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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Orthos's Observations: Humans

So I'm going to be kind of painfully blunt here.

I don't like Humans in roleplaying games. I really never have, now that I think about it.

On this subject, I'm That Guy. If you don't have one in your group, I'm sure you've had one in the past, or met them somewhere - either at a Con, or at a public gaming place like a FLGS, or at the very least on the Internet. The guy who's always asking the GM if s/he can play this or that different race. Testing to see where the GM's limits of "only these races are allowed" really extend to, or if a thorough-enough backstory will allow an exception to the rule. That guy who wants to try the most exotic, unusual, bizarre character idea out there, while the rest of the party is made up of walk-on extras from a Tolkien knock-off.

Now, before you get out the torches and pitchforks....

Normally, I'm happy to play within the expectations, if on the fringes. If it's "core stuff only", I'll play a Gnome or Dwarf or Half-Orc. Something not-Human, not-Elf, and rarer than the norm. If the "bestiary playables" are allowed, I'll usually go Tiefling, or one of the Elemental-based races. I really like Changelings, too, for some reason. (Think it has something to do with a combination of being a Female-only race, the innate heterochromia, and the innate flavor of being hag-spawn and connected to the Witch class, one of the few prepared casters that's cool enough to bypass my Vancian-casting dislike.) But if there's a chance of playing something odder, I'll usually be the first to pounce on it.

Just a quick summary of the characters I've played in the past (Neverwinter Nights not included, duplicates not repeated):
Half-Drow, Duergar, Air Genasi, Kobold, Dwarf, Killoren, Tiefling, Dragonborn (both 3.5 and 4E versions), Half-Fiend, Half-Dragon, Illumian, Half-Orc, Gnome, Halfling, Naga*, Entomorph*, and Arachne*.

*: custom race from Finiens. You'll hear more on them soon enough!

Yeah. Outside NWN I don't think I've ever played a Human for a game that lasted past the first session. Maybe once or twice. But, unless you count the Illumian as just a Human knockoff (not horribly inaccurate, I admit) they weren't at all memorable. All of those characters I listed above didn't last forever either - only the Naga and the Arachne are still actively played, in Council of Thieves and Rise of the Runelords respectively, and the Half-Fiend and the Dwarf are prominent NPCs in Finiens for different reasons - but I remember them more. Probably because I spent a lot more time working on them as characters than I did the Human ones.

Simply put, I don't much see the appeal of playing a Human in a Fantasy or Sci-Fi game. There's nothing fantastical or otherworldly about Humans. I know some people enjoy being the "normal guy experiencing an extranormal reality/circumstance", but I'm not one of them.

And that's just their flavor. Their mechanics bug me even more. Humans are, by far, the best race for anything in 3.5/Pathfinder. A bonus feat without restrictions and a free skill point each level? And a free-floating +2 to put in any stat? AND usually the best favored-class options in the entire book? Why WOULDN'T you play Human if you're going for raw mechanical power? I laugh every time I see someone deride exotic races for being "just for powergamers looking to min-max every option". Humans beat them every time. Mechanically you just don't get better than Humans. At All.

So yeah, that is a long-winded summary of my feelings on playing Humans. 

All that said... not everyone shares that opinion. Some players, as stated, like Humans. Whatever their reasons, they enjoy it, and that's fine by them. (Just don't invite me to a Humans-only game ;) ) And I really dislike the idea of banning or removing something from the game just because "I don't like it". I've met too many GMs who do that. If you don't mind another rant... the NWN server I spent most of my time on, The Cormyr/Dalelands Project, had a system where players could apply to play more exotic races than the usual. The available options were pretty standard. The entire gamut of Forgotten Realms planetouched (Aasimar, Tiefling, the four Elemental-touched), Drow, Duergar, Deep Gnome, Half-Celestial, Half-Fiend, Half-Dragon, and one or two others were pre-programmed into the server. Other races could be applied for, but if the NWN engine didn't have the required mechanisms in place for them, they'd have to be kludged from what was available or in some cases outright ignored. About halfway into the server's lifespan, a group of GMs was currently in power that had very ... specific ideas about what sort of thing they wanted to see on the server. Among this was a severe reduction in the amount of exotic races that were present, with a specific focus on Drow. "I don't think Drow should be an allowed playable race" and "I don't think we need any more Drow PCs" were very common reasons that these GMs would give for rejecting an application.

Not "I don't think your roleplaying ability that you've demonstrated to the staff is sufficient that we can trust you with this complex race."

Not "I think this person needs more experience."

Not "I don't think this is a very solid backstory."

Just outright "I personally don't want this race/more of this race on the server."

That ticked me off to no end. It was one of the main reasons, along with some personality conflicts and disagreements about how the server should be run, that I went on one of my sabbaticals from C/D. And it severely colored the way I handle things in my own games, online and off, when it comes to races, classes, and other world options I personally do not care for.

I don't like Humans as PCs myself. I find them boring. I don't like Wizards either. I don't like prepared casting, and their class abilities aren't interesting enough to get around that dislike. (Unlike say Witches and Magi.) But I don't ban Wizards from my games. I have one player who really likes them. And I don't ban Humans. Again, I have players who like them. And it'd be a douchebag move of me as a GM to say "No, I don't think I'm going to allow that race or that class in my world, I don't like it."

So there are Humans in Finiens. And if they're going to be here, they're going to need to be as interesting as anything else we put in the game. When we first started working on Finiens, it was a stereotypical fantasy world. Humans dominated nearly everything, and the only race outside the "standard seven" that we'd put any amount of work into was the Yuan-Ti, who I'll expand on later in great detail. Many of the other custom, exotic races came later. But while we were working on it, the disparity became noticeable to me, and it bugged me that I was dealing with yet another world - after Greyhawk, Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, and Golarion - that was horribly humanocentric.

So we started trimming back. In Stormwind we removed the Humans from the Ice Claw (save for a couple cities in the southern areas) and handed the place over completely to the Orcs and the Glaistigs. We made Denvushain more cosmopolitan, mixing in the Leoni, Elves, and Kobolds and reducing the Human dominance. We made the Sentara Forest of the Elves and the Sombersong Wood of the Yuan-Ti separate and independent of Olympia's control. In Wachara we created Divus, Eirene, and Seredína, all with no Human leadership (and in the case of Seredína, no Human population), and removed the Human barbarian tribes from The Northlands and made its masters highly hostile to Human (and other "civilized races") intrusion. We left Humans in Anhur and turned their presence up as high as it would go, turning it into the only "highly pro-Human" area in the setting. And in Senkaku we handed over control of the isles to the Naga and made the Humans late-arrivers to the continent rather than natives.

This still leaves several countries - Anhur, Galadae, Olorunium and most of the Olori Lands, Olympia, and partially Denvushain - with sizeable Human leadership, and a notation that even where Humans aren't in charge there's very few areas they don't live at all. Which fits with what most people expect of Humans in a fantasy setting without giving them free reign over everything or having the entire setting revolve around them like most published worlds do.

I get a world that isn't humanocentric, my Human-liking players get a world where Humans are still common and still do great things.

I'd say in this case Everybody Wins.

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