Musings on Race (Greyhawk)

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Originally written for ENWorld. My ideas of fantasy races have varied over time, and are not consistent, but this is the story I am currently playing with. The races are intimately died into the story of creation, so I have to start from the beginning. I play in a version of the World of Greyhawk influenced both by the Runelords of Pathfinder and 4Es cosmology and distinction between gods/devils as astral and demons as elemental beings. I also have an inner conflict between describing the world in science-fiction terms or as a fairytale. This version is close to the science-fiction interpretation of things. It is also very condensed, each of these developments took a thousand years or more.

The early world was dominated by the primordials or titans, creatures of immense elemental power that changed the world merely by walking across it. One raised mountains and hills, another had a cloak of trees that rolled down to earth, creating forests, and so on. These primordials were not intelligent as we see it, they merely fulfilled their drives. Part of their creation was the giants, lesser creatures of similar elemental nature.

The first sapient creatures were saurians. They were not a unified culture, instead they had supra-genius alpha leaders served by omega troglodytes. The alpha saurians discovered wizardry, and competed by making more and more powerful magic. They discovered that giants were actually better at magic than themselves, but without goal or direction. So they bred giants to become more and more magical, but little progress was made. Saurians used wizardry, while the giants were sorcerer-like with innate magic, and what the saurians wanted was better wizards. So they gradually de-evolved the giants to be less and less sorcerous, at the same time becoming smaller and more mundane. This eventually created dwarfs and orcs and finally humans. Humans eagerly grasped wizardry and beat the saurians at their own game by forming a magocratic civilization. This finally ended in a world-wide cataclysm. People survived, but few in number and scattered about a largely empty world.


Orcs dominated this early world. There is very little gender difference between orcs, both are as aggressive and physicality capable and hard for an outsider to tell apart. Gestation and suckling periods are short and easy, orcs are born very undeveloped and resemble rats in their infant stage, living their early life much like rodents living on scraps. They grow rapidly and are physically mature around age ten. This allowed orcs to increase their population rapidly in the empty world. But orcs are poor at husbanding resources, which kept their maximum population low. Humans were the opposite, breeding comparatively slowly but able to maintain a much higher population density. Early orcs enslaved humans, but in the end were outbred by them and pushed into the hinterlands - and later into fairy where they have become quite successful in that dangerous but high-resource environment.


Half-orcs are often the result of war and tragedy, both male and female orcs beings sexually aggressive (think hyenas). Half-orcs have existed since time immemorial, often acting as a link between orc master and human slave in the distant past. They never became a population in their own right as they are not fertile. Today, half-orcs (and to a lesser degree half-ogres and other crossbreeds) are usually the fruits of warfare and in many cases taken care of by lawful religious institutions who raise them in orphanages and turn most of them into soldiers. This gives them an accepted if limited role in human society.


I have small elves like those of AD&D, appearing much like early teen humans and with similar mindsets; open, daring, and mercurial. Elves have several conflicting origin myths. Some elves claim is that they arrived on a giant spaceship, that later became the big moon, Luna. What adventurers have revealed as another possible origin is that one magical tradition of humans escaped the cataclysm by going to or possibly creating fairy, becoming immortal by remaining eternally childlike. A third option is that they are a development of the "little people" of fairy (goblins, gnomes, halflings and the like all being variants of a single race called hobs). A fourth option is that they are humans overwhelmed by magical energies in their environment, arresting their development and becoming innately magical. Elves can live forever, but few do, as their adventurous and risk-taking natures lead to many early deaths. Older elves outgrow this to a point and are respected by other elves for their maturity, often becoming royalty. Perhaps its just the elves with "mature" personalities that survive to become elders.

The Main Elven Subspecies

Elves originally had an unified, heavily urbanized civilization. This collapsed in a civil war with what was to become the drow, driving many elves that wanted to avoid the war into the wilderness where they adapted to the various environments, creating the subtypes of elves known today. Elves are very magically adaptable, they pick up traits from their environment, creating subspecies such as high (light magic) elves, wood (plant magic) elves, sea (water magic) elves , drow (dark magic) elves and so on. The original strain of elves is called grey elves and are elven royalty, tough not nearly as well adapted to life in the world.

Elves on Oerth (the name of Greyhawk's world) have since held on to certain lands, but the continent of Flanaess (where the game plays out) has been invaded by humans. In general humans have recognized elven lands, been kept at bay by elven magic, or been unable to invade areas of wilderness elves are magically adapted to survive in. One elven nation, Celene, survives near the center of human civilization. There are about as many elves now as there were at the end of the vecna wars, but many, many more humans. Elves have held on to their core lands, but have had to give up much of what they saw as their outlying territories. Many elves, mostly high elves, have adapted to human civilization, living among humans for a human generation and then returning to elven lands to recover from the loss of their human friends to age, sometimes returning later with another identity among humans. An elf overstaying their welcome among humans, particularly if they have a leadership position, often find they have to run or face persecution from the children and grandchildren of their peers, but this is rarely an issue as few elves stick to a role once their generation of humans pass on.

Elves in Fairy

Humans do not generally envy elves their immortality. Young humans often live as if they were immortal themselves, and older humans see elves as frivolous and don't envy them their eternal folly of youth. There are exceptions, however, the most important exception being Vecna himself who became a lich and despoiled elven cities in search of immortality.

Grey Elves have a history of trying to uplift human barbarians to something like elven civilization. Uplifting humans eventually led to disaster as the uplifted human Vecna turned himself into a lich and fought his mentor the elven high king, destroying most of what remained of grey elven urban civilization and pushing many elves into fleeing into fairy. Elves in fairy have since divided into two groups, those who live in fortified towers and remain much as they were, and those who have gone native and accepted the chaos and magic of the fey. Since orcs now prosper in fairy, the elven citadels have come under frequent siege, and the fey elves are considering returning to Prime. The planes are coming closer together, facilitating such a move.

Elemental Elves - Genies

There are also elemental elves, called genies. These live in remote wilderness areas connected to the elemental planes (volcanoes, deep desserts, underwater, glaciers and the like) and on the elemental planes. More blatantly magical than other elves, those on the elemental planes often grow to Large size. Other elves recognize these as weird distant cousins if at all.

Ghost Elves

Finally, there are the ghost elves, Shadar-kai, Shadow Fey. These fled the vecna wars into the semi-astral realm of the plane of shadow, and have lost much of their vitality and elan, becoming angsty and driven to power games. They have little relation with other elves, tough they are recognized as kin. Many Shadow Fey recently returned to Oerth, driving out humans from the lands where their city once stood and inviting other elves to come join them. Few have. Unlike other elves, the Shadow Fey are intensely mystical, seeking union with their goddess Sehanine, who they call by the same name as other elves do, but which seems distinctly different.


(My name for Tieflings) One recent variant of elf that other elves find impossible to accept are teuflings (chaos magic elves) that seem to have spontaneously appeared as a result of demonic invasions. Though technically elves, other elves do not recognize these as elves at all, and they live among humans with lives much like the half-orcs mentioned above, tough more persecuted.


I am not entirely settled on the role of half-elves, but I am leaning towards this being humans influenced either by their magical environment or heritage to become elf-like, but not fully elves. Humans living in fairy would become half-elves over time. The other option is to simply say that some elves look more human-like and some humans more elflike.


Hobs are the little people of legend, small and elusive but potentially tricksters and teachers. Originally from fairy, hobs were lesser fey. Liks most fey, their shape was a matter of choice, determined by personality and activity. The hobs were not really a race or faction, united only by being lesser fey, victimized by more powerful fey predators. At various times the barriers between Prime and Fairy have weakened or opened, and Hobs crossed the border. They did so in small groups, accounting for a wide variety of Hobs. In fairy these creatures could change shape, but on Prime that is not so easy to physically change; Hobs compensated by seeming to change, using illusions.

All Hobs are consummate illusionists, but not all of them realize this is what they are doing.