Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Getting a feel for different species of people

I've written a little about the biology of the four species of people, but that's not an easy place to jump in.  In this post, I'm not going to talk about how their bodies work or what they make their homes out of.

Let's talk about what these people feel like.

We'll start with the most stereotypical views, what outsiders think of each species.  Afterwards, we'll look at variations, and how to adapt them for your own campaign.


Humans are the most like adventurers.  They're rowdy, bold, and hungry: hungry for knowledge and money and power.  They're noisy, with barking dogs and a fearsome battle cry.  Humans come to town and there's gonna be a brawl or a party, or maybe a mix of both.

For an outsider's perspective on humans, think pirates and nomads and outlaws, roving teams of deadly hunters, ragged fearsome bands carving out their survival in the post-apocalyptic wilderness.

a wedding haka

(Read about the people of the Ashen Council, or how to roll up your own human town.)


Giants are fur-trapping mountain men, pensive loners.  They're quiet and brooding, wandering the land fishing and watching the stars, remembering the stories passed down from their grandmothers' grandmothers.

Giants would rather leave you alone.  But if you harm a giant, they will never forget, and they will bring vengeance down upon you, and their descendants will tell the tale for generations.

For a giant, think of an old prospector, a ranger in the woods, a self-reliant hobo riding the rails with stories to tell and a keen glint in their eye.

a Mongolian herder

(Read about their great annual gatherings, or how they trade the stars.)


Colonials are a bit like you and me, something like modern day people.  They're city folk, a product of a civilized world.  Colonials are suited for comfortable houses full of manufactured goods, social organizations with books full of rules, and mixed drinks with too many ingredients.

Take away their coffee and their indoor plumbing and they're pretty much lost.  The end of the world has been especially hard on the colonials.  They're not really the wilderness survival type.

But despite all their weaknesses in this dark age, colonials are rich.  In their few remaining cities, the remnant of empire has amazing gadgets and powerful weapons, libraries full of knowledge and vaults full of artifacts of the old world.

Imagine law-abiding clergymen and diligent chemists, by-the-book naval officers and studious accountants, ordinary folk who distressingly find themselves carrying a gun these days.

Aurangzeb, Mughal emperor

(Read about colonial alchemy, or the last remnant of their empire.)


Goblins are the backwoods clan you don't want to stumble across.  Get on their good side and they're known for their hospitality.  They'll feed you some kind of meat and give you weird stuff to smoke and ask all manner of nosy questions about what your kind of people do for fun and how shoes are supposed to work and why you're not married yet.

But most folks are not on their good side.  Goblins are the reason you don't go too far into the woods.  They're sharp teeth and haunting calls.  They're not afraid of outsiders; they lure them in just to get a fresh meal.  They've got strange medicines and hexes and hoodoo.

Goblins are curious about the world, yet they're sure they know how it really all works.  They're eager for news even though they're sure it's all some conspiracy they're glad to be avoiding by staying at home.

porch sitting

(Read what goblins think of writing, or how they ambush prey.)

Now that you know what's typical, it's time to make some changes for your own setting.  For each of these species, you could choose two attributes from the table below.
  1. They're overly _____, almost absurdly so.
  2. They're not really as _____ as people say.

Traits (d8)humanselvesgiantsgoblins
3aggressiveeloquentobservantfond of complaining in solidarity
4boastfulritualisticpensivegood at reading people
7celebratorysecretivefond of appealing to historyproudly unrefined
8casually violentmeticulouspedanticexcitable

typical traits
Humans are overly...
Humans aren't all that...
Elves are overly...
Elves aren't all that...
Giants are overly...
Giants aren't all that...
Goblins are overly...
Goblins aren't all that...

Player-characters are the protagonists of a roleplaying game, so if anyone's going to be an unusual example of their species, it's probably them.  You could use the traits above as a guideline, but don't let them be a straitjacket.  Feel free to portray your character (PC or NPC) however you like.

(Edit: This post originally used the term "elves" to refer to what I'm calling "colonials".  The name never really fit well.)


  1. I like that each species has an immediate, easy to understand archetype. Fantasy humans are fantasy humans, of course. Giants and goblins both feel very true to their roots, but also fill important niches in the American context.

    But the elves feel truly inspired. The elves are us, modern urbanites. That's both perfect and unexpected, something that fits into the setting, but also feels totally new in a way that loners and clans just aren't.

    Have you seen Trey Causey's "Weird Adventures"? His vision of hill giants as hillbilly giants and hobgoblins as hobo-goblins feels like it would mesh well with what you're doing here.

    1. I haven't seen "Weird Adventures" but it sounds like fun.

      Glad to hear you're enjoying the lore for these species.

  2. This is very cool. I'd love to see what you come up with for Dwarves, Orcs, and Halflings, too!

    1. First I'd have to find a niche for dwarves, orcs, and halflings, a way that they're physiologically different from the existing four species and adapted to a different role in the ecosystem. Any suggestions?

  3. This is tough for me because I tend to pay less attention to what you write as it fits into your setting and more about what I can steal for my setting.

    I wonder if Orcs could be like Norsemen, raiders and berserkers, who feel like all the other races are somehow inferior to them and thus rationalize their terror. Still might not be physiologically different enough from Humans.

    Dwarves... again, this might not fit from a physiological perspective but I wonder if they're all bound by ritual and not really free to have a personal perspective on much of anything. They reject all that is not of their world. A little like the Chinese before the European powers forced them to open up their society.

    Halflings? I have no good ideas. Maybe they exist in a state of constant immaturity mentally, where they stall out development-wise at the equivalent of teenage years for Humans, and then somehow their bodies started to exhibit the same characteristics?

    1. > I tend to pay less attention to what you write as it fits into your setting and more about what I can steal for my setting.

      That's how most people read RPG blogs, I think.

      Based on the characteristics you've mentioned, I'd try some of these biological changes:

      - Orcs are an r-selection species, breeding in vast numbers in the hopes that enough survive to make the next generation. They have boom and bust cycles in their population dynamics, eating up all their prey one year, having too many babies who then are likely to all starve as the prey has been reduced in number so severely, and so on. This leads to massive waves of orcish invasion every few years.

      - Your dwarves are probably like my elves: eusocial, where all members of a colony are children of a small number of breeding adults, like how honeybees and ants work. This leads to a very community-oriented species where individualism is not really valued at all.

      - Halflings act like teenagers because they are teenagers. They don't get any more mature because they don't live that much longer. Halflings are mature before 10, hit their physical prime in their teens, then die by about 20.