So I was thinking about the gods one day at work. I kind of needed them, but I couldn't use the gods from any other setting - they're all PI. I didn't very well feel like making up my own pantheon; that was too much work, especially when you factor in demihuman and humanoid gods.

Then it hit me: why not just give each race a different culture, and use the gods from those cultures? I've always been interested in mixing aspects of different cultures; Michael Stackpole did it really well in his Cartomancy trilogy - Japanese culture and some of the language, Chinese ministries, and standard European fantasy tropes like weapons and armor.

After that, things started falling into place, and this is what I ended up with:

Dwarves: Not sure on the culture, exactly, but they have Germanic/Nordic names (pretty much as they do now), and speak with German accents.

Elves: Egyptian. For those of you who have seen Stargate (the movie or the series), it shouldn't be a stretch to see elves with kohl-rimmed eyes, wearing golden headresses, bossing around human slaves. I could easily picture Apophis as an elf. Elven society, like Egyptian, is caste-based; their ruler is a semi-immortal god-king (who really is divine - he has divine rank 0).

There's also another branch of elves (wild elves) who live in the jungles to the south and are based on the Aztec culture. They build pyramids in imitation of their high elf cousins, but are more savage and tend to sacrifice their victims.

Gnomes: Chinese, with Dutch language and names. The gnomes are inventors, like the Chinese (they've even invented gunpowder, though it's a closely guarded secret, even among them), with a love of knowledge and arcane beauracracy. If you want something hidden and lost forever, give it to a gnome. The Dutch part stems from a Neverwinter Nights PW I used to play in, where the gnomes had Dutch accents and semi-Dutch names. It fit them really well, for some reason.

Halflings: I think the idea of the halfling Mongol hordes is so funny as to be almost workable. I've made halflings (and gnomes) taller, almost 4 feet, so they could easily ride ponies. Thinking about ponies led me to mountain ponies, though, and I ended up having them live in the mountains, like the Tibetan monks, and lead ascetic lives. They're most likely related to dwarves and gnomes, with the dwarves' spiritualism and the gnomes' interest in knowledge. They're athletic and one of two races (along with the hobgoblins) who have developed martial arts training.

Half-elves: Half-elves are often born of relations between elves and human slaves, though some are the product of true marriages. Because of their elven blood, they're accorded (slightly) higher status than the slaves; they're employed as laborers and such, though some can rise in rank. Half-elves among the humans are treated variably, depending on relations between elves and humans at the time; the two empires have clashed many times over the millenia. Most of them (especially the legitimate ones) are grudgingly accepted; some serve as ambassadors to the elves or humans.

Half-orcs: Like half-elves, half-orcs are often born of less than desireable circumstances. Since the orcs often raid into human lands, most half-orcs are the byproduct of these raids, either sired from prisoners or those left behind. Half-orcs are treated as equals among the orcs, as long as they can pull their weight; among the humans, half-orc babies are usually left out in the wilderness to die, whereupon they are found and taken in by orcish hunting parties.

Humans: Roman. They are the military power of this world, with a large (not vast, but large) empire. They aren't quite the dominant race, but they're close - the main human empire tangles with most of the other races on a semi-regular basis.

There's also a branch of the humans roughly based on Arabic culture, called the Iskaya; this is the area closest to the elves.

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