Cody Alexander
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Creating Fantasy Races

Simple Guidelines to Making Better Fantasy Races

Race Creation Guide

Alternate name: The Even-I-Can-Create-Unique-And-Different-Races-And-Cultures-Guidelines

These guidelines are for those who believe that they can’t make something new or unique for races and cultures, and who also believe that every idea has been done before.

Race Building Guidelines:

  1. No "They're just like humans, except 'blank' thing is different."
  2. No "They look like humans except 'forehead ridges/minor physical feature' change," aka Star Trek Syndrome.
  3. No "They're just like Orcs except they're culturally Japanese," aka no recreating an existing race but fitting them to a new culture than what they already have. (This is known as ethnicity, NOT RACE.)
  4. No copying an existing race from any medium and just reskinning them culturally or physically. Try to be as original as possible.
  5. No "They're Animal People" like straight-up furry or anthropomorphic beast races.

Usually, if you don’t have an idea, taking something physiological or psychological is a great starting point.

Psychological: 

  • No sense of Privacy
  • Highly Superstitious

Physiological:

  • What if the race doesn’t need to sleep and can instead trance? (Elves)
  • What if the race has such tenacity that even if they are massively damaged they can still keep going? (Half-Orcs)
  • What if a race was able to have insight into future events and not be able to fail miserably? (Halflings)

These are the six rules of living Organisms. Listed here are the rules used by scientists:

  • Living things are made of cells.
  • Living things obtain and use energy.
  • Living things grow and develop.
  • Living things reproduce.
  • Living things respond to their environment.
  • Living things adapt to their environment.

The Seven Characteristics of Civilization:

  • Social Structure — A system of levels in society. This can be economic (jobs and wealth), social (popularity), or etc.
  • Stable Food Supply — When a society has enough food so it can survive, with some extra to trade.
  • Religion — A set of beliefs, usually in a god or gods, together with forms of worship such as holidays, prayer services, and rituals.
  • Government — A group of people who keep law and order and make laws.
  • Writing — Symbols and signs put together to make words.
  • Culture — A people's unique way of life—all of its forms of creative expression and entertainment
  • Technology — All advances, inventions, and processes created to make life easier.

Normally, Races fit ONE of these archetypes. However, to create new variations with many different races, feel free to mix two or three together.

The Beautiful

A race that is beautiful, graceful, intelligent, long-lived and seemingly perfect in every way. Perhaps, also to a degree, they are detached, logical, and lacking in a certain spark of wild passion. (For if a race is passionate and emotional, how could it possibly live very long?) They probably even have an advantage on mysticism or technology. Generally, you should only have one race like this in the world, but it can be divided between a benevolent sect and a malicious sect who might go by different names.

The Conservative Tough Guy

A race that might be tough but probably lacks a bit in overall physicality. It might more than make up for those failings via use of magic or technology. This race should be conservative, orderly, and structured using strictly-upheld rules that they try to hold others to since, through construction of these rules, they can get the advantage. They ought to be very good at things with a very solid and structured foundation, such as crafting, economics, construction, etc.

The Social

A race that is highly energetic and brilliant, but generally lacking pretty severely in physicality. It probably has a significant advantage over the other races in terms of magical or technological power. They should be generally extroverted and talkative, sharing ideas between each other, but also listen well and remember everything people say to them. Their high intellect ought to come with a certain spark of madness that might blind them to more obvious, easier, or direct ways of handling situations, but don't take this to a too exaggerated extreme. This archetype likely tries to avoid violence and prefers to handle thing socially, at least among its general members. They might also be swindlers.

The Marshal

A race that is highly physical, but orderly and restrained in a very militaristic manner. They ought to be quick to follow orders and give them, too. They would be clever and tactical, but also quite willing to handle things directly when it is the most expedient solution. They likely lag behind other races in terms of magic or technology, but not terribly so. This race is probably found lacking when it comes to artistic spirit, beauty, and compassion. They are certainly violent and arrogant, maybe even going out of their way to dominate other races, but are also honest and sincere.

The Savage

A race that is just beastly. Maybe driven to madness by the moon, maybe universally filled with ever-brewing anger and strife, or maybe simply not all that far-removed from a predatory or territorial animal ancestor, they have short fuses and resort to violence quickly. They always take the most direct and obvious route to solving their problems, knocking down barriers with sheer force of strength and will rather than trying to find a way around them. In a fight, they are scary, but they probably, to some degree, lack the intellectual and most certainly the mystical and technological skills to really keep up with other races. They are probably quite primitive and probably quite ugly, or at least very animal-like in appearance.

The Little Guy

A race whose primary defining feature is being smaller than everyone else. This can come accompanying some other advantage—for instance, they might be fantastically advantaged when it comes to mystical or technological powers, or the race might be advantaged in the fact that they are constantly aware of their surroundings and how to use what is in them to their advantage, or that they have a special bond with the wild or something. Alternatively, a more dull route could simply be to make being small their only defining feature and exaggerating the benefits of small size while downplaying the disadvantages. This is the only category where you can probably get away with multiple races, particularly if they are rivals, but D&D has too many filling this niche. No more than two to three.

The Big Clumsy Guy

And the opposite of The Little Guy is a race that is too large for the world it lives in. With great strength and toughness, they also have big, clumsy hands that are almost certain to break whatever they handle. Maybe they can carry more, and maybe they can use larger weapons, but they also have a hell of a time navigating. They might be slow, particularly when they get caught up in difficult terrain, or they might be severely lacking in both intelligence and social skills (and certainly lacking all mystical and technological benefits). The point is that they are bigger than all the other racial options.

The Artificial

An artificial race. A race that is functionally and physically adult, they could either be impossibly young or impossibly old and left lost and forgotten somewhere until awakened. They don't have any real experience in the world, they almost certainly don't have real emotions, and they have never been raised. Their minds might be empty or might be filled with bookish knowledge, but they almost certainly lack a lot of social skills and maybe even the knowledge of how to properly care for themselves. They probably have great advantages over a non-artificial person, both physically and intellectually, but at a severe cost of social and creative abilities. They might even get "stuck" in situations and have a complete mental meltdown where non-artificial beings would be more willing to engage in trial-and-error experiments until they find a workable solution. A race like this might need to be recharged or regulated instead of eating or sleeping and their special method of doing so might come with special restrictions that most don't have to deal with.

The Alien

An inscrutable primitive or alien race that is wildly distantly or not at all related to the other races, it lacks any form of common communication and may lack the ability to even speak works as we would be able to comprehend them due to lack of similar biology (no vocal chords or a very differently shaped mouth). You can cheat and give them telepathic communication, but then it becomes an advantage rather than a disadvantage and you should balance them accordingly. A race like this is almost certainly massively advantaged in some other way, be it physical, mental or mystical.

The Cursed Threat

A race born with a particular curse that basically defines them, it leaves them marked and everyone recognizes that they are marked and this puts them at a serious social disadvantage. This curse almost certainly gives them some sort of great magical, but possibly physical or even technological, edge that others can't match. The problem is that others will not help but perceive them as enemies and treat them as such.

The Mystic

A race that is generally 'at peace' with the world, they are slow and ponderous but driven and decisive in their actions when able to act. They probably live very simple lives as monks, farmers, shepherds, nomads, or shamans and are certainly poor and wanting for basic needs. They are probably universally beneficial and are good listeners who can also impart a good deal of common wisdom and objective insight. They probably act very dour and somber or at least just way too serious or blandly serene. They likely have great mystical and physical advantages, but have little drive to utilize them, particularly in violent, aggressive ways. Of course, this sort of race probably lacks the drive and ambition to become adventurers as their culture and nature is all about finding so much contentment in the simple things in life others take for granted.

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