Half-Elves and Half-Orcs are the offspring of two distinct distinct species interbreeding with humans. No magic aid or fancy explanations required to justify a non-sterile offspring. This is usually common among species with a shared evolutionary ancestor.
Does the connection indicate that Orcs and Elves could interbreed? Tolkien mythos indicate a racial connection. Throw Mul into the mix and it seem that most of the core normal sized races can interbreed with humans. Are all these races related? Do they have a common ancestor? Or are humans just the universal solvent of fantasy species?
Heh. Or maybe the Star Trek Next Generation answer: the very first race seeded the universe with fragments of their DNA because they were lonely. Captain Kirk seemed to universally mate with every species.
I suspect that all mammalian races descend from an original slave race which was created by the mighty kobold empire.
You know, I always figured that every birth in D&D was there because the god of death and rebirth (or of life, or any of a number of sub-categories) said it would be there. So it isn't a matter of "Can an Elf breed with an Orc" It's a matter of would god X bless the union of THIS elf and THIS orc with a child. This is along the same line as Tides don't happen because of moons, they happen because the sea god makes them happen and Storms don't happen because a cold front hits a warm front but because the Storm God makes it happen.
I always sort of liked this method because it shifts the story from biology to something like "Mother and father so desperately wanted me that they petitioned the goddess of life for a child.. and the goddess looked with favor upon their love and brought me into the world." Or in the case of a BAD source for my character it might be "The god of Justice bore witness to what happenned in that darkenned room and called upon his sister the goddess of life to bring about the means of destruction.. not just for the one who behaved so badly but for all who sway from the path of justice."
This can also be used as a reason why humans outbreed so many races, because the goddess of birth likes us more. Just as people may die younger because the god of death wants to take them out of the world.
Anyway, thats an alternative to the other thoughs listed here.
Boojum the brown bunny
I like this approach. I think a lot more gamers need to step away from their rules lawyering and simulationist approaches, and allow a bit more mystery and ... dare I say... fantasy into their gaming.
Perhaps they should just have pure races then let everyone take "Hybrid" as a race, and just pick two. Then we could have half-halfling, half-gnomes, half-kobolds, half-goblins. Why not, we already have half-dragons, half-elves, half-orcs, half-dwarves and half-goats. Come on, let the little people get in on the action too.
I mentioned this in another thread recently, but in my world, all the basic humanoid races can interbreed and so I end up with NPCs that are a "Gnome with a touch of Elf on his mother's side" or "a human, but definately has some giant somewhere in his distant ancestry" or "she displays an inscrutable jumble of racial traits that includes some strong Dwarven features as well as some Drow and Gnome."
I agree with boojumbunny in that I'll start worrying about genetics when I'm running a game without magic.
Ok, so perhaps I mentioned evolution and common ancestory too much in the OP. My wonderment still remains though. Shouldn't Half-elf-orcs be just as common or only slightly less common than Half-orcs given the, um, non-consentual nature of many interspecies orc relations?
The treatment of this issue is varied, mostly depending on the setting, but in part also on the rules edition.
Regarding Muls, not all are results of forced breeding: Neeva and Caelum had a son in the Prism Pentad.
Which also means that magical interference is not likely. Moreover, in Dark Sun all humanoid races are the result of accelerated mutation from baseline Halfling stock, so they are all related. Half-elves and Muls are just more common than other crossbreed, but those are still possible -- there's one "Elfling", for example.
Similarly, in Dragonlance most humanoid races descend from the Elves, Ogres, or Humans through the magical mutations induced by the Greygem.
In Mystara, all goblinoid races are the result of the "stabilization" of an ancient, highly variant race (the Beastmen), except the Gnolls which are magically altered Trolls; Gnomes are descended from Dwarves (through divine intervention); the presence of Brute-Men (=Neanderthals) hints to a more traditional evolution for Humans.
However, hybrids (including "Half-Elves") don't breed true (it's either a random mix of traits from parent races, or an individual favoring one race, depending on genetics).
Myself, I'd prefer a generic "hybrid" construction, even though it's obviously not going to happen.
There are certainly ways you can have half-elves and half-orcs and not have elf-orcs, though that implies that they aren't the same species, making both half-elves and half-orcs (typically infertile) hybrids that don't breed true. Alternately, 'elf' and 'orc' could be controlled by a small number of genes that can't mix for whatever reason. Having 10x normal human lifespan seems unlikely to be a natural trait, though.
At least within 4th ed it's suggested that half-orc is a misnomer, and that half-orcs only look like human orc crossbreeds. Note I say suggested. It's one of several, "legends" along with suggestions that Gruumsh's lost eye turned a tribe of humans into half-orcs, that Kord made them to mimic human and orc in their "best" traits, that orcs and human barbarians crossbred, and that a hobgoblin empire created them by foul means to lead orcs. And it never states which one is "true". That way, DMs have leeway to pick. Or perhaps players do. Or perhaps both. In any event, it's also suggested that asking a half-orc might get you the "right" answer, one of these legends, or a beating for being so rude, depending on how it's feeling that moment.
I like it that way.
Muls are dwarf-humans, though they never seem to specify why in the 4th ed stuff.
I think we all know we can thank Tolkien for Half-elves. Or curse him, if you hate half-elves.
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