Concept: a D&D-style fantasy setting where humanity’s weird thing is that we’re the only sapient species that reproduces organically.
- Dwarves carve each other out of rock. In theory this can be managed alone, but in practice, few dwarves have mastered all of the necessary skills. Most commonly, it’s a collaborative effort by three to eight individuals. The new dwarf’s body is covered with runes that are in part a recounting of the crafters’ respective lineages, and in part an elaboration of the rights and duties of a member of dwarven society; each dwarf is thus a living legal argument establishing their own existence.
- Elves aren’t made, but educated. An elf who wishes to produce offspring selects an ordinary animal and begins teaching it, starting with house-breaking, and progressing through years of increasingly sophisticated lessons. By gradual degrees the animal in question develops reasoning, speech, tool use, and finally the ability to assume a humanoid form at will. Most elves are derived from terrestrial mammals, but there’s at least one community that favours octopuses and squid as its root stock.
- Goblins were created by alchemy as servants for an evil wizard, but immediately stole their own formula and rebelled. New goblins are brewed in big brass cauldrons full of exotic reagents; each village keeps a single cauldron in a central location, and emerging goblings are raised by the whole community, with no concept of parentage or lineage. Sometimes they like to add stuff to the goblin soup just to see what happens – there are a lot of weird goblins.
- Halflings reproduce via tall tales. Making up fanciful stories about the adventures of fictitious cousins is halfling culture’s main amusement; if a given individual’s story is passed around and elaborated upon by enough people, a halfling answering to that individual’s description just shows up one day. They won’t necessarily possess any truly outlandish abilities that have been attributed to them – mostly you get the sort of person of whom the stories could be plausible exaggerations.
To address the obvious question, yes, this means that dwarves have no cultural notion of childhood, at least not one that humans would recognise as such. Elves and goblins do, though it’s kind of a weird childhood in the case of elves, while with halflings it’s a toss-up; mostly they instantiate as the equivalent of a human 12–14-year-old, and are promptly adopted by a loose affiliation of self-appointed aunts and uncles, though there are outliers in either direction.
What about orcs?
The so-called goblinoid peoples are variations on the same formula, and may well emerge from the same cauldron, depending on who’s been screwing with the ingredients lately. They’re very morphologically plastic – it’s not unheard-of to encounter a kobold and an ogre who count each other as siblings.
Other fantasy races: “You ever hear about how humans reproduce? ?”
It really depends on the folks in question. Elves are of course familiar with sexual reproduction, since that’s how the animals they upllift themselves from do it – though most of them would prefer to keep that end of the business at arm’s length – and goblins know all about emerging into the world naked, screaming, and covered in noisome ichor; they just think the human way of doing it sounds awfully hard on the mom!
Anyway, noodling around with questions in the notes about “crossbreeding”:
- The process of creating a dwarf requires that a majority of the contributing craftspeople be dwarves, or else it just doesn’t work, but otherwise there’s no particular rule against including non-dwarves. There’s a fair amount of leeway both in fashioning a dwarf’s physical form and in composing the documents inscribed upon its skin, so cross-species “parentage” is really about incorporating non-dwarven artistic and philosophical influences.
- Elfhood is a matter of acculturation, so in principle anybody can become one. In practice, the learning process is considerably more difficult and time-consuming for creatures who already have their own sapience and culture, so conversion to elfhood is uncommon outside of cases like human fosterlings raised by elves, or a non-elf becoming an elf’s spouse. Such individuals may not be fully accepted in certain communities; “half-elf” is one of the politer pejoratives they’re saddled with.
- You can make goblins that display “inherited” traits by using pieces of flesh as alchemical ingredients, but doing so with the flesh of other sapients is strongly frowned on. Using the flesh of animals to incorporate selected traits into the next generation is far more accepted, and in fact, some goblin communities do so strategically to meet local needs; for example, you can totally get a batch of arboreal goblins by just chucking a whole fucking squirrel into the pot.
I love the postulate that goblins are nice and wouldn’t be chucking whole live adventurers into the soup pot.
Hey, I said it was frowned on, not that it never happens!
(Besides, even in those communities that lack a taboo against eating things that talk, stuffing a whole adventurer into the cauldron isn’t a great idea because it would introduce too many volatile and potentially conflicting humours. Like, do you want the Grand Soupsmith to kick your ass?)
Anyway, by popular demand:
- Gnomes, like many creatures of the earth,
arise spontaneously when the proper conditions are met. Such conditions may occur naturally, but are more often arranged by other gnomes. At first tightly
to their homes, gnomes can range further afield as they grow, with the passage to adulthood marked by the ability to “re-home” to a suitable dwelling with a simple ritual. As gnomes’ homes strongly influence their owners’ nature, most gnomes are very particular about their housekeeping!