Non-Humans from Mythology and Folklore that could be decent Player Characters

Pax Chi

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So this is going to involve delving into the mythologies and folklore of various cultures, many of whom I have only limited knowledge. Absolutely no disrespect is intended if I get something wrong, and I hope this thread will prove educational for anyone reading it.

A lot of modern RPGs, tabletop and MMO, will often try to spice up the character creation process by giving the players several non-human species to choose from largely taken from Tolkien-style fiction. You get your elves, your dwarves, what have you.

Now, my understanding of Norse mythology is not as good as my Greeco-Roman, but my understanding is that Elves and Dwarves would not actually make good Player Character options. Generally speaking, dwarves and elves were effectively as much gods as the Aesir and Vanir were. They just had their own territories. Likewise the giants were basically a one-on-one match for most gods save for people like Odin, Thor and Tyr. In essence, the elves and dwarves of Norse mythology would be more in keeping with, say, the kind of Fair Folk you see in other pre-Christian Europe. If the Aesir and Vanir are equivalent to the Tuatha Dé Danann of Ireland, then the elves and dwarves are more like the Sidhe, nigh immortal beings with magical powers who humans deal with at their own peril.

Basically, not the kind of folks you could see getting involved in human affairs. If humans were adventuring in mythic Midgar or Ireland, it's unlikely you'll have any elves in the party unless they've shapeshifted into human form and are there to mess with the humans.

Over in mythical Greece, nymphs, satyrs and fauns would be seen as similar to the elves and dwarves, basically being primal / elemental beings usually bound to a certain spot or being a companion to a certain god. However, you also had beings like Satyrs/Fauns and Centaurs who were less 'elemental' and more mortal beings, though frequently antagonistic. But given you had so many different origins for centaurs you wound up with some, like Chiron, who were immortal but gave up said immortality. Chiron was also an example of a heroic centaur, showing that their antagonism might be more cultural than innate. According to Overly Sarcastic Productions there are even stories of Heracles having a group of centaur buddies and traveling companions.

So based off of that, centaurs could potentially make for a good player character species if you were going to set a game in mythic Greece. They're generally mortal, have the potential to get along with the heroes, and any issues they might have could be cultural rather than owing to some inner nature.

The Journey to the West story similarly had non-humans who could theoretically make good traveling companions for human adventurers. Monkey himself is an anthropomorphic animal whose immortality was gained from several sources and not innate (Chinese mythology had immortality and various other powers being an attainable through training or eating the right thing). There are several types of demon that are less "Minions of Fallen Angels seeking to corrupt mankind" and "weird looking beings who can die, reason and form functional family structures". The main adventuring party of Journey to the West is a human monk (of the non Kung Fu variety), an anthropomorphic monkey, and two demons. And technically a dragon that spent most of the adventure shapeshifted into a horse. It was that kind of adventure.

That's sort of what I'm looking for. Based off of mythology and folklore, rather than elves and dwarves, it looks like non-human adventuring companions are more likely to be Centaurs and Chinese Demons of the non-evil variety. The beings must be mortal, must have free will, and could potentially work with humans towards a mutual goal, even forming friendships and romantic relationships.

Feel free to correct any mistakes or assumptions I might have made here. But otherwise, are there any other beings from myth and legend that would fit what I'm looking for?

*EDIT*

I thought I'd edit something in here that I posted later on to hopefully add a bit of clarification. For the purposes of what I'm looking for, the beings in question should correspond to most if not all of the following:

1) The beings are not human. They could be very near human in appearance, but there is something that separates them from normal people.
2) The beings are mortal. Even if they live a long time, they need to eventually grow old and die, and even if they have some extraordinary abilities, they can't have godlike power.
3) The beings have at least some degree of free will. They need to be able to make decisions, interact with people, form their own society, have individual personalities, could potentially make choices based on morality, etc.
4) The beings need to be involved in stories where they do more than a) Be monsters for the heroes to fight, b) Existing primarily to be the source of nifty magical gear, info dumps or powers, c) Be powerful opponents that enjoy messing with mortals for their amusement.
5) The beings need to be somewhat a part of the human world. If they exist so far removed from humanity that you need an epic quest just to reach them, they're probably not a good bet.
 
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Silvercat Moonpaw

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Japan has a lot of stories about animals who gain the power to turn into humans and then shack up with them. Kitsune are the most famous.
 

LordofArcana

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Sorry about not reading your post more carefully earlier.

One problem with Greek mythology is that a lot of the monsters could easily be companions of the heroes if both sides decided they didn't want to kill each other but those beings are mostly unique and thus make bad "races".

In general "protagonist makes a bunch of animal friends and beats the bad guy" seems to be fairly common. They may or may not be anthropomorphic.

The Lion, Tinman, and Scarecrow were all good companions for Dorothy's adventure. Of them, both the Lion and the Scarecrow presumably have others of the same kind. There's nothing really stopping a munchkin from accompanying a human, though none do.
 

pesterfield

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A Wikipedia page on mythical humanoids

Dokkaebi are Korean goblins.
Here's a site about how Korean mythical beings are shown in modern drama, it has a good explanation of the Dokkaebi.

Native American myth might be a place to look, Coyote and creatures like that.
 
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jorganos

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Now, my understanding of Norse mythology is not as good as my Greeco-Roman, but my understanding is that Elves and Dwarves would not actually make good Player Character options. Generally speaking, dwarves and elves were effectively as much gods as the Aesir and Vanir were. They just had their own territories. Likewise the giants were basically a one-on-one match for most gods save for people like Odin, Thor and Tyr. In essence, the elves and dwarves of Norse mythology would be more in keeping with, say, the kind of Fair Folk you see in other pre-Christian Europe. If the Aesir and Vanir are equivalent to the Tuatha Dé Danann of Ireland, then the elves and dwarves are more like the Sidhe, nigh immortal beings with magical powers who humans deal with at their own peril.

Basically, not the kind of folks you could see getting involved in human affairs. If humans were adventuring in mythic Midgar or Ireland, it's unlikely you'll have any elves in the party unless they've shapeshifted into human form and are there to mess with the humans.
What is wrong with humans interacting with these divine level beings on almost equal level? Thjalfi, the human boy who sucked marrow from one of the goats that draw Thor's chariot and who became his servant along with his sister Röskva, is an example for humans to interact with the Aesir on a daily base. And there are human heroes (well, demigods) whose deeds don't have to pale next to the gods.

Another question is why you would play simple mortals in a norse-mythology based rpg if all these other inhabitants of various branches of the world tree are available. Adjust the power level of the campaig so that playing a lowly ranking As or Vana or a middling Jotun becomes feasible. Go into the world of the mortals to earn your worshipers, just like Odin and Thor did before you. Or get them to propitiate you with sacrifice and other good stuff that ups your power.
 

Pax Chi

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What is wrong with humans interacting with these divine level beings on almost equal level?
Nothing. I never said there was. It's just not the question I was asking.

What I am asking for is non-human races that have appeared in mythology and folklore that line up with the typical idea of a "Player Character Fantasy Race" along the lines of D&D Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, etc., since the actual mythological elves and dwarves are generally immortal and somewhat alien beings more in line with Fair Folk tropes and generally wouldn't make for good player character species in the same way.

Your questions are more geared towards specific campaign/adventure design ideas that should probably be their own topic if you want to pursue them.
 

Jürgen Hubert

aka "Herr Doktor Hubert"
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While it's true that dwarves from mythology are powerful, immortal beings, the Erdmänner, -frauen, Unterirdische, etc. from German folklore I have read about so far have no ahilities that couldn't be explained by, say, gnome PC stats and a few class levels.

Nixen, or water spirits, might also qualify for your purpose. And werewolves (and there is one mention of a wereboar) were just people who could transform into a wolf with the aid of a magical fur.
 
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