Aug 282017
 
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Bio-Diversity

To make a decision, consider how diverse your creations are. If they’re all humanoid, it suggests shared DNA and they are races. Elves, dwarves, hobbits, orcs, humans, and other fantasy tropes have two arms and legs, one head, and no tail, etc. But if we create one with wings, another with gills and other adaptations for the water, and another with four legs, these suggest different species. Wouldn’t a dragon be a different species from Homo sapiens?

On Earth, we distinguish between Caucasians, Asians, and more with the word “race.” If such races exist on our world, we should also call them race. But if we also have elves and dwarves and call those races, too, isn’t that confusing? Wouldn’t humans, elves, and dwarves be species, and Caucasians, Asians, and blacks be races of humans? High elves and drow would be races of elves. This makes more sense than saying they are races of some unnamed parent humanoid species.

A Hierarchy

A hierarchy can illustrate the problems of using race and species poorly. Consider this list where everyone is lumped together as races:

  1. Daekais
  2. Kadeans
  3. Humans
  4. Mandeans
  5. Morkais
  6. Nideans

Can you tell which ones are related? If so, it’s only from my naming convention; two of them have “kais” in their name and three of them have “deans” in theirs. This lack of structure results from seeing everything as a race of one species despite their differences. As it turns out, two of those humanoids have wings, and three of the others live in water, having gills and other adaptations. Doesn’t the below make more sense?

  1. Humans
  2. Kais
    1. Daekais
    2. Morkais
  3. Mandeans
    1. Kadeans
    2. Nideans

The first numbers one, two, and three are species. The differences between them are enough that no one would confuse one for another. The sub-numbers of 1 and 2 are races under their respective species. I refer to daekais as a race of kais, not just a generic “race” of…unspecified. If I want to refer to daekais and morkais simultaneously, I can use “kais” to do so.

Let’s take a look at some traditional fantasy races. Ask yourself which is better among these organizations:

  1. Drow
  2. Humans
  3. Hill dwarves
  4. Mountain dwarves
  5. Wood elves

Or this:

  1. Dwarves
    1. Hill dwarves
    2. Mountain dwarves
  2. Elves
    1. Drow
    2. Wood elves
  3. Humans

You may have little reason to point out such distinctions to your audience; a paragraph of explanation is not advised. Using “species” has an added benefit of pulling readers out of their comfort zone of expectations. Some who feel strongly one way or another will tell you otherwise, but it’s your world and you are its ultimate god.

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