Every RPG offers various races to provide players an opportunity to explore the setting from a different perspective.
Race, as a term, is a very generic identifier for specific species in various settings. It feels less than satisfactory when trying to get a broader understanding of a character. Just because your genetic heritage is one thing does not mean that it can’t be modified by the culture in which you were raised. Both play a critical role in how you develop a character. They provide a depth that race alone cannot describe. This also comes into play for a single race that has several branches. These branches are usually cultural variations not genetic. In simple terms; humans that settle in fertile river valleys exhibit a different culture than those that wander desert wastes. Same genetic race, completely different cultures.
I’m focusing on fantasy RPGs here because most other genre build off this base. Standard race choices are usually human, elf, dwarf and some sort of gnome or halfling. You can see immediately that these are based almost wholly on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. This has been the standard fare since the creation of role playing games. Fantasy races have been based on creatures in fairy tales thus the commonalities through out settings.
Every race has some sort of back story to provide reasons for cultural differences and how a player character would interact with the world around them. Just like human history, demi-human history is full of trials and tribulations to provide depth to the cultures. Then there are sub cultures within these core races; drow, drugar, svirfniblin, stout and so on.
Humans are always just human. Pathfinder now provides mechanics to apply alternative cultural traits to all races. This is an exciting development because it allows you to develop a more cultural personality for your characters. Humans are more than just cookie cutter stat blocks with slight physical variations.
In Andrus I have chosen to eliminate all the standard demi-human races and replaced them with races found in Pathfinder’s Advanced Race Guide; the Plane Touched. This achieves a few goals. First, it breaks expectations carried from other fantasy settings. Second, it provides an opportunity to showcase a unique culture that I’ve never seen used as a major race in any other setting. Third, it meshes well with the elemental theme I’ve used in developing the setting. I was honestly surprised at how well these new races filled the role I had envisioned so many years before they even existed.
The flame touched Ifrit play the role of ‘elves’ in Andrus. Tall, thin, long lived and often a guiding hand for younger races. The earth touched Oread are the ‘dwarves’ of Andrus. Strong, broad as they are tall and methodical in everything they do whether crafting or dealing with other races. I haven’t found a cultural identity for the Air and Water touched races, honestly they stand well on their own. I just need to better weave their cultures into the world lore.
Humanoids; filthy, foul and vile creatures that understand only violence and power. There is the usual fare of goblins, orcs and ogres with several variations lumped in like kobolds, bugbears, hobgoblins and gnolls. I’ve decided to eliminate all these races due to their repetitive nature and explore some of the less used monstrous races. I’m still plotting the world lore to fit these very non-human societies into Andrus. I’m not convinced they need to be wholly evil but they will be in competition with human and fae cultures for resources and power.
There are two other cultures that have changed somewhat since the conception of Andrus.
The Waer were planned as an ancient race, guiding the development of the younger races. The intent was to use doppelgangers due to their ability to pass unnoticed with their shape changing abilities and their innate psionic powers. After some consideration doppelgangers seemed a poor fit for the intended role. Once again the Pathfinder Advanced Race guide provided perfect, non-monster, option for the elder race; the Samsaren. The enigma of their origins and motives should work well for this race.
I intended for Wild Lords to be psudo lycanthropic masters of wild spaces around Andrus like Dar in the Beast Master or Perrin Aybara from Jordan’s Wheel of Time. The Animal Lord template from Paizo’s Bestiary 3 fit the vision surprisingly well. I’m still working out their origin process, are they born as a unique race, are they base creatures that are ‘touched’ by wild spirits before they are born or are they offerings to the spirits of the wild as part of some ritual? All interesting possibilities.