When I set out to design creature types, I looked to Magic: the Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons for inspiration, because they’re the two game systems I’m most familiar with and they contain virtual menageries of creatures.

Magic has been around for years and has developed some very interesting and complex creature classifications, which include things from animal kingdom (birds, fish, reptiles, mammals, etc.), and the kingdoms of plants, bacteria, and fungi as well, not to mention all the weird, magical, non-living creatures.

The game started off fairly simple, where the only thing that mattered was whether a given card in question was a land, a summon, an enchantment, or a sorcery. (Instants are just sorceries with the Flash ability, and artifacts or “colorless” cards can be any of those four card types. I’d argue further that lands are just colorless green cards, but I’ll save that for another time.) Lord of Atlantis recognized creature types, though.

In recent years, Wizards of the Coast has taken steps to integrate creature types into the rules of the game more, with their “tribal” themes. Merfolk and Elves have always been cooperative tribes to some degree, with Goblins and Zombies being other major tribes of creatures, but not necessarily internally cooperative. White has Soldiers, which were generally united through other mechanics, rather than type.

Of special note, though, is how these creature types overlap or interact with one another. Generally, a creature must be either Merfolk or an Elf or a Goblin. But any creature can be a Zombie (through the miracle of necromancy!) or a Soldier (through the miracle of … training regimens?). You can have a Zombie Elf Soldier.

I think it’s important to separate out some of these things so that you can have more predictable (and tactically viable) results. Obviously, color identity is important in Magic: the Gathering, because that’s how they sell so many cards diversify the tactics of the game. You expect a certain variety of effects from Blue that you don’t expect from Green, and vice versa. Creature classification is one of those factors.

Green Elves don’t work the same way that Green Wolves do. Blue Fish don’t work the same way that Blue Birds do. However, you can expect a certain amount of thematic similarity between White Wizards and Black Wizards (they both tend to be low on the Power and Toughness scale, for instance). In another example, a card that affects “Soldiers” won’t touch a Wizard. Take Unified Strike for example.

Dungeons & Dragons, on the other hand recognizes a more fine distinction between “class” and “race,” and in rarer cases, “sub-class” and “sub-race.” As I mentioned earlier in “Class Confusion,” several character classes have been “reclassified,” mainly to take into account new additions to the class pool. All Fighters work on similar concepts, as do all Clerics, all Rangers, and all Wizards.

In earlier editions of the game, it was sometimes very difficult to explain the difference between “race” and “class” in Dungeons & Dragons. “Elf” was just as much what you were as “Paladin,” and it wasn’t until Third Edition that the designers made clear definitions between them. You’re born into a “Race,” and you choose to live as your class “Class.” There were still some moral and social elements involved in race and/or class, but even those were eliminated in Fourth Edition.