How to Create a New Race in a Fantasy Game
In fantasy world-building and writing, the term "race" is loosely used to describe a sentient or sapient life form with a similar degree of intelligence and awareness as that of a human. Generally, a new race will have shared traits and will be aware of its self and its environment. The way your race interacts with its environment will influence the local ecosystems, and they will use the world's resources to better their standard of living and interact together in a social capacity.
Creating an entirely new fantasy race can be a daunting task for a fantasy world builder or writer. Having a good design template to begin drafting the various characteristics of your race is important for shaping a well-rounded creation. Even if your race is not completely unique to your world, you can use this template to record the characteristics for all of your races in your fantasy world. Many of the restrictions and characteristics you impose on your race will come from your world and its environment.
How to Create a New Race in a Fantasy Game
- Choose a race name.
- Classify your race.
- Give a general overview.
- Give them personality traits.
- Give them a physical description.
- Describe the clan or tribe.
- Explain the relationship between your race and other races.
- Give your race a History.
- Explain your race's alignments.
- Create a map showing their setting.
- Explain their religion.
- Describe your race's language.
- Think of some common first names
- Think of some common family names.
- Describe the adventures your race has had.
- Explain your race's physical attributes.
- Think about your creatures' occupations.
- Explain how advanced they are.
- Describe the other civilizations your race interacts with.
- Describe your race's magical or special powers.
- Think about the history of your race and come up with famous sapients from the past.
- Come up with population statistics for your race.
Each of these will be explained in further detail in a template below. A good race design template will help sustain continuity in the telling of your story and provide you with a good reference point when writing about your characters and their traits. I generally find role-play games such as Dungeons and Dragons useful for providing me with ideas on the types of characteristics that I should include in my templates to develop my own well-rounded races.
A Template for Creating Your Fantasy Race
- Race Name(s)
At the top of your race design template, you should include the name of your race. You may have a few different names for your race such as a scientific name and common name. The scientific name may be developed from a constructed language (Conlang) or may have been given to the race from a scientific observer or explorer from another world such as Earth. An Earth explorer might provide an alien race with a name in Latin similar to the way we name new fauna and flora species.
- Classification—Created or Evolved?
One of the first questions to consider when creating a new race, is how did it come about? Was it created through intelligent design by a creature with greater knowledge such as a God or scientist, or did it evolve from another species?
- General Overview
This is usually a short summary of some of the key characteristics that are later explored in more detail.
- Personality Traits
Shared personality traits of a race are usually generalizations. Personality traits could develop as the result of environmental factors or through genetics. If your race is separated into distinct groups geographically, this may result in clans or tribes having different personality traits depending on experience, interaction with local ecosystems, and other environmental influences.
- Physical Description
This characteristic is often best visualized through graphic art but not all writers can draw. The written physical description you provide for your race should include the shared characteristics of all clans or tribes no matter the location. If your race is subject to a varied physical form depending on genetics or environmental factors, you may want to create a list of the different physical attributes and the reasons. Consider including a traditional dress or ceremonial dress as part of the physical description.
- Clans / Tribes
Clans and tribes are usually differentiated by location. Each location will have different environmental factors that could trigger inter-racial differences: physical, emotional, and intelligent. Consider how your clans and tribes communicate, have there been any racial customs that may have been adopted by other clans of the same race through marriage, trade relations, or invasion? What are the cultural or physical differences between each clan or tribe?
What relationships does your race have with other sentient or sapient lifeforms that may exist in your fantasy world? How has this affected your race's society? How does your race interact with each other? Are there any social customs that are worthy of note?
The history of your race may begin prior to your fantasy world, if the race has migrated from another world, or it may have begun many billions of years after your world came into existence. When you first begin fleshing out this section of your template, jotting ideas down in bullet points is a good start. You can later develop these ideas as part of your world-building or story.
The alignment characteristic has its origins in role-playing games. It helps to define the general demeanor of a race as good, bad, or indifferent. Looking at the history of your race and its accomplishments can help to determine its general alignment.
- Race Lands
If your race has migrated across your fantasy world, consider showing the origins of your race on your world map. You may want to include the path(s) of migration as well as the current civilizations.
What are the core beliefs and values of your race? Are there divisions in your race based on religion, or is the racial culture unified in its belief on origin and spirituality? Does your race worship a single Deity? Religion can have a large effect on social relations, technological advancement, and social values and norms, as well as shared personality traits.
If your race is the only sentient or sapient race upon your fantasy world and it is divided into clans or tribes in different geographic regions, it may have quite a diverse linguistic culture. In fantasy settings and especially in role-playing games, a common language shared by multiple races who co-exist together is a common characteristic. Each race may still have its own language, and characters are often able to speak more than one language depending on their experience.
- Common First Names
If you have constructed a Conlang for your race, you might draw common first names and surnames from its dictionary (especially names that pertain to fauna and flora which could be adopted for characters). Your race's religion(s) can also provide a source for first names as too can the history of your fantasy world. Popular first names may change over time. Using a first name in a repetitive fashion for characters of a certain generation would mirror the use of first names in our own human culture, however, it may make the story harder to convey, and your readers might get confused.
- Common Family Names
The origin of family names in our own societies is often derived from a position or role that a family may have within a community. The surname "Wells" for instance is thought to have been provided to families who were well diggers by trade. Surnames are not necessarily required in small populations, but as a population grows it may become a requirement so that people can be told apart. Sometimes a surname may also originate from the description of where a person hailed from, for instance, Alex Von Appleston might have been used to describe Alex who came from the small hamlet named Appleston.
How adventurous is your race? Do they like to travel to find battles to fight, or do they prefer to learn from new experiences? Are there religious pilgrimages that your race embarks upon or quests for the youth to take in order to enter the world as an adult?
- Race Speed/Physical Strengths
If your story or geofiction contains combat or use of physical strength, then it is important to keep a note of your race's limitations. How fast can they move/run? How high can they jump? How much weight can they lift? You may want to include two sets of figures, one for averages and the other for extreme abilities.
- Favored Occupations
List the particular occupations that your race may be suited to holding within your fantasy world's society. Why is the race suited to perform the tasks associated with the position? Are there physical, mental, or spiritual attributes of your race that are ideally suited to an occupation? Are the choices for the favored occupations based on social interactions and hierarchies with other races?
- Level of Advancement
A race could advance to become a super race only if the physical, spiritual, and mental capabilities of your race allow it. A race without magical powers may find it difficult to advance in experience or better themselves if the world around them required the use of magical abilities. The degree of racial intelligence are also factors limiting advancement.
What civilizations is your Race responsible for nurturing or helping to build up? What part did the race play in the civilization's creation, growth, and demise? Are there any significant cultural advances that your race has helped to create?
- Magic Ability and Powers
Not all races require having magical abilities or powers in a fantasy world. The ability to wield magic may have a positive or negative effect on a race. It can build a race up to become powerful both politically and physically or it can cause a race to become outcast. Keep a detailed list of the magic and power abilities of your race if you decide to include magic and power in your world. Does everyone in the race inherit the same special abilities or are only a selection of powers inherited through genes? Do the number or strength of special abilities increase or decrease with experience and age? You might choose to restrict magic or powers to people who are in a certain profession or who worship a particular deity.
- Famous Characters
Are there any notable famous people in your fantasy race? Famous characters could be heroes or heroines of ages past or they could be influential people from the present time period, such as politicians, magicians, teachers, or bards. Famous characters don't have to be the characters that you are pivotal to your story, but their actions may have had a lasting influence on your race and its development.
- Population Statistics
Include the population statistics on your map for your fantasy race. The size of the population and ability to socially network with other races can influence the diversity of the culture and sub-cultures of your race.
Why Should You Use a Template to Create Your Fantasy Race?
You can be as detailed as you like with the description of each aspect or come back to build upon the characteristics as you develop your story. Once you have fleshed out the characteristics of your race, refer to the race template when designing and writing about your characters. As you build your characters and worlds, don't be completely restricted by the choices you have made in your race template. The template is a guide and, while it provides the commonly shared characteristics of your race, each character that you create may have its own individual traits that can complement or set them apart from others of their species.
© 2011 Tina Dubinsky