In the Shadowrun role-playing game, a term used to describe the range of phenotypes expressed by humanity as a result of the rising mana levels in the early 21st century. Rising background levels of mana began to support the expression of a wider range of physical and paraphysical characteristics, believed to be determined by certain genes or gene sequences specifically sensitive to these magical energies, which remain dormant in periods of lower mana. It was later widely believed that this change in the level of mana was a cyclical occurrence, waxing and waning over a period of several thousand years. Later, it was learned that there had been occasional, very rare UGE births in the previous few decades; these babies were called "spike babies," as scientific opinion began to suspect that the growth in mana level wasn't uniformly smooth, but experienced occasional small jumps, or "spikes."
The first observances of these new phenotypes began in 2011, in a strange phenomenon later named Unexplained Genetic Expression or UGE, in which mutant babies started to be born, all around the world. These first children seemed to group into two apparently new subspecies of homo sapiens — one shorter and stockier than "normal" humans, the other taller and thinner, but both with pointed ears and enhanced visual acuity — which Newsweek referred to as elves and dwarves, and the nomenclature stuck.
December 24 of that same year saw the emergence of the first great dragon from Mount Fuji, and within the next few years a small percentage of people began to discover that they could do "magic"; and, moreover, that this magic functioned in more and more reliable, scientifically observable ways that could be recorded as spell formulae, and systematically studied and learned by those who apparently also were genetically gifted in some way.
Ten years after the first UGE cases had been seen, on April 30, 2021, one out of every ten people underwent a bizarre transformation in a process the popular press dubbed "goblinization," as there bodies shifted into hideous shapes, sprouting enlarged canines and tusks, horny outgrowths from the scalp, and in some cases even spines, scales, or a variety of other unusual manifestations. The process itself was physically easy for some, long and extremely painful for others, and not all survived. By the end of the transformation, it was clear that two additional metatypes, a term used to describe all these new phenotypes, had emerged, and would come to be called, with the human penchant for the perverse, orks and trolls.
Over time, UGE and goblinization both became less and less rare, though those already born or metamorphosed into the metatypes tend to breed true. For the most part, elves have elven children, dwarves dwarven, etc. Subspecies are cross-fertile, but no true crossbreeds among these two metatypes, or among these metatypes and humans, have been observed; the child of such a union seems to have a 50-50 chance of expressinve the metatype of either parent. Two humans now almost never have an elf or dwarf child.
Orks and trolls too are almost always born to parents of the same subspecies. However, while goblinization of a human child is very rare, it does still occasionally occur. Matings between the two groups — UGE and goblinized — almost always result in goblinized offspring.
All births seem to fall into one of these five (including human, still the majority of new births) phenotypes, though there do seem to be occasional local and regional subclassifications, usually with characteristics specifically found in the creatures of the mythologies of those regions. Additionally, some people believe that there were other metatypes in previous high-mana cycles, and the particularly paranoid or astute suggest that two unusual virii that swept the human race around the same time as UGE and goblinization, killing a significant portion of the population each time may have been engineered to attack those with the genes that would have expressed these other metatypes [OOC: the Earthdawn RPG, which is set in one of the earlier high-mana cycles, does have two additional metatypes that have not been seen in the world of 2050, and one other that may have been observed.]
Descriptions of new phenotypes
Homo sapiens pumillionis
Shorter on average than the human metatype by .5 meter, and lighter by 16 kg, dwarves are stocky, with large noses and slightly pointed ears. Their eyes are sensitive to the infrared spectrum, and they appear highly resistant to pathogens. Their life span is unverified, but believed to average more than 100 years.
Dwarf variants include the Koborokuru in Japan, Menehene in Hawaii, and Gnome in Central Europe and Asia Minor.
Homo sapiens nobilis
Taller on average than the human metatype by .2 meters, but only slightly heavier, elves are more slender and have a lighter, though equally strong, build than humans, and ears that come to a pronounced point. Their eyes are almond-shaped and heavily endowed with rods, allowing them to see in dim light more clearly. Their life span is unverified, but believed to average as much as several hundred years. And some people know or strongly suspect that some elves have an additional genetic expression that permits unlimited aging, preventing death from old age alone, and some such elves are believed still to be alive from previous high mana cycles)
Elf variants include the very rare Wakyambi of Africa; the fur-covered European Night Ones that some have dubbed "Dark Elves," though the Night Ones are not inherently evil; and the all-female Dryads.
Homo sapiens sapiens
Average worldwide life span in 2050 is 55 years.
Humans still exhibit the usual variations we call race, though prejudice on the basis of skin color has almost completely disappeared, having been supplanted by prejudice against the new metatypes.
Homo sapiens robustus
More heavily built than the human metatype, orcs average about the same height as elves, but are heavier by more than 20 kg, and have broad noses, thin lips, and greatly enlarged canines. Their ears show definite points, and they have enhanced low-light vision from a higher proportion of rods over cones. They have a relatively very short gestation period, and multiple births of four are the norm, with six to eight not uncommon. However, orks live on average only about 35-40 years.
Ork variants include the Middle Eastern Hobgoblin, the Japenese Oni, the European Ogre, and the Mediterranean Satyr.
Homo sapiens ingentis
Averaging nearly a meter taller than the elf and orc metatypes, trolls are very heavily built, and have a higher arm-to-leg length ratio. They sometimes exhibit dermal bone deposits, which can give their skin a spiny, scaly, rough appearance. Their ears show definite points, and their eyes are sensitive to the infrared spectrum. Unlike the other metatypes, which all have 32 teeth, trolls have 34, including enlarged lower canines, and their teeth appear to continually regenerate. They have a lifespan of about 50 years.
Troll variants include the Cyclops and Minotaur of Greece and the Mediterranean, the Fomori of Tír na nÓg (the contemporary name for Ireland), and the Nordic Giant.
- Shadowrun sourcebook, 2nd edition.
- Shadowrun Companion: Beyond the Shadows sourcebook for Shadowrun 2nd edition