5

May

by thefourpartland

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4

Races form the background to a fantasy setting, giving it a depth and a texture that would otherwise be missing. They bind themselves to the environment, to the geography, in a way that few other genres can match, and in doing so they bring that landscape alive. It is very rare to pass through a fantasy book without hearing about the connection between a race and its locations, be it the holy retreat in the desert, or the high passes that gave birth to its culture.

Amongst these, the most famous are the elves, dwarves, hobbits/halflings, orcs and other creatures that sprung from the pages of myth and Tolkien. They have strong legends and many vivid depictions, but they also have a singular drawback – they are known. If you ask a fantasy reader about an elf, each one will have their own distinct impression of what elves, or orcs, or dragons, looks like and behaves. As an author, this means there is a certain inertia when it comes to describing those races, that they have fairly firm boundaries in the mind as to what is a “true” elf.

The solution to this inertia is to use new races, created for a given setting and without the extra baggage that comes with using the traditional fantasy cast. And so today, I’m going to start a series on how to design a new race for fantasy. If you’ve read my Creating a Magic System series, you’ll recognize the style.

Choice #1: Physical Form – What does it look like? Where can it live? What can it do? The critical question for many people, and one that will consume the rest of this post. Because of that, I’m going to split it into a variety of subheadings to make each section a little clearer.

Environment – Where a creature lives is critical to determining all other factors. A race that houses itself in a desert oasis will not likely have the same characteristics as one that was bred in a tundra. So before designing a fantasy race, remember to choose the primary environs where it will be housed. And remember, “everywhere” is an option. Humans have adapted to the Andes, Sahara, Siberia, Jamaica, and everywhere in between, so it’s perfectly reasonable to have a race that can do the same. I would recommend, however, that the more races you plan on introducing to the setting, the more likely it is they will have environment specific traits.

Movement – I’ve placed this before the actual physical form of the creature, because it dictates much of that form. A creature that primarily swims will have a streamlined body and either large paws or a strong tail for propulsion in the water. One that climbs will have strong, agile hands and feet, while one that is a runner is generally, long, low, with four powerful limbs on the ground. A creature that levitates can have almost any shape or form desired. Please note that these are generalities, and straying from them is by no means forbidden. The Platypus and Echidna exist, after all.

I usually research a creature that exists in a similar environment, and borrow a few traits that I think might be worthwhile. This is why the Áðexe have leathery skin – it’s borrowed from crocodiles for swimming.

Limbs ­- The number of limbs on a creature are fairly important, because of the mental associations that a reader generally holds. On Earth, creatures with four limbs are generally mammalian, and usually among the larger species, while those with six or eight (or more) are usually insectoid or arachnid, or live in the sea. Because of this, there is an inbuilt reaction that large creatures with six or more limbs may not work. Usually we readers are willing to believe, but it is necessary to tread a little more lightly with unusual races as a result

Regardless of the number of limbs, the breed in question should have at least one pair that can perform fine manipulation. Otherwise, unless they are telekinetic, they can’t manipulate tools. Aside from the ability to manipulate tools, the limbs should be designed for moving about in the environment in which the breed exists. The limbs should be proportional to the body they are attached to, although there is certainly leeway in that term.

Finally, do not forget that because the race is fantastical in nature, if it has inherent magic it can ignore many of these restrictions, because it has power beyond simply the physical.

Body – I’ll finish up the post today talking about the overall shape of the creature. The shape of a creature, and the coverings that go on top of it, can be almost anything the imagination can devise, from a hybrid lion-frog to an ephemeral wisp of energy that is nevertheless sentient. And one might be covered in pink polka dots (please don’t), while another might be rust and sand coloured patterning for better hiding in a desert high in iron.

Generally, the more time the race will spend on the screen as a talking character, the closer it is to a bipedal humanoid. This is because it is easier for a reader to relate to the character if it can understand some of his characteristics. However, the opposite is also true. The more the author wants a character to be alien, the more non-human traits are placed onto the character. A wonderful example of this is the traditional dragon – it’s both alien, yet very representative of human characteristics. Why? Because they can shapeshift between draconic (alien) and human (understood) form. Generally the “good” dragons spend more time in human form, and with humans, whereas the “bad” dragons spend their time sitting on piles of gold and lording over the surrounding countryside as a personification of evil.

The physical shape of the body is dictated by the environment – streamlined for running, flying or swimming, more upright and with larger limbs for slower creatures that can manipulate tools more easily. And for levitating or magically powered creatures, anything goes.

For the hide of the creature, there’s two primary characteristics – texture and colouring. Is it hair, scales, leather, chitinous? And then is it camouflaged, brightly coloured as a warning to others, or can it change the tone of its skin to match the environment. Scales and chitin are usually found in warmer climates, while leather and hair are warmer and found in even the coldest regions. As for skin tone, bright colours are more usually found on prey animals, while camouflage is found on both predator and prey.

Now, I know much of the advice today seems like it would be more applicable to creating an actual creature, as opposed to a race that’s supposed to play the part of a character in a story, but don’t worry, we’re coming to that in the next couple installments.

3

May

by thefourpartland

The Veryan forces watched as the Lianese withdrew, picking their wounded up and pulling back to gather against the edges of the market square, building courage for another charge. Rhyfelwyr wished they had been able to take more advantage of the confusion of the broken charge, but that would have meant breaking the shield wall and stepping over the barricades, and giving up that defensive surety for a momentarily opportunity was not worth the cost. He called out, and the second, and last, round of spheres was brought to hand. There would be nothing but the sword after this, and if the Lianese were wise to that and started to bombarbed the Veryan forces with arrows, the only response Rhy could conjure would be a deadly charge over the barricades, into a waiting force. He could only hope that the battle was going well enough elsewhere, so that these Lianese forces did not have the time for a leisurely battle.

The second charge came, and it was repulsed in the same way as the first, glass spheres breaking the momentum at point-blank range. There spheres rarely killed, but the clouds of abrasive glass would injure many an eye, and the spray of sharpened waste would make the ground a spike-ridden mess, and for that Rhyfelwyr was grateful. In the brief pause as the Lianese forces gathered for a third charge, Rhy spoke with his squad, pulling them from the lines.

“We’ve lost three of the twenty men we started with, and three more are like Locsyn, wounded. They’re going to throw a third round of javelins, and we’ve already tightened the wall once. Do we charge?”

Taflen looked up, examining the Lianese forces for a long moment before shaking his head. “We stay, we’ll take more of them with us that way.”

Gwyth grunted. “Uplifting, you are.”

Nervously twirling the end of his moustache in one hand, Locsyn shook his head. “Rhocas, can you get us out of this?”

The young mage sighed. “I’ve been training as a mage for only a few days, I can just barely manage summoning fire when I want it. I can’t do one of the giant balls of flame. I’m sorry.”

Rhy patted the young man on the back. “Nothing to be sorry about, you signed on as a soldier and you do a soldier’s job. We stand.” Rhy turned back to his post in the centre of the barricade, and only Taflen heard him mutter that “I hope Llof comes up with something.”

The third trumpet called, and Gwyth readied himself, his shield held high to catch the incoming javelins. His arm ached and a slow trickle of blood flowed from where the arrow had pierced it in the morning, but he ignored the pain, and caught the first Lianese soldier over the wall on his shield, slamming it up into his foe as the man jumped from the barricades. A sword thrust around the side slammed into the Lianese ribs, and Gwyth dumped him off, shield reset to deal with the next foe.

Taflen steadied himself, one foot up on the wooden barrier, and as the first of his foes tried to scramble across, he caught the fool with a hard strike to the helmet, cleaving the protection and leaving his foe writhing on the ground. Two more followed at the same time, pushing Taflen back as he fought to keep his shield in front of one and strike at the other with his sword. The split attention meant neither succeeded, and a thrust at his ribs was only stopped by the quick attention of the Veryan soldier to Taflen’s left. That assistance allowed the historian to strike hard at the legs of the foe to his right, and the sword carved through the shin until it lodged midway into the bone, yanked from his hand as the Lianese soldier fell. With nothing but his shield left, Taflen put his right hand behind the boss and slammed it into the face of his second foe, knocking him backwards. The strike was too late for Taflen’s ally, for in stopping the thrust at Taflen he had left himself open, and a countering blow had left him dying in the dirt. In the brief moment of freedom that he had, Taflen grabbed the sword from his fallen comrade’s hand, stepping backwards and readying himself for the next foe to come.

The shield wall contracted further, with only ten of the original twenty still standing, of which five came from Rhyfelwyr’s squad. He was proud of them, that they would stand against the odds, but some twenty five Lianese soldiers remained to press in on them, and that left Rhy sore at heart. He could see Rhocas calling on his magic, and brief sputters of flame would appear, but the carnage and the chaos of the battle had stolen the mage’s concentration, and soon he fell back on his sword, standing in the shield wall and delivering blow for blow, his face pale with sweat. The young man had seen too little of life to die, and he fought with the strength of the desperate, fear lending power to his strikes, and speed to his counters.

2

May

by thefourpartland

Promotion sucked. Sure, the gear was better, but the missions nearly killed Jenny each time he did one. He’d been created as an organ replacement for some fat old rich man, and now he was mostly replaced. From the waist down, he was cybernetic. Medics had saved what they could of his legs after the console fell on him, but that was little enough. So they just chopped everything off and gave him mechanical legs.

Then his first mission after promotion, he’d lost his left arm. Cybernetic replacement. Then part of his face in backblast from an explosion. Course, if he hadn’t been promoted, they’d have shot him to save energy. Organ replacements were cheap. Organ replacements who’d survived as much combat as he had weren’t.

JNY-35197 was on his third mission after being promoted. He figured he’d lose his other arm on this one. Deep strike with a team of seven humans and two Devastators. Jenny’d never seen more than one per team before. That meant ugly. Real ugly.

It also meant juggernauts. Lots. The humans on the team all had brand new power armour that would shred alien battlesuits by the dozen. Jenny had gotten point duty, and with it a flechette shotgun. Clouds of bolts tore infantry to pieces. Did shit against armour though.

No Command on this mission. Too dangerous to transmit, they’d said. Bastards had turned off the suit radios. No talking to anyone. So the team hand signalled. Well, the Devastators just nodded. They didn’t have hands.

Jenny paused. He was half a klick ahead, five from destination. And there was bugger all here. Just a damn plateau in the distance. One damn plateau in a bloody plain. He zoomed in, closing his human eye. A fortress. With a space port. And they had ten men. Command was mental.

He waited for the others, then explained in short gestures. They got it. Another suicide mission. Even the Devastators paused for a second. Then they started walking. Jenny cursed, hitting one of them with the butt of his weapon. It didn’t even slow.

The other humans were running. He followed. Hell was about to arrive, and Jenny wanted to be far away. Heading around the fort. Fast, not stealthy. Suits should protect them though.

The boom shook the valley. The Devastators had opened fire. Three spaceships evaporated in the opening salvo. The rest went up in the next round. Then the fort began spewing juggernauts and firing back.

Jenny stopped watching and hit the deck, crawling to the others. They conferred briefly. Damn. Had to go in. He lead the way towards the back side of the fort. The front side was pockmarked slag. And dying. One Devastator was still firing. Probably not for long, but they’d done their job. Time for the organ replacements to make it work.

A tap on the back and he sprinted the last hundred metres. Slapped a demo charge to a wall and dove aside. Aliens would notice the blast. Humans hit the opening, weapons firing. First room cleared, no casualties. Second room, a couple alien dead.

A flechette shot cleared the third. JNY-35197 chuckled. He liked the new toy. Kept him alive longer. Rooms four, five and six were empty. Seven bagged a human. Two repeater bolts to the faceplate. Unlucky. Another run of clear rooms. Jenny cursed. Speed was keeping them alive, but that was going to run out.

It did. Fire erupted through the wall. A juggernaut in the inner courtyard was targeting them. He didn’t have anything to fight back. Neither did the others. So they fled.

Didn’t help. AP rounds got three humans. Half the team gone. They ducked further into the building, heading down. Maybe they could get underground, hole up and plan.

Nope. Jenny ate a shell coming round a corner. Armour deflected most of it, but it still stung. He fired, ripping the room apart on full auto. Killed everything. Then the gun whirred. No more ammo. He had one mag left. Better make it last.

Explosions behind. Grenades. A glance showed two humans with him, not three. Another organ replacement gone. Three rooms later, his mag was at half. Damn battlesuits didn’t stop coming.

A tap on his shoulder. One of the others gestured for a hold, then led the way in, shooting selectively. A computer room. Maybe. Looked a lot like the cockpit of that dropship. Jenny took one entrance. The human who had led in fitted something into a slot on the console. So that was why they had come here. Jenny shrugged. Was going to be damn hard to get it back out.

Repeater bolts erupted through the door. He rolled back, landing prone and firing. Quarter of a mag left. An eighth. And empty. Jenny shouted, then threw a grenade through. That held the battlesuits for a moment.

The other two humans grabbed him, and they ran, snapping shots where they could. Armour blocked most of the bolts. A couple hurt. One pitted Jenny’s cybernetic arm, and it shorted. Shoddy manufacturing for a battlefield unit.

They ducked and wove through corridors, a damn maze. Jenny sighed. He was going to die here. That damn juggernaut would get the organ replacements as soon as they fled.

A left turn. Daylight. He sprinted, putting extra energy into his new legs. Ugly, but faster than he used to be. The plain was a ruin, burning fires and slag. The Devastators had flattened the space port, leaving behind the wreckage of ships. The three humans used the carnage as cover.

They’d made the end of the port when a shell ripped apart the trailer. The juggernaut had arrived. The next two shells missed. The third sent the humans tumbling, shrapnel cutting through armour. Neither of them could move. They’d almost made it.