Reading Dark Matter 1.1: Races in the ‘Verse

This section details the new races in the setting as well has how the classic ones fit in it.

As you would expect, and the new Spelljammer books also assure us, you can’t have a space-themed fantasy without a new ooze-like race. That’s where the Amoeboids come in. They play the role of the strange and they are the race that manages the Maw stations, as previously discussed. Their origin is a mystery but they are tied to the ancient technological structures that are the Maws. As such, they are highly technological.

Myself, I consider the ooze-like creatures a cliché in this genre but a kind of necessary one. Especially in this setting they are what I would expect every other creature except a scant few to be: wholly alien to our normal. Though they are depicted in the artwork in a somewhat humanoid form. Too bad this alien-ness isn’t represented anywhere else.

The Avia-Ra are this settings’ bird-folk. They appear to be a complete rip-off visually distinct inspiration from the Aarakocra in the regular 5E collection. They are also the highly religious race, worshipping the sun (There are lots of suns in the galaxy, I know), and it’s Platonic representation, the Sepulcher Star; The massive magically stable and invariant star orbiting the galaxy’s central super-massive black hole, even establishing their HQ citadel orbiting around it. They are missionaries through and through and, thus, are treated kind of like Jehovah’s Witnesses or Habadnikim: They are disliked because they preach but tolerated because freedom and free speech and all of that.

I think these are a kind of tired cliché. Birdfolk are common in sci-fi and fantasy genres, even in space-based ones (Star Control has two, even a highly religious one) and they do make for a logical evolutionary path but I just wish they would make them more interesting and unique rather than another humanoid with an eagle-like face.

Dwarves come in at number three on the list, again, leaning into the stereotype of a gruff, stoic, mostly bearded race that takes so much inspiration from Viking mythology they even use exact names for things. They are the heavy engineering and stone industry race, as you would expect.

While the whole Rock & Stone(!) bit is good for a silly game, I expected a bit more flavor for a product that, I hope, is trying to make something distinct. I appreciate their need to remain somewhat faithful to the source material to maintain some compatibility but making the Star Dwarves sub-race somewhat more flavorful would have been a boon.

Coming up next are the Elves. Superior, Vulcan-like beings of great age and emotional complexes, these are again, somewhat flightless compared to the original elves from 5E. They are an empire of different houses with a very strict sense of what is allowed and disallowed in their society. The different subraces are represented in the Star-Elf dynasties and different houses. Their traits are only slightly ported over to this setting.

Again, I expected a brand new, very different setting of 5E to try to break the mold a bit, even while maintaining compatibility and the elves are one of the greatest examples here of not doing that.

The Gnomes, again in classic fashion, are the tinkerers and artisans, split into guilds and lean so much into technology that most other races don’t understand what they’re doing and even somewhat sneer at their audacity to not do things as they have always been done.

Here too, wanting something a little outside the fantasy norms, I am disappointed to find the same familiar gnomes.

I kind of don’t want to talk about the Halflings now as they follow the same old, even Tolkien-esque, stereotype: they are homely, welcoming, hosting race specialising in trading and hotel management.

I do have to mention what I really do like about what they did with the Halflings here is that they not only have a sort of shadow monopoly on banking and loaning, they are also in hidden control of the mafias/yakuzas/bratvas of the galaxy and like to make too curious people disappear.

Humans are also, predictably, quite conforming to standard you would expect if you know the setting’s inspiration genres. They are new on the scene, very versatile, and spread so quickly that despite being new, they are very numerous in the galaxy.

I pretty much expect the versatile side of the race by now and have no actual complaints about it but I don’t like the idea that they are especially new as this always happens in single-player galactic-spanning games because the player will usually play the human and they’re new to the game. This is irrelevant here because any player can play any player race. I also don’t understand the necessity of having humans as the most wide-spread and numerous race. It’s been done to death. One of the things I loved about the movie Titan A.E. was that there, a wierd race destroyed Earth and hunted the human race to near extinction so being human in the galaxy was a rarity.

You know what? I like the Nautilids. I expect to have a waterborne race to examine that evolutionary path and they’re usually very cool and interesting. I also expect them to wear some kind of mechanical contraption to allow them to interact with the rest of the air breathers but I love the fact that they are described as having hulking mech suits. I also like the idea that they don’t just need water but a very specific liquid solution to survive. It’s different and unique and adds another layer to them that they always need augmentation and they can’t synthesise it.

What I hate is the name! For the love of whatever tentacled monster is out there, why Nautilids?! Why is their home planet called Poseidon?! It almost ruins the whole thing.

If you know Orcs from the generic 5E fantasy, you know Orcs here. Just put them in space. They are tribal, they focus on war, and I bet their ship design also brings back memories of Warcraft architecture. Apparently, they also took the Dark Matter engine, what every other race uses for transportation, and turned it into a bomb.

I hate all of this.

The Skathári are the second interesting race on this list. As you might expect from the name or from whose turn it is on the genre races wheel, they are a hardy insectoid race that shun technology and survive in extremophile only zones where other races fear to tread without a full environmental suit, at least.

They are not really an innovation in this space but, to me, these are always interesting as they are always quite far from what you’d expect an evolved creature to be.

Finally, we have the Vect, last on the list and the least, at least for some (I had to pun). They are this setting’s humanoid construct race and they follow expected design principles with a still quite human-like frame. These were built by the Dwarves, apparently, who realised to late what they have done.

I didn’t expect much from this design and got pretty much what I expected, along with the Eberron-like origin story but I do like the fact that they come from a highly intelligent mobile foundry that builds them and managed to elevate itself so much it no longer has any meaningful dialogue with the lesser races.

Posted in Role-Playing, Thinking Out Loud and tagged by with 6 comments.


  • Ayal Resnick says:

    You complain about the unimaginative space elves?! Ill give you better space elves!
    I agree with you about the unimaginative nature of aliens in our media. But, we can do something about it – make our own stuff and use that… I’ve started with 2 races – since I don’t want to rebalance, I think their stats should be equal to the book stats. Building totally new stuff comes later…

    Woohoophoo (Elf equivalent)
    If you think ‘magic wildig telekinetic dogs’ you would still be very wrong.
    They hail from a planet with surprisingly biodiversity. What is there, is highly attuned to magic. A long standing hypothesis is that this is linked to the huge mountain/artifact on the tectonicly stable, flat planet. This was never proven, as outsiders are not allowed anywhere close to mount Hootha’al, and only occasionally did one glimpse at it’s distant shape.
    The Woohoophoo (wofo, for short) are quadrupod, obligate herbivores who never evolved hand equivalents. Instead, their mastery of magic allowed them to manipulate the world around them. Even the most untalented Wofo must master telekinesis if he has any hope of fitting into society. This extended reach means they can manipulate the world around them about as well as a Human, despite rarely being taller than 1 meter, or weighing more than 40 kilograms.
    The Woohoophoo native speech sounds like whistles to the human ear, and humans can make a good approximation of it.
    Rilaying so heavily on their mind, the Wofo believe themselves to be superior to the other races in the verse this led them to a segregated community preferring to remain mostly in the confines of their own solar systems. When in need of a more industrial type of task, the Wofo employ exoskeletor suits fitted with tools for construction. A heavier variant is used by the Wofo military (unless the individual is more intune with magic, as the suits cumbersome structure tends to interfere with spellcasting).

    Thumpers (dwarf equivalent)
    Think Skink. But much much bigger. With 6 limbs. And thick leather skin.
    Some unknown planetary cataclysm, before the dawn of history, drove the Tumpers underground. The went there with their technology (and importantly, light). Now, millennias later, the cave system and caverns of Tump are teeming with a diverse biosphere.
    Thumpers are omnivores and pragmatic. Any of their 6 limbs can be used as hands, but locomotion and stability means they can only use one limb on each side at a time. It is most common to see them with the front third of their body lifted (when they have room for it), putting them at a height of 1.5 meters. However, for brief moments they can lift the middle portion of their body to a height of 2.5 meters. This would be their equivalent of jumping.
    The Tumpers don’t call themselves that, but their language includes bangs and thumps on solid surfaces (from which they are never far), and which have no equivalent letters in common. So humans started calling them Tumpers, and the name stuck.
    Flooding in a cave means drowning. The Tumbpers have a racial preference not to get into water.
    Having long and flexible bodies, Tumpers often express closeness by wrapping together. For an outsider, there can be no greater expression of friendship than a full body wrap. Then again, that is also what Tumpers do to get into position to slit your throat. With Tumpers, ALWAYS BE AWARE OF YOUR STANDING.

    Racial relations Wofo vs Tumpers
    The relationship between the races is tense. Many border disputes (usually started when Wofo want more revorces) fowled the air. The 2 militaries are somewhat mached. The light and agile Wofo cruisers do well against the Tumpers heavily armed and armored fortress ships. But this puts the Wofo in close quarters, where there is the danger of borders. The Tumpers are among the only races that can chase the Wofo into the small corridors and spaces of their ships and habitats, yet remain powerful enough to overpower the Wofo defenders.

  • Eran says:

    For me, I made a list of games and stories I really like the creature design of to steal from later.

  • Ayal Resnick says:

    I get that, and for many aspects of the world it works well. But in my experience, there aren’t that many good stories with interesting non-humanoids.

    The Lekgolo from Halo (and even than they form into humanoid ‘Hunter’ shapes)
    The Hanar from Mass Effect (and they are not playable, unlike most other common races)
    Any hive-mind insectoids, like, say, Starship Troopers (but they are kind of samey throughout the different worlds)
    Old Man’s War has some. not enough details on them.

    There are other examples, but the vast majority of aliens are humanoid. So when I want to steal a design for that, I rarely have something that fits my needs.

    • Eran says:

      Well, I don’t mean to write stories. I mean to build worlds. I already have some ideas which I hope will make people feel included and will thus need to go through sensitivity reading.

      • Ayal Resnick says:

        For the first part of your statement I ask, What’s the difference? why does it matter whether what I use is for a written story, a game, a movie or an RPG campaign? in the end, they are all stories. even the world building part is a story, and especially for someone like you – someone who isn’t just interested in what my superpower is, but also where it came from and how it works.

        As for the second part, I don’t get it. What inclusion? Why sensitivity training? I think I’m missing some context.

  • Eran says:

    I’m not making a whole thing for people to consume. I’m making a platform to build on. There will be humanoid races and non humanoid races. Players will pick what they like and make of it what they will.
    It’s kind of hard to avoid but I intend to lean into the various cultural inspirations of other races. I want to honor those cultures and not stigmatise them so I will need sensitivity reading to point out flaws.