D&D General What do you imagine non-human nations to be like?


HI everyone.

I'm getting back to my basics: World Building. A lot of material for D&D, such as the really good city builder resources in the DMG 3.5 and the extra content on the WotC site about building cities by districts seems heavily focused on human or human dominated but partially integrated cities. There are lots of good resources on Medieval demographics to help with making a believable nation and city in your D&D games. But, humans are just one species on the worlds of D&D. How do you imagine the other races live?

Some angles I've been thinking about, partially informed by playing a lot of the Civilizations games over the years.

  • Small races eat less food, so they could have higher population densities, though perhaps more of them might be farmers if their work output is lower.
  • Some races feel like they'd be less mercantile than late medieval humans. Less mercantile societies have less towns, and thus more agrarian villages.
  • Some races might not form as large settlements, having more smaller cities and towns.
  • Some races might clump together in bigger settlements, having a more urban and a far less rural society. Food becomes an issue, though.

What are your thoughts? Here's some of my initial feelings:

Dwarves live in the mountains and hills, which are less productive than flatlands for farming, but they have learned how to build terrace farms to make the most of the terrain. Their total population density is lower than humans. They are more urban than humans, having more cities of high populations and many towns, but considerably less rural populations. Their citadels are surrounded by farmland and trade towns.

Elves live in the forests, and would never dream of clear-cutting them to construct farms. They have learned to replace fallen trees with trees that bear fruits and nuts, as well as to encourage the population growth of game, so they are able to get more food out of the forests than mere hunter-gatherers, but not as much as stretches of farmlands. They're less mercantile and have less towns, preferring to spread out in more villages throughout the woods.

Gnomes live in woods or the hills. They have fewer settlements humans would call cities, but they are mercantile and have many towns. They live in less fertile land, but they are smaller and eat less food, so their population density nationally is close to that of humans, but less concentrated.

Halflings live in isolated valleys, away from the conflicts of other nations. Halflings live almost entirely in farming villages, lacking cities and only having a few towns. They live in fertile land, and are small and eat less food than humans, so their population density is considerably higher than humans for what land they have.

Orcs are hunter-gatherers, and raiders. Their population density is low, and they do not group together in cities or towns. Their settlements are all villages.

Goblins are more urban than orcs, especially areas dominated by hobgoblins. Their farming output is lower than that of more developed humans, so their agricultural output is lower, but that is made up for by the numerous small goblins. They are less mercantile, so they have fewer towns.

I don't imagine Tieflings, Half-Elves, or Half-Orcs having much in the way of their own nations, and otherwise I think they'd basically be humans, elves, or orcs. Earlier I asked what people thought about Dragonborn. Dragonborn demographics probably greatly depend on if they're carnivorous or omnivorous. Dragons are omnivorous, so going by that, I imagine Dragonborn have less cities and more towns, but their towns are less about mercantilism and are more like tiny cities. They wouldn't group together in large cities, since they're very tribal, but they feel like they'd be less rural than humans.

What are your thoughts?

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I believe dwarves would out source much of their food production by trading the goods they mine and/or craft to humans who provide them with food. Most dwarven cities would be underground and accessible only by an opening in the mountain side (which is heavily defended and easily defensible) through which the human traders pass.

I think elven settlements would have some druidic help to make the land more fertile but I agree with you that the population density would be much lower than a typical human settlement.

Some of the more developed and more tightly controlled orc societies could have slaves that do much of the farming for them and thus could achieve higher population densities. I also play orcs as generally lawful evil (the way they were in 1e).

I think you've thought it through pretty good.

Though I know canon lists Thay as mostly human, I've always imagines it actually has a large tiefling population. But how does that manifest? Well, lots of slavery and indentured servitude. Stratification of classes and distinct segmentation within cities. Both by who goes where, but also cleanliness and quality of buildings and what behavior is 'normal'.

A thought on goblins, I would think they would be less solitary than other races. So to me they would cluster in towns, but not cities because of food supply.


I approve of this approach, because on of the things I tend to see is players just considering their race as a collection of abilities. Dwarves, elves, halflings, gnomes, etc. all think completely differently than humans do, thus their ecology/sociology/economy would be different. Something else to take into consideration is sub-races, since they also tend to vary things up.

Dwarf - hill dwarves live in strongholds surrounded by farms. The surface levels are the only levels outsiders are likely to ever see, but they delve deep into the earth for mining purposes. Mountain dwarves live almost entirely underground, but use shafts and mirrors to illuminate sacred area. They are both more mercantile, with high population density.

Elf - high elves would be similar to humans for population density, but their cities and towns would be fantasy-fey tree cities that are elegant and incorporate non-natural materials (stone, metal, etc.). Wood elves would have less population density, with much more rural tree-towns built with only natural materials. "Farming" is more a matter of controlled hunting/gathering, but due to their slight frame, much less is required. Neither is very mercantile, but high elves would be more so than wood elves, mostly due to their interactions with other races.

Halfling - halflings in my Greyhawk have no nation, but are instead inhabitants of the nations of other races (in most towns and cities they are the 2nd or 3rd most populous race). They tend to keep to themselves, and tend to be more rural in nature. They require less food, making that their primary export, mostly purchasing comfort items in exchange. The different sub-races only matter for who they're more likely to live with.

Gnomes - gnomes live in burrow communities, making them much less densely populated. There are no gnomish cities in the traditional sense, but there are cities within their lands that are populated mostly with other races who trade with the gnomes. They are very mercantile, almost as greed as dwarves.

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