D&D General Let us share our Elves and Orcs

DammitVictor

Trust the Fungus
Supporter
My Shroompunk setting doesn't use "traditional" fantasy races at all-- out of the PHB races, only Humans are present, though Humans have subraces you might recognize: Tiefling, Aasimar, Ifrit, Oread, Fetchling, and so on...

In the Galactic Empire of Sagas of the Cosmic Rangers, "elf" refers to a type of extradimensional beings who've been slowly immigration to realspace over the last millennium or so. They're a little taller than humans at the shoulder, before their long necks and elongated, conical skulls. Their skin ranges from very pale white-grey with hints of lavender to deep eggplant purple, their hair is either silvery white or a variety of muted pastels, and their eyes are solid, slightly luminescent jewel tones. Elves are thin and graceful and supernaturally glamorous. Elves are biologically immortal, and seemingly soulless: they cannot effectively be cloned, they're similarly incapable of acts of prayer, and they're immune to many magical effects that harm or influence the soul. Elves appear compeltely unfazed-- somewhere between matter-of-fact and flippant-- about the fact that "biologically immortal" means they will eventually die of one misadventure or another, and while not generally fearless exhibit no fear whatsoever of death.

While the typical elven reaction to sincere religious devotion-- elves cheerfully sing hymns for the Church and leave offerings at roadside shrines-- is pained revulsion, some elves actually grew envious of the mortal races' capacity to commune with the divine and went about painfully modifying their own brains and grafting themselves with artificial souls to experience it for themselves. The normally live-and-let-live elves considered this a bridge too far and sought to exterminate this offshoot.

The ones they captured, however, were given a fate worse than death: they were transmuted into orcs. Their elegant, smooth skulls grew gnarled ridges; their graceful ears merged into the sides of their heads; their senusous mouths split into four independent venomous mandibles. (Think modern Klingon plus the Predator plus wolf spider.) These orcs were programmed to seek out and destroy their former comrades... but elven brains are plastic, and eventually this programming simply wore off and orcs started plying the spacelanes in whatever capacities they could.

Many eventually settled down, building communities alongside humans and dwarves. The elves, realizing their error, launched a crusade to destroy these "orcish homeworlds" before their experiment could spiral out of control. Hundreds of planets burned, the elves lost any chance that they might be recognized as members of the Imperium for at least another millennium, and the orcs are now a nomadic spacefaring people by choice.

I'm not doing mixed heritages in either Shroompunk or Sagas of the Cosmic Rangers because it just doesn't make sense with ancestries that so little resemble humans or each other. Until recently, I'd held the concept in some distaste and wanted to see it fall out of favor in fantasy game design... but some video essays on the subject have complicated my opinions, to say the least.
 

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I'm still very early in developing my current campaign setting. Here, Orcs are one of the four native races of the as-yet-unnamed world.
  1. Orcs live in the forests, and are typically nomadic, though they have a few settlements. They hunt the large game that is plentiful in the forests, and also the wild fruit that grows there. They are known as great storytellers and hunters. Orcish spices, wine, and beer are highly prized, as well. They tend goats and sheep, too, in mountainous highlands. They tend to follow the earth-mother deity (nature and harmony (N)) or the four winds quadripartite deity (CN(G)).
  2. Humans live primarily in open plains and coastlines. They are known as great farmers and sailors, and also as builders and metalworking craftsmen. Human flour and millet is said to "feed the world." Humans are the great food producers. Humans tend to follow the great builder (LN(G)) or the earth-mother deity.
  3. Wights are the third race, and currently the least developed. Their home is the ways below the earth, which they can navigate easily. They are not evil and maybe not precisely undead in the traditional sense, but they live an extremely long time. I haven't quite decided how they reproduce or if they're a playable race yet, but they're there. "Wight" is a bit of a misnomer, too, as nearly all "undead" type creatures are some form of Wight. Think more like WoW undead.
  4. The fourth sentient race is Dragons. Prior to the apocalyptic event in the world's past, Dragons were the only creatures capable of magic. All Dragons possess a humanoid form, so they can choose to live among any other species more or less at will. Dragon cities, however, are built upon clouds in the sky. (This may change to Giants... still under development.)
Orcs and humans tend to come into conflict as humans try to clear-cut forest for building materials and to create pasture land, while orcs try to develop wild orchards and free-roaming game. The two species both want a lot of land, but their uses kind of directly conflict in a lot of ways.

A great apocalyptic event in the distant past -- the workings of Din, that which seeks to undo all -- the lands of faerie have become permanently intertwined with the prime material world on this plane. Prior to this, technology was relatively high. Either similar to our world, or somewhat advanced beyond the contemporary. That was millennia ago, and there is little that remains from that era. Yet the entanglement of the prime and faerie has remained. There are fairy gates and portals all across the world. Many are secret or moving or only work occasionally, but some are well known and stable.

The unique aspect of the lands of faerie is "the rhyming of threes". The number three appears frequently and often. Faerie is chaos that orders itself by bargains and exchanges. Beware the faerie, for both their gifts and their vengeance shall be threefold.

With the exception of normal animals and the above four races, all fantastic creatures originate from the lands of faerie from one of the fae courts. True faerie are immortal so long as they remain in faerie... destroying them there merely causes them to reappear countless billions of leagues away. Even so, this does not happen on the prime material realms, so they tend to avoid travel to the prime material plane (though they can be trapped on prime just as mortals can be trapped on faerie). That said, three "mortal" races live in the lands of faerie and are happy to get out of there! All three races were once living on their own home prime material planes. They may have once been the same race or not... it has been so long that no one remembers.
  1. Elves -- Elves have been trapped primarily on the lands of Feywild, home of the Summer Courts, where they have built cities in the trees. Elves themselves can take one of three forms. The form is not inherited, but chosen by the individual and typically depends upon a pact sworn with one of the fey courts.
    1. High Elves or Wood Elves -- These are D&D elves
    2. Dark Elves or Iron Elves -- These are D&D dwarves
    3. Pixie Elves or Stone Elves -- These are D&D gnomes
  2. Drow -- Drow have been primarily trapped in the lands of Shadowfell, home of the Winter Courts, where they have build cities among the redwood-sized mushrooms below the overnight. Again, they come in one of three forms, but these elves may change their form. I'm not yet sure how that happens. Additionally, all Drow are capable of some illusion magic or shapechanging, which they often use to appear in the form of Elves or Goblins.
    1. Night Drow -- These are D&D drow
    2. Shadow Drow -- These are D&D duergar
    3. Nixie Drow -- These are D&D deep gnomes
  3. Goblins -- Goblins have been primarily trapped in the lands of Praxis, home of the Iron Courts. Praxis is a land of blasted urban structures, mighty towering contraptions that belch steam and smoke, vast plains of fire, and great forges. Goblins take their name from the Goblin King, the greatest faerie in all of Praxis. Again, Goblins take one of three forms:
    1. Steel Goblins -- These are D&D hobgoblins
    2. ??? Goblins -- These are D&D bugbears
    3. Trixie Goblins -- These are D&D goblins
Of the fey courts... they are all but limitless, as is each land of faerie. The courts are ever-changing, rising and falling constantly. It is theorized by the most outstanding dragon scholars, however, that the number is constant. There are always 3^3^3 faerie courts at all times. (To paraphrase Mr. Gates, 7,625,597,484,987 faerie courts ought to be enough for anybody.)
 

DammitVictor

Trust the Fungus
Supporter
I've got the other "standards", as well. Aside from the elves and orcs, all of the playable species are known as the "mortal races".

Dwarves are pretty traditional. Five feet tall, four feet wide, they like to brawl and drink beer and build stuff. They're covered in blue-black fur, they have long bat ears stick up from their heads, and thick beards flowing around their short, rounded beaks. Dwarves tend to eschew armor since it provides diminishing returns with their own hardened flesh.

Gnomes are small, childlike humanoids with some insectile features, most notably short antennae and gossamer wings. Gnomes live in tightly-knit communities called "hives" where they are very loosely ruled by their elected (and magically transmuted) Queens. Young neuter gnomes-- known as dromites-- frequently leave their hives behind to see the universe; many die, or settle down in hives far away from home, but those who return home bring a wealth of information with them. Gnomes are one of the several galactic species with lesser telepathy, which is the "I HAVE DARKVISION" of the Cosmic Rangers setting.

Gremlins are most similar to large monkeys, measuring around three-and-a-half feet from the top of the head to the base of the tail; their powerful, agile tails are about the same length. They have dull, mottled green skin and fur in a variety of earth tones. Gremlins are only semi-verbal, speaking no native language of their own and speaking all of their "second" languages in a halting, broken fashion that belies their inhuman intelligence. Gremlins have an innate capacity for cursing people and machines, and take easily to destructive magic.

Hobgoblins are basically a mix between D&D hobgoblins and ogre magi, slightly shorter and slimmer than humans on average with a pair of slender, twisting horns sprouting from their foreheads. Hobgoblins come in every color of the rainbow-- like a set of watercolor paints left out to dry in the sun-- and decorate their entire bodies with intricate black tattoos. Hobgoblins have a rigid, militaristic culture that's tempered, somewhat, by personal codes of honor and loyalties. Hobgoblins are supernaturally stealthy and can evade detection even by psychic and/or magical senses.

Dezoli are... lizard-Vulcans, embodying both the ruthless pragmatism of the lizardfolk with the rational altruism of the iconic Star Trek species; iconic Dezoli in other media would include, of course, Spock as well as Richard B. Riddick. They're drawn to academic careers and, surprisingly, a disproportionate number of Dezoli are drawn to the priesthood in academic, investigative, and strictly thaumaturgical roles.

I'm trying to work out a few more. I'd like to have a more martial insect-type species (that isn't Kreen) and a couple that are substantially larger than the human/elf/orc triumvirate. Generally, I'm working from D&D "fantasy races" as a basis, adding more... sciency twists to make them fit the space fantasy setting.
 



I think when you take all the things about orcs that people like and make a new humanoid type from that, you basically have goliaths. I think we just should use those.

I don't think you're wrong, but I'd say that it's generally more popular to be more non-human looking. The game definitely feels like it's trending toward races/species being humans in rubber masks. If that's the case, I think players will want the weirder mask. And "Orc" is both a weirder and more iconic mask compared to "Goliath."

Plus the fact that they've only had one Goliath artwork for like 15 years now. Don't get me wrong, it's a great piece of character art, but it's still the only official Goliath artwork I remember. Even the few alternative pieces from 4e D&D were different pictures of the same character. You have to go back to 3e's Races of Stone to see anything else, and those examples look more like stone giants.
 

Starfox

Adventurer
I think when you take all the things about orcs that people like and make a new humanoid type from that, you basically have goliaths. I think we just should use those.
My orcs are sort of Goliaths in origin - as the lizardfolk made giants less and less inherently magical (and thus better at learned magic), one of the steps on that evolution was orcs, after dwarves but before humans.
 

Yaarel

He Mage
It depends on the setting. The main setting is.

Elves personify magical energy, and are made out of magical energy, similar to the way summoned creatures are. This energy connects them with the ethereal forces of the Feywild.

At the same time, the Elves are nature beings, actual features of nature. They are Elementals who are native to the Material Plane. The minds of these physical objects of nature can manifest elsewhere, adopting humanlike forms as elves. Again similar to a summoned creatures.

An Elf is an avatar, a mind projecting out of a natural phenomenon.

Mainly there are two kinds of Elves. The Solar are the minds of sunlight, relating to the elements of Fire and Air, and the sky above the clouds. The Sith are the minds of soil, relating to the elements of Earth and Water, and the forests below.

Both are beings of magic. Their most prominent ability is Charisma. Culturally, the Solar revere Bards and Paladins, and the Sith revere Warlocks and Rangers. But individuals do whatever they want. Any kind of magical pursuit is prestigious.

The Solar Elf is Norse-esque in culture. The Sith Elf is Scottish-esque in culture. The Solar are creatures of day, while the Sith are nocturnal.
 

Yaarel

He Mage
I am hesitant about the Orc. Previously, I tended to equate Orc with Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis), and similarly equate Halfling with Flores (Homo floriensis). With Human (Homo sapiens), these three are hominid species.

Now I feel less comfortable with "Human subraces" in D&D. The problems are inevitable when detailing these "not humans" with traits from reallife human cultures.

I like what 5e is doing with the Orc species recently, and look forward to how it shapes up.

The Halfling feels too human to make it a "not human". The concept of an "English farmer" who lives in a hamlet, is hardly the rationale for a new species. I would rather the Halfling designers pick a side. Either give it traits that are clearly not human. Or make it a Human ethnicity called Hin who tend to be Small. They are Humans who are typically less than 4 feet tall on average. Their indigenous culture believes in luck.
 

RhaezDaevan

Explorer
I am hesitant about the Orc. Previously, I tended to equate Orc with Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis), and similarly equate Halfling with Flores (Homo floriensis). With Human (Homo sapiens), these three are hominid species.

Now I feel less comfortable with "Human subraces" in D&D. The problems are inevitable when detailing these "not humans" with traits from reallife human cultures.

I like what 5e is doing with the Orc species recently, and look forward to how it shapes up.

The Halfling feels too human to make it a "not human". The concept of an "English farmer" who lives in a hamlet, is hardly the rationale for a new species. I would rather the Halfling designers pick a side. Either give it traits that are clearly not human. Or make it a Human ethnicity called Hin who tend to be Small. They are Humans who are typically less than 4 feet tall on average. Their indigenous culture believes in luck.
Being related to humans doesn't necessarily mean its a human subrace.

In my home setting Orcs, Giants, Halflings, and Humans all share common ancestry, so are related. The giants and halflings even share a myth about two (human sized) brothers finding and fighting over a wishing rock, the younger wishing to take all of his big brother's size and strength. He then steps on the wishing rock, breaking it before the wish can be reversed. (This gives me the idea for another a thread about lore in game worlds that people believe, but isn't actually true)

However they can't reproduce with each other normally, and they're considered distinct people with very different cultures (at least in the case of orcs, and to a lesser extent giants). My halflings, or Harfins, do live in rural human society, but that's a more recent change in the setting's history. I went with a mix of evolution over thousands of years, with the magical nature of the setting's environment making for more drastic changes between the species. The ape-people they all descended from actually were around too for a while but were killed and revived as the setting's first ghouls.

What truly makes humans of this setting special is their ability to dream. Orcs and giants sleep, but don't dream. Harfins can dream if a human is also sleeping nearby, possibly because they share the closest relation on the family tree. Humans are naturally creative and ambitious from this dreaming ability.
 

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