smoke and mirrors #3

Origin of the Species

So last time we spoke about our totally real and not at all made up game Dwarf Revolution: Dwarf Harder (but seriously, it's not the game we are making - honest!) we discussed the topic of world building.

For this post, we shall be detailing our species creation process, using Dwarf Revolution as a template. We have two species in Dwarf Revolution, Dwarves, and Goblins. We also implied that they could interbreed.

So how do we go about creating these species? Firstly we need to establish how we plan to go about creating them.


Adapting to your Environment

There are many different ways to create species for games, often the human body is used as a point of reference, and often comes across as the “default” shape that sapient life would take. Tolkien elves, D&D’s gnomes, Star Trek’s Klingons they’re all based off of roughly human physiology. While this can make these species relatable, as it’s very easy for someone to understand how these species interact with the world it also closes the door to a lot of interesting niches that nature has already solved.

For example, the ocean holds an enormous diversity of life, none of which looks humanoid, a great deal of which isn't even mammalian. Basing species off of already existing forms of life in extreme environments  is another route which authors take to create species as most of the heavy lifting is already done for us.

Another important aspect of creating a new species is their culture. In fantasy we find species such as Dwarves, they like to dig and are industrious, Elves who like trees and nature. We can also look at the many different cultures across the world, generally they all tend to share some very basic traits such as burial rites, along with prohibitions against murder, and theft - though they can be very different and like our fantasy races have a core thing that is important to the culture itself. This is commonly defined by religious practices that have evolved uniquely to that culture.

Works of fiction we often find that a species culture is rigidly defined, resulting a strange stereotype of themselves. In the case of Star Trek’s Klingons, we have a culture that heavily revolves around the concept of honor and is quite confrontational and militant, this takes the form of a messianic figure, Kahless, this is similarly reflected in real world religions: Egyptian kings, Roman, and Chinese emperors are just some examples.

We need to take these things into account to be able to build something uniquely ours. If we have a species underground all the time, how would this shape their culture? How would this species see the surface world? How would this culture dispose of its dead? These are all questions that help to establish a detailed picture of the species and in turn, their culture, helping them feel more grounded and established in reality.

Briefly surmising we need to establish:

  • Environment

    • Physiology

    • Psychology

  • History

  • Culture

  • Religion

We already know a little bit about our dwarves, they live underground in massive mountain kingdoms, they also like to dig. We know less about our goblins, but - other than the royal family - we do know that they come from outside of the dwarven environment but they are somehow able to interbreed with the dwarves, following this thought means that they are closely related genetically. Perhaps they are the same species, but the dwarves have adapted to living underground while the goblins have adapted to living on the surface. Already this establishes some interesting questions that we need to answer.


A Common Ancestor

We shall start with our Dwarves, firstly we need to define their environment - that being this network of underground tunnels which means it's going to be generally very dark, perhaps the only small amount of light that exists in these dwarven tunnels is from phosphorescent fungus? Which the dwarves will farm in order to feed themselves. An advantage of living underground is that they will likely have access to a lot of metal deposits, which could mean that metal is as prolific as plastic is to our society. So working with metal is a trait that we can expect them to have. This also helps our dwarves fit in with the established fantasy canon as they are going to also be quite industrious.

Physiologically speaking how do we expect this environment to affect them? Firstly, they are likely to be small, the main reasoning for this being as their main source of food is so limited they’d probably have a smaller body to account for the slower metabolism so they burn through their limited food much slower. Secondly as they spend most of their time in the dark, they have huge dark eyes that pick up on the tiniest amounts of light there are available from all the fungus(much like deep sea fish). As such going onto the surface during the day, or being exposed to a bright light may be blinding and disorienting for them. Due to them living underground and making their homes in tunnels it would probably be expected that they would have a huge amount of muscle to cope with shifting enormous amounts of heavy rock.

In short this means our dwarves are bug-eyed, short humanoids with a herculean physique and extremely pale skin due to the fact they don't have exposure to sunlight (we could even expand upon this by saying they are burned by sunlight).

How would this environment affect them in a psychological sense? It’s pretty easy to come to a logical reason why they would be attracted to precious stones, and metals - as they’ll twist, refract, and reflect what little light there is. So we know that they’d desire rare things that are shiny. Such things are likely hoarded, kept as family heirlooms, and traded.

Due to their physiological quirks, leaving the underground tunnels for the surface completely out of the question as they are painfully burned by the presence of the sun. It would also be apparent that they value muscular strength highly as the ability to move larger quantities of stone and rock would result in the society being able to expand, as a by-product, general displays of strength could be seen as an attractive quality in a dwarf. So potentially, wrestling or lifting are popular sporting pastimes, poor physique would likely lead to dwarves shunning the weakest amongst them.

Culturally speaking, we can see already how the psychology of a dwarf impacts that cultural growth, a love of shiny things, physical strength being a desired trait, along with the fear connected with the surface world, and shunning of physically weak dwarves. We begin to see how the society can be formed from these elements.

Physical strength and riches are obviously two ways of attaining status in dwarven society, culturally speaking the richest and strongest dwarf will often end up being the leader. This is where things can get interesting for us, we know that the weaker dwarves are shunned in the society, and they have a great fear of the surface world, they would likely exile their worst criminals to the surface potentially even with mother dwarves leaving their weak children near a surface entrance out of fear of their children’s weakness would reflect upon them. Already what we have established here is quite a harsh society and you could easily imagine the mindset of someone living in conditions like these coming across as somewhat stoic and indifferent to the suffering of the weak.

This leads us to our history, perhaps a group of weaker dwarves committed some plot to murder the reigning dwarf rulers? Or maybe it was that they plotted to steal the reigning royal families wealth? Whichever, we can certainly build a scenario where a group of weaker dwarves are exiled to the surface world.

Eventually, the surface world becomes an environment that these once dwarves adapt to, they would likely still have a weakness to the light of the surface, but perhaps not as much as before, effectively rendering these dwarves nocturnal. They may grow height as they are no longer on such a restrictive diet they may eat meat which is plentiful on the surface. They may learn to craft with other materials that are abundant on the surface, such as wood. eventually, they become known as our goblins. This satisfies our interbreeding requirement between dwarves and goblins, as they are still basically the same species, though with a different culture and adaptations to living on the surface.


A Tale of Two Civilizations

Having established our diversion point, it’s easy to see how these two somewhat distinct cultures would become enemies. The Dwarves, fearing the surface, would certainly fear their Goblin counterparts, and the Goblins would likely hold a bitterness towards the Dwarves. The longer that these two civilizations are separated, the more different they’ll become from one another.

It’s clear to see that these two civilizations would have a difference in how they deal with their criminals, and how they would cope with their dead. To be brief, Dwarves exile criminals to the surface world, Goblins may imprison or execute their criminals. Dwarves may cremate their dead in underground lava flows, where Goblins would bury their dead returning them to their ancestral home.

Historically speaking, yeah we could delve deeply into events that occur leading the two civilizations to clash, but it seems moot. We know they’re enemies, and we know that they’re going to clash, and eventually the royal family will become Goblins. These details are more important if we were, in fact, producing this game and wanted to breath a history into the world. Developing events is a pretty straight forwards process. ‘X’ happened at ‘Y’ time, to ‘A’ or ‘B’ that lead to result ‘Z’.

So in summary, by establishing the history and the culture of our prospective species we are able to easily create something fleshed out and that should come across as both logical and somewhat real. This process makes it very easy for us to establish factions within a given species and how they would interact as well.

This is the process that we are using to establish the various factions and species present in the game we are working on. Hopefully this has given you a bit of insight into what are are doing, if you have any questions please feel free to post them in the comments below.

-The Wickerman