Fantasy worlds, especially those based on the World’s Most Popular Roleplaying Game (a.k.a Dungeons & Dragons), can suffer from a bit of “same-ness.” The World of Greyhawk, the Forgotten Realms, Shadow World, Mystara, the Palladium World, Harn, Yrth, Eberron, Krynn, and others all offer the usual suspects when it comes to fantasy races. Sure, there’s an occasional swap-out (the Kender) or exotic choice (Dragonborn), but these are the exception, not the rule. If you want to play an elven archer or a dwarven warrior then you can easily do so in any of these worlds.
Back when I was running a campaign in the Freeport setting a notion struck me. None of the players knew anything about Freeport, a wretched hive of scum and villainy (see where I’m going with this?) and I thought about what would happen if their PCs walked into a tavern and found races straight out of the Star Wars cantina: Wookiee barbarians, Rodian rogues, Duros Clerics, and Bith bards. It would’ve been relatively easy, given the roughly compatible d20 versions of the Star Wars RPG.
While I ultimately didn’t do it, I thought about how interesting and unique, yet familiar, a fantasy setting would be if I replaced the usual fantasy races with Star Wars aliens. Taking the idea a step further, how about a fantasy world based on Babylon 5, where PCs are Human, Minbari, Narn, Centauri, or Drazi? Maybe the Vorlons and the Shadows take the place of angels and demons (or even gods) in the world cosmology.
If we were to keep things a bit more familiar, Star Trek springs to mind, with its Humans, Vulcans (high elves), Romulans (wood elves, or Drow if we aren’t being kind), Klingons (orcs), and Ferengi (gnomes). There’s even room for hybrids. And hey, if you like a little steampunk in your fantasy, then you’ve got the assimilating Borg (steampunk zombies).
The trick is to keep the game world firmly rooted in fantasy trappings while massaging the alien cultures to fit. Maybe you don’t mind having Klingon rangers carrying bat’leths, but they certainly wouldn’t have disruptor pistols. In the Babylon 5 universe, the Narn had no telepaths. Maybe fantasy Narn can’t manipulate arcane magic?
Of course, if you really want to go out on a limb, you can go with Disney races…anthropomorphic Mouse knights, Duck rogues, Dog wizards and cat priests….
So what say you? Have any of you ever tried something similar to this? Would you like to? Have you had any bad experiences incorporating science-fiction races into fantasy settings?