Some thoughts on Sentient Beings in Fantasy Genre

It strikes me sometimes that in Fantasy, especially those based on Role Playing Games, that the extent of racial (or species?) diversity comes down to human, elf (in endless variations), dwarf, hobbit, lizard men and anthropomorphic creatures.
Nothing against a race of horse people (Gulliver found such a species) but an entire world where every race is a sentient animal of some kind gets a bit old. All you need to know everything about an anthropomorphic race is what the primary characteristics are. Cat people are vain, clean freaks, solitary – dog people are loyal, honest, and maybe a bit slow. More obscure animals, in a sense, are harder to deal with, say for example badger people.
It also seems that there are still stories to tell with the traditional races as well. It’s almost engrained to have the elves, ancient and beautiful, involved in a magical story set in the woods of a forboding forest, or to have dwarves in an underground adventure, or lizard men in a vast marsh. All of that is well and good, but I really want something different.
I know that others have gone down this road. As far as RPG’s go, I know that the Fan Community Councils’ Netbook of Races has few entries of which only one or two seem to fulfill what I’m looking for. I found another link that gave me more choices. While I think the unari are a bit bizarre, the concept is worth investigating.
Having said all that, what is to be done?
It seems that Science-Fiction doesn’t have this issue as much. Any half-way decent Sci-Fi flick has zillions of races with all kinds of bizarre physiologies and relationships with other species. But I digress.
I created an entry awhile back about the Secoa. I didn’t describe them physically, but that may not be as important as providing their history, sociology, and other details. It feels like writing about different ethnic groups, so I want to start incorporating their physiology at the beginning of the thought process. For example, what if a species has seven fingers on each hand. What if a species has two opposable digits or ball and socket joints in odd places. What if their digits have two knuckles instead three, what if they had four. Maybe they have paws-like hands with a sort of second hand coming from the middle of the paw for delicate manipulation? What if they have claws (like a cat) in addition to fingers?
I also thought about how the nature of magic would affect species and culture? What if magic is fueled by a material mined from the earth like gold? What if there is an equally strong material that nullifies magic? What if they have a magic organ that causes them to die if they enter a non-magical area? What if magic is affected by an organ in the body? That could make powerful magicians into health nuts (to take care of the organ) or progresively more grotesque freaks (to make the organ grow). That could also cause magical items to require animal slaughter (or sentient species) as a part of their creation. In the case of sentient species, that would seem to be darwinism on steroids! How about if magic could only exist through a material that had to remain a liquid? That could make rain (or sky) gods as well as sea gods the most powerful. It could also prevent any kind of major seafaring culture from thriving. It could also make potions the most powerful forms of magic. It could even lead to bizarre things like magicians carying vials or containers to case magic “through” in order to cast spells. (For example, the cast a spell that moves an object, the caster has to hold the vial in his/her hands. The energy he uses to cast the spell goes through the vial, and come out as a force that can move objects.)
As far as an organ of the body being the source of magic, it could also affect a species’ overall pyschology and sociology. After all, if someone has a defect, they would be alive but ‘less’ magical than others. Would they be ostracized? What about those who damage said organ? It may or may not cause death and it leads to the same issues as a birth defect. On another note, how does it affect evolution? The possibilities of endless.
Of course, there are less subtle ways to go about this kind of brainstorming. Add a limb (where would the third arm go?). Add a brain (like the ettin). Make the mouth into mandibles. Move stuff around. For example, why would you have an arm on the top of your head? The joint that is at the base of the arm would probably have to rotate 360 degrees like a shoulder. The elbow joine would have to be able to bend both ways. It could be the main way this species would eat (if the arm is long enough). This would mean that furniture would be created by this culture to place food at around shoulder level or higher so that this arm could easily reach food. It would also preclude the use of a knife and fork (eating one-handed). This could also change (dramtically) the way you greet others, musical instruments could use all three arms. (I imagine something like a double bass where the top arm fingers chords and the regular hands pluck it or even pluck and use the bow at the same time!) Of course, this isn’t entirely necessary, but the idea is to be different. Get creative.
I hope to post some ideas along these lines. Of course, the third arm thing will have to be developed just because. I think it will be like a scorpion arm but from the base of the back of the neck….
Anywho, to anyone reading this, let me know what ideas you come up with.