The Origin of (Wesnoth) Species, or: Half-Breeds in Wesnoth?

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Gwynnedrion
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Re: Kitty's random stuff: Liberty

Post by Gwynnedrion »

thespaceinvader wrote:Indeed.

My problem with it is twofold:

Firstly, I'm a biologist. Elves and Dwarves and Humans are different SPECIES. By definition, that means that they cannot interbreed (or, at best, they can produce only sterile offspring, but even that is unlikely).

Secondly: If we're going to make them different races (as opposed to species), fine, but that kind of limits the amount of different races we can have within each species. What about wesnoth's equivalent of the chinese, the arabs, the australian aboriginals, africans, Bornean pygmies etc etc etc? What about the elvish and dwarvish and orcish equivalents of the same? This is the sort of concept I explore in BfM, which i really must update. Dwarves could easily have been human northmen. Elves, human forest-dwellers. Orcs, human barbarian tribes. Etc etc etc. The amount of sentient species in fantasy always bugs me - it's rarely explained how they managed to all come about - from our own history, particularly given that they ALWAYS have some ancient grudge against one another, it's difficult to believe that one species wouldn't have wiped all the others out, and diversified.

In so many fantasy worlds, elves, dwarves orcs etc are just an assumed part of the scenery. Authors simply don't think through why they're there, they just ape Tolkien (who DID think it through and explain it) and assume that fantasy=elves orcs and dwarves as well as humans.

It bugs me.
Actually, when you create a world with the generator in Dwarf Fortress it builds up history and other races (mostly Elfs -who are so evil ingame- whip out complete civilizations or races). It's really amusing to find out that the reason you don't get any immigrants is due to the complete destruction of your race a couple 100 years ago.
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Re: The Origin of (Wesnoth) Species, or: Half-Breeds in Wesn

Post by johndh »

Eleazar wrote:As a fan of science fiction and biology, the standard fantasy races seem too similar to really consider as separate species-- though as has been mentioned, a few authors (like Tolkien with multiple creations/adaptations by various powers) have a good explanation for their set up.
They're easily different enough to be separate species. Would you guess that this animal was a different species than this one?
But Wesnoth is what it is. We could add in the concept of half-breeds, but that would only tend to make it even more generic fantasy.
I can agree with that.
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Re: The Origin of (Wesnoth) Species, or: Half-Breeds in Wesn

Post by Midnight_Carnival »

While I fully support the need to keep things simple, I do wonder...

They have magic powerful enough to make new suns, but they can't help a pretty Elf lady who's fallen in love with a Human Knight to have his kids?

Also, Necromancers apparently make Ghouls from Humans, and in other fantasy, it is not unknown for dark lords to fiddle with Orc DNA magically... Suggesting a Nazi-Orc campaign as a way of avoiding this thread from degenerating into an inter-species porn thread :lol2:
...apparenly we can't go with it or something.

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Feufochmar
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Re: The Origin of (Wesnoth) Species, or: Half-Breeds in Wesn

Post by Feufochmar »

About half-breed, the UMC campaign A Rough Life has a half-elf / half-dwarf character if I recall well.

DogBoy
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Re: Kitty's random stuff: Liberty

Post by DogBoy »

thespaceinvader wrote:Indeed.

My problem with it is twofold:

Firstly, I'm a biologist. Elves and Dwarves and Humans are different SPECIES. By definition, that means that they cannot interbreed (or, at best, they can produce only sterile offspring, but even that is unlikely).
Modern geneticists don't view species this way.

Fertile hybrids abound in nature, *including* hybrids between species with different chromosome counts. They are particularly well-known in plants and invertebrates, but some people have claimed they are just as prevalent in vertebrates:
http://www.macroevolution.net/animal-hybrids.html

A couple of examples of fertile cross-species hybridisation in mammals:
Wholphin (Pseudorca crassidens x Tursiops truncatus)
Dzomo (Bos grunniens x Bos primigenius)

I'd give references to academic papers, but I am pressed for time today!

(Incidentally, this is just me being pedantic. There's no compelling reason why Wesnoth species should be able to produce even infertile offspring, let alone fertile ones.)
Last edited by DogBoy on October 8th, 2010, 9:25 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Origin of (Wesnoth) Species, or: Half-Breeds in Wesn

Post by Reepurr »

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Re: The Origin of (Wesnoth) Species, or: Half-Breeds in Wesn

Post by thespaceinvader »

Speaking as a modern geneticist (well, close enough ;) ), I was taught a definition of species that essentially stated that the definition of a species was that its individuals were capable of naturally breeding to produce viable, fertile offspring with each other, and not with anything else. There are a lot of issues with this particular definition, namely such things as ring species, and as you correctly mention, the few related species which can produce fertile offspring. But for the vast majority, the definition holds up for the majority of vertebrates.

Plants and insects, and anything less complex, become vastly more difficult to deal with.
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Re: The Origin of (Wesnoth) Species, or: Half-Breeds in Wesn

Post by esr »

OK, I'm putting on my Mr. Continuity Guy hat....

I think everyone agrees that lots of half-breeding in Wesnoth is a bad idea. I think the world would look noticeably different if it were common, like with a significant population of human/orc halfbreeds in regions where orc raids are common. Nobody wants to go there. So I'm willing to lay down as canon that in general the speaking peoples are not interfertile.

However, humans and elves are a special case. We have it in canon that they respond to each others' sexual signals and can have offspring (Tallin/Eryssa in NR). Unless there's strong sentiment for editing out that bit of history, I therefore add the following facts to canon:

1. Most species combinations are not interfertile.
2. Humans and elves are an exceptions; they respond to each others' sexual signals and can have offspring.
3. Elf/human crosses are infertile or very rarely fertile.

If there's strong sentiment for eliminating the exception, that can be done (that is, we can delete Tallin and Eryssa's son from the NR epilogue). But I think it has dramatic possibilities that shouldn't be lightly discarded.

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Re: The Origin of (Wesnoth) Species, or: Half-Breeds in Wesn

Post by thespaceinvader »

I didn't even recall Tallin and Elynia having children, just that they got married. I don't think it would be particularly harmful to the story to have the children cut out, or replaced with adopted kids. That seems the sort of thing Tallin would do.

I doubt it's particularly unrealistic for elves and humans to be attracted to one another, given how similar they are in appearance and secondary sexual characteristics, but making them interfertile seems the wrong decision to me.
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Re: The Origin of (Wesnoth) Species, or: Half-Breeds in Wesn

Post by esr »

thespaceinvader wrote:I doubt it's particularly unrealistic for elves and humans to be attracted to one another, given how similar they are in appearance and secondary sexual characteristics, but making them interfertile seems the wrong decision to me.
For world-continuity purposes, there's not much distinction between "can't have offspring" and "offspring are infertile".

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Re: The Origin of (Wesnoth) Species, or: Half-Breeds in Wesn

Post by thespaceinvader »

Depends whether you want half-elves to have unique sprites or not ;)
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Re: The Origin of (Wesnoth) Species, or: Half-Breeds in Wesn

Post by esr »

thespaceinvader wrote:Depends whether you want half-elves to have unique sprites or not ;)
I know this was half a joke, but the serious answer is "no". Except for the pointed ears, elves and humans don't actually look very different.

I had an IRC conversation with someone about this a while back. The following is not canon, but might become so if anybody asks a question that collapses the right state vector....

Elves are pale-skinned and grey-eyed and blond-haired for the same reasons Northern Europeans are pale-skinned, blue eyed, blond-haired. (1) It's an adaptation to living in boreal forests - cool climate, low levels of sunlight, rainy/foggy/misty conditions. (2) Blondism can arise as a point mutation; it has at least twice in human history, the best-studied case having occurred in Northern Europe about 60 Kyears ago. (3) Once blondism appears in a population, it spreads like crazy due to sexual selection - yes, this has been studied in humans.

My tentative theory is that elves and humans used to be one breeding population, but that fairly recently (30-50 Kyears?) elves have speciated due to contact with the faerie realm.

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Re: The Origin of (Wesnoth) Species, or: Half-Breeds in Wesn

Post by DogBoy »

thespaceinvader wrote:Speaking as a modern geneticist (well, close enough ;) ), I was taught a definition of species that essentially stated that the definition of a species was that its individuals were capable of naturally breeding to produce viable, fertile offspring with each other, and not with anything else.
OK, not really meaning to start a scientific debate here, but anyone who is interested may want to read Mallet's brief and excellent discussion of why evolutionary biologists' concepts of species have been changing dramatically since the 90s:

Mallet, J. (November 2001). "The speciation revolution". Journal of Evolutionary Biology 14 (6): 887–888
http://www.ucl.ac.uk/taxome/jim/pap/malletjeb01.pdf

He specifically mentions the definition you describe, and asserts that "Reproductive isolation is no longer generally recognized as the best definition of species".
thespaceinvader wrote: There are a lot of issues with this particular definition, namely such things as ring species, and as you correctly mention, the few related species which can produce fertile offspring. But for the vast majority, the definition holds up for the majority of vertebrates.

Plants and insects, and anything less complex, become vastly more difficult to deal with.
McCarthy's online article states that he found approximately 85% of avian hybrids to be partially fertile and claims that partially fertile mammal hybrids are "common". I haven't read his book on avian hybrids (cataloguing 4000 distinct crosses!) or his mammal research, so it's not clear what he counts as a hybrid - and of course, he is referring to (partial) fertility in living offspring, not the ability to produce offspring in the first place. It would be interesting to find out more.

I'm inclined to be more open-minded about exactly how inter-fertile similar vertebrates are, given that even sheep-goat hybrids (albeit infertile ones) can exist - and those are from different genera!

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Re: The Origin of (Wesnoth) Species, or: Half-Breeds in Wesn

Post by Mountain_King »

esr wrote: My tentative theory is that elves and humans used to be one breeding population, but that fairly recently (30-50 Kyears?) elves have speciated due to contact with the faerie realm.
I could agree with that. It might not be entirely relevant to the discussion but I have several cousins that have ears just as pointy as any elf (though not quite as long). Traits such as pointy ears tend to get accentuated when a single group is isolated and marries only within the group.
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Re: The Origin of (Wesnoth) Species, or: Half-Breeds in Wesn

Post by Reepurr »

Is a Kyear a millenium?
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