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For one of the novels I am writing, I want to create a race based off of the Chinese Zodiac. However, I don't know exactly where to start with creating said race, so I was curious to see if there was any tried and true way to go about creating a new race.

Clarifications:

  • What I mean by "create a new race" is that I want to develop, from a narrative perspective, the entire existence of this race: their society, their biology, their history, everything.
  • As for what kind of race, I was thinking more of a Demi-Human. They would appear to be fairly human, but possessing animalistic traits (ex. animal ears, tails, scales, etc.).
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  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean new race? Is this sci-fi? fantasy? On Earth? In a different world? What you've said isn't really enough to help with. $\endgroup$ – Durakken Sep 19 '16 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Durakken The race itself is irrelevant to the question; Cyberson wants to know about how to create a race (any race). $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Sep 19 '16 at 18:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre It's very relevant to the question because we don't know if he means creatively create or in-universe create. They have very different answers... and if it's the former then those questions are part of what you need to answer and if it's the latter those are important as to how one would go about making a race. $\endgroup$ – Durakken Sep 19 '16 at 18:12
  • $\begingroup$ It might help to clarify what you mean by "race". Is the race some sub-type of humans? Are they aliens? Are they magical? Did they evolve or were they created? Are they robotic or virtual or from another dimension with different physical laws? Whichever category they belong to is going to result in very different starting points and ideas about what is plausible in figuring out how they work and how they came to be. $\endgroup$ – Mike Nichols Sep 19 '16 at 18:40
  • $\begingroup$ By "new" do you mean that there are other races? Or is it the only one around? There would be some pitfalls in getting several intelligent species to co-evolve. $\endgroup$ – Daerdemandt Sep 21 '16 at 23:57
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I'll take a few liberties with this question, namely:

  • For the purposes of this question "race" will include species.
  • I will not go into the detail of working the Chinese Zodiac.
  • I'll assume we are talking about creatures that you may confuse with animals.
  • I'll base my approach in engineering.

I'm not an expert, this is not a treaty. Consider other points of view aside from what I present here.

What I provide below could work as a framework to attach all sort of details about your race. Yet, you shouldn't be required, so, I'll be using the mark "[⌥]" hints, skippables, and optional developments.


Cosmic requirements

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe. -- Carl Sagan

Go watch (or read, or listen in audiobook) Cosmos. Yes, the Neil deGrasse Tyson version is ok. But listen to Carl Sagan talking about hypothetical creature living in Jupiter. There is no better inspiration.

[⌥] Skip: if your universe and world is just like ours.

Whatever we decide to do with our creature project must be based on the conditions on the universe in which we are working. We should consider if we have tweaked the laws of physics, if we have added any exotic matter or unfamiliar particle, or if we have allowed any form of magic. Also, consider the situation of the world in which you plan to put the creature. Consider if it is a planet that orbits a star, is it a disc-world, a ring-world, a Dyson sphere… whatever. You have the requirement to create a creature that can survive there.

Remember, this is Worldbuilding.


Biological Requirements

Identify all the traits and constraints for the race you want to create. These are two distinct sets of requirements. For example you may start working with a known environment and wonder what kind of creature may live there; in that case you will have more constraint requirements to begin with. On the other hand you may try to create a creature that resembles some description; in that case you have more trait requirements.

The more requirements you have, the harder will be to design a viable live form. A good idea to mitigate this problem is to prioritize your requirements. For example if you start with A) "Humans can mount it, it can fly, and it looks like a horse" you will end up with something different than B) "It looks like a horse, it can fly, and humans can mount it".

As you may notice, the requirements interact with each other. In the example above A may be a giant bird with horse head, while B may be a flying horse that when you try to ride it then it can't fly - or may even die.

[⌥] Hint: Keep the number of requirements at the bare minimun for the race to work in your setting. You don't an extensive list of all requirements. In fact, if you find something missing you can always add it later.

Adding one more requirement will multiply the complexity of the design because you need to consider how that requirement interacts with all the others. So, again, have priorities, and be willing to drop a few in order to make a viable creature.

Another example: if you are making vampires, drinking blood is probably on the top of the list, and then there is the hard stuff that is likely to be drop out such as having no reflections or turning into a bat, and finally at the lowest priority any glitter stuff.

Note: before going into the design, I want to encourage to do research. Search in zoology, mythology, and crypto-zoology, and of course sci-fi and fantasy for things similar to what you want. It will save you time later.


Biological Design

When designing the live form, you need to consider some extra information that you may not be requirements: What is the origin, and what is the environment in which it lives.

For example, you may conclude that the creature you want could only be possible if it is genetically engineered, or requires cybernetic enhancements, or could only evolve in a planet very different from Earth. And that could or not be a requirement.

Of course there are two main kinds of design:

  • Biological evolution: If the creature evolved, you need to justify each of the traits in one of these ways: 1) how does it help the creature survive? 2) Why sexual partners may prefer the feature? 3) What other creatures have similar traits? (In particular if you can find examples of real creatures).

  • Artificial construct: If the creature is artificial then it may depend on the race of the creators for survival. In this case the question to answer about the traits is why do the creators opt for this trait? (Answer could be practical, but could also be economical).

[⌥] Optional: With evolution, if you want to explain how the traits developed (to invent fosil records or stuff like that) you need to consider that any trait you add must have some use in its minimal form. If you like "it is a frog that by mutation had tiny wings" those tiny wings would have to have some benefit for the frog because otherwise evelution would very likely select it out.


Of course, that's a daunting task, below I present an approach to construct a creature from the ground up.

[⌥] Hint: how strict you are on this is bound to the target sci-fi hardness you want. As per convincing the audience, propinquity and repetition helps to make people think that something is normal. In particular if they know the stuff from other fictional work. A shortcut may be to have your characters react as if it were normal. Contrast with making a monster.

Steps:

  1. Decide: What is the medium in which it thrives? What substances are common? How strong gravity? What is the temperature there? What is the medium pressure? What traits does the creature need to survive there? [⌥] Optional: How strong is magic there (or the force, ki, chi, chakra, cosmos, ether, higgs field or whatever)?

  2. Decide: Does the creature float there, or is stuck to a surface? Note: I'm talking about natural buoyancy, not locomotion.

  3. Decide: How big is the creature? How does the body support itself? a skeleton, an exoskeleton, a system of fluid-filled bladders...?

  4. Decide: How does the creature resist or take advange of the conditions of that enviroment? [⌥] Hint: rough stokes, no need for details.

  5. Describe the body structure as a tree (starting from the part that has the heart, also starting form the part that has the brain, and from the part that has any other organ that needs to reach the whole body, if any). Does it have bilateral symmetry, radial symmetry, other? Are there counterparts in real life? [⌥] Shortcut: describe it like a known animal, perhaps point a few differences.

  6. Solve its locomotion. Does it walk, run, gallop, trot, swim, fly, float, glide, soar, jump, attaches to another creature, teleport...? What are the requirements for that locomotion to work in the environment you did choose? [⌥] Shortcut: if the description is close to a known species, and there are no major enviromental or mass changes, you can probably handwave this.

Note: consider also other weird stuff like split body, and multiple hearts, etc. Any unique trait, make sure to make note of it.


Up to here you have a viable creature, but we want a race. Remember the genetic imperative, live is about three things: Feeding, Reproducing, and Not-Dying.

  1. Solve the nutrition. How does the creatures get nutrients? From what or where do they get the nutrients? Do they even need nutrients? [⌥] Hint: they probably do. Also, you are not required to describe a food chain (e.g. "they eat fish" is ok).

  2. Solve the reproduction. Do they reproduce? Is it asexual? If it is sexual, how does the biological sex determination works? Is there any sex differentiation? [⌥] Optional: How do the individuals find partners? What kind of care is given to the offspring? Does the offspring kill and eat the parents? [⌥] Hint: there is no need to come up with unique scheme for sex determination, just say it is chromosomes.

  3. Solve the defense mechanisms. How do they defend tehmselves from predators (if any)? How do they fight? What may the creature do to appear more threatening? [⌥] Hint: rough stokes, no need for details.

  4. [⌥] Optional: Decide how different are the individuals of the race, do they all look pretty much the same? are there distintive (sub)races? is it all crazy like dog breeds?


You did all that? Good. Go over the list again; make sure it is all consistent. Once you are done, you have a race.

Hooray!

Their society, their biology, their history, everything.

O,.,O

This question is too broad, and primary opinion based, and has a bounty - at the time of writing.


Cultural Design

First off, a suggestion: go study history of science. Not big history, not universal history, not the history of your country. Instead, study the history of the scientific discoveries and the technological advances of human kind. It is technology what shapes economy and behavior, and so, it is technology what ultimately can change culture – technology and the "natural" death of the people with outdates ideas, but technology nonetheless. Yes, Cosmos again.

Your cultural design starts with means of communication. Do they use sounds, signs, telepathy, something else? [⌥] Optional: This is also where you want to start if you need to create a language, a naming scheme, family names, etc. You don’t need to develop a complex language to move on, but if you can specify grammar and vocabulary it will add a huge depth and realism to your culture.

Once you have some basic idea of communication, you need to move to technology. Think about what resources do they have, what kind of tools they could make, what kind of environmental challenges they have that could be better addressed with technology. This will give you their technological focus and also a rough idea of where to put manual labor. [⌥] Optional: Again, you don’t need to develop a full technology tree, doing so is daunting itself (I have tried) but any approach to the technological ages you can describe will add even more depth your culture.

Note: you may want to dedicate some time to developing the world, because that will tell you about geographical features, resource deposits, and the habitat of other life forms with which your culture may interact with (for hunting, taming, domestication, etc.)

Next up, is economy. This is bound to resource abundance and scarcity; and also to the needs of the creatures. Once the population is large enough, the production of the vital resources will have technological improvements that allow a distinct group of individual to provide the whole population, but why would they? Are they forced? Do they trade? Is there even private property? Do they a have common consciousness?

That gives the firsts strokes of social classes in your society.

[⌥] Optional: If you want to go deeper into the social structure, try to imagine how this kind of things could work there (if at all) – no particular order:

  • Government
  • Army
  • Crime
  • Market
  • Landowners
  • Industry
  • Trash
  • Transportation
  • Media
  • Banks
  • Religion
  • Art
  • Sport
  • Education
  • Tools
  • Services
  • Truism
  • Entertainment
  • Workers
  • Agriculture
  • Mining
  • Farming
  • Cattle
  • Hunting
  • Housing
  • Healthcare

Historical Design

You may have decided how the society is on the current stage, but you are yet to say how it got there. To fill the gaps, you need the other approaches of history: Great Man Theory, and It-is-a-bunch-of-battles Theory.

Consider the different stages of technological development, for each one: What are the social problems in that technological period? Are there any internal or external conflicts? Who solved this? Who are the great generals/scientists/inventors/artists/engineers/merchants that moved history along to solve those social issues and to reach the next technological period?

[⌥] Hint: No, you don’t need to write about how they met or anything like that. All you want is a timeline, a series of events, that then you could explore in detail if needed.

[⌥] Optional: you may take that map of the region where your culture develops and start plotting how far it expands per technological period. This also helps to find how they contact other civilizations or discover new resources.

[⌥] Hint: Having problem with some part of history? Create an RPG campaign! Or ask for help online or whatever, not like we have a site on worldbuilding.


Everything else design

[⌥] Everything else is optional: You can explore the mysterious parts of their psyche: how diverse are their personalities? what are the moral values of the society? what do they consider wrong? do they dream? of electric sheeps? What do they consider beauty? What activities do they do for social bonding? Do they have a sense of humor? Can they catch metaphors that may attempt to fly over their heads?

[⌥] Hint: I guess what is left are the artistic expressions, fashion trends, and similar. You can always approach these as the development of your work needs them.

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  • $\begingroup$ Very nice answer. I don't think we have crossed paths so, welcome to the site. If you get bored come visit us in Worldbuilding Chat $\endgroup$ – James Sep 22 '16 at 13:28
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    $\begingroup$ "This paper, by its very length, defends itself from ever being read" $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Sep 27 '16 at 19:02
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When it comes to design and process questions I will often recommend utilizing the tools created and available with Dungeons and Dragons.

In this instance it doesn't particularly matter if you are creating a monstrous race, an animal race, a humanoid race or some hybrid.


1. Animal, Monster, Humanoid or Hybrid

This is pretty strait forward. You have to have a design in mind, or you can go the other direction and have a niche, role etc in mind. Maybe it is something like "is able to successfully hunt humans." The role can define how the race is designed

2. General attributes.

In the DnD world this equates to; Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma

Each creature/humanoid monster is score on a scale of 1 to 20 (with exceptions). 10 is average and the creature incurs no benefits or penalties, the higher, the better the bonus, the lower the number the more of a problem.

As an example, an animal, lets say a panther would look something like this (mind you I don't have my monster manual in front of me so I am making this up).

Str: 12 Dex: 16 Con: 10 Int: 4 Wis: 8 Cha: 6

3. Now that you have your basic attributes you can start considering body design. More strength = more muscle mass, more dexterity, longer limbs perhaps, constitution more...bear like.

Keep in mind the first three attributes are physical and the last three are mental.

One good trick on this stage is to look at an existing creature that is known for certain things. Bears are really really tough so it can give you an idea of what a character with a really strong constitution looks like. Same goes for Str and Dex.

Try to avoid cobbling pieces together too much, alien life forms can get weird and make people wonder how natural selection could ever have selected for something like it...

4. Skills

Skills are simply what your race is known for being good at. Maybe they are super stealthy, athletic, magicians, etc etc etc, the list goes on and on in this case.

5. Environment

This isn't so much a step as something you need to keep in mind throughout. The environment these creatures (with the exception of magically created or portal-ed things) live in will have defined how they look. You are not going to have a stealthy purple and red striped cat that lives in a brown environment...it would be seen by prey a mile away...then it would starve to death and die.

Just remember to keep the world in which the creature exists in mind while you are designing it or you may get to the end and think...this makes no sense.

Other notes:

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    $\begingroup$ +1. The whole idea of entity-attribute relations can be applied to many aspects of worldbuilding and is a great way of keeping track of your design decisions. $\endgroup$ – Kys Sep 19 '16 at 19:44
  • $\begingroup$ I mention you in my answer because this is gold. $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Sep 20 '16 at 3:43
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There are many amazing answers here. I love Theraots and TrEs-2b's answers. Honestly, both of them deserve the bounty and many many +1s in my opinion.

There are also many nice texts on the different approaches (top down, bottom up) here. Read them, they are helpful.

Then why write another answer? I want to show another possible way of race building, that also works, but takes a totally different approach. The main "problem" with the above mentioned methods is, that i can easily write a hundred pages about the new race. I can develop a rich culture, a physiological description down to cell level, i can outline 10k years of history. I can have... fun world building. And mind me, i DO have papers that long on my computer.

But what if i don't like to spent that much time? What if the race will only play a minor role in my book / roleplaying game / whatever (i will assume it's a story for now)? And i still want a world that satisfies me, my readers, and doesn't violate common sense with their sheer existance?

Well, there is a way i call "human cloning". It works quite well, does not lead to spectacular results, but is fast and easy, and requires only a minimum of description to the reader. This holds especially true if your race is demihuman, like the OP suggested.

Start with a human

You start with your average human.

Physiology

Now you apply all the physical changes that you want to your race. Fox tail, fox ears, canines, cute whiskers. There you are. Write a small paragraph of text to fix those changes somewhere, so your descriptions stay consistant. Remember, you'll probably describe your foxians as "like humans, but with tails and ears of a fox" anyway. So why go into much more detail, if it will not be relevant to your story?

Evolution

Stop and think about how your foxians evolved. When in doubt, they evolved like humans. Think of roughly three points where your race evolved differently. Maybe foxians lived in dense jungles and forests, requiring sensitive hearing (because line of sight is very short), and their tail helped them trail across branches and through brush? Maybe they used to primarily hunt some small prey animal?

Culture

Start off with a human culture. For the foxians, i think a native american culture would suit them. Just transfer it more or less 1:1. Avoid NAMES, but transfer the concept. use stereotypes heavily. So our foxians believe in nature spirits, live in tents, like to dance and make music, and have a largely peaceful culture. They are governed by a chief and a shafox (shaMAN, get it?). Now find roughly three things that you want to change. Ideally, they are based on differences in evolution and physiology. My Foxians do not fight wars. Instead, they battle each other in teams of 5 making music. Who makes the most beautiful, haunting melody, who writes and sings the best verses wins a confrontation, because their spirit is so strong, so blessed by the gods that they must be right. This is because their sense of hearing is so delicate, and the people soon learned that in order to survive with 11 other sapient species on the planet, you cant afford to be a threat, or kill each other, when so many enemies are around. Also, my foxians keep a huge stack of guinea pig-like creatures, that they feast upon. This thing was their primary prey during their primitve days, and they still love it.

History

If you even need to care about their history, make it vastly uninteresting. They developed, settled, boom, they are here. Now think of three events that impacted them. For example, the first might be a big disease that infected all foxians, and is generally considered the scorn of the spirits for killing each other, as it occured right after their first real war. Since that day, they do no longer go to war, but sing instead of fighting. The second event was a great fire (caused by a meteor impact), that chased them from the forest into the plains, where they live ever since.

Language

Spent a few seconds trying to find out how their language is. Easy to learn? Who can pronounce it? Who cannot? Does it feature strange grammatical constructs? How would a sentence sound? Spent some time thinking here, since the most likely interaction in your novel is a character talking to them. So this is where we need to put some more work. Will the hero learn about their culture? Probably not more than what you already worked out, or your reader will die of boredom. But will he talk to them? Sure. And this is where misunderstandings happen, this is where you can distinguish your species. Think of 5-10 phrases that are typical for a foxian. "The spirits beware" "If you say that one more time, i shall challenge you to the circle" (of music, but does the hero know that?) "May your tail stay fluffy" (may you not get it dirty and wet from bad weather) ...

Most obvious differences

After you are done, think about three things that will make it apparent where the differences between your foxians and humans are. Music instead of fighting, very spiritual and they will murder for a fresh guinea pig steak.

And you are done. You should now have created a minor race, with enough background to provide immersion. maybe this is just a start for you, a rough raft to go into a full world-building session. Maybe you want to flesh out all races first, so you have a clear picture in mind when designing the others... do whatever you want, and may your tail stay fluffy.

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  • $\begingroup$ +1 - I'll be editing my answer to make it easier not to overdo. $\endgroup$ – Theraot Sep 22 '16 at 8:54
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As with most things in worldbuilding, there are two general paths for creating something new.

From the Ground Up

In this model, you start from scratch and work forward. You can pick a creature somewhere in Earth's history for a basis. Observe its environment, and make minor changes to mimic the evolutionary process. Repeat until you have the creature you want. Keep a record of the changes you make, as this is likely to impact the general attitudes and behaviors of the species as a whole: aggression levels, attention span, community interest, etc. These, in turn, will help define the general aspects of the creature's societies and cultures.

Work Backwards

In this model, you start with the finished product and ask yourself "How did this come to be like this?" You then work backwards as far as necessary to satisfy your purpose. With each step backwards, you ask yourself the same question. In this way, you can create the same record of changes I mentioned above and can take the same actions regarding that record for the modern species.

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The term "race" is loosely used to describe a sapient life form with a similar degree of intelligence and awareness as that of a human. Generally a new race will have shared traits and will be aware of its self and its environment. The way your race interacts with its environment will influence the local culture and how they will use the environments resources to better their standard of living and how they interact together in a social capacity.

Race Name(s)

You may have a few different names for your race such as a scientific name and common name. The scientific name may be developed from a constructed language or may have been given to the race from a scientific observer or explorer from another world such as Earth. An Earth explorer might provide an alien race with a name in Latin similar to the way we name new fauna and flora species.

Classification - Created or Evolved?

One of the first questions to consider when creating a new race, is how did it come about? Was it created through intelligent design by a creature with greater knowledge such as a God or scientist or did it evolve from another species? When using the former, the sky is the limit, but the latter employs limitations that help with realism.

Personality Traits

Shared personality traits of a race are usually generalizations. Personality traits could develop as result of environmental factors or through genetics. If your race is separated into distinct groups geographically, this may result in clans or tribes having different personality traits depending on experience, interaction with local ecosystems and other environmental influences. For example, human can be described as exploring, emotional, greedy and ambitious.

Physical Description

This characteristic is often best visualized through graphic art but not all writers can draw, you might be a spoon like me who cannot draw living things. The written physical description you provide for your race should include the shared characteristics between all clans or tribes no matter the location. If your race is subject to a varied physical form depending on genetics or environmental factors, you may want to create a list of the different physical attributes and the reasons. Considering common clothing may help defines the races culture.

Clans / Tribes

Clans and tribes are usually differentiated by location. Each location will have different environmental factors that could trigger inter-racial differences: physical, emotional and intelligent. Consider how your clans and tribes communicate, have there been any racial customs that may have been adopted by other clans of the same race through marriage, trade relations or invasion? What are the cultural or physical differences between each clan or tribe? Consider the human race, which can be divided in the sub races of Negro, Caucasian, Oriental, Australoid and Aboriginal.

Relations

What relationships does your race have with other sapient lifeforms that may exist on your fantasy world? How has this effected your race's society? How does your race interact with each other? Are there any social customs that are worthy of noting?

History

The history of your race may begin prior to the your fantasy world if the race has migrated from another world or it may have begun many billions of years after your world came into existence. When you first begin fleshing out this section of your template, jotting ideas down in bullet points is good start. You can later develop these ideas as part of your world building or story. While not necessary, this will help the feel of the race.

Race Lands

If you race has migrated across your fantasy world, consider showing the origins of your race on your world map You may want to include the path(s) of migration as well as the current civilizations. If designing a evolved creature, this will also help realism and if designing a created creature, this will determine their holy land.

Religion

What are the core beliefs and values of your race? Are there divisions in your race based on religion or is the racial culture unified in its belief on origin and spirituality? Does your race worship a single Deity? Religion can have a large effect on social relations, technological advancement and social values and norms, as well as shared personality traits.

Languages

If your race is the only sapient race upon your fantasy world and it is divided into clans or tribes in different geographic regions it may have quite a diverse linguistic culture. In fantasy settings and especially in role-play games a common language shared by multiple races who co-exist together is a common characteristic. Each race may still has its own language and characters are often able to speak more than one language depending on their experience.

Common First Names

If you have constructed a Conlang for your race, you might draw common first names and surnames from its dictionary especially names that pertain to fauna and flora which could be adopted for characters. Your races religion(s) can also provide a source for first names as too can the history of your fantasy world. Popular first names may change over the course of time. Using a first name in a repetitive fashion for characters of a certain generation would mirror the use of first names in our own human culture however, it may make the story harder to convey and your readers might get confused.

Common Family Names

The origin of family names in our own societies are often derived from a position or role that a family may have within a community. The surname "Wells" for instance is thought to have been provided to families who were well diggers by trade. Surnames are not necessarily required in small populations but as a population grows it may become a requirement so that people can be told part. Sometimes a surname may also originate from the description of where a person hailed from, for instance, Alex Von Appleston might have been used to describe Alex who came from the small hamlet name Appleston.

Race Speed / Physical Strengths

If your story or geofiction contains combat or use of physical strength then it is important to keep a note of your race's limitations. How fast can they move / run? How high can they jump? How much weight can they lift? You may want to include two sets of figures, one for averages and the other for extreme abilities.

Level of Advancement

A race could advance to become a super race only if the physical, spiritual and mental capabilities of your race allow it. A race without magical powers may find it difficult to advance in experience or better themselves if the world around them required the use of magical abilities. The degree of racial intelligence are also factors limiting advancement.

Civilizations

What civilizations is your Race responsible for nurturing or helping to build up? What part did the race play in the civilizations creation, growth and demise? Are there any significant cultural advances that your race has helped to create?

Population statistics

Include the population statistics on your map for your fantasy race. The size of the population and ability to socially network with other races can influence the diversity of the culture and sub-cultures of your race. The above template may also be useful for capturing key information for other fantasy races who are not unique to your fantasy world but a variation to the norm. You can be as detailed as you like with the description of each aspect or come back to build upon the characteristics as you develop your story. Once you have fleshed out the characteristics for your race, refer to the race template when designing and writing about your characters.

Optional

Magic Ability and Powers

Not all races require to have magical abilities or powers in a fantasy world. The ability to wield magic may have a positive or negative effect on a race. It can build a race up to become powerful both politically and physically or it can cause a race to become outcast. Keep a detailed list of the magic and power abilities of your race if you decide to include magic and power in your world. Does everyone in the race inherit the same special abilities or are only a selection of powers inherited through genes? Do the number or strength of special abilities increase or decrease with experience and age? You might choose to restrict magic or powers to people who are in a certain profession or who worship a particular deity.

Shamelessly taken from here

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  • $\begingroup$ Most of these seem like cultural attributes, rather than something inherent to a type of creature. Granted, these are commingled in many fantasy and sci-fi settings, but this has generally felt less than believable to me. Humans, for example, range widely across about a dozen of your attributes. For believable races, it's worth remembering that creatures like humans differ widely across a huge range of both physical and cultural characteristics. $\endgroup$ – ckersch Sep 21 '16 at 22:29
  • $\begingroup$ @ckersch almost all famous works of fantasy have culture and species synonymous. $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Sep 21 '16 at 22:33
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    $\begingroup$ Yep, everyone but humans is a monoculture, despite the fact that they've all been around the same length of time, because humans are magical flowers that will inherit the Earth. Tolkien did it, and everyone else copied Tolkien, but it's not realistic. It's one of my peeves with most fantasy writers, actually... $\endgroup$ – ckersch Sep 21 '16 at 23:04
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    $\begingroup$ Even in settings with multiple types of Elves, for example, you have high elves, wood elves and dark elves, and within those bounds there is basically zero variation. Zero cultural mixing, no cultural admixtures, no cultural borrowing, no multiculturalism, etc. If you want to create good, believable, realistic races, don't follow common fantasy tropes. /endrant $\endgroup$ – ckersch Sep 21 '16 at 23:07
  • $\begingroup$ TrEs-2b What you did here is totally legit, and @ckersch what you mention is also true the majority of the time, how much focus and effort you put into differentiation really depends on how much the relevant race impacts the story (in my opinion at least). $\endgroup$ – James Sep 23 '16 at 13:52
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Well, this very much depends on how the races were created. You can use evolution as your guide or make them a created race (magical, perhaps). The main thing is that they have to make sense in your world. How detailed you make them will be up to you.

Things to look at

Environment Where do they come from/thrive and what attributes would they need to survive/flourish.

Anatomy! Consider some awesome sources on this very board!

Please take a look at the anatomically correct series because it will give you a great start as to what people do look at.

Get Specific & Research Go through each of these separately, researching the animal they are derived from (if you are going that route). So for the Rat on the zodiac, you would look at rat behavior, societal structure and you would also look at the zodiac itself for the characteristics of each.

Listen to James For sure, going to be upvoting him, because he's hitting on some tools DMs have used for years whenever they create a race. The stat building he speaks of is a great way to quantify your races.

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I don't think that I can add much to the many detailed and excellent answers above, but I would suggest that if you want to base your created race off the Chinese Zodiac, why not use the legend of the Zodiac as a backstory?

You are probably aware of the story of the race among the zodiac animals that determined their "placing", with Rat at the front, Ox in second place, etc until Pig comes in last? This might reflect an inherent caste structure within the race (or society), perhaps?

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  • $\begingroup$ That is one of the things I had already decided I would do, but other than that I didn't really know where I wanted to go with the overall creating of the race. $\endgroup$ – Cyberson Sep 24 '16 at 1:27

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