by thefourpartland

Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4

Following on from last week’s post, I’m going to wrap up the Creating a Fantasy Race series with a look at the capabilities of a race.

Choice #4: Capabilities – What are the natural characteristics of a given fantasy race, and what can they actually do?

The classic example of this is a dragon, specifically, the type that exists inside the world of Dungeons & Dragons. They can, variously, fly, breathe fire, cast spells, change form, and perform all manner of other unusual abilities inherent in their being dragons. All manner of fantasy races have capabilities somewhere along those lines, but the question to decide when creating one is how powerful should an individual of that race be, and how does that relate to the setting as a whole.

For instance, dragons are exceedingly powerful creatures, regardless of the setting in which they are seen. This is almost always counterbalanced by the fact they are rare, and constantly in a form of limited civil war within their race. Which means that the rest of the setting never entirely has to worry about dragons becoming too powerful. They are a self-policing entity in that regard.

But what happens if all dragons suddenly acquired a hive-mind type ability, where all dragons acted with one mind and one intention? In most settings where they existed, they would be capable of wiping every other civilization from the map. This, then, is the problem of capabilities: There needs to be checks and balances.

Now, as to the actual types of capabilities that a given race might have. Some of these will have been determined by the physical design of the body. Avian races generally fly, and so on. But many of them relate to the nature of magic and religion in the setting. A god might bless every thousandth child, or the race as a whole might possess some form of telepathy or other mental power. Or perhaps they can innately cast spells with the strength of their will. Each of these will increase the power of the race in the setting.

There is no limit as to the type or nature of capabilities that a race can have, provided there exists within the setting a justification such that the reader will believe them. However, if the race with these capabilities contains the protagonist, there is something to remember – the stronger the protagonist is, the stronger the antagonist must be to provide a credible threat. In general, the antagonist is a good deal stronger, meaning that whatever capabilities he has, either personal or racial must be greater than those of the protagonist.

Whatever the capabilities might be, make sure as a writer to enumerate them up front in a story, either through the main character discovering them, or by them being described by a knowledgeable character. This is because first mentioning any capability in the heat of the moment feels very much like a deus ex machina, a saviour created to bail the writer out of a sticky situation, rather than the main character.

In terms of the total number of capabilities, I personally generally assign one or two per race, interlinking them in such a way that they both add flavour and uniqueness to the race in question. For instance, a race that has the physical ability to regrow lost limbs might also have the magical ability to partially or completely shape change, while a race that lives underwater might be telepathic and telekinetic, because the environment and the physical form required for aquatic life makes communication and tool use difficult.

Finally, I would recommend that no two races in a setting share the same capabilities, unless those races are closely related. And even then, I would suggest they be similar, but not the same, allowing each fantasy race to retain its own uniqueness.

This wraps up the series on Creating a Fantasy Race. I hope it proves helpful in your writing endeavours.


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