One of the mainstays of fantasy rpgs is the variety of non-human races available for play. The availability to play elves, dwarves and halflings has been there with us since the beginning of D&D. With the advent of science-fiction rpgs the number of playable races skyrocketed. Soon fantasy games caught up to sci-fi and the amount of races available for play is staggering. But, have we reached the limit of new races that can be designed?
These days you can play Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, Gnomes, Orcs, Centaurs, Cat-people, Dog-people, Rock-people, Light-people, Shadow-people, Lizard-people, Snake-people, Bird-people, Dragon-people, Demon-people, Angel-people, Genii-people, Elemental-people, Fey-people, Insect-people, Plant-people, People who can change their form (race) at the their whim, a plethora of Half-races mixing together all sorts of races, Monsters as People and variations on every sort of race already established (such as High Elf, Wood Elf, Sun Elf, Drow, Eladrin, Sylvan Elf, Sea Elf, Winged Elf, Moon Elf, Silver Elf, Star Elf, Wild Elf, Ghost Elf, Grey Elf, Painted Elf, Snow Elf.)
New settings and games often seek to offer up new races as a way to entice gamers to their system/setting. However, all too often it is nothing but a variation on what has come before. This is often done one of two ways...
The Culture Swap
This method takes a race and gives it another culture often associated with a different race. For example, the Indara are a Cat-people who are very outdoorsy and love nature and the woods. They sing to nature and have bonds with Fey creatures. They are renowned for their grace and mastery of magic and proficiency with weapons such as the sword and bow. They are long-lived, capable of living more than half a
millennium and remaining physically youthful. Possessed of innate beauty
and easy gracefulness, they are viewed as both wondrous and haughty by
other races. In effect, the Indara is an elf with a race-lift.
The New Culture
This is where the designer takes a race and gives it a new culture. Imagine halflings as shamanistic cannibals that live in treetops. Dark Sun did it that way. Of the two ways this one at least presents the players with new ways of playing that race, even if it is still nothing but a variation on something that has come before; much the same as a Wild Elf is a variation on the Elf race. However, they are not true new races.
Is there still a new race out there for rpg games or have we done it all?