[Repeated from a post on RPG Geek, as I've been meaning to explore the concept further.]
What further accounts we have are fabulous: as that the Hellusians and Oxiones have the countenances and aspect of men, with the bodies and limbs of savage beasts. This, as a thing about which I have no certain information, I shall leave untouched.
One of the beliefs in the ancient world was that civilization made the man. Those peoples removed from civilization were not only barbarians, but as they became further removed from the civilized world, they became more savage and alien and bestial, until just past the limits of the known world, the men took on the appearance of beasts.
An idea I’ve been kicking around since last winter is a fantasy world where ‘civilization makes the man’ is true—at least in some respect. It’s the basis of what I hope to be an upcoming campaign world, and this post is as much to start forcing me into doing something about it as anything else.
The general idea for the setting is a fantasy world taking a lot of cues from Earth around the 6th Century. That is, I want to borrow a lot from history without feeling the need to do a lot of research to get it right. Two of the first things I need to do is start coming up with new names for all the historical analogs so they can start taking on their own character, and working out the geography. The part I’m really working with in my head is the equivalent to Western Europe.
No one, not even the scholars of the Empire, know where people come from. ‘People’ come in all sorts of forms. But it is known that the more ‘civilized’ a people are, the more they look the same. Moreover, a people that becomes more settled, more advanced, in technology, philosophy, and any of a number of other things, in time begin to look more… ‘human’, where as less advanced peoples continue to resemble the animals from whence they presumably sprang [which is to say, they're furries].
The Empire was founded by a people who had only recently become ‘human’ themselves, and early on adopted a citizenship requirements that looked for these traits. As the Empire spread, and the system became entrenched, various peoples were accorded rights within the Empire based on where on a scale of ‘human’ and ‘animal’ traits they fall.
The glory days of the Empire are long past, and today many lands are no longer administered directly by the Empire, though various invading tribes maintain the forms of the Empire, even though none of them would have the ius homii [human/ruling rights] under the Empire’s rule.
Peoples such as the [Romans] are fully human (though that’s only been true for about 800 years), while long-term subjects of the Empire such as the [Gauls] more resemble an anime-style furry—animal ears and tail and little else. Peoples from outside the barbaricum are more traditional furries, with all sorts of mixes with digitigrade legs and long muzzles (which tend to be the first to go), and then all sorts of shadings in between for more transitional peoples. [It is possible that various centaur-like creatures also exist, but I haven't made up my mind on that.]