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The Inhuman Humanoids

Drawing characters that are not human is an exciting challenge. The range of humanoids runs a huge gambit, from elves (just the ears!) to dwaves (short, stocky humans) to fenrians (wolfish), to any other animal you can image (snakes, lizards, foxes), to truly inhuman humanoids (golems, kupos, robots). Recently, working on an upcoming project from TreseBrothers, we have been planning the races of a fantasy RPG world based around on open-ended story. A few non-humanoid races were added to the story, and we consciously chose to stay away from near-humans (elves) and only use inhuman humanoids in really out-of-the-way or exotic situations.

Inhuman humanoids have been used in many classic fantasy RPGs. The Frog in ChronoTrigger, the Rat or eagle-men in Shining Force, Kupos throughout the history of Final Fantasy, Red XIII in Final Fantasy 7. Our upcoming project features two inhuman humanoids that can be recruited as player characters.

You either love them, or you hate them. What do think about them? Did you ditch them or play them religiously? What made one character more compelling or exciting than another? Was it because they were emotionless, their personality, their amazing artwork, or the fact that they were covered in fur?

[The attached images are NOT the two inhuman humanoids in question. Come on, a bug and a snake!?! I just like sharing some recent artwork. Check this blog on your Android phone and let me know how the images look on your device!]


  1. Playing as drastically unusual characters was only fun if there were unique NPC reactions to the character's race or culture. The game also needs to show flexibility with the NPC's changing their reactions to the character actions.

    I remember playing Icewind Dale II with my lead character being a good female Drow bard. I was disappointed that very few characters commented on her unusualness and when she finally met Drow, they acted as if she was as evil as they were and didn't have strong negative reactions when she did all the "good" choices.

    If a game can make my character feel like a stranger in a strange land initially but give me the opportunity to gain NPC's trust or confirm their fears, that makes it a great game for me.

    Kelvin Zero

  2. For me personally its all about giving me a drastically different viewpoint, or making me notice how thing that seem everyday and mundane to me would be incredibly different as someone/thing else.

    I think the effects of fleshing out a character type or culture are far too often undersold. If I'm playing as a wolf, then I want to deal with wolf events, the confidence of knowing a pack is there, or knowledge winter might be coming soon, its all just a matter of how the characters around you make you feel while your avatar is traveling through the world.

  3. Kevin and Justin - thanks for the great feedback. Certainly too often a very exotic character is just "normal" within a game context and not treated abnormally by the surrounding world, or the game provides the same experience for that character as you would get as a human, which all takes away from the point.

    The game is focused around a group of companions, which makes the challenge a little different. But, interested in avoiding how such characters are badly treated in other games. I remember in Shining Force, the wolf character's main differentiator was that all his dialog started with a "Grrrrr..." or something ridiculous.

    Would be very interested to hear any ideas you have about how to bring that exotic and different viewpoint into a group oriented game experience.

  4. I agree with the above comments. Adding non-standard races with more complex backgrounds and interactions with game NPCs is a nice idea in practice, but typically not done properly. 99% of games that try to do this only make minor stat-changes, and being race xyz really has no effect on NPC interactions, choices, and outcomes. In my opinion, it looks really bad if a game half-arses these things, and you lose sense of story and setting.

  5. Perhaps the villages should get pitch forks and kill your recruited inhuman humanoids. The feedback is extremely valuable and engaging. If the world (or some of the companions) reacted negatively to your inhuman companions, it sounds like this would help immerse you in the world. If you were constantly facing (surmountable) barriers in the world because of your inhuman companions, would this increase or decrease your interest in having these characters in the group? For example, if you had to complete extra diplomacy and quests in order to get acceptance within an area for your strange companions, this exposes a different facet of the game that you would only get access to if you were playing these character types.

    Interesting? Annoying? Very interested in discussing other ways to incorporate realism of the inhuman experience into an open ended fantasy RPG story.

  6. There are more subtle ways of showing uniqueness in an exotic PC. You can use the descriptive text to show how the NPC's react to them and the reactions need not always be negative.

    Suppose the character is a fierce barbarian who happens to look like an adorable and tiny teddy bear. Have NPC children try to cuddle him and take him home. Force the player to figure out how to handle harmless but agressive children without causing a riot in the village. That would make a far more entertaining storyline than NPCs always acting negatively towards the character.

    Maybe it could be as subtle as describing how NPC's move to the other side of the street and clutch their purses when the PC walks by (if they don't know them). A restaurant owner ignorantly offers a horse-headed PC a feedbag with oats in an attempt to properly accomodate him.

    I would love to play a game which throws me these problems instead of "Kill x rats to get this bauble."

    Kelvin Zero

  7. I like the idea mentioned about having to undergo extra diplomatic quests to gain acceptance. Anytime you can make events which will happen only if certain conditions, like certain party members or certain items are present then you're not only adding to the background and plot, you also are helping provide a good replay value as well.

  8. I like playing humanoids, they are usually kinda fun for me, the most fun I had with it was in Oblivion. They are best usually when there is some sort of value or ability attached to them. And in a framework similar to Star Traders it might be something like this, ie: The dwarves can carry powerstones which are a prerequisite for enchanting, or maybe giants are the ultimate Brick to have in your party. -You kind of see what I mean.

    Beyond that, if they are interactive in some way they you can see a bit of the race's story, culture, flavor and this character's attitude. That always makes a game that's really fun. One thing I saw in Mass Effect and Dragon Age was the awesome way racial relationships and perceptions can add to a fully realized game world.

  9. E - definitely agreed. Having a race outside of humans is most interesting in their differences. That means differences in perceptions, cultures, values, practices, but also (from a game point of view) abilities, traits, spells and all the fun tactical bits. For Secrets of Steel we have elected to keep humans as the only full race in the world, with the sparse additional races that were either wiped out by history or rare creations or servants of the Old Gods or "Titans"


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