There are numerous religions in the world that seem to believe things that most of the rest of us don’t. The one that I’m thinking about right now is that there are certain religions that feel that talking animals are a depiction of magic, and all magic is the work of the devil, and thus evil. I’m not here to disrespect the moral beliefs of anyone, but instead to consider how these things would be seen in a fantasy world.
Let’s think about this for a bit. Many modern film watchers see no problem watching Disney movies whether there are talking animals in them or not. But how would people in a fantasy world see it? Well, first off, they actually see magic. That makes things a bit more real. We really don’t have to worry about a rabbit and a deer carrying on a conversation.
One thought that occurred to me is that these people have to legitimately worry about lycanthropes. The use of an anthropomorphic wolf in a play would likely be terrifying to these people who would be concerned that it was a werewolf. Completely unlike Aesop’s Fables and Disney movies, these would not be cute and clever animals, but instead dangerous monsters. They can still be used as villains in plays and operas, but they would be seen as evil or even demonic.
But that is the other side of it - the concept of demons. In most fantasy games, the players fight demons, so demons are real. Many demons have animal or animalistic aspects, such as humanoid swine, etc. Sometimes they are more chimeric - having aspects of multiple animals jumbled together. We all know demons are evil, so are man-beasts also? While many urban folk would likely be somewhat comfortable with the idea of centaurs, are they just as comfortable with minotaurs? satyrs? tumataurs? (tumataurs are like centaurs, but instead of man and horse, they are man and lion) People, at least in mobs, are uncomfortable with things that are different. These different races with different cultures would have to be scary or at least off-putting to most folks.
So, what to do? On my world of Fletnern there are very few “cursed” items, so talking objects are not as spooky to the commoners as talking animals are. So instead of a wizard in a play having a talking owl to help guide him, the wizard character might have a talking book. Or the young knight would have a singing sword instead of a steed that carried on conversations. These are often easier to depict in plays, as the voice actor can hide in the wings, while and actual object can be dangled via thin strings.
But how does this play in actual games (and combat)? While it is not going to change the amount of damage done, I think it should impact the role-playing aspects on adventures. If one of the characters (PC or NPC) is a minotaur, the other characters might automatically view him as evil and refuse to surrender to him. How far would it go? Some religions might see many “humanoids” as evil beasts. I’m thinking about Legend Quest’s lurians - humans with swan wings. While we might think “angel”, would some sects might see “man-beast = demon” and want to kill it in some horrific fashion in order to make sure it stayed dead. I love paladins, but we do have a tendency to think in extremes, even more so when people try to tell us we’re wrong. I think in a true role-playing game, such things should have an real place!