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Author Topic: Are non-humans neccessary in FRPGs?  (Read 8615 times)
RyuMaou
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« on: February 26, 2004, 05:14:04 AM »

I was thinking about this the other day and it occurred to me that I don't know of any surviving, or even dead-but-once-popular, FRPGs that didn't involve elves, dwarves, or some other non-human player-character race.   Oh, wait, make that any non-modern....
Anyway, it got me thinking.  Are they really neccessary?  Can players do without them?  Even one of my favorites, Legend of the Five Rings, added in some fantastical player characters (naga and nezumi).  But, did they have to?  Will players not accept a humans-only FRPG?

Just wondering what you all think.
Thanks,
Jim Hoffman
aka RyuMaou
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Lxndr
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« Reply #1 on: February 26, 2004, 05:18:32 AM »

I know I certainly would.  There's really a dearth of humanocentric fantasy settings.  I guess the short answer is:  No, there's absolutely no reason why non-human races are necessary.  But they can be, and often are, enjoyable.
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Jack Aidley
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« Reply #2 on: February 26, 2004, 05:23:20 AM »

Ars Magica and Pendragon spring to mind. While Dragon Warriors had non-human races, but they weren't playable.
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Loki
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« Reply #3 on: February 26, 2004, 05:59:18 AM »

This is a tangent, but has anyone ever noticed that the so-called non-human races like Elves, Dwarves, etc are really just humans with exaggerated characteristics? I mean, Elves don't really play like immortals, just humans with certain, quite human traits emphasized (eg they are often portrayed as "cultured" humans, or "nature-loving" humans, etc). Even Orks, the traditional enemy of humans and their cousins, are really just humans with our more brutal qualities emphasized.

So perhaps the real question is "*are* there non-humans in FRPGs?".

As long as I'm hijacking, if anyone is interested in reading some sf fiction that has really non-human races, check out Deepdrive, by Alexander Jablokov.

Okay, I'm returning control of the aircraft to the pilot.
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Chris Geisel
clehrich
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« Reply #4 on: February 26, 2004, 06:20:50 AM »

On the main question at hand, I don't see that there's any reason a fantasy game can't be entirely humanocentric.  I haven't read them in years, but wouldn't the Conan books be pretty much like this?  Different races, of course, but not different species.  As to why there are always a fairly stock set of these races, I think you'd have to go back to the tremendous influence of Tolkien.

On Loki's point, Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead went to some lengths to describe an alien species (the Pequeninhos, I think they were called, or piggies for short) who were really very alien.  Not totally successful, but a reasonable stab at it.

On Ars Magica, note that you could play a faerie if you wanted to, but not as a Magus.

I do think that Loki's question, about whether there really are any non-humans, belongs in another thread, but I'd certainly be interested.

Chris Lehrich
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Chris Lehrich
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: February 26, 2004, 06:24:29 AM »

Hi there,

Loki, the answer is "Yes." We've beaten that one into the ground pretty thoroughly in the past, although I'd like some help from the veterans in helping me locate threads.

As for the more general question, it's hard to disentangle it from the larger Fantasy Heartbreaker issue. Not only do the FH games have nonhuman races, they have the same profile of races as their source material. But plenty of non-Heartbreaker fantasy games have nonhumans too.

I see them as falling into several categories.

1) A given set of nonhumans offers a specific kind of crisis for player-characters; that's what they're for. Trolls do this in Trollbabe, and I submit that most of the races in Glorantha are similar, especially trolls.

2) A given set of nonhumans serves as surrealistic color for a given setting, emphasizing some thematic element or perhaps just otherworldliness. I suggest that elves play this role in Glorantha.

3) As suggested and previously discussed, a given set of nonhumans provides a template for specific player-character and non-player-character behavior, kind of a shared-agreement or grounding element of play. Dwarves seem to play this role throughout fantasy role-playing games.

I sense some opportunity for several very focused and useful threads about this stuff. This thread might be a good starting point for figuring out what sort of variables and issues should be involved.

Best,
Ron
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Alex Johnson
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« Reply #6 on: February 26, 2004, 07:41:45 AM »

I do believe that TSR's Conan RPG was humanocentric to the exclusion of other humanoids for player characters.  Certainly it is possible.  I don't know of that many game system/setting publications that were human-only, but I have certainly created a number of settings for existing RPGs that are human-only.
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timfire
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« Reply #7 on: February 26, 2004, 09:20:06 AM »

While its entirely possible to have a human-centric FRPG, you also have to look at myths and fairy-tales. Many if not most have some non-human element. (Of course, that's my non-expert understanding.)
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RyuMaou
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« Reply #8 on: February 26, 2004, 10:40:16 AM »

Quote from: Lxndr
I know I certainly would.  There's really a dearth of humanocentric fantasy settings.  I guess the short answer is:  No, there's absolutely no reason why non-human races are necessary.  But they can be, and often are, enjoyable.


I've often wondered if this was driven by designers or players.  Are designers afraid that players won't play FRPGs that don't have elves, dwarves, etc?  I suspect that a lot, not all, but a lot, of FRPGs are trying to copy the success of Dungeons and Dragons, and include the non-humans because they were "in the original".  I haven't any real proof, of course, but I've often speculated on that.  OTH, it could be that everyone is so heavily influenced by Tolkien that they include them for that reason.

Quote from: clehrich
On the main question at hand, I don't see that there's any reason a fantasy game can't be entirely humanocentric. I haven't read them in years, but wouldn't the Conan books be pretty much like this? Different races, of course, but not different species. As to why there are always a fairly stock set of these races, I think you'd have to go back to the tremendous influence of Tolkien.

and
Quote from: Alex Johnson
I do believe that TSR's Conan RPG was humanocentric to the exclusion of other humanoids for player characters.  Certainly it is possible.  I don't know of that many game system/setting publications that were human-only, but I have certainly created a number of settings for existing RPGs that are human-only.


Conan is an excellent literary example.  And, that was the kind of thing I was thinking of, frankly.  There's so much great swords and sorcery literature that has nothing to do with elves and such that it's a wonder to me how it slipped past designers!  And, of course, that made me wonder if there was a reason.

So, is it still a marketable idea do you think?  Obviously, it was at one point in time, but is it still?

Thanks,
Jim
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Zak Arntson
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« Reply #9 on: February 26, 2004, 12:15:31 PM »

Different design goals produce different results.

* Based on Literature - Here, the reason is easy. Does the literature have non-humans? Conan (Robert E. Howard) and Dying Earth (Jack Vance) are examples literature and subsequent games with only humans. Things get muddled if the game is based on literature based on gaming. Dragonlance comes to mind, being fiction based on plain vanilla D&D, subsequently turned into a game.

* Based on D&D - Let's face it, most fantasy rpgs are based on D&D, not Tolkien. And that's what fantasy heartbreakers are all about; for the most part, their choice on races is because it's an assumed part of fantasy gaming.

I agree with Ron's assessment where, barring heartbreakers whose reasons are tied to the parent game, you have races emphasizing design goals. Tying into the third category, you have races representing an exaggerated aspect of humanity. Does this ties into the suspension of disbelief? Can players can more readily accept a violent barbarian if he's a half-orc? Or an aloof mage if he's an elf? Does it help the social contract if the player constantly stealing from the party is a kender, and expected to do so, rather than a human thief?
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #10 on: February 26, 2004, 02:53:40 PM »

If a game is a fantasy game it has to be about something fantastic to qualify, doesn't it? I mean, several of the games mentioned - Ars, Pendragon, etc - do have fantasy creatures in them. So there's two questions here, does the game have fantastic races available for play, and does the game have fantastic races at all?

Because I think that fantasy games that don't have fantastic races at all are near nonexistent.

The other element of fantasy tends to be magic - I'd have a hard time thinking of what to replace magic and races with and still call something fantasy at all. Sure one could just have magic, but magic, if it's to be anything like real life mythology seems to be tied up in belief systems that include fantastic races. Basically it's hard to avoid.

Not impossible, but difficult. The real question isn't so much if a game like that could exists, but what it would be about. Not problematic either, what I'm saying is that "not about non-humans" isn't a goal, it's just a specification in a larger design. I mean if you don't replace something like this you have less of a game than even the Fantasy Heartbreakers. Less isn't more unless there's something else to be focused on.

Mike
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J B Bell
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« Reply #11 on: February 26, 2004, 03:36:27 PM »

Grey Ghost publishes a game based on Katherine Kurtz's Deryni novels. To my recollection, there are no fantastic creatures, though there might be angels (I don't remember seeing that, but I only read the first two trilogies).

--JB
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Mr. Sluagh
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« Reply #12 on: February 26, 2004, 05:11:08 PM »

What about Exalted?  I mean, it has beastmen, Fair Folk and Lizard Kings, but those aren't really at all emphasized, especially not as PCs.  Non-human races are there, but human (albeit extraordinary ones with potent gifts from the gods) are still central to the setting.
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Lance D. Allen
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« Reply #13 on: February 26, 2004, 06:04:18 PM »

Even Conan had Fantasy creatures, if not necessarily whole races of them. Demons, dragons, giant serpents and bizarre magic-crafted creatures which lurk in the depths of dungeons.

It's beginning to seem that Fantasy creatures, if not races or available as player characters, do seem to be pretty essential to the definition of Fantasy. However, it isn't necessary to follow the same paradigm as DnD when using them, a mold which TRoS has mostly avoided, Shadowrun twists neatly, and Conan-type games avoid entirely.
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Zak Arntson
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« Reply #14 on: February 26, 2004, 06:48:07 PM »

We need to have a common definition of race, so we can exclude fantasy monsters, as used in a fantasy RPG. I'll try:

Race in a fantasy roleplaying is a species of which a player character or non-player character can belong.

But we are also running disparate discussions. Should this thread be closed to start new ones? Right now, we have a poll on which games have what races, a discussion on what makes a fantasy game fantastic, and the role of races in a fantasy roleplaying game.
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