What’s Love Got To Do With It, Part X: Love Among The Races

Terminus and Lithra Eldorado (characters by C and her husband, art by Kristen Collins)

Regardless of whether or not you play against your gender when you create a new RPG character, odds are you play against your race. Yeah, humans are great and all, but when such a big part of the fun of roleplaying is escaping from the real world, why be a human? Especially when there are so many wonderful races to choose from! Elves and dwarves are just the tip of the iceberg, baby; depending on your game world/system, there are many more options, from annoyingly adorable kender and prideful irda, to demon-blooded tieflings and angel-touched aasimars, to hot-blooded Twi’leks and intriguing Nautolans. It’s not unusual for no two members of an adventuring party to be of the same race.

With so much racial variance among the party, chances are good any romance that blossoms will be between two characters not of the same race. We’re all open-minded people who know love is love and it should be celebrated when two people find it, but this is a fantasy world we’re playing in. When the party settles in for a relaxing evening at the inn, the music starts to play, and the halfling and the elf take to the dance floor in a seductive Forgotten Realms version of the tango, are the other patrons going to react with nary an eyebrow raised, or gasps of shock and disdain? How will the rest of the party react, for that matter?

If you’ve never given interracial romance in a fantasy setting much thought, I’m here to get you thinking!

This Has All Happened Before, This Will All Happen Again

If we look to the literature and movies that inspire so many games, there is plenty of evidence that relationships can and do occur between members of different races. Granted, in fantasy, a lot of it is pretty tame, and often in the form of pairing humans and elves/half-elves – Aragorn and Arwen, Tanis Half-Elven and Laurana (or Kitiara), Drizzt and…eh, I shouldn’t spoil it. Some other characters from R.A. Salvatore’s works (those he wrote, and those he oversaw) have been a little more daring: there was the hint of a little something between human assassin Artemis Enteri and a halfling thieves’ guild leader; Jarlaxle, the roguish drow who will sleep with just about anything; drow wizard Pharaun Mizzrym who was all too happy to mess around the alu-fiend Aliisza. And there are plenty of half-breed offspring floating around in our game worlds as further evidence that not everyone sticks to their own race (more on that later).

In the Star Wars expanded universe, there are numerous examples of cross-species relations. Human starfighter pilot Wedge Antilles had a long-running relationship with Qwi Xux of the bird-like Omwati race, Nautolan Kit Fisto and Twi’lek Aayla Secura were very close (and would have been closer if they hadn’t both been Jedi – grrr!), and Zeltrons just plain get around. The variety of girls in Jabba’s slave harem is indication enough that many of the races and species of the Star Wars universe find each other attractive.

I could keep listing examples forever, but the point is made: interracial/interspecies romance can and does happen. So let’s get back to those relations in your game, shall we?

Everyone Wants To Be Accepted

When considering the cultural norms of the game world, a GM should take the time to decide what the reaction would be to various cross-race romances. Going back to our fantasy lit roots again, there are some common reactions you could go with: elf/human relations strongly frowned upon by elves, more welcomed by humans; dwarf/elf relationships unheard of and perhaps outright forbidden; orc/anybody else beyond taboo.

There’s no need to restrict yourself to those few ideas (not to mention they don’t cover near enough of the situations you might encounter). Or perhaps in your game world, they don’t apply at all, but instead there’s a stigma against gnomes and halflings dating, or drow and surface elves. As with anything, what is and isn’t acceptable will vary by region, as well, so an interracial couple who experienced no prejudice of any sort in their homeland might be shocked to be ostracized as they travel to other lands.

Regardless of the cultural norms you may establish, the reactions of the other PCs – or their players – obviously aren’t within your control. There may be someone at your table who is completely wigged out at the thought of humans and halflings in romantic relationships. As with anything like this at your table, find out what’s going on. Is it a character reaction, or the reaction of the player? Is it something that will make that player not enjoy the game? This is a touchy one to find common ground on. Players who want more sex in a game can usually accommodate a less-comfortable player and still have a good time, but if one player’s discomfort is preventing them from pursuing an in-game relationship that they really want to explore, there needs to be a serious discussion.

How Babies Get Made

The prevalence of half-elves, half-orcs, and even half-dragons – to the point where they are detailed as playable races in many systems and settings – is proof that some races can interbreed. Half-dwarves, half-halflings, and half-gnomes, however, are by and large unheard of, as are the results of two other non-human races bearing offspring. But does that really mean it can’t happen? If the players of characters involved in a relationship aren’t thinking about the chance of pregnancy, the GM definitely should.

I’ve touched on this topic before in earlier What’s Love columns, and mentioned the interspecies crossbreeding table in the Book of Erotic Fantasy. While the list is extensive, it certainly doesn’t cover all the races that could possibly intermingle in a fantasy setting, but it could certainly be used as a guide to determine whether other races can produce offspring. Don’t have the book? Get out some graph paper and a pencil, and make a Punnett square-inspired grid. The possible outcomes for an attempt between two partners of different races to make a baby are generally:

  • Yes (it can happen naturally)
  • Maybe (the BoEF used this option mainly for races that could go on to produce one of the half-breeds detailed later in the book, but I would say you could use it for any two races where the chance was extremely small, but possible)
  • No (conception cannot happen naturally, but can happen with magical or divine intervention)

There’s a lot of gray area where pregnancy usually wouldn’t occur, but possibly could under the right circumstances. It gets even more confusing when the races involved are only vaguely humanoid, or even not at all humanoid. When you get into a sci-fi setting with many alien races, crossbreeding naturally becomes less common. For all the interspecies cavorting that goes on in the Star Wars universe, the only offspring from any of those relationships that I know of is Aura Sing, who is the child a human and some other near-human alien race.

So what should you do about the gray area? You should do what’s best for your game and the characters. If you think it best that the chance of conceiving is always there, no matter how small, make that known so the characters can be prepared. Or you can do away with the gray area entirely and lump all those pairings into the “not without magical or divine intervention” category. That leaves the door open for the non-traditional couple who might want to have a child some day, but they and the rest of the party members don’t have to worry that the crazy night with the herd of very attractive minotaurs and a little too much mead is going to result in a bunch of little half-minotaurs (minitaurs?) running around a few months later.

If characters of different races do end up having a baby – or if you want to introduce a character who is such an offspring – the crossbreeds in BoEF are wonderful, but even more so are the ones in Bastards & Bloodlines from Green Ronin’s Races of Renown series. I dare you not to think the trixie (a gnome/pixie crossbreed) is the cutest thing ever!

Which reminds me…those fey are fertile as the day is long, if they choose. Be careful!

It’s A Fantasy, So Let Loose!

It might be hard to imagine members of all the various races in your campaign world interdating, but we live in a world where there is only one race. Regardless of our ethnicity or the color of our skin, we’re all the same people. If we had other options, and found them attractive (and had the affection returned), wouldn’t we be curious enough to give it a try?

Let your characters have fun and experiment. You never know who you’ll find love with! So says the girl whose half-drow character is married to a minotaur. :)

Have there been any interesting interracial character couples in your game? What do you think about non-traditional romantic pairings?

About c

By day, Connie Thomson (aka Ariel Manx) is a mild-mannered shoe salesgirl, geeking out about insoles, outsoles, and shanks. But when night falls, she takes her turn at the helm of 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming, where she writes, edits, and does layout for table-top RPG products. Regardless of her persona, C is always a fangirl, bookworm, and craft diva. (Email C or follow @arielmanx on Twitter.)

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