Welcome, welcome back to the second instalment of Birthing the Breed. Last time around I showed you how to create the physical aspect of a fantasy race. This time around I’m going to focus on the behavioural. This is important for several reasons, for it dictates how the creature acts, how the society around it is built, and in some ways how the setting hangs together. Fantasy fiction, more than any other, hangs on the setting, and the aura that it creates.
Choice #2: Behaviour – Is the creature a hunter? A farmer? Does it like solitary occupations or tribal ones? As with the prior post, this single question is going to take up the rest of the article, and I’ll break it out into subheadings once more.
Predator or Prey – Is the creature a predator animal, or a prey animal? In more civilized terms, does it hunt, or does it farm? A good example of the prey animal as a civilization is the traditional, lord of the rings elves. They care for and nurture nature, they live in large clusters, and their racial tendencies are towards pacifism and “living with”, rather than “taking from”. Contrast that with a traditional predator, the half orc or orc. In almost every RPG or fantasy setting, from Eberron to the Wheel of Time (Trollocs), orcs and their cousins are aggressive, greedy, militaristic and evil. This is how a traditional fantasy setting portrays predator behaviour.
There are a wide variety of nuanced ways to discuss fantasy races, and it’s important not to make them too black or white, as otherwise the setting feels too generic, too simplistic. Most societies are a mixture of predator and prey, but here are the important characteristics to choose from for each.
Creatures from a predator race are more likely to be solitary, to be focused on a single task, aggressive in personality, larger, less focused on the family unit, and more acquisitive in nature. They are also more common to play the villain in settings where an entire race is cast as the villain, rather than a kingdom.
Creatures from a prey race are more likely to stick together, to work in tribal units with sentries provided by experienced members, to farm, more pacific in personality, and less focused on personal greed, although for members of a prey race, that is by no means certain.
Society - Closely related to how a race behaves in a fantasy setting is the way the society it lives in is constructed. Is the society a traditional human one, of busy cities and farms around the outside providing food? If so, it’s fairly similar to the feudal system of Medieval Europe, which was imposed from the top down by nobles who sought to control the output from those farms. Or is it a wandering tribal society? In the real world and in fantasy, these racial traits are usually assigned to an ethnicity living in a desert or tropical jungle.
The most important aspect of society to determine is whether it is an imposed society, or an agreed upon society. Effectively, dictatorship or democracy. A dictatorship, be it of the few or the many, means that that group somehow seized power, or was placed in power, and is now holding it over every other member of the race. An agreed upon society allows the leaders to be removed without bloodshed (presumably), and in the world of traditional fantasy, tends to be ruled by mercantile interests who see money as their prime objective, rather than force.
All of these societies have social stratification, resulting in a setting where some creatures are always better than others. This creates many opportunities in the fantasy world for sub-plots, be they looking for advancement, the disdain of “betters”, a people’s rebellion, an overthrow from a dispossessed branch of the royal family. Always make sure to create a society with friction points, places where racial inequality can come to the fore, because that is where the character will shine.
I hope this has been helpful to you in creating new races for your fantasy fiction. Next time, we’ll look at another aspect of creating a fantasy race.