Monday, March 12, 2012

Exotic Races

It may come as a shock to some, but Professor Tolkien did not invent dwarves and elves. He put his spin on them, as any good author would, but that is the extent of his involvement. The "some" I am referring to are those that decry the inclusion of the "Tolkien-esque" races as passe and old hat. Reviewers have spoken against games that included dwarves and elves. Copy-writers have claimed the superiority of their designs on the back-cover blurb, based on the "No Elves or Dwarves" mantra.

Maybe they are old, maybe even a little tiresome. We are told by some that designs that feature them are outdated or unimaginative. Real roleplayers play races no one can pronounce.

If they are outdated, they are also familiar. I like a basis of familiarity in my fantasy. I have nothing against exotic races, but they need to be the spice, not the meal. I need something familiar against which to contrast all that exotica. That's why I prefer to game in settings like Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms (1st Edition, please, no angst-ridden drow need apply), or even -gasp!- Golarion. Settings like Talislanta may be very imaginative, and they can be great reads and idea-mines, but they don't give me enough reference points to use them whole cloth. If everything is exotic, then exotic becomes the norm, thus ceasing to be exotic.

Then there is the problems inherent in playing an intelligent plant, for example. How does one play such a character, session after session, without resorting to mapping human traits and idioms to the "exotic" character? I'm not bashing on anyone's role playing skills, just raising the point that it takes a level of characterisation well beyond extreme to pull that off. Fine and good, for the player dedicated enough to pull it off. If all the races and/or classes are so far into the exotic, though, then all players are required to give that level of dedication. Every session.

As much as we ridicule a certain dual-wielding drow ranger, his characterisation was over-the-top. Now, imagine a party full of that degree of characterisation. If you can, then good for you. Get your exotic on and don't look back. I, for one, can't imagine it without risking a tension headache. So, I'll have dwarves and elves with my fantasy rpgs, thank you.

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