Sunday, March 29, 2020

Humans - The Dopest Race Around

I hang out in a few game design communities. None of them are any good except the ones specifically targeted for OSR content (which is why even though my game His Majesty the Worm isn't a retroclone it is OSR-adjacent). One of the perennial posts I see in these communities is: What are humans good at?

When you have other races, it seems obvious what their advantages are. Elves are smart and magical and agile. Krogans are super tough and battle ready and don't breed well. Etc. etc. But humans? What are they good at?

Because this post is perennial, I see the same stock responses over and over, and I always feel like they miss the point. So here's a braindump of all the things I think humans are good at.

Humans are tribal
And I mean this in the best way possible. They are community minded. They help each other. Bonds of shared blood, language, faith, and culture keep humans connected with their neighbors. In peace, they aspire to live up to their community's ideals. In war, they'll die to defend these ideals. Speaking of...

Humans are warlike
Because those savages over their with their primitive gods are no match for our enlightened culture and true faith, humans are always fighting. They train for war. They prepare for it. They horde arms and armor. They give social credit to the strong and brave and deny it to the weak and cowardly. They've trained horses and elephants to aid them in battle. They remember effective stratagems by making stories and songs about them.

Humans have mastered iron
Iron is the best metal. It's stronger than magic or song and can endure incredible hardship. And humans can fold it into any shape they want! Their tools are the best around.

Humans can lie
I mean, they can just say anything they want! If they swear an oath, they don't even have to uphold it! If they sign a contract, they can do whatever they want!

Humans can go into each other's houses
They don't even have to be invited in!

Humans are tough as shit
Humans can survive sunlight, moonlight, salt, flowing water, blood, alcohol, the touch of iron or silver. Their only true enemy is fire. But that's true of most everyone.

Humans have mastered nature
Humans can gather food, raise crops, and hunt game. They have broken and tamed horses, dogs, cattle, cheetahs, elephants, camels, chickens, ravens, goats, even the wily cat. They raise houses from the stone of the earth. All this without the aid of magic. 

Humans are anti-magic
Unless a human makes the Witch's Pact, they are essentially immune to magic (both for good and for ill). In fact, their paladins and churches are anti-magical areas. The Others cannot cross into those places.


  1. D&D tends to use the idea that humans are generalists, they can do anything, their ability score bonuses go wherever they'd like, they get an extra feat or skill.

    Personally, I kind of like the idea of humans being social. Perhaps humans get a bonus to charisma specifically. Perhaps every human character gets a free hireling / henchman / assistant / camp follower. And if charisma is tied to initiative and resisting magical fear (as I think it should be) then humans are also quite brave, perhaps because their group gives them courage.

  2. Faerie Tales and Folklore makes their anti-magic their central feature. They cannot be wizards, they suppress Fey when in great numbers, and they get the game's version of turn undead but against magical beings.

  3. Humans tend to be generalists because we tend to imagine alien species by exaggerating a human trait. We are the central stem of a tree, and then all the other races are just "human, only more X".

    I've yet to see a setting where humans are the huge, brutish orcs, and the other six races are small, peaceful, intelligent, and more magical. People would say that the other six races in this setting are too similar, and they wouldn't play it. (Why does this setting have six races of gnomes and only one page on humans?)

    (Or the inverse, where humans are the intelligent, magical species, and the rest of the races are huge, stupid, and warlike.)

    Maybe that's how the orcs see the rest of the world, too.

    Humans have a hard time imagining ourselves outside of the middle of things, and we have a hard time having fun thinking of humans that way, too.

    1. I generally have no problem with this approach - these games are made FOR humans, obviously. But a little flavour here and there can be nice (something along the lines of what Anne and Dire Grizzly Bear said above).

    2. It's not quite the same thing, but I've been working on a Hobbit/Prydain-type thing based on Josh's Wilderlands material here, and mechanically Men are the large, strong race. Elves and Dwarves are different types of specialists, and orcs are short, numerous, and comfortable underground. If you are going to have a couple different kinds of short species and one willowy graceful one, then Aragorn and Boromir clearing the snow on Carathras seemed like a decent niche to go with.

      Humans also use dogs, which I think is more generally applicable as a gameable feature for the species. Signs in the Wilderness had something good about that.

  4. Biologically, there's a couple of things that humans are good at.

    - Long-distance running. Seriously. We can beat horses if the race is long enough.

    - Making a true fist. Apes can come close, but can't roll their fingers up all the way, or protect their thumb properly.

    - Having ludicrously large penises and breasts compared to other apes.

    - I could also say stuff like language, but if we're assuming fantasy races, that wouldn't be true.

    1. I remembered long-distance running mentioned on Google+ in a similar discussion. It's pretty unintuitive, especially considering our modern lifestyle.

    2. It's more fair to say Humans have greater endurance. We're persistence hunters; we can chase down any prey animals given enough time, and in some cases kill them through exhaustion.