What’s Wrong With Humans?

My recent forays back into RuneQuest, Basic Roleplaying, GURPS Third Edition, and Rolemaster have me repeatedly facing the same question in my mind: “What’s wrong with humans?”

No, I wasn’t really asking the fundamental philosophical and theological question about the state of the human condition. I mean to ask, in a fantasy roleplaying campaign world, why is it not enough to simply play a human character? Are humans just boring?

Growing up, I was exposed to the core Dungeons & Dragons fantasy tropes of a humancentric world with the classical species as significant minorities. Those were the Dwarves, Elves, and Halflings which (it seemed to me) were basically lifted from Tolkien. But today, after 50 years of roleplaying games and their attendant worlds, modern games tend to offer myriad species.

There is nothing wrong with playing a non-human character in an RPG but, for me, these cosmopolitan worlds filled with the equivalent of countless Star Wars aliens feel a little over-full. Is it that humans are too close to the real lives we have and that the escapism now feels incomplete without a totally mixed set of species?

My guess is that the freedom which roleplaying games offer the imagination means that players increasingly want to express their individually conceived characters through all means possible. Whereas an old Grog like me might be seeking a grounded fantasy based on the realism that Tolkien so highly prized, perhaps others are more free in their imaginations.

In the end, if you’re having fun with whatever character you’ve created then that’s enough for me. After all, I’ve been known to play Ratfolk simply because I love my own pet rats. I was just feeling curious.

Game on!


  1. Preface by stating that I prefer a humancentric world. Anyway, I think many players like having additional bells & whistles, and being a non-human with its panoply of differentiating factors is the avenue of choice. If a designer were to lay out all the choices in a grid, and humans had spiffs just as “cool” as the non-humans, perhaps that game would have more humans. I often play a human, and I usually try to make them distinctive in some way or other. This often leads to compliments at the table as the others are astounded at how I’ve made a human fighter with a spear into such an interesting character. Go figure.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It depends on the players and the mood. I’ve had payers that pick a race because they love to minmax, other’s do it because they love the flavor, I always go with whatever I think it is funny. I think escapism plays a role to an extent, but it also depends on the type of game.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m also a fan of playing humans, because I enjoy the aspect of the fantasy genre that involves discovering that which is unfamiliar, rather than being plugged into the unfamiliar from the jump.
    Plus it keeps D&D parties from looking like Monster Squad.

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  4. This topic is a pet peeve of mine.

    I often have the feeling that non-human character options provide a lot of unnecessary fluff and fuss.
    So does magic IMO – I am perfectly content with games like CP2020 or “historic” settings while an abundance of non-humans and/or magic often obfuscates the actual story or campaign core for me.

    And while it is not à la mode any more, I prefer the non-humans in class systems to follow the model of “race as class” because the non-humans should be different enough from the humans to have these differences be able to carry a class completely on their own.
    When you start to differentiate between lineage, culture and individual lifepath/training, you quickly see pretty non-elfy elves, un-dwarfy dwarves and so on. At that point, you might as well play a human and have the mechanical difference “only” come from culture and training.

    I am also of the opinion that not every difference in characters needs a mechanical basis and yes, two human fighters with the same equipment can be very different.
    When the big things (or at least the things gamers often tend to look for first) are the same, the small and subtle differences start to count and that’s when you get grounded and believable characters.
    Take a look at military RPGs, for example. There is no need for a character to dual wield shotguns or similar nonsense just to be different from a regular rifleman. Indeed, there is no *regular* rifleman – they are all people 😉

    Liked by 3 people

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