🎨 Creative Let's create "realistic" fantasy cat-people

Troy Swain

Registered User
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Parameters: I like my non-human species alien. I like the way Glorantha, Tekumel, and Jorune, handles other 'races,' and likewise, I like fantasy books that basically work like hard sci-fi.

My players and I are world building right now, and one player wants to play a cat person. I warned her that I want them alien. She said ok. So imagine a 'race' of intelligent humanoids that evolved from a lineage of cat.

She wants them tall and thin, like elves (elves do no exist in our world). I want them to be able to run on all fours when needed. We want them to live in Ewok/Wookie villages, but to be the same level of tech as the local humans (which are at early industrial) but using a different tech-tree. We want their tech-tree to be based in growing what they need and shaping it from the land; somewhere closer to Glorantha elves, or industrial-druids. Maybe something like Bas-Lag tech-druids? And they live in basically a fantasy redwood forest.

I wanted their language / names to be based in smell, but my player wants their language to be mainly composed of body language and some vocalization, so they can be understood by humans.

Their senses would evolve from cats. Their dietary habits. Their social structures. Everything.

I think of my domesticated cat and I think, "That would be a weird humanoid."

Anyway, thoughts?
 

Endless Rain

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The most important thing is that they're carnivores. This has an enormous impact on their society, as it means they'd most likely have no agriculture apart from raising animals for meat and growing crops to feed those animals. Since they mainly live in forests, it stands to reason that their main livestock is something that can be most easily fed in a forest environment instead of pasture like most Earth animals. I don't know what animals exist in your world, but if it lives in the forest, is edible, and can be domesticated, the Cat-People certainly farm and eat them.

Growing meat requires a lot of land, much more than growing crops does. If the Cat-People want to be able to feed their entire population, they'll need quadruple the land compared to an omnivorous or herbivorous species with the same amount of people. They'd most likely be extremely expansionist and militaristic, since they need so much land to avoid starving. When the Cat-People conquer new territories, they will hunt every last edible animal in the area into extinction, then use their land-shaping technology to grow more forest to feed their livestock, rendering the area completely unrecognizable as entire ecosystems are replaced by the Cat-People's hyperintensive agroforestry.
 

Lukas Sjöström

Society of Unity scholar
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Pigs can be kept in forests. I'd expect them to eat plenty of pork, as well as different types of fowl. One could make the argument that catfolk would have evolved towards a slightly more omnivorous diet, but I'd still expect them to need more meat than humans. In any case, their cuisine would likely taste bizarre to humans. Cats don't have taste buds for sweetness, so no need for any sweeteners. However, they would have a Jacobson's organ, giving them a sense inbetween smell and taste which would allow them to pick up certain aromas that humans can't sense (the most famous of these is catnip). Food might affect their minds a lot more than for humans.

However, I don't think that they'd actually be competent expansionists and militarists. Being a non-agricultural civilisation, they wouldn't have the manufacturing or population base for large-scale warfare. Instead, I'd be inclined to look at places where settled societies have lived side by side with small-scale horticulturalists and hunter-gatherers. Southeast Asia might be the best example: less agricultural societies inhabit marginal lands that can't easily be controlled by states. The Art of Not Being Governed by James C. Scott describes how these societies have coexisted with states, often actively avoiding incorporation in them (although the book certainly has an anarchist bias, it is still a useful resource even if one does not agree with that viewpoint).

Social organisation would likely be very different compared to that of humans. While wild cats are mostly solitary, feral domestic cats agreggate in colonies, which are still considerably more loosely held together. One of the most prominent differences is that cats don't really collaborate when hunting. Once again, this might have changed with evolution -- it would seem that social organisation would be a big driver for increased intelligence and communication skills. However, since we aim at retaining cat traits, they would not have developed this to the same extent as humans. To humans, then, most catfolk would seem absolutely terrible at cooperating and adjusting to social situations, even among themselves. This trait might be balanced by other cognitive advantages in order not to handicap their development compared to that of humans.

One might wonder whether it's better to use wild or domesticated cats as a model for this species. Based on what I wrote about increased social organisation, I would say that domestic cats are actually a better model in many cases. Here, we can see a parallell with human evolution: humans display neoteny (retaining juvenile behaviours) compared to other primates, just like domestic cats display neoteny compared to wild ones.

Senses would of course be different: apart from the differences in taste discussed above, hearing and smell would be far more acute than those of humans. They would likely be red-green colourblind, which probably affects their art. Language might involve ultrasound noises that can't be heard by humans. They might also be more sensitive to sensory disturbances than humans, both because of their sharper senses and because of their reduced ability to adjust to situations. A cat person would need their environment to be "just right" in order to function at full capacity.

Other traits are really a question of how much of the cat-likeness has been tempered by culture. For example, cats certainly fight for dominance, but so do primates; a lot of human society is built around methods of curtailing or redirecting this behaviour, and I see no reason why catfolk would decide to do things differently (at least the successful societies -- there might have been ones that didn't, but those would have an organisation disadvantage). Maybe duelling is common. And that's not even going into other less savoury behaviours that might have been retained, such as urine-spraying.
 

soltakss

Simon Phipp - RQ Fogey
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They would be fiercely independent. Some might form small family groups that are led by the matriarchs, others would be loners, always on the edge of society. Males might come to the group to find a mate, or might belong to a group.

They would be graceful in movement, with keen senses, especially smell and hearing.

They would use weapons, especially slashing weapons, but have their own sharp teeth and claws.

If you have it in your setting, they would be magical or psionic, as cats are like that.

They may, or may not, have nine lives, so might be hard to kill.
 

Troy Swain

Registered User
Validated User
Would a cat person be able to survive a massive fall?
My vet told me that cat bones are strange, but I can't find anything online, and don't remember the details. Anyone?
Would cats sleep more than us? Cats sleep something like 70% of the full day.
Cats have an extra organ that can allow cats to taste-sense the air. That's what they are doing what they make that weird open-mouth face. How would that effect cat society?
So they can’t taste sweetness. But do they have the other taste buds? Or do they have taste buds we don't have?
Would they purr? I just read that purring is the same frequency at which their muscles and bones repair themselves.
Adult cats only meow to communicate with humans, so I guess they're spoken language would have a version for people?
How high would a cat-person be able to jump?
Would their whiskers be vestigial, or would they still use them to recognize spaces they could fit through?
Cats sweat through their foot pads, does that mean cat-people wouldn't wear shoes?
Would they mark their territory by rubbing on things? How would that be ritualized in civilized society? Did primates do something to mark their territory other than peeing? Did they pee to mark territory?
Cats have scent glands along their tail, forehead, chin, lips, and front of their paws. How would this effect cat society?
 

TheMouse

garmonbozia
Validated User
Feline vision is pretty distinct from our own.

In their favor, they see much better at night than us. So I imagine that they'd invest much, much less in technology to illuminate an area. Cats nap a lot, and they spread their active periods through both the day and night. So their society is likely seem really odd to us, since the middle of the night is nearly as good for them as any given daylight period. You might have businesses that are only open, say, from midnight to 3 in the morning, or the like. That is, much less broken up by day and night than ours.

This incidentally is going to mean that sapient felines won't need nearly enough lamp oil, candle wax, etc. That's likely to have lots of changes on their industry and trade.

At the same time, cats have much worse color vision than we do. Much of our color vision comes from needing to pick out young, tender plants, which just isn't a concern for felines. If you try to represent what cats see to human eyes, you mostly get a bunch of yellow and nearby colors. Which suggests that feline visual art wouldn't rely a lot on color variation beyond light versus dark. And since they can't actually tell the difference between red and yellow for instance, there's likely to be essentially random colors splashed throughout. They're color blind compared to us (just as we're color blind compared to a lot of birds).
 

Troy Swain

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I imagine a lot of their art would be based around smells. I wonder if they would do much with visual art at all.

And what type of music would they listen to? What is it about rhythm and repetition that we find so riveting in sound?
 

g33k

Registered User
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There could be "clans" with different features -- "La Tigra" all stripe-y, "Leoparde" with spots, ruffs for Lynx, manes for (boy) Lyonns; shorthair, longhair; tufted tails, bob tails, fluffy-all-along tails; etc etc etc.

Let me digress a bit from elf-game catgirl-game into (semi) "reality" ...

Other than lion-prides, I don't believe there are ANY (durable) social groups of felines. So that's our only "realistic" model (FWIW): Most males are loners, & temporary small-groups (mostly sibling young-adult) wanderering near the fringes of prides. Females and juveniles form the bulk of the groups. Males in the group (usually 1 or 2) are basically lazy "Heavy Hitters" -- they don't do much, most of the time. They pitch in when something comes at the pride that's a threat to even a lioness-group (another pride, another apex-predator group like hyena's, etc). Prides are nomadic within large ranges (Cherryh's "Chanur" novels have an interesting (sci-fi) version of this, fwiw).

The social evolution of nomadic hunters is, more or less, into nomadic herders. We don't know after that: humans are vegetation-heavy omnivores so we don't KNOW what an "obligate carnivore" would do in the step where humans made cities. As a hypothesis, family-centric "rancherias" might seem likely -- a home surrounded by agricultural land which support the herds/flocks/etc. Intensive ag could support more dense herds... but we're looking at a spiral down

As noted, obligate carnivores need a LOT of territory, to support the higher numbers of animals that they eat. Plant:Herbivore:Carnivore is usually a 10:1 step each time (roughly), so I'd expect a given population to need about a fivefold territorial increase over human needs (putting humans as halfway between herbivores & carnivores). One possible solution would be to make them smaller; maybe hobbit-high (but slender). If the average adult weighs 40lb-50lb, they only need 1/3 the food (and 1/3 the territory) of a 120lb-150lb adult. This would help with them being a heavily-arboreal race -- they can run much further out onto branches, the impact-force from falling (F=ma) is lower, etc.

Or maybe this is all to much "realism" for your fantasy world...?

OK, back into "fantasticalia" --

I'd consider the predatory cat, and your "alternate" tech-tree, and wonder about magically-shaped ANIMALS rather than plants -- bones shaped from birth by magic, hides with magically-evolved properties, etc etc etc; THAT's how they mostly make tools & gear. That might make their magic be something that (mostly) directly affects creatures; not so much the elemental fireballs and lightning-bolts, but direct "Pain beyond bearing" and "Dissolve muscle" and "Warp thighbone into spiral" and such-like.

Much like a mouse being played-with by a cat, people who find they're facing a Mage of this race will experience a very visceral terror...
 

jsnead

Social Justice Dragon
Validated User
Other than lion-prides, I don't believe there are ANY (durable) social groups of felines. So that's our only "realistic" model (FWIW): Most males are loners, & temporary small-groups (mostly sibling young-adult) wanderering near the fringes of prides. Females and juveniles form the bulk of the groups. Males in the group (usually 1 or 2) are basically lazy "Heavy Hitters" -- they don't do much, most of the time. They pitch in when something comes at the pride that's a threat to even a lioness-group (another pride, another apex-predator group like hyena's, etc). Prides are nomadic within large ranges (Cherryh's "Chanur" novels have an interesting (sci-fi) version of this, fwiw).
Wild cats are mostly solitary, domestic cats, including feral domestic cats are not. Here's one discussion about this, there are quite a number of others.

Given that compared to chimps and bonobos, humans seem domesticated (calmer, more inclined to cooperate, lower arousal response...), I think feral domestic cats are a good model. So, you've got a similar flexible hierarchy and small group bonding that early humans possessed, so there's a fair chance their overall social structure will be similar, except that they're obligate carnivores, and as others have pointed out, that means they need considerably more territory to support each individual.

It makes sense to me that civilized cat people would be pastoralists, with a range of domestic animals for food. However, farming (even to produce food for domestic animals) seems less likely, especially since humans evolved for endurance - cats did not. I'd expect less tolerance for and in fact ability to perform long-term physical labor. They'd be as patient and humans, but notably less good at performing physically demanding repetitive tasks. Also, their senses would allow them to perform almost equally well in the day or night, so even if you assume a human equivalent need for sleep, they're more likely to take multiple naps and be equally active at night as during the day.
 

Endless Rain

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However, I don't think that they'd actually be competent expansionists and militarists. Being a non-agricultural civilisation, they wouldn't have the manufacturing or population base for large-scale warfare.
Troy's original post stated that the Cat-People are at the same tech level as human societies in his campaign. This means they would actually have a decent manufacturing base, but they still wouldn't be able to maintain a high population density. Their low numbers wouldn't be much of a threat to densely populated societies, but they'd still be a major threat to rural areas that don't have many people to defend them. This would fit their goals for expanding as well, as they wouldn't particularly care about taking other races' cities and manufacturing centers so long as they get more land to raise livestock.
 
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