How to build your world: Races

I am finally back to my World Builder Series!  I took a long hiatus from it but I think it’s time I breathed life back into this.

Today’s topic is about creating races, whether that’s humans, merfolk, centaurs or talking rocks, you need to come up with different races to populate your world.

If you missed them, check out my earlier articles in theWorld Builder series.

In order to keep this post from being super long, I will be covering some quick basics today.

Now that you’ve created your Landscapes, you need to start populating the world.


Designing a new Race for your world

Firstly, in fantasy, it is pretty normal to have more than one fully self-aware* race of beings living in the world.

Secondly, while that is not necessary and you could model your world off of Earth, where there is predominately just the one fully self-aware race (humans), there are still differences.


What does your new race look like?

There are things you will want to consider when developing the physical appearance of your race.

Recurring look

Does the new race have a recurring appearance that is seen throughout?  When you think of humans, you can see the obvious recurring look.

We are a bipedal, mammalian species.  In general, we are warm blooded, have 2 eyes, 2 arms, no tail, hair on certain parts of our bodies, plantigrade feet etc.

So, for your race(s) consider what the recurring looks are, for example:

Are they hairless?

Do they have black eyes?

Are they digitigrade?

Do they have four arms?

Are they covered in plated scales?

Are they tall?

Do they bear tails or wings or tentacles?

The idea is to first make note of what the recurring looks are for the race.  Remember, this doesn’t mean they all have to be this way.  After all, there will always be some differences that creep in.  Which I discuss, below.

Distinguished differences

These are where there are differences that maybe distinguish one class from another, this could be to physically distinguish things like sex, age, power level etc.

Example:  Maybe your race is mostly heavy-set and furred.  However, the offspring of this race could be born lithe with strange plated scales that offer protection until they mature.  At which time, they grow into their body-type and the plates break off revealing the fur.

This would be considered a distinguishing difference that reveals which ones are offspring and which ones are mature.

Example: In your new race, those born with an innate ability for strength or intelligence or some other specific trait, could be defined by the size of their horns or the strange patterning on their skin or their larger eyes. 


These can be defined as the differences that are not distinguished and could be caused by genetic anomalies, illness etc.

Example: Maybe all your talking rock species have a rough, gritty texture, but the odd rock has a smooth, pebble-feel to their exterior.   Is this an anomaly, caused by an environmental issue?

There can be many reasons for an anomaly to form such as due to diseases,  environment or genetics etc.

If you decide to create some anomalies, consider the reasoning.

Example: Did your water-borne species become affected by a pollutant, that caused a mutation in a specific sex or sub-species of your race?

Additional Appearance

This would be things like clothing, adornments etc.  Does your new  race wear something specific?


It is a good time to remember the land you have put your race into.  What is the climate like?

Clothing can be linked to location.  If you have a mountain people living in the thin air and the cold icy winds, then they would (most likely) dress for that location.  Warm clothes, sturdy boots, etc.

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Areas of the body that are considered vulnerable especially to temperature would be protected.  Is that their eyes? wings? feet?

Of course, if you made your race a large, heavy furred, sure-footed species, then clothing may not be required.


Does the clothing your race wear reflect their hierarchy position? (I’ll be discussing hierarchies in more detail in another post).  Think about the crown of a king or the vestments of a bishop that mark these specific people.

Clothing can represent the job being done such as the chainmail of a soldier, the leather apron of a butcher.

Made and Maintained

How are their clothes made?  How are their maintained?  Does your race wear mostly furs, supplied by the hunters?  Is it mostly wool, made from the fleece of a special breed of creature that they raise?

Does your race leaders purchase nothing but the finest silks from another land?

Do they wear nothing but their skin and the adornments of bone, from the animals they have hunted themselves?  How would other races view this?

The clothing they wear or don’t wear can add multilayers to your race.  It can mark them as something specific within the race itself or to other races from different lands.


Are there genders within your race?

When creating your race you may want to include genders.  If so, consider what sort of specific traits you want to give to the different genders.

What are the different gender types you will include?

What defines these genders?

Are there specific roles connected to the genders you create?

Remember depending on how you create the genders and the roles connected, these might differ between your different races.

Maybe there are no genders, and instead, your race is neutral on the concept of gender.


Does your race have a defining type?

You might decide your race fits a specific type, for example, are they:

Nomads, travelling around rather than having a settled place to live.

Primitives, where maybe their behaviour is more closely related to less self-aware creatures.

Warriors, a race born and bred to defend and protect, or conquer.

Intellects, who view study, conversation and diplomacy as more important than the strength of arms.

These are all over-simplified, basic concepts of different possible types.  After all, much of this depends on perception from another race within your world.

For example, the so-called “Intellects” may consider a “warrior race” to be extremely primitive.  Yet they themselves may be considered “superstitious” by the Nomads.  How your race is seen by others has an impact.

Also, different “types” of races can bring with them different issues.  For example, if your race is a nomadic people, how to their lifestyle affect others if they cross through a land that is settled.  Are they seen as spies? invaders? harbingers of doom?

A quick note about Homogeneous Races

Be careful with the idea of defining a whole race in a very singular way.  Even if your new race prizes strength and fighting ability, there should still be some diversity within them.  Not everyone in the race should be a warrior or strive to be one.

They should not all be so tightly boxed into a specific category.  A race is made up of diversity and different ideas, ideals and identities.

Okay, so maybe your race of talking rocks are mostly settled and happy to remain at the foot of a mountain, screaming at anyone who comes near.

The likelihood is that within that race, some faction would rise up who maybe wanted to chat with random strangers or go rolling down to the beach.

Don’t make all your centaurs warriors, baying for the blood of anyone who comes near or your Fae aloof and cold.

There will always be some within the race who aren’t like that.  And not just the odd one or two either.


More to come

These are the basics to think about when creating a new race, whether they are human, humanoid or something completely different.  Start with looks, remembering to consider where you have them on your world and the climate they live within.

Now, there is a lot that goes into the development of a new race and as I mentioned earlier, I will be breaking down further points such as habitats, economy, religion, behaviours, hierarchies etc in the coming Friday articles.

~ ~ ~

*When I say “self-aware” it is just as a way of defining the difference that separates humans from animals.  I am aware that this is not the best term, since some primates are now showing signs of self-awareness.  But hopefully you knew what I meant 😀

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Happy writing

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Title Image - World Builder Series: How to build your world: Races. Creating a new race for your fantasy world

12 thoughts on “How to build your world: Races

  1. Pingback: 🖋 Writing Links Round Up 12/14 – B. Shaun Smith

  2. Great article, thank you! A good outline of things to consider when creating a race.
    I’m troubled about how to name my races? Currently, in my WIP, sci-fi novel about Space exploration, I have three alien races and only one has a name.

    1. Thanks for your comment, I’m pleased you like my World Building articles. Naming races can be difficult. When I am trying to come up with unusual names for things like animal species or fantasy races, I usually look at movie credits and look at the last names.

      These can then be amended. One of my worlds is called Tarsia. I remember there was a name on a movie credits that was Tarse and I just developed it a little. That’s the little trick I use.

      Good luck

      1. Thank you for the advice! I’m used to considering credits most boring part of the movie, until now 🙂
        I have tried to get inspiration from mythology, and there I recently found a name for another one of those three races I have. I have The Illustrated Book of Myths, Tales and Legends of the World on my shelf, there I found one of Odin’s sons had a name Vidar and I think with little modification it’s a very good name for a warrior race from the somewhat similar environment than Vikings rose from.
        And first of these races came to me entirely in the dream, with name, history and approximate location.

      2. Glad I could help. I think I got used to watching credits, because when I was younger, there were movies where they put comedy info in the credits… like silly comments or even recipes.

        So we all got used to reading credits to see them.

        Using mythology is a good idea, as you say, just tweaking them a bit can give you awesome names!

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      1. Thank you kindly, Chris. (Apologies for the delay, things have been super crazy and I’m so behind on replying to comments).

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