Humans in fantasy RPGs

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Painting: Michiel Jansz van Mierevelt, Anatomy lesson of Dr. Willem van der Meer, 1617

Each Sunday I’m publishing a monster illustration I’ve made for use in tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder. (So there’ll be a new one tomorrow.) You can download the files and use them in your own games if you back me on Patreon: Patreon.com/ChrisABooth

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Dr Nicholas William Moll’s broadcast the first two episodes in a series of podcasts about humans in fantasy RPGs, at Tabletop Vulture. I’d recommend listening to them if you appreciate some deeper reflection on what is going on in games. I would sum up the first two episodes as saying that in RPGs it tends to be that humans are presumed to be the default kind of person. What’s particularly problematic is that this default is often depicted as a light-coloured, European, heterosexual male. (I have to acknowledge that I think in 5th Edition they’re putting in a lot of effort to change this.)

I think one of the problems I have with humans is that, as the default race, they tend to be pretty uninteresting option. Since I started playing 3rd and 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons I haven’t once chosen to play as a human character. When I’ve run games for others I’ve barely ever had my players choose to play human either. In fact, it seems to me like the other race options are almost like more interesting versions of humans:

  • dwarves as resilient, underground humans
  • elves as agile, forest-dwelling humans
  • halflings as short, sneaky, fortunate humans
  • tieflings as devilish, marginal humans

I think that if humans are to stand out there needs to be something more interesting that would make them more distinct. How would you make humans more of an interesting character option?

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