fantasy biology but it’s weird and kinda horrifying like real biology: reproduction
was thinking of a few posts a while back about fantasy reproductive biology and was Inspired by recent Wikipedia rabbit holes, so
Elves are technically all female, and reproduce by self-fertilization. Elves are long-lived enough that they do not quickly accrue harmful mutations and deleterious effects from this. However, they have another mechanism to mitigate the harmful effects of self-fertilization: they regularly engage in horizontal gene transfer with the endosymbiotic algae that live in their skin! These algae act as a reservoir for genetic diversity. Some elves also have similar exchanges with the parasitic plants that grow on their heads…yeah no, those are not flower crowns.
Dark elves do not have the recourse of algae, and are instead similarly symbiotic with fungi.
Goblins are like fungi: they don’t have differentiated gametes, and thus no real biological basis to call them “male” and “female.” When goblins reproduce, two goblins will come together and merge, splitting into four “sibling” goblins that are combinations of the parents’ genes! The siblings also retain some of their parents’ memories, meaning goblin history is literally passed down biologically!
The exception to this is goblins that live deep underground, adapted to blindly navigate in the darkest caves. It’s pretty hard for goblins to find other unrelated goblins to create offspring with, so instead, some goblins, termed “King” or “Queen” goblins (though as I said, goblins don’t have differentiated gametes like that), will grow to an abnormally large size and roam about seeking mates. When a King/Queen goblin merges with another goblin, it does not split into offspring, but instead absorbs the other goblin, a little like a female anglerfish does to her mates. After a long time, King/Queen goblins begin living a stationary life, producing new goblins from amalgamated genetic material by budding. The goblin hordes will take care of the King/Queen goblin until the horde grows too large, at which point some goblins will migrate to new territory, beginning the cycle anew.
Orcs are all born male. The biggest, strongest orc (or sometimes pair of orcs) in an orc band will become female, much like a clown fish, and will be protected by the rest of the band, spared the risks of an Orc warrior’s dangerous fighting lifestyle, so her genes will get passed on the most, and subsequent generations of Orcs will be strong. Orcs do not, however, share human concepts of gender, and many Orc warriors that spend time in human society decide they feel more affiliated with what humans think of as “women” anyway.
Dwarves, like some reptiles, develop based on the temperature of the caves they are raised in. Dwarves in cooler caves grow up to be male; dwarves in warmer caves grow up to be female. Female dwarves are associated with the fire of the forges and the power of creation. Dwarves are not, however, sexually dimorphic, and asking whether a dwarf is “really” male or female is deeply personal and offensive, since an individual’s ability to become pregnant is invariably none of the asker’s business. It is common for dwarves to reject any affiliation with gender entirely, but those that care for that sort of thing have some very elaborate and colorful genders.
Halflings are a little like slugs; they are all capable of producing both types of gametes simultaneously. They also recombine genes like crazy. A halfling can have a single biological parent or over a dozen—though too many parents is discouraged, because it creates halflings that have to roam about too much to find unrelated partners when they grow up. It also means that inheritance can get pretty complicated.
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