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In fantasy, there are several well-established races, nations and factions, that spread across multiple universes. They share identical or very similar characteristics in every universe and are generally easily adopted by the players/readers of the story. I believe, these are the 6 most iconic and most wide-spread fantasy races:

  • Humans - often divided into several nations, kingdoms or factions, but always resembling some medieval human nation from the real history
  • Dwarves
  • Elves - most often either as the more civilized version (high/sun elves), or a wilder version (wood/night elves)
  • Drow - or dark elves, or other iteration of a sinister underground race
  • Orcs - together with goblins, trolls, ogres, etc.
  • Undead - maybe not really a race, but definitely a faction.

All of those races have several tropes that can be easily connected to them (human knight, elven ranger, dwarven miner, orc raider,...). Is there a water-based or amphibious race/faction that has comparably strong roots in several fantasy universes, is generally known and can be easily associated with one or several tropes? I believe, the naga or the lizardmen may be the closest, but both of them are considered a "secondary" race in all universes I know of.

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    Your examples have their roots in Norse/Germanic mythologies popularised by Tolkien. I suspect Asia may have more to offer when it comes to developing watery denizens... the "Sandy" character in the Stone Monkey / Journey to The West stories for example. I'd be surprised if there wasn't a body of fantasy built up in that culture where naga-type beings aren't as familiar and "primary" as elves and dwarves are to westerners steeped in Tolkien, but don't know enough to submit a proper answer. – timday Dec 10 '16 at 11:51
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    I think the word you're looking for is mermaid. – Valorum Dec 10 '16 at 11:52
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_One – Valorum Dec 10 '16 at 11:53
  • The Vodyanoi and Grindylów from China Miéville's Bas-Lag novels. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vodyanoy – Spencer Dec 10 '16 at 13:15
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    Selkies (also spelled silkies, sylkies, selchies; Irish: chéile séala, Scots: selkie fowk) are mythological creatures found in Irish, Scottish and Faroese folklore. Similar creatures are described in the Icelandic traditions. Selkies are said to live as seals in the sea but shed their skin to become human on land. --from Wikipedia – ImaginaryEvents Dec 10 '16 at 15:00
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Amphibious fish people have become very much established over the last 80 years or so. The first ones were the deep ones by H. P. Lovecraft, which in turn strongly influenced the kuo-toa of Dungeons & Dragons and the murlocs of Warcraft.

They are a pretty standard creature in mainstream fantasy by now.

  • Agreed. Either this or merfolk (depending on how the OP wants the aquatic race to "fit in") would be the most fitting, at least among western-sourced fantasy. Deep One-style fish people tend to be more savage and aggressive, while merfolk are (at least sometimes) depicted as more rational and capable of diplomatic interaction with land dwellers. – Steve-O Dec 10 '16 at 14:30
  • I'd throw in the Fomor with this lot, at least as described in the Dresdenverse and a few others I've read. – Paul Dec 10 '16 at 15:30

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