Breaking the Fantasy Race Mold

When I was first building the Griffins & Gunpowder universe, I had considered leaving out the typical fantasy races, if for no other reason than to avoid the typical “elves live in the woods and are good with bows, dwarves live in mountains and like to mine things” tropes.

I finally decided to bring Elves into the mix, but I decided that there would be two different nations of Elves. While the nation of Lot’Mai-Ron is more of a typical Elf situation, they live in a heavily wooded area and are more neutral/stand-offish, the nation of Laine is a sea power. The captains of Laine are treated as Kings aboard their ships and are prone to piracy and smuggling because of their better sailing skills.

Now I’m considering bringing Orcs into the scenario, but not as the typical bloodthirsty idiots that they are portrayed as throughout most fantasy.

I’m thinking about bringing the Orcs into the scenario as the people of a collection of city-states that were once a powerful republic but collapsed under the weight of corruption and the sheer size of the government needed. They have devolved to a collection of independent city-states that occasionally go to war with each other.

I’ll keep them somewhat war-like in that some of these city-states will be the home to renowned mercenary regiments.

I could even make it so that some of the city-states were humans and were conquered by the Orcs and integrated into the Republic before regaining their autonomy when the Republic collapsed.

What do you think? And how do you handle the Fantasy Race trope? Do you embrace it and have tree-hugging elves and dirt-eating dwarves, or do you rework your races so that they have some variety?

About Joshua K Johnson

Josh is the author of The Cerberus Rebellion and The Hydra Offensive, Gunpowder Fantasy novels set in the Griffins & Gunpowder universe. He is currently working on a new novel set in the same world as well as The Centaur Incursion, Book 3 in the Ansgari Rebellion Series and Loyalty Betrayed, Book 1 in the Liberty Forged Series. He currently works full-time and has an 8-year old and a 4-year old to keep him busy.

Posted on May 29, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. I try to see such races more as social wells to draw characters from, rather than for their names themselves. I have orcs, but I’ve called them skøltär. They are a terrible and mutated form of human, able to subsist on blood alone, and instill terror in any that behold them. Are they different to orcs? In some ways, yes. They also fulfill the same purpose as orcs in my story.

    I wouldn’t worry about what you call your races (though coming up with new names can be difficult – skøltär means “skull creatures”), but rather what they represent and what they bring to your world. After all, a story with nothing but humans would hardly be fantasy, would it? 😛

    • I was actually considering bringing Orcs into the mix for a little variety, but your comment has inspired me to find a real reason.

      As for names, I think yours works because you aren’t using the typical design for them. I’m a big fan of “if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, call it a duck.” So I’ll probably call them orcs.

      Thanks for the comment!

      • Glad I could help! I’m watching Lord of the Rings as we speak, and I’ll admit it’s the main basis for my writing! Good ol’ orcs!

    • ” After all, a story with nothing but humans would hardly be fantasy, would it? ”

      You bastard 😛 My story only has humans!

  2. My take on it is that fantasy races tend to fit all-too-neatly in what I call ‘Tidy worlds’. Elves live in the forest, dwarfs live in the mountains, orcs live in the ash waste. I don’t mean that they are cliched, although they often are, but that the reader is generally presented with one nation of elves (or two) who only live in one part of the world. Why? Humans got everywhere, and splintered into a thousand times a thousand factions and countries, why should anything else be any different?
    Your ideas sound cool. I’m pretty scathing when it comes to ideas, and yours definitely sound cool. But be careful to make sure that you don’t fall into the trap of making your world too ‘tidy’. Why can’t the sea-faring elves have lots of little kingdoms? Why aren’t there populations of orcs EVERYWHERE, as well as in the city states?
    Just my thoughts 🙂

    • I’m actually planning on having my sea-faring Elves be more a confederation of small states than a unified structure.

      And my Orcs just aren’t ambitious enough to expand. There are 7 tribes, 3 of them live in the plains (I’m strongly considering having these guys be similar to American Indians) and 4 of them have built cities.

      You bring up a solid point though. I may reconsider a couple of the nations that I haven’t defined yet.

  3. Well broadly speaking that’s my point. There were humans in every habitable location on the planet from about 10,000 BC onward. Why would elves and orcs be so very different that they only live in two or three areas of the entire world?

  4. I’m not saying that what you are doing is WRONG, just that you should have elves and orcs everywhere. Obviously the potential that they have only managed to form a few countries is totally believable, but in a world with multiple races, the chances of areas such as cities existing with only one species there (unless it’s a crazy theocracy or something) is quite low.

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