log in or register to remove this ad

 

Creating non-stereotypical game worlds

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
Thanks to the thread about "Cultural Approbation" I'm working on new societies for my games again. Now I'm curious, what societies and subgroups of well known races have been created by everyone? How much did you mix up existing ideas (especially existing human culture and stereotypes) and how well did it go over with your players?
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Tristantak

First Post
Well, my dwarves are beardless and matriarchal, if that counts. I've also got a race of elves that live in the desert and wield six-foot swords passed down in the family.

But I think my favorite is my honor-focused human culture. Men often wear their hair in topknots, women in intricate braids. They are kind to the needy and the destitute. Honor is fundamental, and it is what marks one's status. People wear honor-beads in their hair, showing their honor with both the number of beads and the length of the hair. They must be very careful to grow their hair only to the length their honor allows.
One who has no honor has their head shaved and tattooed, and can be sold as a slave. The Honorless are the betrayers, murderers, and others- sometimes including those who ignore the needy. However, they can earn back honor. It's just harder for them, because they are considered to have negative honor.
 

CaptainGemini

First Post
I don't bother with trying to be nonstereotypical. There's a stereotype for everything, and the only way I could make something nonstereotypical is to make it completely unlike anything humanity has ever conceived of before... which, ultimately, makes a game that is incredibly difficult for players to get into.

Instead, I try to make it interesting. Elves who live for eternity in the woods, are nigh-immortal magical powerhouses, and which can hear an atom split? Boring! Elves who are blood-thirty, slightly-zenophobic technology masters who love warfare and bloodshed and very much focus on function over form... Players tend to sit up and take notice.

One of the fun things is to give a culture no written language, but instead rely on alternate ways of passing information along. Imagine how players react when they find out those strands of colored beads they see all over the place are actually sign posts that convey quite detailed information.

What's even better is when a player argues that a minor detail I've included in a civilization couldn't have evolved with that civilization... and I say they're right and that the custom originated elsewhere. It plays up that there is a larger world and that these civilizations do interact and influence each other.
 


Dioltach

Adventurer
In my campaign world, the elves live in ancient dark forests and summon demons. My dwarves are builders -- aided by armies of enslaved giants -- but also masters of poison. My halflings are a mixture of Eberron's dinosaur riders and Dark Sun's canibals, but their race is also the product of genetic experiments by the elves -- the races share an implacable hatred of each other.
 

Thanks to the thread about "Cultural Approbation"...
(cackles like Palpatine)

Arguably you can go deeper than the usual - no dwarves, no elves, etc. Humans are possibly only a recent phenomena (many travelers, or colonists, or something). Try to take nothing for granted.
 
Last edited:

CaptainGemini

First Post
(cackles like Palpatine)

Arguably you can do deeper than the usual - no dwarves, no elves, etc. Humans are possibly only a recent phenomena (many travelers, or colonists, or something). Try to take nothing for granted.
I think you just described something like 20 different webcomics. Oh, and one DnD setting I remember seeing way back when.

The "humans are recent arrivals" shows up a lot in DnD settings and DnD-based works. IIRC, even showed up in Forgotten Realms at one point.
 

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
Thing with that is, hardly anyone wants to play it. Just look at Talislanta. Many people love the idea, but playing it? Nope. Too much reading to do on all the new races and animals which are hard to remember. One player told me that while it is a good concept, he wants to just be able to delve right into the game without hours of required reading. and for the GMs, it is the same. My planned Talislanta game is on the back burner because I never seem to find the time to read the books often enough to know the world well enough to run a game in it.

Knowing the basics (dwarfs are short and sturdy, elves have pointed ears etc) helps people to connect,even if a dwarf culture happens to shun beer over wine and lives on the mountains instead of under.

Making a human only setting is of course possible, but I don't really want to do that as people want to play different things. Humans just recently arrived could work, and add a good amount of conflict.
 

MarkB

Legend
Personally, if I was going to remove a race from a setting, my first choice would be humans. Oblige players to engage with the setting by not playing the generic race.
 



Herobizkit

Adventurer
I've done a few race swaps in my day (with many thanks to Pathfinder's alternate racial traits):

* Dwarves are actually Vikings. They're primarily shipborne coastal raiders and worship the Norse pantheon. They often clash swords with Githyanki, who are their fiercest pirate rivals.

* Goblins are non-magical Gnomes with an affinity for alchemy and metalworking (read engineering); Gnomes are savage, near-mindless Goblins often used as livestock by Gnolls.

* The Drow are a peaceful, spiritual race (similar to Githzerai) who wish to simply be left alone by their 'evil' surface-raider kin.
 

MarkB

Legend
What if humans weren't the generic race but a weird minority race instead?
The trick is getting player buy-in on that. You can say that humans are the minority race with strange customs, but a player who hasn't fully engaged with your setting may still just look at them as the default choice and play his character that way.
 

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
I want to keep humans mainly to also have human culture mix ups where you can't point out what real world culture or stereotype they are based on. But they won't be the most numerous race.
 

WayneLigon

Adventurer
Thanks to the thread about "Cultural Approbation" I'm working on new societies for my games again. Now I'm curious, what societies and subgroups of well known races have been created by everyone? How much did you mix up existing ideas (especially existing human culture and stereotypes) and how well did it go over with your players?
I jumbled up all the various 'goblinoid' races into the overarching category of 'Beastmen'. They are actually one race that has a much higher degree of individual differences than human have, to the point that to humans it looks like they are composed of several different races. Broad 'types' of beastmen tend to breed true, so an extended family of 'goblins' will all tend to be short and twisted-limbed creatures, hairy and skulking. Unfortunately for them, they tend to top out at about a 70IQ and they have a much higher degree of both aggression and territoriality than humans do. They were the majority sentient race in what humans called 'The New World'. Human discovered the New World and promptly enslaved large numbers of the weaker and more pliable tribes, not realizing that any particular mating could produce not a 'goblin' but a 'troll'. They found a plant-based drug that worked on the beastmen to keep them relatively non-aggressive but because of their see-saw genetics, it didn't work on all types.

Eventually the various slaves developed an immunity to the drug, there was a massive slave revolt, and human civilization took several steps backwards save for the countries that never practiced said slavery. Still, the 'beastmen' have long memories, and they hate humans with a blinding passion that even they barely understand anymore.

So, the set-up gives me beastmen that can work with humans, and beastmen that attack human settlements for just the sheer joy of slaughter. Their weird genetics means I can use many types of 'beastman' without having to wonder about 'There are x number of sentient creatures, all different', etc.
 

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
That's a very good approach.

Occurred to me though, I need a map first. Because cultures really do not develop without specific environments and their specific neighbors.
 

Mallus

Hero
Our old 3e setting -- The World of CITY -- was made by embracing cultural appropriation. Really appropriation of every kind we could think of, as we turned anything we thought was cool into a sort of fantasy gumbo (with a few dollops of science fantasy as the setting grew more steampunk over time). Examples...

A playable race called the Shirac were psionic Sufi-elves who had a mix of Arabic and Zoroastrian names. Whose religious cultural was partially stolen from P. C. Hodgell's Kencyrath from God Stalk.

Most of them lived in a region called the "Lassantees Wastes". "Lassantees" comes from my buddy smooshing "sand" and "Atlantis" together.

In the city of Narayan -- a Hindu name, natch -- everyone had these French and Indian composite names, like "Delphine Laxshmi St. Sous", "Pavur-Pierre Arjuna St. Sous", and "Noemi St. Sikh du Mer". They also baked a crusty flat bread called "pain" in big stone dome ovens called "paindoor".

The city of Gallina was basically Venice in a caldera of an extinct volcano. With Lake Como in there, too. The people had Italian-esque names like "Donatello Pazzi de Gallina" (whose nickname was 'The Right Reverend Don Magic Wand", which is stolen from one of Snoop Dog's pimp friends -- see, steal from everywhere).

We had a playable race of kung-fu fighting Abolitionist monkey-men called the Hannu -- named, of course, for the Hindu god Hanuman. They lived in a forest-y, jungle-y temple city cribbed from mythic China, or perhaps mythic Cambodia.

A god/devil figure, Erebus was named for Greek myth. But his characterization, as a canasta-playing, gin-loving sophisticate who lived for a century in a fancy hotel, was taken from things like Peter Cook's devil in Bedazzled, Gene Hackman's Royal Tenenbaum, and maybe the sunset-admiring Lucifer from later-period "Sandman".

Another god, Nadanya, who brought civilization to the Yeti by giving them the gift of pants, was inspired by the myth of Babar the Elephant (yes, that Babar).

This should give you a pretty good idea of the governing logic of the setting. Such as it was...
 
Last edited:

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Thanks to the thread about "Cultural Approbation" I'm working on new societies for my games again. Now I'm curious, what societies and subgroups of well known races have been created by everyone? How much did you mix up existing ideas (especially existing human culture and stereotypes) and how well did it go over with your players?
Lots- looking at what I designed for my homebrews as well as helped other gamers for THEIRS, here are some faves:

1) Minotaurs who had a Plains Indian style culture, using chariots instead of just riding horseback (due to their size, of course)

2) drawing inspiration from the novels of Kurt R.A. Giambastani, used the Plains Indian cultures (again) to help a fellow ENWorlder create a tribe that used moas and/or other large flightless terror-birds instead of horses & dogs as steeds and hunting animals. Almost used velociraptors (like Giambastani did), but thought the birds were more fun.

3) fused typical "Dwarven" societal structures with the river culture proposed for some setting's halflings, and used that for a society of anthropomorphic snapping turtle folk. IOW, long-lived, short, powerfully built critters with a mercantile river society, strong family ties, and a string warrior culture. Also, a touch of Romani was thrown in the mix.

4) in a post-apocalyptic fantasy setting, the elves were very few in number, and had used magic on themselves to permanently make them part plant in order to survive. They lived mainly in partnership with the equally rare Inheritors, psionic Dwarves culture whose normal bodies were all replaced by psi-powered bio/mechanical ones that housed only their brains and a few key organs. Think fantasy Cybermen or Daleks.

5) aquatic elves who had used ancient magic to permanently add both chromatophores (to change colors like Cephalopods) and nematocysts (to sting like Cnidarians) to their bodies.

6) alien "Grays" who used their technology to appear as "elves", cast "magic", and create stasis fields ("time passes differently in Underhill...") while trying to survive long enough to be rescued from crash landing on a typical fantasy world.

7) Drow who were drawn to the black widow spiders more than any others, and were EXTREMELY matriarchal. And cannibalistic.

8) size S Thri-Kreen who flew like dragonflies and could communicate via bioluminescence.

9) earth elemental dwarves who carved themselves from stone, with the stone type determining what their abilities were. In a very real sense, their abilities were "set in stone", with constraints on what classes they could take based on their origins: Dwarves from metallic ores could be warriors or clerics, but were not able to be rogues or any spellcaster affected by ASF. Those from gemstone matrix were arcane or divine casters, and were too delicate to be front-line fighters. (Yes, this all made them subject to kidnapping plots, too.)

10) I reworked the various Planetouched of 3.X into the Nephilim- essentially a broad template covering any sentient being who had some otherplanar ancestry.

11) using the Seshayans from Alternity as the unknowing and scattered remnants of the fallen lords of a vast and powerful Underdark empire. They are mostly meek as a rule because of their small size, stature and outsider status, until evidence of their former Empire is unearthed... Real boogeyman stuff.

For those who haven't a clue as to what Seshayans are:
seshayan2.jpg



...and many more.
 
Last edited:

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Personally, if I was going to remove a race from a setting, my first choice would be humans. Oblige players to engage with the setting by not playing the generic race.
IME, most players want at least the OPTION of playing a human, even if you know they're never actually going to play one.
 

Lwaxy

Cute but dangerous
I have a few players who always play humans because they reckon they wouldn't be able to play another race in a believable way
 

Mythological Figures & Maleficent Monsters

Advertisement2

Advertisement4

Top