I’m of two minds when it comes to including fantasy races in a game.
On one hand, players are used to this sort of convention. Players often have a preference. If I don’t provide dwarfs, for instance, some players will just make humans who are shorter than average, bearded, good miners and roughly Scottish.
Part of me says, “just give the players what they want.”
On the other hand, isn’t there enough breadth and depth within the human race to cover just about any fantasy character concept? If you want to play a short, gruff, bearded miner, can’t you do so within the constraints of the human race? If you want to play a smug, elitist naturalist, do you really have to look beyond the human race to find an example?
And that, I think, is my problem with fantasy races: how often do you see the range of personality in the dwarfs and elves in your games that you see in the human characters? You probably don’t. Sure, you always have that one player who plays the oddball: the dwarf who likes hugs, the elf that loves monster truck rallies and mud wrestling.
But that guy aside, don’t most players play these two races using the same stereotypical assumptions? That’s been my experience.
I think many players approach playing other races from an incorrect assumption. Most say, “why is my character not doing what everyone else of my race does?” If I’m a dwarf, why did I decide to leave the mines? Was I banished? Was I humiliated? Am I looking for something? Or, do I just fucking hate rocks? It’s the same with the elves and their forests.
Their assumption is a broad stereotype about their race, and it’s old and boring.
Instead (and this would require GM buy-in) what if we look at other races with a sort of bell curve? After all, these races have whole civilizations, don’t they? Elves, if left to their own devices, would have an entire economy, wouldn’t they? And what did dwarfs do for food, clothing and creature comforts before they emerged from their endless mines?
We could assume that a plurality of dwarfs are miners, sure, but dwarfs have to eat, they need well-made mining tools, they need clothes, they enjoy a good tune down at the pub, where they’ll no doubt enjoy a fine malt ale. All of these things would be made by dwarfs, right?
Much of this groundwork would need to be at least started by the GM, but wouldn’t it be more interesting if each race came from a civilization rather than an unlikely and implausible stereotype?