My story takes a sort of Shadowrun-esque approach to the concept of fantasy races, in that all members of fantasy races are, or are descended from, former humans transformed by magic, though in this case it was voluntary for the first generation rather than randomly forced.

Basically this is set in a world where humans are entirely normal until their 13th birthday, where their right arm is branded with a swirling pattern of circles that not only allows them to use magical runes, but also makes supernatural changes to their biology, making them stronger faster, tougher, quicker-healing, etc.

But this raises a question: several of the fantasy races have very exotic and often blatantly physically impossible traits, like an extra pair of arms they can materialize from thin air at will, burning up in sunlight, or the ability to levitate and even fly. Why should the children of humans be normal until they turn 13, when the children of fantasy races have their innate racial magic passed down from their parents automatically, brand or no brand?

Which gave me an interesting idea: what if fantasy race children below the age of 13 took on more subdued, mundane, and physically realistic forms, and then on their 13th birthday, when they get their brand, they undergo spontaneous magical puberty and gain all of the bizarre, blatantly supernatural traits their parents have?

Of course, for there to be any point in doing this, I have to have a good idea of what body parts are physically possible, and how much I can make them look like their parents before they start needing magic to function. So I thought I'd start with their most visually obvious difference from normal humans: their skin color.

The fantasy races of my story, rather than ranging from brown to beige, have far more exotic color variations, from cotton candy pink to baby blue to silver and gold. If these skin colors could still be present on pre-magical fantasy race children, it would go a long way to making them visually distinct from humans, even if their other physical features were more limited and subdued. But living things aren't like plastic, and I understand that several colors are actually quite rare in the natural world for various reasons, so I wanted to check this for realism:

By changing only the skin of a creature that is otherwise identical to a human, what natural skin colors besides the human skin range is it biologically possible to have, and which are not?


closed as unclear what you're asking by JBH, Don Qualm, John, Cyn, AlexP Apr 22 at 14:05

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Apr 22 at 3:32
  • $\begingroup$ @MarielS Those can be reasons to close though, if the question is rendered unclear. I VTC because I consider it too broad even with just the one question about skin color. It's a very broad question all by itself. I mean, we have other questions asking "can humanoid skin be purple?" and stuff like that. $\endgroup$ – Cyn Apr 22 at 3:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Cyn okay that's fair. I don't find the question unclear, but you may be right that it is too broad. The way it is phrased makes it so, probably because the OP doesn't have the research/background knowledge necessary to be more specific. The current answer is PROBABLY "just about any color you want could be pulled off biologically somehow or another." So he should decide which colors he wants to have and perhaps make separate question for them, or (maybe?) a single question listing specifically which colors he wants to achieve. $\endgroup$ – MarielS Apr 22 at 3:36
  • $\begingroup$ @MarielS I'd hate to encourage 20 different color questions from one person... But most of those questions have already been asked. The OP could start there and ask a question that hasn't yet been covered (I don't necessarily mean a missing color). $\endgroup$ – Cyn Apr 22 at 3:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Cyn Agreed. I hope he doesn't have 20! lol $\endgroup$ – MarielS Apr 22 at 3:41

Take a look at this cuttlefish for some inspiration, and the octopus video's that go along with it:

chameleon coloring and neon flashing

These animals can go from a large range of colors, from bland background colors to fluorescent neon-like colors. They can even do the color blue, which is pretty much off-limits for most of the animal kingdom. I dont think that you have many limits in thr colors your humanoids can take assuming you allow them to use aquatic skin colors.

But you can also use chameleons. They can be a lot of colors: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chameleon

It states the following possible colors: pink, blue, red, orange, green, black, brown, light blue, yellow, turquoise, and purple.

Edit: It seems many people misread the OP. He is specifically asking for:

  1. a BIOLOGICAL method for having a wide range of different skin colors, not necessarily changeable.
  2. Non-human skin colors. So the use of non-human skincells including scales has to be an option.
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    $\begingroup$ And to follow through with my last comment, your answer is deserving of a downvote because scales are not skin. There is no known physics for converting red-blood-saturated skin to anything other than reds, yellows, browns, and blacks. If the OP is allowing scales (something outside the physiology of skin) then why did you ding me for asking for a clarification? $\endgroup$ – JBH Apr 21 at 18:39
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH his question is clear to me: "by changing only skin". So taking the skin of another creature is allowed. I used cuttlefish first because they dont use scales. And I hope I'm wrong but please dont downvote or similar because you might disagree with something else I said. We have to try to come up with as good an answer for OP and anyone else with similar questions, not debate amongst eachother like the Hypocrite I am $\endgroup$ – Demigan Apr 21 at 18:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Demigan How do you expect me to react to your claim that you understand the question? Scales are not the "skin of another creature." They are not skin. This is an excellent example of not caring that the OP's question can and should be improved. The Help Center states that you should only answer well-asked questions. $\endgroup$ – JBH Apr 21 at 18:49
  • $\begingroup$ So I thought I'd start with their most visually obvious difference from normal humans: their skin color. This is not an answer. $\endgroup$ – JBH Apr 21 at 18:52
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH I dont see the problem. You only thought he talked about human skin, while the question asks for a biological possibility for an exotic range of colirs for skin. Honest mistake, move on. Magic is only the catalist, not the cause. And if every question here was well researched the site would have less than 10% of its questions left. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Apr 21 at 18:52

In reference to human pigmentation, this question is going to boil down to how far you want to push the concept of "doable in a human". Human skin has a main tone which is derived from melanin. This gives us various shades of tan, but we also have undertones which include blue, green, red, and yellow based on nationality. If you were to push the intensity of undertones, you could achieve any one of these colors. You could also pair them with melanin to achieve some interesting dark-skin colors such as cobalt-blue, hunter-green, brick-red, or umber. You could also push into extreme lightness or darkness that is seldom seen in people, but theoretically doable.

If you want to go a bit further than that, you can look at it from the perspective of deactivated genes. Most of the traits of our ancestors going all the way back to before the age of mammals are still in our genome, they just don't express (like remarked computer code). For example, humans carry the genes for tiger like stripes that could be reactivated. Depending on what you consider "plausible", you could reactivate traits from any of our direct descendants, but our ancestry split off pretty early from other invertebrates; so, we probably don't carry genes for iridescence or some of the other cool stuff you see in nature (see image below.)

That said, if magic is doing this, then the question may just be about what our biology can support, and not what it does support. For this we need to look at biology as a whole: pretty much every color on the CYMK spectrum is doable as is evidenced by birds and insects. Many plants have pigment variations in the IR and UV spectrums for races that can perceive that; so, that is not out of the question either. Naturally glowing skin is also fine thanks to bioluminescence, and some level of specularity & iridescence is achievable too as can be seen in mother of pearl, chitin, and feathers. The texture of skin is not good for specularity, but our hair and nails could probably be made to look almost metallic

evolution of man

  • $\begingroup$ So I thought I'd start with their most visually obvious difference from normal humans: their skin color. this is not an answer. $\endgroup$ – JBH Apr 21 at 18:52
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    $\begingroup$ Can you explain to me why this is not an answer? The first generation of any magical race was transformed by magic, so any color is possible. The second generation has a magic-free youth, so only stuff which can be inheritable is valid. The answer fits the question perfectly... $\endgroup$ – Carl Dombrowski Apr 21 at 19:00
  • $\begingroup$ @CarlDombrowski, this is not an answer because the OP has not yet clarified whether or not skin color is restricted to human physiology and restricted to the physiology of skin. Telling the OP that (e.g.) purple is legitimate because it's available on birds (feathers) and insects (exoskeletons) fails the mandate as apparently (but not definitely) stated in the question. This is the risk you take when you don't wait for the OP to clarify their question. $\endgroup$ – JBH Apr 21 at 22:47
  • $\begingroup$ Some of the more spectacular colors of birds & insects are structural en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Structural_coloration rather than due to pigments, and I think they'd be difficult if not impossible to implement in human skin. Otherwise, pretty much any color should be possible: just do some genetic engineering on melanin-producing cells to get them to express a different pigment. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 22 at 5:03
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH, you bring up a good point to question "human". Questions about Human + Magic are by definition a lot less specific than Human + Science; so, rather than trying to drill down into the exact context of what the OP means by this, I've adjusted my answer to account for a spectrum of possibilities depending on the limits of his magic system. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Apr 22 at 15:24

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