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    Halfling in the Playground
     
    DrowGirl

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    Default Non-humans races: tighter characterization or not?

    A question I'm musing on these days for the world I'm building.

    As a general guideline, I'm trying to build a setting that is closer to classical fantasy: somewhat lower magic, the world more akin to 1000 CE Europe than Reinassance, fewer non-human races and less common but well defined in their culture, etc.

    Know, the point I'm not sure about is: should I "force" a stricter characterization of the typical Elf, Dwarf, etc.?
    That is, I'm not sure I like the idea of a "mundane" Elf, or outright evil Dwarf, and so on.
    My reasons for this essentially boil down to trying and avoiding the "humans in funny clothes syndrome": where non-humans are essentially depicted as... well, pretty much humans with some quirk. Lacking any quality that would really make them feel like they are "aliens", different intelligent species with a profoundly divergent mentality.

    Of course, making non-humans more "recognizable" and human-like has its merits.
    For one, they are easier to play for players, of course.
    And you can have a more "realistic", gritty setting if Elves have all the same faults and flaws of any person.
    Finally, that can create some good narrative if you subvert your players expectations: with some Dwarf or Halfling being a true bastard inside.

    But what about the "sense of wonder" when you are confronted with an alien culture?

    So, one thing I'm thinking to introduce is: Evil as a tangible effect.
    There are lots of examples in classical narratives (dating as far back as ancient Greece) about how Evil has a visible, effect on the character: a simple way to show their corruption. The evil characters are crooked, have dark rings around their eyes, evil sorcerer get disfigured with a snake/corpse-like appearance.
    Back when narratives where represented in theatre, this was a way to help the audience easily identify what role each character had in the story. But it has survived in literature as a metaphor to show the inner corruption of an evil character; Tolkien use it aplenty with Gollum, Wormtongue, later Saruman himself.
    This trope has slipped into fantasy RPGs with subraces "corrupted by Evil" like Dark Elves, Duergars, and so on; or possibly the inspiration came from the varoius myth that inspired modern fantasy.

    This doesn't mean that everyone who is selfish will go full Darth Maul, mind you.
    Rather, it would need some really nefarious act in order to trigger this kind of "fall to evil". Which, I think, makes the whole thing more epic.

    But know, the other doubt is: how I set the limits of what defines an "Elf" or "Dwarf" or whatever?
    Looking at it, is a problem akin to Paladin's Oaths: so I could try and define what are the strictures a race should adhere to.

    Or, more manageable, I was thinking about: race-based alignment.
    That is, I envision Elves as being Chaotic Good. The Law-Caos alignment is negotiable, but if one Elf is consistently not Good, they will lose their race: a Neutral Elf becomes an Half-Elf, and Evil one becomes a Dark Elf. Similarly, a Dwarf could be defined by being Lawful: this could be the difference between a Mountain Dwarf (more adherent to ancient customs) and a Hill Dwarf (more mingling with Humans and other races); Duergar would of course be Evil.

    So, what do you people think about this? Could it work? Any suggestions? How did you handle similar issues?

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    DwarfBarbarianGuy

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    Default Re: Non-humans races: tighter characterization or not?

    I think Pathfinder did this with elves and drow. It also reminds me of Pleasantville. Does this mean that the players won't be able to play chaotic good drow rangers wielding scimitars? Are orcs chaotic evil humans? Wouldn't this lead to more murderhoboing?

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    Default Re: Non-humans races: tighter characterization or not?

    I'd be pretty uncomfortable with this. It would mean that my character had to conform to the GM's ideas of good and evil and the GM's stereotypes or else I'd lose my character. It's the same thing that results in paladins falling all the time and it's the same thing that leads to DMs setting up situations where the paladin falls if they don't think of the same solution as the GM or if the paladin understands the situation differently from the GM. It gets incredibly frustrating and people don't want to play paladins. Worse sometimes other players don't even want to be in the party with a paladin.

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    Default Re: Non-humans races: tighter characterization or not?

    I think that if you want to be a lawful evil high elf you can be.
    But I would think that maybe wood elves are CG High elves are N and drow are LE but what you are proposing ix enforcing stereotypes. One of my favourite characters has been a lawful good orc wizard. Thdy had lots of inner termoil but it is possible. (I only played yhem for a few sessions but still)
    Current characters:
    Drakirr (Blue Dragonborn Warlock)
    Alyfyldyr Hyalythki (Rock Gnome Wizard)
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    And of course Lizard Wizard (Lizardfolk Sorcerer)

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    Default Re: Non-humans races: tighter characterization or not?

    Quote Originally Posted by the_david View Post
    Are orcs chaotic evil humans?
    I actually thought about that briefly, but in the end Humans are going to be exempt: this world will be largely populated by Humans and they will have the usual diversification in cultures. And besides, my unrdeling interest is in avoiding the trivialization of non-human races with their cultures.

    Quote Originally Posted by Recherché View Post
    It would mean that my character had to conform to the GM's ideas of good and evil and the GM's stereotypes or else I'd lose my character.
    Nope, I'm not that kind of DM.

    First of all, Evil here will be defined as something utterly evil: being selfish or other petty flaws fall in the Neutral spectrum to me.
    On top of that, my players will of course know beforehand how things work if they choose a RP-intensive race, and I will give options for other and less demanding races (they won't be in the position where being an Elf is absolutely the best choice to play some class).
    Finally, I plan to play it with "warnings": they will get more and more signs that they are "straying from the right path", not just get a *BOOM! You're Team Evil know!* Even something heinous could be atoned.

    Also, I know my players and they know me: I'm not worried about misunderstandings like these, really.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wizard_Lizard View Post
    what you are proposing ix enforcing stereotypes.
    Actually, I want to "enforce" a meaningful characterization.
    Player characters, I always say, aren't represented in statistics: they are exceptional types. But if they are exceptions, I want them to actually feel it and having a cool narrative around them. A Good Orc (or even better, an Orc trying to be Good) will be a lot more epic if they have some challenges to overcome.
    More on this below.

    Quote Originally Posted by the_david View Post
    Does this mean that the players won't be able to play chaotic good drow rangers wielding scimitars?
    Actually, you make a very pertinent point. This is something I hadn't considered enough, and it opens quite a number of questions about morality.

    While someone "falling from grace" makes perfect sense, if a whole race (or subrace, more properly) get cursed this way, what about their children? They haven't done anything, yet are they "born evil", now?
    It would actually make sense in the setting I'm envisioning. "Good" would be the force of Life, Light, etc.; while "Evil" would be Death, Darkness, etc. Especially for an otherwordly race like Elves, Evil could be a corruption of the soul.
    Children could be born at least as Half-Elves and then raised to be Evil as their parents, or else relegated in a lower status; but they could also attempt to earn a full redemption and become "full good Elves"...
    Actually, this could be a pretty cool personal narrative for a character!

    As The Giant said about Miko, redemption "is a rare and special thing, after all. It is not for everyone."
    So is something well suited for an epic hero, isn't it?

    Edited to include Wizard_Lizard reply
    Last edited by Maan; 2019-05-20 at 12:14 PM.

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    Default Re: Non-humans races: tighter characterization or not?

    The Evil as a tangible effect idea is interesting, but it does have some strange side effects when applied logically to a setting. Under this sort of logic it is likely that people who look ugly or have been in a tragic deforming accident might be assumed to be evil. For instance, an overworked alchemist who inhales noxious fumes regularly might start having scary looking splotches on their skin and dark rings around their eyes, much in the same way an evil person might. An uneducated person might just assume that the alchemist, and all their concoctions, are evil. On the flip side, it might also cause people to assume that everyone pretty looking is automatically good, causing lots of evil people to invest in makeup and hats of disguise. Its not a bad thing, as there are lots of good story opportunities that spring from this, but you may want to speak with players if they are alright with the concept.

    As for racial codes of ethics and alignments, there shouldn't be anything wrong with it so long as it is more of a set of social expectations than a hard and fast rule. It would be somewhat unbelievable if 100% of elves were good aligned without anyone choosing to be be neutral.

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    Default Re: Non-humans races: tighter characterization or not?

    I like the idea of making other species less-human/more-alien. I don't like the idea of using alignment to do this. In my experience most players are not fully alongside the idea of alien-races. They either can't roleplay that or they get upset when another character, or NPC, does something alien that has a negative effect on them.

    I prefer to look at the biology of species for the roots of different behavioral traits. Some examples of things I've used:
    -Elves live for hundreds of years. This longevity gives them a different perspective on life. Most other species live barely longer than mayflies so there's no point in getting too attached to them. And they are generally unable of taking a long view or even understanding the long view. To my mind this makes the behavior of elves seem aloof and callous to outside observers. It can even veer into outright bigotry as elves might consider other species as being lesser.

    -Orcs live for 30-50 years. In a biological sense this produces a drive to reproduce that is intensely competitive. So orcs are always competing. Against each other, against other species, and against themselves. They chafe at restrictions of any sort, they seek to improve their chances of reproducing (and protecting their offspring), they rapidly over-populate the areas they live in and need to expand or starve or engage in bloody intra-species wars. Self-interested, chaotic, aggressive, prizing strength, and constantly moving.

    And so on. But to make this work players have to be able to carry off the roleplay (and fit the roleplay into the group dynamic). And a lot of them would just rather play different-shaped humans.

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    Default Re: Non-humans races: tighter characterization or not?

    My approach is to make a clear decision whether humanoid creatures are people or not-people.

    In my setting, ogres and tritons are clearly people and very much human with slightly unusual looks. Serpentmen and the fey folk are also humanoid in shape, and in the later case even more human-like in appearance, but they are very much not people. They are spirits with rather alien and no real empathy for people.

    If a group of humanoid creatures are not people, they also can't be played. There is no murky middle ground between them in my campaigns.
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    Default Re: Non-humans races: tighter characterization or not?

    Quote Originally Posted by Maan View Post
    My reasons for this essentially boil down to trying and avoiding the "humans in funny clothes syndrome": where non-humans are essentially depicted as... well, pretty much humans with some quirk. Lacking any quality that would really make them feel like they are "aliens", different intelligent species with a profoundly divergent mentality.
    This is a very noble goal, and something I've thought about myself a lot in my campaign. It’s really difficult to do, mainly because, well, we’re all humans. And coming up with fleshed out, truly alien cultures is something you spend an entire sci-fi novel doing, not three minutes of exposition at an RPG table.

    I don’t think alignment is a great way to do this, though I see what you mean by tying alignment to culture. I think it’s too limiting to PCs, and alignment questions always get really gray really quickly. Have you considered the Honor score instead? It’s outlined extremely well in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wjbna_5eL6s.

    It would be pretty easy to outline a bullet list of features considered “honorable” in each non-human society. An example for, say, elves:

    - Generosity and kindness towards the weak (or at least the appearance of it)
    - Artistic skill
    - Independence and self-sufficiency
    - Behaving in a calm and tranquil manner

    Elves don’t have to behave this way. But elves who do are esteemed by other elves, and an Honor score would reflect that. So PCs don’t have to act a particular way, but they receive a mechanical benefit while interacting with their own kind if they do and a detriment if they don’t.

    Something that I did to reinforce the “different species” thing was to make inbreeding impossible. I got rid of half-elves, and I made orcs a PC race that are mechanically the same as half-orcs. I think it’s a good rule.

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    Default Re: Non-humans races: tighter characterization or not?

    Quote Originally Posted by PiperThePaladin View Post
    This is a very noble goal, and something I've thought about myself a lot in my campaign. It’s really difficult to do, mainly because, well, we’re all humans. And coming up with fleshed out, truly alien cultures is something you spend an entire sci-fi novel doing, not three minutes of exposition at an RPG table.

    I don’t think alignment is a great way to do this, though I see what you mean by tying alignment to culture. I think it’s too limiting to PCs, and alignment questions always get really gray really quickly. Have you considered the Honor score instead? It’s outlined extremely well in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wjbna_5eL6s.

    It would be pretty easy to outline a bullet list of features considered “honorable” in each non-human society. An example for, say, elves:

    - Generosity and kindness towards the weak (or at least the appearance of it)
    - Artistic skill
    - Independence and self-sufficiency
    - Behaving in a calm and tranquil manner

    Elves don’t have to behave this way. But elves who do are esteemed by other elves, and an Honor score would reflect that. So PCs don’t have to act a particular way, but they receive a mechanical benefit while interacting with their own kind if they do and a detriment if they don’t.

    Something that I did to reinforce the “different species” thing was to make inbreeding impossible. I got rid of half-elves, and I made orcs a PC race that are mechanically the same as half-orcs. I think it’s a good rule.
    Inbreeding or interbreeding?
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    Default Re: Non-humans races: tighter characterization or not?

    In my science fiction far-future setting, most aliens are alien, and players need special permission to play most of them.

    In one fantasy setting, the non-humans are definitely not human, and don't act human. But they're all intelligent, and in some way social, and there's enough shared cultural interaction going back to the days of stranger and more pervasive magic, before the old gods were usurped... so most of the intelligent species can interact at least civilly, or even productively. The days of interfertility are long gone with the passing of that age, though.

    In the other fantasy setting, most of the intelligent Peoples are effectively human subspecies, and recognizably "human" to each other. The one that isn't, isn't interfertile and interacts with the various other Peoples in an often stilted and self-defensively manipulative sort of way.
    It is one thing to suspend your disbelief. It is another thing entirely to hang it by the neck until dead.

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    Default Re: Non-humans races: tighter characterization or not?

    To make non-human races truly alien, start with their method of reproduction.

    how any given life reproduces is so in built to their existence, that it determines almost everything they do.

    lets start by getting rid of the usual sexual reproduction of both elves and dwarves, what other ways may they reproduce instead while keeping them elven and dwarven? for example:

    Elves:
    Elves are highly concerned with beauty, quality over quantity, magic and seem to have an inordinate number of variations for no apparent reason. Therefore lets say that elves are made of dream stuff, and that each elf is an unique creation that an elven life-artist gathers materials from minds and emotions to make over a long period of time, perhaps year or even decades to create even a single elf that expresses their preferred aesthetics- all the variation of elf are just individual artistic creations of other elves, let out into the world to see what happens, and thus every elf knows that they are a work of art of another elf, and either work to live up to the living art they are or defy it and try to change themselves to another kind of art they want to be rather than their artist gave them. no two elves truly look alike unless their life artist was really narcissistic. the life artist has to gather these materials through interactions with other species and races, often through strange games they rope people into playing with bizarre fae-like rules.

    Dwarves:
    dwarves are highly traditional, stratified and collectivist. to reflect this, each dwarf instead of producing a dwarven baby instead a certain amount of dwarf-clay that a group of dwarves pile into one clay statue that they shape into a dwarf and the dwarven clan collectively decides what the purpose of this new dwarf will be in their clan and in a ritual awaken the new dwarf from the clay, and they come into the world as an adult knowing their purpose that they serve to their society. Of course, they do not drink the large amount of alcohol because to get drunk, but rather to fuel themselves because its the only drink that can as they do not process things like humans do, having a fire for a stomach that just burns everything as fuel, and alcohol is the best fuel for that, which produces more dwarf-clay as excess.
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    Default Re: Non-humans races: tighter characterization or not?

    Quote Originally Posted by Lord Raziere View Post
    To make non-human races truly alien, start with their method of reproduction.

    how any given life reproduces is so in built to their existence, that it determines almost everything they do.

    lets start by getting rid of the usual sexual reproduction of both elves and dwarves, what other ways may they reproduce instead while keeping them elven and dwarven? for example:

    Elves:
    Elves are highly concerned with beauty, quality over quantity, magic and seem to have an inordinate number of variations for no apparent reason. Therefore lets say that elves are made of dream stuff, and that each elf is an unique creation that an elven life-artist gathers materials from minds and emotions to make over a long period of time, perhaps year or even decades to create even a single elf that expresses their preferred aesthetics- all the variation of elf are just individual artistic creations of other elves, let out into the world to see what happens, and thus every elf knows that they are a work of art of another elf, and either work to live up to the living art they are or defy it and try to change themselves to another kind of art they want to be rather than their artist gave them. no two elves truly look alike unless their life artist was really narcissistic. the life artist has to gather these materials through interactions with other species and races, often through strange games they rope people into playing with bizarre fae-like rules.

    Dwarves:
    dwarves are highly traditional, stratified and collectivist. to reflect this, each dwarf instead of producing a dwarven baby instead a certain amount of dwarf-clay that a group of dwarves pile into one clay statue that they shape into a dwarf and the dwarven clan collectively decides what the purpose of this new dwarf will be in their clan and in a ritual awaken the new dwarf from the clay, and they come into the world as an adult knowing their purpose that they serve to their society. Of course, they do not drink the large amount of alcohol because to get drunk, but rather to fuel themselves because its the only drink that can as they do not process things like humans do, having a fire for a stomach that just burns everything as fuel, and alcohol is the best fuel for that, which produces more dwarf-clay as excess.

    I've considered something along that path with the not-human People from the third setting above.

    Because they're typically very private, and have a very low and deliberate rate of reproduction, and are ageless, most members of the other Peoples have never seen on pregnant.

    Add in that they are known to practice all manner of strange alchemy, and that their enemies have often insisted that they're not actually alive, or that they're undead... and this has resulted in all sorts of strange myths about how they reproduce, with the most persistent being that they somehow create their children through some sort of alchemical process, perhaps brewing them up in some sort of giant glass and metal apparatus.

    I've not decided just exactly how true I want this to actually be. Several points on the spectrum of how accurate that might be would serve their own purpose in making them really alien, being just another dumb myth people make up about things they fear, etc.

    What is certain is that most of them grow up without siblings (so far apart that any older siblings have long been adults) and often without even any other children their own age around, which makes their childhoods very different from human childhoods, and it shows.
    Last edited by Max_Killjoy; 2019-05-20 at 09:27 PM.
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    Halfling in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Non-humans races: tighter characterization or not?

    I thank you all for your replies: I'm finding this to be extremely productive.

    So, while the basic idea may have merit, we pretty much agree that alignments are too much of a crude way to do it. I guess alignment is best reserved for the typical "race X is usually of such alignment".

    Quote Originally Posted by jjordan View Post
    In my experience most players are not fully alongside the idea of alien-races. They either can't roleplay that or they get upset when another character, or NPC, does something alien that has a negative effect on them.
    I hear you, but I'm confident my players will find it enjoyable: I have DMed a years-long campaign of Legend of the Five Rings for them and that game, too, puts the players in a very alien mindset (pretty much, the opposite mentality of your typical D&D campaign).
    But if they want something less demanding RP-wise, there will be plenty of other choices: I surely don't want to force anything on them. In fact I was planning on using even more "half-races" than Half-Elf just for that.

    Quote Originally Posted by jjordan View Post
    I prefer to look at the biology of species for the roots of different behavioral traits.
    That was something I took for granted, really.
    For example, I think that long lived races will tend to be very cautious: they have all the time they need to think about things, so feel no need to rush anything; also, they can live pretty much forever, so they value their lives a lot; also, they are few in numbers and reproduce slowly. They could pretty much be perceived as "cowards" by a Human; they could use Humans to fight their battles, behind the pretense of "guiding the younger races with sage counsel". And so on.

    Quote Originally Posted by Yora View Post
    My approach is to make a clear decision whether humanoid creatures are people or not-people.
    By the way, I've taken a look at your settings: not really my thing, but I do admire the care you obviously put into them.

    May I ask you why you went that way, with a clear-cut distinction between the two types of races?

    Quote Originally Posted by PiperThePaladin View Post
    coming up with fleshed out, truly alien cultures is something you spend an entire sci-fi novel doing, not three minutes of exposition at an RPG table.
    You are right and this is a risk I'm well aware of. But then again, that L5R campaign teached me a lot about making players "feel" the setting. It's a challenge, but an enjoyable one.

    Quote Originally Posted by PiperThePaladin View Post
    Have you considered the Honor score instead?
    I tell you, I read it and coming from L5R and its own Honor system, I found that optional rule a bit bland. However, you are giving me food for thought: more on this below.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lord Raziere View Post
    To make non-human races truly alien, start with their method of reproduction.
    This is something quite interesting.
    In my setting, I'm making a "dreamlands" realm that almost overlaps the real world, something like the ethereal plane (in fact, replacing it): this is going to be something of a fusion between Feywild and Shadowfell, making it the realm of both dreams and nightmares. Races like Elves, both Light and Dark, are going to be natives of this plane. So, real aliens.

    Don't know if I actually want to make interbreeding impossible, though.
    As I'm envisioning the usual "demihumans" as being few in numbers and cautios because of this and their low reproduction rates, I'm thinking about the possibility of these races being at the top of some of the cultures in the setting.
    It kind of makes sense that Elves may have taken leadership over Humans: Humans may have come to an Elven settlement attracted by its splendour, and in time it has grown into a city where most commoners are Humans, Elves are a benevolent caste of rulers, and Half-Elves act as government officials and the like.

    Quote Originally Posted by Max_Killjoy View Post
    I've not decided just exactly how true I want this to actually be. Several points on the spectrum of how accurate that might be would serve their own purpose in making them really alien, being just another dumb myth people make up about things they fear, etc.
    I'm remembering the demihumans relics from the D&D boxed sets (yup, I'm an oldie): they were created with things like an oil distilled from the pure light of the moon (one drop for each full moon), so that they needed decades to create one. Could be a nice idea.

    So, after reading what you people wrote, I'm thinking:
    • Races could have a more generic "usually they are of alignment X" as a suggestion;
    • Some of the races could have some sort of esteemed "caste": individuals who embody the true ideal of that race. Very wise Elves, just and heroic Dwarves, powerful Orcs champions, etc.;
    • Such races could use some kind of Honor system as a measure of the position of a character in their society. How close are you to enlightment, or understanding the riddle of steel, or how much your ancestors approve of you, etc.


    Like L5R did, this kind of Honor system could have both advantages and divadvantages. The highest Honor could even give you some mystical feature, but you would be bound to follow a stricter code of behaviour; a low Honor could make you an outcast, but free you from obligations to a demanding way of life.

    Most important, there won't be anything forcing the players to play their character in a certain way.

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    Default Re: Non-humans races: tighter characterization or not?

    Quote Originally Posted by Maan View Post
    May I ask you why you went that way, with a clear-cut distinction between the two types of races?
    Much of fantasy adventures is about encountering strange and supernatural things that are outside of what people can really understand. This effect fades away when everything is a little bit magical and odd. The idea is to help the player have a reference frame for what is normal for people in this world, and what is alien and unpredictable. The goal is to give players clues to realize that they have reached a point where things are no longer in their control and make sense in ways they are used to.
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    Default Re: Non-humans races: tighter characterization or not?

    Jumping off of biology, I would add that as far as we know at this time, sapience depends on social skills - inevitable mortality means that transmission of knowledge is an absolute requirement for intelligent life, as no one individual has the ability to know everything that ise vital or useful to survival, nor is that information necessarily obvious. It's amazing, for instance, how long it took people to realize washing hands was a way to avoid illness.

    I find a useful exercise to be choosing some real life organism, say spiders, and then identifying what aspects of their behavior facilitate social skills and which would have to be overcome. Note that this need not be speculative either. For spiders:
    • Poor vision, barring wolf and jumping spiders;
    • Average sense of taste, great sense of vibration;
    • I sense it, I eat it tendencies;
    • Can coexist as long as enough food is present, but may turn on one another in a heartbeat;
    • Must essentially hold its breath when running, so limited in mobility to bursts and not a great traveler on its own.


    Now think of how those impact social groups and what solutions might work to as compensation.
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  17. - Top - End - #17
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    Yora's Avatar

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    Default Re: Non-humans races: tighter characterization or not?

    The key traits that give an animal the potential to develop higher intelligence are being social creatures and being predators.

    If you're not living in at least semi-permanent groups, all learned skills and behaviours can't be passed on to following generations to expand and refine them. Aside from lions, big cats don't have much hope of developing culture at any point. (Unless they evolve into social animals first.)

    And hunting requires much higher abilities of processing information than avoiding getting eaten. If you are not a dangerous predator, ensuring the continuation of your genes almost always takes either the form of being really good at running away, or living in large groups of interrelated individuals where it doesn't matter to the survival of the group if some individuals get eaten on a regular basis.

    Elephants stand out as being considered very smart without being predators, but it's doubtful if evolution could get them even further than that. Because evolution is lazy. Evolution doesn't select for what is the most efficient, but for what is just good enough not to go extinct. It also doesn't care how well the individual is doing. It only cares if the whole group that shares a specific gene survives. If a species is good enough to survive as is, there is little evolutionary pressure to "improve" it.

    Social predators is where you can expect higher intelligence. Pretty much all the smartest animals in the world fall into this category.
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  18. - Top - End - #18
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    Default Re: Non-humans races: tighter characterization or not?

    Quote Originally Posted by Yora View Post
    The key traits that give an animal the potential to develop higher intelligence are being social creatures and being predators.

    If you're not living in at least semi-permanent groups, all learned skills and behaviours can't be passed on to following generations to expand and refine them. Aside from lions, big cats don't have much hope of developing culture at any point. (Unless they evolve into social animals first.)

    And hunting requires much higher abilities of processing information than avoiding getting eaten. If you are not a dangerous predator, ensuring the continuation of your genes almost always takes either the form of being really good at running away, or living in large groups of interrelated individuals where it doesn't matter to the survival of the group if some individuals get eaten on a regular basis.

    Elephants stand out as being considered very smart without being predators, but it's doubtful if evolution could get them even further than that. Because evolution is lazy. Evolution doesn't select for what is the most efficient, but for what is just good enough not to go extinct. It also doesn't care how well the individual is doing. It only cares if the whole group that shares a specific gene survives. If a species is good enough to survive as is, there is little evolutionary pressure to "improve" it.

    Social predators is where you can expect higher intelligence. Pretty much all the smartest animals in the world fall into this category.
    Some of the smartest birds are herbivorous (various parrot species).

    Corvids are opportunistic omnivores.

    Chimps and bonobos aren't straight carnivores by any stretch.

    The deep history of humanity is one of being opportunistic omnivores.

    Wolves are probably the closest to straight predator in terms of the "smart club", and they're fair less an obligate carnivore than, say, any species cats.
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  19. - Top - End - #19
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    DrowGirl

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    Default Re: Non-humans races: tighter characterization or not?

    Well, if one goes for some "sentient animal" I guess that a lot depends on whether those are going to be some anthropomorphic animal or retain their animal shape.
    Manipulation has a big impact on intelligence, it seems: elephants may be smarter because of that, and octopuses are surprisingly intelligent for an invertebrate.

    But cutting on ethology and back on topic...

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