Fantastic Races and Why To Change Them

It’s safe to say everyone has read a fantasy novel at some point, right? We know all about orcs, goblins, dwarves, elves, dragons and the like. When we read or write in the genre, we’re aware of certain tropes and styles, and by and large, we conform to them.


When one says “elf,” one tends to think “willowy, long-lived, magical, pointy ears, forests.” There’s a lot of wiggle room in there, but we almost always end up with Legolas. There are other options, other ways to fill that racial niche.

Dwarves. Mining midgets with Scottish accents seem to be the most popular. Dragon Age turning them into political schemers and less-than-scrupulous merchants was brilliant, in my opinion.

When you say “vampire” to an older person, you usually get the Dracula or Lestat motif. Sexy, predatory, dangerous, tragically romantic. When you say it to a younger person you either get the modern variant of that (like Vampire Diaries or True Blood style) or you get Twilight. Much as I hate Twilight for being garbage, the sin isn’t in “what it did to vampires.” Trying to do something different isn’t a crime. Doing it really, really, really badly is. But that’s just me.

But why aren’t there more rule-breakers out there? When I was still working on my Milefront pen-and-paper setting, I decided I didn’t want any elves and dwarves… but I knew I still needed things that fit their tropes. So instead of elves, there were blood-drinking immortals born from a tree, who preferred to hide in their heavily-canopied lairs away from the angry eye of their mother the sun goddess. They were older than other races present in the world and had once ruled the land, but things went south when they pissed off mom, so now they’re dwindling and reclusive, but still magically potent and possess arcane knowledge no one else has access to.

I’m not too down with dwarves, so instead, I had a tribe of dark-skinned giants who crawled from the bowels of the earth, fleeing chthonian horrors and digging uncountable pathways through their mountain homes to confound and capture their pursuers.

Maybe those were stupid changes. Maybe I should have just had elves and dwarves like normal people. But I didn’t want to. I wanted to do something a little different, and I don’t think that’s a sin.

I’d like to see more folks upend that applecart. I want more goblins who are actually corporate bureaucrats keeping slave labor forces forced to push technology further and further. I want dragons who are deified humans who roar with the authority of the gods of old. I want orcs to be a warlike band of lepers and freedom fighters, pushing back against aristocratic and caste-system following elvish nobility.

I want some variety. How about you?

What kind of fantasy tropes have you upended, and how and why? Any good recommendations for fantasy novels that don’t just follow the Tolkien and D&D blueprint? Let us know down below!
KA Spiral no signature

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