What's got me thinking about this again is this post - one of those strokes of rpg.net genius that come along from time to time. It's an idea for making the sentient races in D&D 4e animal-based, so that dwarves are anthropomorphised badgers, goblins are rats, orcs are boars and kobolds are newts. (That sort of thing really appeals to me: I've already blogged before about animal fantasy. I hasten to add that I'm not even remotely a 'furry' - I just read a lot of Redwall books in my youth and lapped them up.) It's sparked off the urge to get creative with the races again. Here's what I came up with when I should have been working:
- First up, what I really want is Zulu dwarves. The idea of an impi of spear-wielding dwarves marching in perfect unison and discipline to certain death is one that should by rights be an icon of the fantasy genre. Unfortunately, at the moment it only exists in my head.
- Slavic Elves. For some reason Russian culture has a very hard and cold image in the Western imagination, but in my experience it's a reputation unjustly earned. In terms of artistic creativity there are very few nations that can match Russia, and the folklore of that culture shows a love of nature rare in the rest of Europe. It seems like a great match for Elves, and should serve to make them a bit more interesting than the old cliches, too.
- Spanish hobgoblins. Spain was for centuries the most warlike and the most litigious country in Europe, perhaps the world. This seems like a perfect match for hobgoblins. There's also something I like about the aesthetic of hobgoblin conquistadors riding through the semi-desert of Extremadura on the way to fight a reconquista against Grenadan Ogre Magi...
- English orcs. If there ever was an orcish race, it's the English - a violent, boozy, gluttonous and ignorant nation of hooligans. (I can say this because I grew up there.) The only difference is that the English are a nation of imperialists, whereas orcs can only destroy.
- Portuguese halflings. I picture these as a small, nimble race of sailors for whom the vast oceans hold no terror - only possibilities. Like their real world inspiration, they have the vision and purpose to try to discover what exists beyond the horizon.
- Persian Illithids. The idea of mind-flayer padishahs lounging in divans smoking hookahs while gith slaves fan them with palm fronds is one I have to incorporate into a game some time.
- Centaur Scythians. A race of bloodthirsty nomads sweeping out of the vast East to trample civilisation beneath their hooves.
- Assyrian Gnolls, making piles of the skulls of their enemies outside cities laid waste...
The main problem with this is that I don't like the idea of monocultural races. It's always been a pet hate of mine. Luckily there are far more human societies than fantasy races, necessitating a lot of doubling up. Orcs could be an Anglo-Saxon-Frisian alternative, with different breeds in England, Germany and the Low Countries. Hobgoblin nations could exist in a swathe across Spain, France, Italy and Romania. Different nations of Elves could populate the vast territories of Eastern Europe.
The only other question is: which cultures should be represented by humans? Part of me wants to say that Africa should be dominated by us - it is after all where we originated and where the vast sweep of our genetic variations can be found. On the other hand I like the idea of humans existing across South and East Asia, which is where the majority of the world's population currently lives. But I think in the end I'd like to plump for the Pacific Island peoples, whose story of exploration and colonisation of the vast ocean seems so uniquely human.