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I am designing my own fantasy world. In it, I am trying to tie various aspects of the world, such as water, fire, life... to a particular race that has a magical affinity for that aspect. Dwarves for earth, elves for life, etc.. I am struggling with what race to use for water.

I would like to use a fantasy race that modern readers would recognize. While this means the race will have been used before, the race should not exist in a single, copyrighted IP as that could have legal issues. If there is no preexisting race, I will invent my own.

The race must not be solely aquatic and must be able to naturally travel over land even if it makes them uncomfortable. The civilization is responsible for water based trade on the oceans and rivers of the world which rules out mermaids. Additionally, an over aggressive culture that only fights with land based ones wouldn't work. I imagine them using boats to transfer goods among the other races and living in a Venice like city. Very mercantile city with lots of water, canals, and fountains all over. Their water powers allow them to manipulate currents to travel quickly, even with no wind. They need to be cunning enough to maintain their monopoly over trade and dedicated enough to prevent any of their race from contracting out to any other as a pilot, and negating their advantage.

Let me know what race could work in this role. If there aren't any you can think of, trait suggestions for inventing a new race are appreciated.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by a CVn, DonyorM, Monica Cellio, trichoplax, Liath Oct 2 '14 at 6:37

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ If all else fails, you could just make your humans more-than-average water affine. $\endgroup$ – Martin Ender Sep 30 '14 at 22:48
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    $\begingroup$ This sounds like a job for Aquaman. In all seriousness: Lizard people (Age of Wonders does this.) $\endgroup$ – Wrzlprmft Oct 1 '14 at 7:57
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    $\begingroup$ This question sounds rather a lot opinion-based to me, but could also be too broad. "What race could work in this role?" appears to open the floodgates (no pun intended) to listing almost every race that has occured in fiction which might fit the criteria, with little on which to judge an answer in order to vote. Two of the existing answers are also effectively list answers. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Oct 1 '14 at 11:07
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    $\begingroup$ As worded I have to agree there seem to be countless (well ok you could probably count them all) options here from all the various fictional universes out there. The "Must be able to walk on land" inclusion is good, if you could add more requirements like that it would help narrow the focus and make the question more legitimately answerable. $\endgroup$ – James Oct 1 '14 at 18:23
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    $\begingroup$ I have put a question on meta about putting this On Hold until we get more details that can allow us to potentially suggest a definitive “best” solution, or at least narrow things down. I agree with @James that the “must walk on land” bit is good, but we need more or there are just way too many potential options and no way to say any are better than any others. $\endgroup$ – KRyan Oct 1 '14 at 21:37
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Nereid are an obvious choice.

Kelpie might be an interesting twist

Or you could mix it up with some Weresharks

Undine are an option

And of course Sirens have strong links to the sea

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  • $\begingroup$ The Land Shark is considered the cleverest of all sharks. Unlike the Great White shark, which tends to inhabit the waters and harbors of recreational beach areas, the Land Shark may strike at any place, any time. It is capable of disguising its voice, and generally preys on young, single women. $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Feb 19 '15 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ (knock, knock) Candygram $\endgroup$ – Xavon_Wrentaile Apr 25 '16 at 2:04
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The way I see it, you have three primary options (with each one subdivided into lots of smaller options, because the great thing about mythology is that there's so much of it):

1) Physiological hybrids a la centaurs. You have specifically stated you don't want mermaids, but mermaids are traditionally part fish. You could just as easily posit a hybrid with an animal that isn't purely aquatic. From here on in, the sky's the limit. It all depends on how humanoid-seeming you want them to be. Find a marine biology blog and browse until you find something so cool you simply can't pass it up. Alternatively, look around Deviant Art; lots of artists there are fond of reinterpreting mermaids with other animals.

2) Shapeshifters with or without an external skin object. This is your basic selkie, who appears entirely human on land, but is able to transform entirely into the body of a seal, typically by wearing a sealskin coat. Then you have your ordinary weres, which have long been expanded from the usual wolf to pretty much any animal under the sun. This gives you an advantage in that they can engage in any activity that humans can, with no need at all to explain how they're capable of it.

3) Elemental spirits made of, or with an affinity to, fresh or salt water. Grecian nymphs come in approximately a zillion flavors, including every type of body of water. Oceanids for oceans, limnades for lakes, more generally they can be called naiads or hydriades. Other cultures have other types of water spirits, Lamia and Melusine both come to mind, and undines have already been mentioned. Once again you have a choice of how humanoid you want them to seem. The main disadvantage is that water spirits are much more metaphysical, and if you want your nation of water-dwellers to feel real and physical, more like a species than a mythical creature, that might turn you off.

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Naga are sometimes used as such a race. There's variety in how they're implemented:

The original hinduistic Naga

The dungeon crawl stone soup version

the world of warcraft version

There's also mer-people or mer-men or merfolk as they're sometimes referred to:

from harry potter

from dungeon crawl

And even some other varieties with less overt affinity for the water:

an invitation for downvotes

more from star wars

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    $\begingroup$ Argh! Downvote! Downvote! $\endgroup$ – Tim B Sep 30 '14 at 23:07
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    $\begingroup$ Actually merfolk are excluded in the question as he doesn't want primarily aquatic - although I guess if they were able to reform their tail into legs and back again they would work. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Sep 30 '14 at 23:08
  • $\begingroup$ @TimB um downvote because it's mostly links? Should I elaborate on all these? The question is quite broad. $\endgroup$ – mechalynx Sep 30 '14 at 23:10
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    $\begingroup$ I didn't actually downvote, I upvoted ;) I was responding to your invitation for downvotes. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Sep 30 '14 at 23:17
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    $\begingroup$ Although actually as was just pointed out in the chat really this answer as it stands fails the "link only" test. If you remove the markup the answer becomes meaningless - you can't search for "an invitation for downvotes" and find a suitable creature. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Sep 30 '14 at 23:26
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A few additional ones: Many of these are not as well known so you are free to do things with them. I really like the idea of focusing on Menehune with Altantean elemeents

Atlanteans - (or Brasil Islanders which is simular but more Irish)

Clurichaun - (would be funny... powerful leprechauns who are always drunk)

Menehune - (Hawaiian mythology - dwarfs who lived on those islands who ate fish, rode in canoes, etc)

Naiad, Nereid, Neck/Nix, Oceanid, Xana- (types of water nymph/spirits)

Selkie - (shapeshifting seal people)

Tritons - (largely like mermaids but have been reshown to walk on land (such as in board game Small World))

For others you could want partially humanoid races. I cannot find any good examples, but it seems like a swamp dwelling people would also work well but there are not many. You may also succeed in using pirates, sailors, fishermen, islanders, or river boat dwellering nomads who are other wise normal humans.

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