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Fantasy Races vs Sci Fi Species. Different or not?

MGibster

Legend
I think that's more down to the writers' choice of expression than the genre. Penny Dreadful is in a setting of traditional monster horror, which is closer to fantasy than scifi, and it addressed the theme of depression through allegory. Horror has been doing this for a long time, actually. Real world ancient mythology has allegories for many things, and is arguably the original source of modern fantasy (it inspired works like Middle Earth, Conan, D&D, etc).

I don't really consider horror to be fantasy but I'm not sure I want to go down that particular rabbit hole. But, yeah, mythology is rife with stories designed to teach us a lesson or represent something to the audience. I just don't think most modern fantasy writers do that as much as science fiction writers do.
 

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Do you think there is any significant difference between the two? Do (or would) you tend to treat them differently in how you play or GM a campaign? Are there implications of being a fantasy race that are not true of a sapient alien race or vice-versa?
Given that you're conflating (Geo Lucas' self-defined) "Space fantasy" (Star Wars) with Space Opera Sci-fi (Star Trek),,,

And I don't.
Star Wars is fantasy in space.
Star Trek is on the border of Space Fantasy and Space Opera Sci--fi.
Dune is a form of Sci-Fi, Social SF.

the difference? Most of the Trek races are plausible with a huge dose of "Parallel Evolution" and "Panspermia.
Most of the Star Wars races are just "X animal tuned sentient"

Serious Sci-Fi has few/no playable species other than humans.

It's a wide spectrum.
 

AtomicPope

Adventurer
By Sci Fi species, I'm referring to sentient and sapient species, for example the major races in Star Trek and Star Wars (Vulkans, Klingons, Mon Calamari, Wookies, etc)

Do you think there is any significant difference between the two? Do (or would) you tend to treat them differently in how you play or GM a campaign? Are there implications of being a fantasy race that are not true of a sapient alien race or vice-versa?

Or are they identical concepts in your mind?
Sci-Fi species have an origin founded in science. Fantasy races do not.

Races in D&D were created by gods, primordials, devils, demons, or even formed from the dreams of powerful beings that escaped their minds.

The origins are completely different, and that's not the only place where the differences begin or end. In D&D a place where many people bring their prejudices and it fails them is in the concepts of good, evil, law, and order. In D&D these concepts are building blocks of the universe. In science fiction they're ideas to explore or comment on. In D&D, there are creatures who are the living embodiment of dark emotions like the Sorrowsworn. In D&D, darkness is a force, and not merely the absence of light. Races like Shardar Kai are the Elves of Shadowfell, who changed from both their environment and worshipping a non-Elven diety. Because this is true in D&D, there are also races like the Yuan-Ti who were once human. They turned into snakes not because of magic spells, evolution, or potions but because they devoted themselves to an evil snake god. The act of worship in Sci-Fi will not turn your entire race into snakes. The list goes on and on.

So I'd say the real differences are in the framework of the genres. Sci-fi, at a minimum, has the veneer of science. Fantasy sets its own rules for the universe and then fits creatures, creations, and worlds into it, or visa versa. Fantasy is not bound by natural laws found outside of its own pages.
 


Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
If we’re talking about fantasy works teaching about human society like Sci-Fi often does, The Chronicles of Narnia is full of lessons to be learned. That’s probably the biggest one out there.

Earthsea also teaches a few things along the way.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I can put forth another really simple way that I consider them differently.

Fantasy races have, traditionally, wrapped significant cultural aspects into them - D&D has, in the past, had separate "races" that were humans from different cultural regions in the Forgotten Realms, for example. And while I can see the point in moving away from that, I don't reject that model outright.

I wouldn't generally accept that model in an sci-fi RPG - there, I generally consider "species" to model biological differences.
 

That's... a pretty hefty claim on an undefined category of "serious sci-fi" One that, assuming some pretty typical uses of those words, I cannot agree with.

There is tons of very serious sci-fi literature with loads of species that would be playable in a game.
There are very few sci-fi games that take the science part seriously, and fewer still that do so for a species basis.

The ones coming to mind are several GURPS settings (Vorkosigan, Transhuman Space), BTRC's SpaceTime, High Colonies....

Space Opera isn't "serious Sci-Fi" IMO. But I also finely divide genres; anything that has FTL and alien intelligent hominins just doesn't take the science seriously. And there's nothing wrong with Space Opera, and I really don't appreciate you your insinuation I was dissing it.

The aliens in High Colonies weren't presented as playable... In part because they cannot survive our shirtsleeve environments.
 
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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I can put forth another really simple way that I consider them differently.

Fantasy races have, traditionally, wrapped significant cultural aspects into them - D&D has, in the past, had separate "races" that were humans from different cultural regions in the Forgotten Realms, for example. And while I can see the point in moving away from that, I don't reject that model outright.

I wouldn't generally accept that model in an sci-fi RPG - there, I generally consider "species" to model biological differences.
What about that model on a larger scale? In the Realms it was different countries/cultures. In space if could be different planets where humans from 1000 years ago settled and different gravity or other environmental factors caused physical and/or mental differences. That would be the equivalent of fantasy humans from different cultural regions being different races.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
In space if could be different planets where humans from 1000 years ago settled and different gravity or other environmental factors caused physical and/or mental differences. That would be the equivalent of fantasy humans from different cultural regions being different races.

I'm not going to argue about specific hypotheticals as if they should impact my general position.
 

Voadam

Legend
I agree that I expect science fiction to generally be somewhat more scientific in its treatment of aliens in context, it bugs me more that Spock is half-human than that Elrond is. Mostly though I think of them as the same and interchangeable and I have no problem with explicitly full on Space Fantasy like Starfinder or 40K with Chaos and Eldar and Orks.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
I agree that I expect science fiction to generally be somewhat more scientific in its treatment of aliens in context, it bugs me more that Spock is half-human than that Elrond is. Mostly though I think of them as the same and interchangeable and I have no problem with explicitly full on Space Fantasy like Starfinder or 40K with Chaos and Eldar and Orks.
Well, considering the ST universe’s reliance on the panspermia idea, it’s a little less problematic than mixing species in most Sci-Fi franchises. Vulcans having copper based blood remains problematic, though.

OTOH, considering the uses of horseshoe crab blood in pharmacology, perhaps a few hundred years of science could render even that moot.
 

Well, considering the ST universe’s reliance on the panspermia idea, it’s a little less problematic than mixing species in most Sci-Fi franchises. Vulcans having copper based blood remains problematic, though.

OTOH, considering the uses of horseshoe crab blood in pharmacology, perhaps a few hundred years of science could render even that moot.
Star Trek's panspermia was intentional, and there are at least 5 different oxidizer transmissions...
We've seen red blood, green blood, pink blood, and earth has purple, green, dark blue, and light blue in various arthropods.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
By Sci Fi species, I'm referring to sentient and sapient species, for example the major races in Star Trek and Star Wars (Vulkans, Klingons, Mon Calamari, Wookies, etc)

Do you think there is any significant difference between the two? Do (or would) you tend to treat them differently in how you play or GM a campaign? Are there implications of being a fantasy race that are not true of a sapient alien race or vice-versa?

Or are they identical concepts in your mind?

I'm curious what different opinions are out there. Thanks for sharing.

Edit: hopefully made the line of inquiry clearer
Always been the same to me, in fact I often said I'd prefer "races" to be renamed as either "species" or "creatures".
 

Composer99

Explorer
I would expect a distinction between how a game treats different types of creatures in a "hard" sci-fi setting (where species presumably evolved on their own homeworlds, and any engineering is an act of will by mortal engineers using gene-manipulation) versus a "typical" fantastic setting (where many creatures are probably engineered by magic, divine will, etc.).

I would expect a less fuzzy distinction between "softer" sci-fi settings (Star Trek) and fantastic settings.

I wouldn't expect much distinction at all between space fantasy (Star Wars) and fantastic settings.
 

Mallus

Legend
Ahem... point of order. "Serious science fiction" doesn't need to take science seriously.

I would like to submit into evidence the following: the Dune series by Frank Herbert, the Culture novels by Iain Banks, all of Star Trek.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Different for me, fantasy races are often due to magic, such as Orcs being twisted Elves. In sci-fi, the species follow the principles of science, and have a physical origin.
 

I am thinking about the differences of the races from Pathfinder and Starfinder. About gameplay the PC races from sci-fi can enjoy special traits too powerful in settings with lower technologic level, for example flying or breathing water. In fantasy Strenght may be more necessary.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
I can put forth another really simple way that I consider them differently.

Fantasy races have, traditionally, wrapped significant cultural aspects into them - D&D has, in the past, had separate "races" that were humans from different cultural regions in the Forgotten Realms, for example. And while I can see the point in moving away from that, I don't reject that model outright.

I wouldn't generally accept that model in an sci-fi RPG - there, I generally consider "species" to model biological differences.
I think races and/or species conflating the biological and the cultural crosses the boundaries between fantasy and sci-fi all the time. Klingons were an empire consisting of one species with one culture, until fairly recently in Trek when the writers have tried to show more diversity. Same with the Romulans and other Trek species.

Well-written sci-fi should probably not offer single-culture sentient species . . . but that level of thoughtfulness and detail easily gets left out when cramming episode after episode of a series, or even for a movie script.

Broadly though, I do think we're more accepting of one species = one culture in the fantasy genre. Having dozens of elf "subraces" (hate that term) is more a result of splat then thoughtfully created multicultural species. It just happens a lot in sci-fi, or sci-fantasy, too.
 

Voadam

Legend
Broadly though, I do think we're more accepting of one species = one culture in the fantasy genre. Having dozens of elf "subraces" (hate that term) is more a result of splat then thoughtfully created multicultural species. It just happens a lot in sci-fi, or sci-fantasy, too.
I don't agree.

The 1e MM started off with high elves, wood elves, and gray elves which was mirroring Tolkien cultures, not to create PC splat options. Gygax added in Sea and Drow elves as NPC monster options then Valley and Wild elves as more specific NPC culture options. It wasn't until Unearthed Arcana that most such NPC cultures became PC options and the differences (except for underdark Drow) were not often that different so mechanical splat does not seem apt. Mostly it was a +1 to int for gray elves or wood elves getting a +1 strength and a little tinkering with class limits. Greenwood adapted them for the Forgotten Realms with different names, and Dragonlance came up with multiple distinct culture or political versions of elves with Qualinesti versus Silvanesti versus Kagonesti plus the two types of sea elves. This was in large part to support story culture reasons as opposed to player splat options.

2e was pretty straightforward in saying elves were elves mechanically and reducing the mechanical differences for PC options to the point of taking away drow powers from PC drow.
 

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