Wednesday, March 15, 2017

REMOVE KNIFE-EARS or How To Improve Your Fantasy Setting

So you want to be original with your fantasy setting? Well have I got the solution for you!

Apart from knocking down the arbitrary and false distinction between fantasy and science fiction that was wrongfully instituted to help the genre "grow up," there are other ways to improve your fantasy setting!

First things first, get rid of elves.

"But Jim, what's wrong with elves?" I hear you ask.

Well I'm glad you asked that random fucking voice in my head! And the answer is: Plenty.

There exists an entire history to elves and their development as a fantasy race over the past 130 years or so that I'm not entirely going to get into apart from some bits here and there. The point is that after Tolkien blew up in popularity, everybody started working with his archetypal elves. I mean, when I say the word "elves" it probably brings to mind Lothlorien, Elrond, Galadriel, pointy-eared fucks eating really light food and sipping wine and acting like they're oh so much better than everyone else because they'll live to see all their non-elf friends die and still look as young as they did the day they turned 100. However, Tolkien's work was at least original in its time. Everybody who uses elves in their fantasy stories today is either cribbing or directly ripping off Tolkien.

And trust me when I say this, Tolkien did it better.

Elves are stagnant. They are the scions of law and order, they live for basically eternity, and they don't really do much in all that time. Barring the interaction with shorter-lived races, of course. And, much like their depiction in pretty much every single work of fiction that could reasonably be called fantasy, their image is also stagnant. Simply put, elves are fucking boring.

So unless you're doing something Dunsanian with them (go read King of Elfland's Daughter, for fuck's sake), just fucking drop the elves. You're falling into the writer's equivalent of "sameface," and you look like a hack, even if you aren't. And no, Tumblr, making the elves talk like fucking Boomhauer from King of the Hill is not making your elves "original." Not that anybody on that site has any clue what that word even means anymore. There's a reason "tumblrface" is an art trope recognized by pretty much everybody but the artists on tumblr. Your art looks like shit, just sayin.

ANYWAY. Before I get entirely sidetracked. Let's look at Dwarves. Ah, yes, dwarves. Like with elves, you probably have an archetype in mind when I say "dwarves." Probably underground dwelling, Scottish, like crafting, digging, and drinking. See, the very fact that some version of that list I just rattled off came to your mind when I mentioned dwarves is the exact problem I'm talking about. Dwarves are a known entity. They're predictable. They're stable. They're safe. People know what they're getting when they see dwarves in a setting.

I could do this exact same thing for all of what I'm going to call "traditional fantasy races," meaning elves, dwarves, halflings, half-elves, orcs, pretty much go to the D&D 3.5 player's guide and look at the basic races and you'll get the full list. I could do to all of them what I've done to elves and dwarves, but the overall point of this post isn't to befuck the traditional fantasy races and bloody the noses of authors who use them. Shit, I use those races. All the time. Like I said, they're known entities. But I'm trying to get better, and I think I may have stumbled on the perfect solution to "fantasy race sameface."

Monster girls.


Now I can already hear you asking, yet again interrupting my flow here, "But Jim, isn't this just some weird fetish shit? Aren't you just trying to shoehorn in your creepy little niche kink into the fantasy genre as a whole? Didn't you get this idea from that harem anime that came out last year?"

To which I would respond, "Yes. SHUT UP."

But seriously, there's more than a basic premise for this already within the currently accepted canon of fantasy, Dungeons & Dragons.

Off the top of my head (because it's 3:30 in the morning, I've been drinking, and I can't be arsed to do the research at the moment), Driders. Driders are essentially Drow-Spider-Centaurs. Lemme dig up a picture...
There we go! Look at that creepy bastard! Now, ostensibly (at least in the fiction I've read featuring them), Driders are mindless servants of the Spider Queen. They were drow that committed some sin against their kind so horrible that they were transformed into the abomination you see before you. They probably didn't eat a puppy alive or something, I dunno. However, who ever said that we have to stick to the rules? Fuck the rules! Do what's fun! There's no holy text out there saying that Driders have to be the way outlined in the monster manual or in the Forgotten Realms fiction, so why not turn them into their own race? But in keeping with the general thrust of this post, drop the elf part entirely! You can make them something more like this:

"But Jim, isn't that from that weird monster girl harem anime?"

Again. SHUT UP.

Back to the point, that right there is a human-spider chimerical creature. Tig ass biddies notwithstanding. There's no reason you can't make an entire race out of that concept. And this is just one example. My friends, I have a powerful tool to bestow upon you. Now some of you more degenerate motherfuckers out there might already know it exists, but for those that don't, I give you...


Now before you go traipsing off into a world you might not be prepared for, that link right there takes you to a list of articles describing monster girls, mostly with regard to mating practices. Browse at your own risk, you've been warned. You've also probably got some new opinions about me, but my fucked up imagination isn't the point here. The point in me delivering this wealth of possibly disturbing information to you is to broaden your horizons WITH REGARD TO FANTASY RACES IN GENERAL. And if you get a new fetish out of the deal then I fail to see how that's a loss.

Keeping with the example of Driders, or Arachne as they're called on the wiki, let's look at a few different variants. I'll do my absolute damndest to keep this safe for work, but no promises will be made.

Now there you have a scorpion, an ant, a demon spider, and...honestly I'm not really sure what the fourth one is. Probably some variation of those garden spiders you see in summer time with the zigzag pattern in their webs. But that's four different variants that you could very feasibly give their own cultures, languages, social structures, and mating practices to if you're a kinky sonuvabitch like that. You could even take spider variants that aren't pictured here and use those. Maybe tunnel-web spiders or jumping spiders. Whatever you like.

Then there's Lamias. Not the weird-ass desert centaur things that are in the D&D 3.5 monster manual. I'm talking snake people.
Now let not the moon runes confuse you! The important part is the image. That's the general idea, here. Top half human, bottom half snake. There are also a bunch of variants that you can peruse at your leisure in the encyclopedia if you're a particularly brave soul. Or you have decent taste. Whichever.

But the general point here is there is a wealth of fantasy races basically set up and ready to go that you can easily integrate into your fantasy world, even if you're not writing weird fetish stories. You can completely ignore the sexual element here and use lamias, arachnes, oni, salamanders, whatever takes your fancy and replace the traditional fantasy races with them.

The reason I'm writing this post and giving you a taste of exactly what kind of degenerate I actually am is that recently a discussion has developed around the stagnation of the fantasy genre. This, I think, is an extremely important discussion to have, because the future of the genre could live or die by it. If things get too samey, then people will stop reading. "Oh, another story with elves and dwarves and hobbits," they'll say, and pass it over to read something else. A genre of literature's lifeblood is the fans of that genre, and if we allow this stagnation to continue, then the fans will be driven away through sheer fucking boredom.

And yes, I'm working from the premise that fantasy is, in fact, stagnating. Which is of particular interest to me because fantasy is my favorite genre. I love other worlds with different physics and different races and magic and all of that stuff. Some of my favorite fantasy novels are the Rokugan books, which take place in an alternate medieval Japan. I'm also a huge fan of the Forgotten Realms novels and the Dragonlance books, not to mention The Lord of the Rings.

However, because of the legion of Tolkien imitators attempting to capitalize on his formula after the rampant popularity of LOTR, the genre is stuck in a rut. Every fantasy world hits the same notes, unless you're looking into something like Discworld, which doesn't really count because it's technically a parody of the genre despite doing it better than the majority of writers attempting it.

It's time to slough off these conventions that many of us have grown up with. It's time to break the fucking rules. In the D&D monster manual many of the races that are akin to what's described in the monster girl encyclopedia are described as evil at best, outright bestial at worst. But it doesn't have to be that way. You can make totally original races with their own driving ideals and cultures based on the template provided in the encyclopedia, the monster manual, or that one book you read that one time and really liked. The world is your fucking oyster, and I for one would like to see more originality in fantasy races. I'm tired of elves, dwarves, and hobbits.

That train has run itself near-completely into the ground. It's time for a breath of fresh air to revitalize the genre. I think that breath can come from even the darkest corners of the internet, which is why I'm putting myself on blast like this. I know at first this will seem like a shoddy attempt to shoehorn a fetish into the genre at large, but I really do think there is a huge vein of untapped potential. And I'm just using the whole "monster girls" thing as a springboard. Use monster guys, if that's more your speed. Mix things up. There's no reason that, for example, lamia society can't be a mirror of human society, with snake men and women that don't kidnap humans for lascivious purposes.

The power of the human imagination is infinite, and I for one believe that the purpose (or at least one of the purposes) of the Pulp Revolution is to unleash that potential and forever change the genre of science fiction/fantasy into something that nobody will be able to recognize. There should be no "go-to" races in SFF. Enhance the mix. Take Lamias into outer space. Make a kingdom of Salamander people. Create a cavalry division of centaurs. Bring a society of dogmen (NOT WEREWOLVES) into being. Or do use werewolves. Who the fuck am I to stop you? Just do me a favor and don't make the next Underworld.


For me.

If we want to stave off this stagnation of the SFF genre, we have to bring in new ideas. This is just my attempt to give someone out there a way to cure themselves of fantasy race sameface. Maybe you've got others. All I can say is take notes, be creative, let your imagination wander, don't be discouraged because nobody else is doing it, and most importantly, GO FORTH AND WRITE.

1 comment :

  1. You play Palladium Fantasy at all, seen the books? They have a race of 10-ft tall Wolf Men.