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Worldbuilding

Taxonomy of life in quasi-magic quasi-science conworlds

Posted Over 14 Years ago by eldin raigmore

[unparsed]Let's start with elementals.

There are more than one system of elements used in antiquity and the middle ages.

In Europe the favorite was the four-element system of "Earth, Water, Air, and Fire".
Frequently they also include a quintessence or fifth element, "Ether".

In Paracelsus's system,

Earth-elementals are called Gnomes;
Water-elementals are called Undines;
Air-elementals are called Sylphs; and
Fire-elementals are caled Salamanders.

I don't know if anyone ever thought of any Ether-elementals.

Anything with any solid parts would have to be part Earth. It might be said that any living organism, or at least anything alive which could move, with any solid parts, might have to be "part Gnome". I don't know if plants should count as part Gnome, since they don't move, or merely as part Earth.

Also, anything which lives in or grows in the Earth or under-ground, could be expected to be "part Gnome".

Likewise anything which has to eat solid food.

Anything with any liquid parts would have to be part Water. If it's alive and can move, (and maybe just if it's alive), it should be "part Undine". So this might include plants with sap, animals with blood, etc.

Also, anything which lives in or grows in the water, could be expected to be "part Undine". So this would include not only marine invertebrates and fish, but also all swimming-and-diving reptiles, mammals, and birds.

Likewise anything which has to drink to live.

So the equivalents of nearly any natural, real-life organism, should be at least part Gnome and at least part Undine.

The more solid the organism is, the more Gnome-like we would expect it to be.

Anything which has to breathe to live, or which "lives in the air", could be expected to be "part Sylph". So this would include all land-animals; all swimming-and-diving reptiles, mammals, and birds; all flying insects; those plants'-seeds which happen to "float on the air"; and so on.

Some animals and plants could be considered to have no Sylph-like nature.

Any warm-blooded animal might be thought to be "part Salamander".

"Ether" is the material of which spirits are composed (in systems in which they are material at all). Ether can penetrate anything else, so any entity composed entirely of either can move through any material barriers. Anything with a soul might be considered part Ether.

This might help BCoE's "...Elves..." thread. I hope.

There are 16 Replies


[unparsed]I'm planning to have something similar to elements, but not the ones you go over. I haven't decided all of them yet. However, on the spiritual level your "taxonomy" is dependent on what gods/goddesses created you species.

Humans I'm thinking were created by Karuun, as were Elves. But Elves were also created by the forest god, Farom. And Humans were co-created by various minor earth and fire deities. Some ocean dwelling cultures of Humans can trace themselves to the ocean god too.

Danpyr were created exclusively by Daneth, who they take their name from. Daneth is Karuun's "twin", so they are actually closely related to Humans on this level.

Mrreprn were created by a major fire god and the goddess of beasts and hunting. The latter is the "sister" of Farom.

Auren were created by four of the five moon gods/goddesses, but they are blessed by the goddess of the largest moon. These deities actually bear no relation to Karuun or Daneth, and were minor deities who were raise to higher positions of power.

Over 14 Years ago
bloodb4roses
 

[unparsed]The two first besouled races, the Düar and the Sheupe, were created by the Tribunal.

From the Sheupe are descended all other besouled races, the Hadar, Iai and Mankind. Mankind was originally a subset of Iai that became another species due to their gods changing them while they were in Norrim. The Hadar were created by the Sheupe, and are halfbreeds of the mortal Iai and the immortal Sheupe. Valernos, the smith of the blade that cut a god, was Hadar.

The Beastfolk, the unbesouled race, were created by a group of rebellious Pacan, which the Tribunal did not like one whit, so they made it that as soon as the besouled races came to the Mortal Lands, the Beastfolk would be the slaves of the besouled races.

Over 14 Years ago
Mr. Saturday
 

[unparsed]Cross-conworldly, is "besouled races" or "thinking kinds" or something like that, a good standard term for the kinds of species (or races or genera or taxons or whatever) our characters come from and belong to?
And would one be "humanoid" if it had a roughly human-like mind and a roughly human-like shape?
Or would a human-like mind and a human-like size be more important?
Or would size and shape both be important?

(I don't think that the size or shape requirements should be too strict; and I don't think color should count at all.)

--------------------------------------------

Naturally the "taxonomy" would vary from one conworld to another. Even if it was based on the elements, it could still differ, because the ancient and medieval real-worlds didn't all have just one system of elements.

The word "human" comes from a pre- or proto- Latin word meaning "earth". In an element-based system that might lead one to assign Humans a "mostly-Earth" provenance.

Another taxonomical base, mentioned by BB4R, is; which god(s) created the "race" in question? To me that's as good as the element-based one, though I don't know how they could both fit into the same conworld.

Over 14 Years ago
chiarizio
 

[unparsed][quote:0f9863ab37="chiarizio"]Cross-conworldly, is "besouled races" or "thinking kinds" or something like that, a good standard term for the kinds of species (or races or genera or taxons or whatever) our characters come from and belong to?
And would one be "humanoid" if it had a roughly human-like mind and a roughly human-like shape?
Or would a human-like mind and a human-like size be more important?
Or would size and shape both be important?[/quote:0f9863ab37]

"Besouled races" is something specific to Saturday's world. Different worlds will have different concepts of [i:0f9863ab37]soul[/i:0f9863ab37] depending on the personal outlook of the creator. For Saturday's world, it's apparently exists literally and is somewhat independent of intelligence -- as far as I understand (he can correct me if I'm wrong), since the Beast Men seem to be somewhat intelligent (they can use language, correct?).

I would go for "intelligent races" or "intelligent species". "Races" can be species in themselves, but it can also be applied in fantasy worlds where the concept of species isn't all that clear or even useful (if humans and elves and dwarves can all interbreed, but have different origins -- "species" doesn't cut it).

Only time I'd say "race" or "species" either one won't cut it would be for intelligent beings that aren't technically "living" as we would understand it. That applies both to artificially intelligent machines and to incorporeal creatures such as bb4r's Vren or my Aeruro.

Over 14 Years ago
Fonori
 

[unparsed]There are three primal things in most races: The soul, the mind, and the body. The soul is what is used to do magic, and is the powering force behind most sentient races. It's what ties them all together, and is basically an infusion of divinity. The mind, however, is a pattern, that gives races sentience. Within it lies language, knowledge, morals, and the very "being" of a person. It is what goes to the afterlife, whereas souls are put in new bodies. The body is simply what is animated, and changed by these two things, for without the two animating forces, they'd just be animals. With just one (mind), they're unable to do magic, but are sentient.

Over 14 Years ago
Mr. Saturday
 

[unparsed][quote:d3f5baa9a3="Fonori"]I would go for "intelligent races" or "intelligent species".[/quote:d3f5baa9a3]

The only thing wrong with "intelligent" is that it is a continuum. How intelligent do you have to be?

I have been using the term loquent species. Loquent coming from latin meaning speak. Basically meaning 'speaking species'. I can't remember where I got the term from: ZBB or perhaps Conlang-L.

Actually, for my conworld Iryal I have several terms for the loquent species: the created, the formed, fay, and volar.

Over 14 Years ago
dragar
 

[unparsed][quote:470398a17a="dragar"][quote:470398a17a="Fonori"]I would go for "intelligent races" or "intelligent species".[/quote:470398a17a]

The only thing wrong with "intelligent" is that it is a continuum. How intelligent do you have to be?

I have been using the term loquent species. Loquent coming from latin meaning speak. Basically meaning 'speaking species'. I can't remember where I got the term from: ZBB or perhaps Conlang-L.

Actually, for my conworld Iryal I have several terms for the loquent species: the created, the formed, fay, and volar.[/quote:470398a17a]

Hmm, that sounds like a good one.

For me, I don't have a specific term -- I usually go with sapient. I don't have terms like this for my own world. The Xala have a term -- [i:470398a17a]xala[/i:470398a17a] itself means "sapient being" or in very technical terms "a being with complex cognitive abilities that is capable of creating, learning, and using language" -- or somewhere thereabouts. I often translate it as "person/people" just for simplicity. And, unfortunately I already borrow [i:470398a17a]xala[/i:470398a17a] as [i:470398a17a]Xala[/i:470398a17a] "a race of sapient (loquent?) beings originating on the moon Jed -- Yeltax: [i:470398a17a]xala Jed[/i:470398a17a] "people of Jed". They have other terms for themselves as well.

Ah, well, not like people would borrow a term from my conlang, anyway. :P

Over 14 Years ago
Fonori
 

[unparsed]Tolkien used "loquent."

EDIT: Hence "quendi" meaning "speaking folk"

Over 14 Years ago
Mr. Saturday
 

[unparsed]I don't know what the general opinion is on DnD here, but their taxonomy is quite nice. Monsters are grouped on their abilities and traits rather than genetic relation. So a goblin and a mermaid are both considered humanoid, angels, demons and djinn are all outsiders,anything really wierd that doesn't come from some other plane of existance are all abberations, like a beholder, or a mindflayer.

It's kinda like how the old greek taxonomers did things. Plants and fungi don't move, so they can't be animals, they must be plants.

Over 14 Years ago
wheelerpm
 

[unparsed][quote:a52824d768="Fonori"]"Races" can be species in themselves, but it can also be applied in fantasy worlds where the concept of species isn't all that clear or even useful (if humans and elves and dwarves can all interbreed, but have different origins -- "species" doesn't cut it).[/quote:a52824d768]

Wow, good analogy. I never thought of it that way before.

For me, "race" is only synonymous with "species" if the species is [i:a52824d768]sapient[/i:a52824d768] or [i:a52824d768]sentient[/i:a52824d768]; when it's not, I don't use it. So "race" implies a species that can not only speak (I.e. use language), it also implies an ability to manipulate the environment, form complex social systems, form and share beliefs, and pass down cultural traditions. Autonomy vs creativity and innate vs learned are good gradient scales to draw from for me.

Over 14 Years ago
Cerne
 

[unparsed][quote:fd818837ab="Fonori"]... That applies both to artificially intelligent machines ...[/quote:fd818837ab]Of which there are a significant population in Reptigan.

[quote:fd818837ab="dragar"]I have been using the term loquent species. Loquent coming from latin meaning speak. Basically meaning 'speaking species'.[/quote:fd818837ab]Adpihi (and therefore Reptigan) use the term "rational", strictly meaning "capable of reason"; but the way they use it is this; something which can learn to use a new language (by "use" is meant they can both utter and understand completely new sentences) is necessarily "rational"; something which cannot use even one language is necessarily "irrational"; and anything else (such as babies of "rational" species) could be in-between, or could need other criteria to settle the issue.
Adpihi (and therefore Reptigan) also distinguish "sentient" from "non-sentient"; a "sentient" entity is capable of sensing stimuli and reacting to them.
They also care about volition; some entities have will -- are capable of intent and desire -- and some don't. However their language actually distinguishes between "inanimate" and two degrees of "animacy". "Animate" entities can move under their own power and control; "inanimate" entities cannot. "Free animate" entities are animate entities that can move themselves from one place to another under their own power and control; "bound animate" entities are "animate", but not "free animate".

So, although they care about reason and will, and their terminology for their genders makes it sound as though they distinguish reason and souls, what that terminology actually distinguishes is language, "irritabililty", and self-controlled movement. They more-or-less assume that whatever can reason can use language, and whatever can learn a new language can reason; and they more-or-less assume whatever can move under its own power and control has a will and/or intentions. Admittedly, these are merely working hypotheses. (Note that pretty much anything "rational" would have to be "sentient" and would almost have to be "animate", though perhaps only "bound animate".)

Over 14 Years ago
eldin raigmore
 

Bump

Over 1 Year ago
chiarizio
 

Speaking of “races”.
When veterinarians, or agricultural breeders, talk about domesticated animals, or at least domesticated farm-animals, they talk about “land races” or “landraces”.
These are the usually artificially-created breeds or subspecies whose existence is owed to the fact that it is easier to breed these animals if the owners don’t have to cross political or geophysical boundaries to find mates for them.
If that’s been going on for many generations of the breeders, it’s probably been going on for several times more generations of the animals, and certain typical features of the “landrace” will have developed and made them recognizable.
Ordinarily the “landrace” of a certain species in a certain country will be the most common breed of that species on the farms or ranches of that country.

3 Months ago
chiarizio
 

I don't know if anyone ever thought of any Ether-elementals.


Iirc, that's what genies/djinns are. This fits in with their ethereal nature as well as their association with spirituality, both of which are prominent in your definition of ether.

Likewise anything which has to eat solid food.


Plato thought that each element had a solid component, that being each of the platonic solids. The world was then composed of those. So I disagree that food has to be earth elemental. The way the food chain works, all food is basically just air and water.

I know this post of yours is 14 years old, but it seems to be the most approachable on a limited time budget. I'll take some time to read through some of your posts in more depth Monday. I think part of the problem with other people responding is how dense the text is -- is there any way I could help? The old gtx0 had latex functionality, so if I rebuilt it here you'd be able to create charts and stuff to explain the really technical parts of your conworld better. Or we could explore more visual online apps, and integrate them here. Let me know what you need.

2 Months ago
Riven
 

@Riven:
Ancient Near Eastern demons were not ethereal.
They had bodies; but the bodies were composed of dust or smoke or mist or flame or air.
They couldn’t pass thru solid walls, but they could get in under the doors or around gaps in the window frames or down chimneys or shit like that.

Arabic creatures like djinn are — or were — originally meant to be creatures composed of fire.
So they weren’t ethereal either.

I don’t know what was ever purely ethereal.

....

As for help; I clearly need it!
I don’t know what kind of help it might be, though.
Your idea of TEX support might be a good one regardless of whether or not it’s perfect for me.

...

As for my posts:
If you limit yourself to the ones specifically addressed to you (sometimes among others), my hope and my bet is that you won’t be overwhelmed.

====

And, btw, thanks!

2 Months ago
chiarizio
 

@Riven:
Your suggestions about ethereals and djinn etc. are perfectly good and useful in conworlding or worldbuilding contexts.

My comment was directed toward how they were thought of in the original myths and legends and such stories.
Those original folk-ideas needn’t be any impediment.

2 Months ago
chiarizio
 

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