My friend Damon was the person I worked closest on All-That-Is within the first few months of its existence. He hates the fact that Humans are the “base” of every other RPG system. The more I worked on All-That-Is, the more the other races intrigued me, and Humans were given a smaller and smaller role in the world.
In All-That-Is, instead of being the “dominant race”, they’re actually one of the least dominant – their main significance is that they fight all the damned time. Of all the races in All-That-Is, Angels are the most prominent and Dwarves are the most common.
Humans are notorious for their aggressive tendencies. The Human home-land is in a state of constant civil war – it’s the only homeland that doesn’t have a capital city, simply because no one ever agreed on one.
In the year that the first Traveller’s Guide was published (The Year of the Bantam) two of The Heartland’s states are at war, and the other two have split into a number of tiny provinces (they refer to themselves as “kingdoms”) who are all constantly bickering over petty matters of land, kidnapping each other’s princesses, and setting dragons on one another.
Humans look much like they do in our world – they’re slightly tougher and stronger, for the sake of adventuring, but otherwise there aren’t many physical changes. In their homeland, they're are of an African-American appearance, however Human skin has a unique feature – when a Human spends more than a decade in another land, their skin slowly changes colour, and some of their facial features rearrange.
For example, when a Human lives for more than ten years in the Angel homeland, their hair and face start to pale – within a generation, they have an entirely Albino appearance. (For the Fairy homeland, it’s a South-West Asian appearance, for the Gnome homeland it’s more of a Mediterranean look, etc etc.) Babies are born looking like their parents, however if they live for more than a decade in another land, the same thing happens. It’s not uncommon for a Human family reunion to be made up of two Albino adults, an Asian grandfather, a black grandchild, and a white cousin or two.
Humans from the Heartland being African-American comes from my twin desires to have more racial diversity in All-That-Is than most fantasy I've encountered, and to give the world a distinct visual look. The Human homeland is by far the most "medieval" of all the lands, with stone castles, knights in suits of armor, peasants in rags.
Imagine every medieval knight, princess, king, wizard you've ever encountered. Now make them all black. It does a few things that I like, but key among them is making drawings and paintings of All-That-Is scenes instantly recognizable.
As you can see from the picture at the top of the post, I had an idea early on about all Elves wearing glasses, but that was, fortunately, abandoned rather quickly.
For a long time, Elves were the group that I'd done the least with. I knew I wanted most ninjas to be elves and that I wanted them to be the most xenophobic of the races, obsessed with racial purity and generally looking down on the other races, but for a long time that was all I had.
Over the years, this started to bug me, so I sat down on a number of occasions just to flesh them out - as part of my fascination with giving All-That-Is a Morrowind-esque visual uniqueness, I gave them facial tattoos. Not just randomly, but as part of their justice system - when someone of age commits a crime, part of their punishment is to get a tattoo on their face, specific to the crime.
This led to a few interesting ideas: a land in which the nobility will judge you for having too many tattoos on your face, while criminal gangs will think you're weak for not having enough; people who get fake tattoos added to seem more bad-ass than they are (although fake tattoos will fade over time while the justice system's stay strong forever); and a society where having no tattoos at all isn't necessarily considered a virtue, but a sign that you never took any risks, or that your mistakes are still ahead of you.
Their skin is lightly colored - tan, brown, cream, or a very pale green. They live in the trees - not in hollowed-out trunks, but in cities built between them*. They're a deeply formal, peaceful people...but, of course, that's just the main society, and an individual Elve can be opposed to that in every way.
Lastly, the oral history of their race includes a time in which they had beautiful dark skin and were the most warlike of the races. After angering some god or another, they were cursed with light skin - something they still see as their biggest shame, greatly admiring anyone with skin darker than theirs. They continue to practice all of the martial arts and other forms of combat, but it's forbidden both by law and in society generally to use them (again, not that this stops certain individuals, including the majority of the world's greatest assassins: ninjas).
I never liked the Dungeons and Dragons race being “Half-Orcs”, especially since (at least in any of the campaigns I played or ran) one never really came across many pure Orcs, let alone felt compelled to procreate with them. Essentially, Half-Orcs were their own race, and so when I brought them over to All-That-Is, I removed the “half” element, and just made them Orcs.
(Orcs are able to have children with Humans, but as humans aren't the primary race in All-That-Is, a "Half-Orc" could be half-Human, half-Elf, half-Angel…)
Orcs have tough, scaly skin that comes in a variety of dark colours (green, black, navy blue, red, yellow, grey). They’re dumb and strong, but not as dumb and strong as ogres. You could call them Ogre-lite in many ways, and the two races are often lumped together in-universe, simply referred to as “Trolls”. This can either be an insult, a term of endearment, or simply a description, depending on the tone of voice used.
The race has an extremely strong sense of family, loyalty, and race-pride; Orcs don’t hate other races, but they’re unlikely to make close friends with anyone who’s not an Orc. They’re also strongly connected with nature and the world around them, with the vast majority of Orcs in the Orcish homeland living off the land.
They may have tusks. I haven't decided on that one yet.
Orcs are the second-most common types of slaves that can be found. Non-Troll slaves are extremely rare, except in the Land of Ogres, where pretty much anything goes. Unlike Ogres, intelligent Orcs aren’t outcast, they’re revered, and given important positions in the tribe. (the equivalent of the wise-woman, shaman or witch doctor).
If Ogres are known for being big and dumb, Gnomes are known for being smart and smart. By far the most intelligent race in All-That-Is, Gnomes treasure above all else knowledge, intelligence, organisation, and smarts. Gnome, to many people, is synonymous with “Genius”.
Gnomes exist much as described in Dungeons and Dragons, except without the playfulness and creativity...or, at least, with creativity in a different form - more "gadgets" than "nicknames". Gnome society is a hair's breadth away from eliminating names altogether, and simply numbering each Gnome as soon as they're born.
Any Gnomes born with even a hint of playfulness or creativity are likely to shun Gnomish society and become travellers...though they might be regarded as stuck-up and stiff by their fellow adventurers. (especially Peedlings. Peedlings and Gnomes go together about as well as Orcs and Demons, Angels and Dwarves, or Humans and Elves*.)
*Ogres and Fairies, despite their obvious differences, get along quite well.
Of all the more standard Fantasy races of All-That-Is, Dwarves are the ones that I’ve changed the most, a fact I didn’t realize until it was pointed out to me.
To begin with, all Dwarves have beards, even the female ones. Yes, I’m aware that Terry Pratchett did it first. So did Tolkien and early versions of Dungeons and Dragons - I wasn't actually aware of how common it was, or that any of the above had gone down the same route.
Secondly, and this is the one that I had assumed everyone did, the Dwarves of All-That-Is are the Pirate race.
To my mind, this was obvious. They have beards, they speak gruffly and in strong accents, and they drink alcohol by the barrelful. It wasn’t until I was showing someone which Dwarven Clans controlled which parts of which oceans that I learned that no, Dwarves aren’t typically sea-faring creatures.
There are five Dwarven Clans. Three are primarily Pirate Clans, two are primarily focused on Mining, but they all have both extensive navies and mining operations. The three Pirate Clans control almost half of the ocean each, and range ideologically from "Lovable, Kid-Friendly Pirates” to “Scourge of the Sea".
Depending on which part of the ocean you’re planning on crossing, you’ll need to either hitch a ride with a heavily-armed ship, ready to fight for your life if attacked, or set sail prepared to stand to the side while the pirates rummage through your good cutlery. (In exchange for a bloodless surrender, even the most evil of pirates won’t kill you, do any lasting damage to your ship, or take your food and water – if you don’t make it to your destination, they won’t be able to rob you again on the way back, and murder tends to inspire revenge. Who needs the hassle?)
Dwarves are fiercely loyal to their clan and friends, heavy drinkers, and great sailors. Dwarves are the only race with a majority not living in their homeland (except perhaps Ogres, but that tends to be far less voluntary) – most Dwarves are either sailing the eleven seas*, happily mining in another land, or simply adventuring.
*technically four seas and seven oceans.
All-That-Is is a world of islands (writers create their ideal world, and I have always loved islands) and so Dwarves, controlling the oceans as they do, are ubiquitous. Angels might be the most powerful race, but Dwarves are the most wide-spread, making up about one-quarter of the world’s population. If an adventure takes places entirely within an Elven forest or a Gnomish city, then you might not run into any, but if the story takes you anywhere near the ocean, you’re going to come into contact with Dwarves, and probably a lot of them.
Fantasy city by David Revoy, licensed under the
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.