a collective noun for them which English lacks. We can use the word "humanoid" in our game as a translation for a Common term which is not human-centric.

I've used this as a DM and players always accepted it just fine. I've even used it as a player in another game, and the GM was fine with my reasoning and agreed such a word is likely to exist.

\$\endgroup\$
3
  • \$\begingroup\$ OP states: "My campaign is DND 5e set in Eberron, but any term from any setting or TTRPG or otherwise would work." Additionally, we have some expectations for citing and sourcing answers: What are the citation expectations of answers on RPG Stack Exchange?. This answer should be updated to include citations to RPG-related sources, otherwise it does not answer the question. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 16 '20 at 13:52
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov Strictly speaking, you're right: the OP is asking for a word, and I am not providing one. However, I am using my personal experience to show how you can play without the need for such a word. Perhaps you might call it a frame challenge, but while it may not answer the literal question, I think it can be a solution to the underlying question of how to address this in play. And why is "used at several real-life games" not covered by "or otherwise?" \$\endgroup\$ Oct 16 '20 at 14:03
  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasMarkov This is a quality example of good subjective, they answer with how they've done it and how it went. A bit of a frame challenge, but that's okay, too. \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Oct 16 '20 at 20:53
3
\$\begingroup\$

Here's a bit of a historical perspective that may not satisfy the OP, but perhaps some other visitor may find it informative/helpful. In early editions of D&D, "humanoid" was not used the way it currently is.

In Original D&D (1974-1976), the term "humanoid" is not used at all. What does get used (in the official magazine supplement, e.g. The Strategic Review #2) is the term "giant class", for the chaotic races of kobolds, goblins, orcs, ogres, trolls, and giants. These were all listed together in a single roster in the original game. Perhaps one could creatively extrapolate that they're all descended from giants, and this the key classification in-game?

In Advanced D&D (1E and 2E; 1977-1999), the term "humanoid" is first used, but only for the evil races previously called "giant class". Here, the good races of elves, dwarves, gnomes, and halflings are called "demi-humans".

It wasn't until 3E D&D (2000) that the term "humanoid" was used generally for all the races mentioned above.

\$\endgroup\$
0
1
\$\begingroup\$

There is a generic term "Anthropoid," which means "resembling a human being." It's a more generic term that can also refer to simians (monkeys and apes) and fictional species with human-like body structure.

"Simian" would also be a valid term, though it would be quite derogatory. A beholder who feels superior to those species might use it.

\$\endgroup\$
6
  • 8
    \$\begingroup\$ Considering that "anthropoid" is a direct synonym to "humanoid" (simply replacing English with Greek), this doesn't feel like an improvement. \$\endgroup\$
    – BBeast
    Oct 15 '20 at 10:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Oct 15 '20 at 11:33
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ In this case Simian may work, however there are some more exotic playable races -- Aarakocra, Centaurs, Tabaxi, or Warforged -- where it doesn't quite work. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 15 '20 at 14:55
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ OP states: "My campaign is DND 5e set in Eberron, but any term from any setting or TTRPG or otherwise would work." Additionally, we have some expectations for citing and sourcing answers: What are the citation expectations of answers on RPG Stack Exchange?. This answer should be updated to include citations to RPG-related sources, otherwise it does not answer the question. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 16 '20 at 13:53
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Given that in Eberron's mythology the races were made by Eberron the wyrm, rather than evolving from apes, I don't think Simian would make much sense. Maybe Eberronians? \$\endgroup\$
    – Luke
    Oct 19 '20 at 13:13
1
\$\begingroup\$

I suppose 'races' or 'species' might work here, but I think those would also be taken offensively.

"Races" would probably be taken offensively on planet Earth in the 21st century, but that would be because "race" has a history of being used in pseudoscientific and racist ways. "Species" is a term that is used on 21st century Earth to refer to a certain type of biological clade, but this is just inapplicable to an RPG set in a pseudo-medieval, non-scientific world, or one where Darwinian evolution isn't even how things work.

So I would just use "races" or "species," unless you want to be humorous: -- A hobbit scrambles over a mountain pass covered with snow and ice, and breathes a sigh of relief as he regains level ground in an alpine meadow. Into the meadow floats a creature with wings and tentacles that is singing and playing a stringed instrument. "Good morning," says the hobbit. "Sorry to interrupt, but what kind of hobbitoids live in this country?"

\$\endgroup\$
2
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ OP states: "My campaign is DND 5e set in Eberron, but any term from any setting or TTRPG or otherwise would work." Additionally, we have some expectations for citing and sourcing answers: What are the citation expectations of answers on RPG Stack Exchange?. This answer should be updated to include citations to RPG-related sources, otherwise it does not answer the question. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 16 '20 at 13:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ OP has confirmed they are only looking for TTRPG terms, can you either update with that or remove the answer that no longer fits the requirements? \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Oct 21 '20 at 18:02
0
\$\begingroup\$

Different words for different occasions.

A small hamlet town ... what would they call themselves?

  • Townsfolk - Their identity is tied to living together rather than who has pointy ears.

"What humanoids make up the general population here?"

  • People - "What kind of people make up the general population here?"
  • Bloodlines - "What are the bloodlines of the people here?"

A Beholder looks down on the intelligent residents ... "those pitiful humanoids!" What if the beholder had never met a human, only the more rare races; where did it get the term 'humanoid' then?

  • It would be based on whatever intelligent bipeds the beholder has encountered and how it groups them together - which would likely be amusing.
  • Beastfolk, Orckin, Orcanoid, Koboldians, Tentacle-less illithids

would they have a more 'scientific' word for them?

  • This would be based entirely on what the current "scientific" (mythological) consensus is.
  • Are all humanoids descended from the wyrm Eberron? Maybe Eberronians makes sense for your setting.
  • Does someone believe humanoids are actually descended from elves? Then: Merfolk, Elfkin, etc.
  • Are they unique in blood color? Red-bloods

Specific examples of use in TTRPG sources:

  • Countless compendiums mention "Townsfolk", including the curse of strahd.
  • Wayfinder's Guide to Eberron mentions the word "People" and "Bloodlines"; other books also mention bloodlines relating to Draconic creatures and Tieflings.
  • Beastfolk and Goblinkin are mentioned in the Explorer's Guide to Wildemount.
  • Wayfinder's Guide to Eberron mentions to origin of people coming from Eberron. I just added "-ians".
  • Pretty much any word in the english language has appeared in at least one TTRPG.
\$\endgroup\$
3
  • \$\begingroup\$ OP has confirmed they are only looking for TTRPG terms, can you either update with that or remove the answer that no longer fits the requirements? \$\endgroup\$
    – NautArch
    Oct 21 '20 at 18:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've added sources. \$\endgroup\$
    – Luke
    Oct 21 '20 at 19:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ I am once again going to remind you not to resort to name calling. We require answers to be supported. See both the general meta on that and the specific meta for this q for more on that. \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Oct 21 '20 at 20:16

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.