Since some of the earliest days of tabletop role playing games players have been taking on the roles of characters whose parents are of two entirely separate races. These hybrids have become one of the most common threads running throughout the entirety of role playing games. So how did hybrids become so popular, and how have they remained popular for so many years? I think that when people are creating their characters one of the first things they look for is conflict, as that can help make a character far more interesting. Playing someone who is constantly being torn between two worlds is a compelling choice, and it often allows for a great deal of creativity.
One of the first hybrid heroes the deeds of Hercules remain the stuff of legend even today. This half-mortal son of Zeus is especially famous for the twelve daunting labors he carried out in the service of King Eurystheus. He accomplished these labors so that he could atone for murdering his own sons after being driven mad by Hera. Diverting rivers to cleanse the Augean stables, capturing the Cerberus the three headed dog that guards the underworld, and slaying the Nemean lion were just of few of the labors he overcame before being rewarded with immortality. While Hercules might be the most famous son of Zeus, but he certainly isn’t the only hero the king of the gods ever sired.Perseus slew the terrifying gorgon Medusa who was so hideous any creature who looked upon her was transformed to stone. Theseus entered an inescapable labyrinth and faced the monstrous minotaur who dwelled within its winding corridors.
Turning our attention from the past and into the distant future a certain half-Vulcan science officer serving aboard the starship Enterprise is another inspiration to hybrid characters. Even though Spock is half-human his intelligence and skill made him one of the most respected officers in the history of Starfleet. Considering how many Star Trek fans play role playing games it isn’t hard to imagine them wanting to create characters like Spock themselves. Spock represents the more intellectual breed of hybrid whose lifespan and capacity for thinking have been enhanced as well as his physical abilities.
Another hybrid who is far less respetable, but no less beloved, is Rubeus Hagrid the groundskeeper at Hogwarts School of Witchraft and Wizardry. An entire generation of young readers were introduced to this towering figure when he delivered a very important letter to an eleven year old wizard named Harry Potter. Hagrid’s immense size and strength sometimes obscures his kindness, loyalty, and courage. After keeping his half-giant heritage a secret for many years the truth was revealed by Rita Skeeter who published the whole story in an article in The Daily Prophet. In spite of this Hagrid stayed on at Hogwarts and he was no longer forced to live with the terrible secret that he’d been keeping his entire life. A common feature among many hybrid characters is shame and social isolation, Hagrid displayed both of these characteristics but managed to overcome them in time.
Another wizard named Harry has been forced to confront hybrids on more than one occasion. Harry Dresden, the only wizard in the Chicago phone book, first met a number of changelings in the book Summer Knight. In the Dresden Files universe changelings are the offspring of humans and the sidhe. All changelings exhibit signs of their supernatural lineage, whether it be an unusual physical appearance or a magical ability varies from one changeling to the next. They do however all have one thing in common. All changelings will eventually be forced to choose between their humanity and their sidhe nature. If they choose humanity they will lose all of their powers and become an ordinary mortal, but if they choose the sidhe they become a supernatural being with greater powers and abilities. Changelings are one of the High Concept templates players can choose to play in The Dresden Files RPG.
Half-Elves have been a popular choice among Dungeons and Dragons players who favor them for their natural versatility and charisma. Half-Elves are adaptable, hearty, and able to win an battle of words or blades with style. One of the most famous members of this race is Tanis Hal-Elven whose adventures are chronicled in the popular Dragonlance books.Tanis helped the Heroes of the Lance defeat an evil goddess, and spent most his life working to maintain peace between humans and elves.
Half-Orcs are another favorite, although they are prized for their hearty nature and immense physical strength. Players who choose to create a Half-Orc character will often play upon the unusual circumstances that lead to their character’s birth in the first place. Half-Orc’s are often treated as brutish dolts who prefer to smash a Mindflayer’s head in rather than talk to it, but that isn’t always the case. Some players choose to create more refined and honorable characters who work to overcome their savage orcish bloodlust.
Whatever the reason for their popularity it’s easy to see the effect that hybrids have had on role playing games and the stories connected to them. If you’ve never come across a Half-Elf Ranger or a Half-Orc Barbarian in any Dungeons and Dragons campaign I’d be surprised. These characters are rich and provide an interesting aspect to campaigns that I think any GM would be happy to have the chance to play around with.