Sapient Species in Starkeeper | World Anvil

Sapient Species

A species whose members possess intelligence. The study of sapient species and their attributes is a subfield of xenology.


A precise definition of sapience or a sapient species has long eluded scientists, and it directly overlaps with trying to define what makes a "person" for legal purposes. Any attempt to make an individual test for personhood or sapience will inevitably end up including animal species not considered intelligent (e.g. tool-users such as apes or crows), or excluding members of one's own species (the mentally disabled). Thus the closest one can get, beyond a common-sense "you'll know it when you see it" formulation, is designating particular species to be intelligent.


Xenologists identify four main types of sapience.

Genetic Sapience

A species with this attribute can be thought of as an intelligent ant colony. Individuals are not sapient and are driven on genetically-coded instinct alone, but exhibit sapient behaviors in sufficient numbers.

Brain Sapience

Each individual in the species possess a brain capable of sapience. Most known races fall under this category.

Gestalt Sapience

A mixture of genetic and brain sapience where each intelligence is comprised of several sub-sapient bodies, which gain sapience in concert.

Communal Sapience

This goes beyond brain sapience by adding a second layer community awareness in addition to the individual's awareness of their own body. Communally sapient beings can intuitively understand social concepts that brain sapients such as humans can only reason about in the abstract, such as tribalism and the causes of conflict.


While a species can be said to have sapience in the abstract, how they express it is modulated by their evolutionary history. Some types of creature seem to be incapable of evolving sapience to begin with--there are no known intelligent herbivores, likely because their food is not energy-dense enough to support a large brain.

Food Sources

Most known sapients are omnivores, advantageous in accessing the widest possible diet. Intelligent predators are possible but rare, and it is hard for them to form large-scale societies on account of their need for hunting grounds.

Sexual Dimorphism

In some species, one sex is bigger on average than the other. (Among Terran animals, usually the male.) Individuals of the larger sex will tend to hold most positions of power even in modern technological societies, perhaps as a psychological holdover from when they dominated by force and intimidation. Species with little sexual dimorphism tend to be more egalitarian in this regard.


All else being equal, greater territoriality implies more violence since territorial species seek to guard resources and mates from competitors.


A species' means of moving around also affects its mindset, because this directly implies how it sees the world. Plains-dwellers tend to be afraid of heights, while flyers possess intuitive three-dimensional spatial skills. (Aerial sapients are rare because of the difficulty in combining a large intelligent body with wings big and powerful enough to lift it.)

Sapience Engineering

Some species have made modifications to themselves with genetic engineering, this often results in the creation of a new "offshoot" species with the engineered characteristics, as is the case with humans and transhumans.
The science of raising a non-sapient species to intelligence is called animal uplift.

Cover image: by Vertixico


Please Login in order to comment!
Powered by World Anvil