D&D General Worldbuilding Assumptions: On the Origin of Species

What is your preferred explanation for the origin of species in D&D/fantasy RPG settings?

  • Most species were directly created by divine and/or magical means.

    Votes: 17 28.8%
  • Most species arose through evolutionary processes.

    Votes: 9 15.3%
  • Most species setting arose in some other way.

    Votes: 3 5.1%
  • I prefer keeping species' origins ambiguous.

    Votes: 18 30.5%
  • I prefer not worrying about species' origins.

    Votes: 12 20.3%

Blue Orange

Gone to Texas
Well, one of the strengths of leaving it ambiguous in a game setting is you can always decide it's one or the other if it serves plot purposes. For me, D&D is based on fantasy novels which are ultimately based on myth, I know of no real-world myth that uses evolution; some god is always involved. So I guess I'd go with divine creation.

That said you could definitely have evolution occurring after the fact, particularly if some god decides to wipe out some species; you have divine selection as well as natural selection, and divine fiat as well as mutation. (The divine 'protection racket' in most mythologies thus becomes painfully explicit.) Plus wizards are usually portrayed as the analogues of scientists, so you could always have some weird wizard inventing the owlbear or something. You have all kinds of interesting dramatic plotlines if you want them--can the creations of an evil god turn against evil? (This was done with the draconians in later editions of Dragonlance, for instance.)

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Registered Ninja
For most races I leave it ambiguous, mostly because the characters don't know. There are a few exceptions though, like the dragonborn were created by dragons.

That said you could definitely have evolution occurring after the fact,
Especially if a race fled and/or got trapped on another plane of existence. In 4e, the Genasi evolved from humans who somehow got trapped in the Elemental Chaos. Hence their ability to change their elemental manifestation from time to time.

Then there are the Fetchlings (of Kayal as they like to call themselves) from Pathfinder who got trapped on the Plane of Shadow after escaping a world-changing disaster on the world of Golarion a long time ago. They also evolved from humans.

Monsters of the Multiverse has a sidebar that explains how the elven subraces came into existence. In their race's distant past, they were shapechangers who lost the ability to change shape during the fallout between Corellon and Lolth. They didn't lose it completely as they would later find out that their bodies could adapt to a new environment over the course of several centuries. As a result, we now have Sea Elves (Ocean), Wood Elves (Forest), Eladrin (the Feywild), the Shadar Kai (the Shadowfell), the Drow (Underdark) and High Elves (at the crossroads between the Material Plane and the Feywild).

And this was why 3e had too many Elven subraces. 😋


One day, I hope to actually play DnD.
while most of the time i don't think it's all that beneficial to specify how any given species came into being i'd kinda balance between evolution and god-created, in that while most species do evolve through entirely natural means the ones that fit a god's own ideals of what a species 'should' be will recieve a certain blessing from them making them more likely to thrive, successfully intergrating and strengthening the traits that caused them to be favoured by the god in the first place Eg: the first ever tieflings probably would've just become feral hell corrupted humans if a god hadn't favoured their existence and let them become something greater.
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In my campaign world the main religion claims that the gods created most of the races, and the Adversary created the reptilian ones.

No one (not even me) knows whether this is true or not, as it has never come up in play. However, the nature of the gods makes it more likely that they actually imported existing races from other worlds. The Adversary doesn't answer questions, and nobody would believe it anyway.

In my own setting, most races spawned from magic i.e humans and their sibling races came from the survivors of another race exposed to magic. Several animal-folk races came from animals exposed to magical forces. One is a manufactured race, created by the dragons. The only one with a truly enigmatic are the dwarves. They came from space and even the gods have no idea where they came from.

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