June 26, 2014
Iconic Characters: Half-Races
Continuing with our look at iconic character races in most fantasy role-playing games, we come to some of the more interesting breeds, at least in terms of origin. The half-races are not true races in-and-of themselves, but the children of the union of members of two different races. Most popular among these are the half-elf and the half-orc.
What makes these races so popular, I believe, comes from the combination of the familiar with the unfamiliar. We know what it is to be human, after all. We are human. In that way, we are able to connect with the human side of these two races. On the other than, these characters also possess many of the characteristics of their other parent. Half-elves typically possess a measure of the grace, beauty, and other-worldliness that elves tend to possess while half-orc are known for the same measure of ferocity and strength as their savage cousins. The half-races presented in most fantasy games tend to possess the best qualities of both parent races with few — if any — of the weaknesses.
The difference between the half-elf and the half-orc races are vastly different, though, and not merely in terms of appearance. This, while different for each, is also a drawing factor to them. Half-elves tend to be the “special children.” They are more attractive, more graceful, more intelligent than human children, which leads them to often feel outcast by their peers. Rarely are half-elves ever thought to be raised by their elf parents, though there are exceptions to this. In terms of their relationship with their kin, there are also a great many struggles. Without going too deep into it, I will simply paraphrase what Tanis Half-elven said in the Dragonlance books by Tracy Hickman and Margret Weis when asked about his heritage.
Among humans, half-elves are too elven. Among the elves, they are too human. No matter where they go, half-elves are always the outsider.
Half-orcs share this problem, though in addition to that they are often seen as monstrous. Not wanting to go into the most commonly used reasoning for a half-orc birth, let’s just say that it falls squarely in the very “mature subject matter” category of gaming. Half-orc lack the beauty and grace of the half-elves and possess a more bestial seeming, leading many to fear them or not be able to tell them apart from full blooded orcs. This, in and of itself, can be a very powerful draw to players. Just as with half-elves, the idea of the outsider, hated for being different, is something that everyone feels at some point in their lives, some more often or more strongly than others. This gives players a way to relate to the plight of the half-orc and can even act as a way of fighting against such feelings of alienation.
I have had a lot of fun playing as these half-breed characters and I know a great many other table-top gamers have too. They present a great many role-playing opportunities for gamers wishing to delve into cultural and racial stereotypes as well as issues of oppression, racism, and bigotry. Of course, if you are not into that sort of thing, they often possess a great many mechanical advantages as a race as well, as they often possess a good mix of abilities from both parent species.
Ether way, half-elves, half-orcs, and all the other half-whatevers out there are a lot of fun to play.
As always, thanks for reading and I wish you all good gaming.
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