"Man the mortal; master of horses..." what a crock
This is patently ridiculous.
- Elves are good at magic. That’s why human spell-books and prayers are written in elven.
- Dwarves are good at making stuff. That’s why human artifacts are dwarvencraft hand-me-downs.
- Orcs are good at fighting. That’s why most human wars are fought by orcish mercenaries.
Humans aren’t good at anything. We aren’t “good at endurance” or “versatile” or “plucky” or any of that horseshit. Humans are the weakest, shittiest fantasy race.
Let’s embrace that.
To clarify, we aren’t the MOST pathetic species to stand on two legs. We just don’t measure up to other fantasy races at all.
A large part of this is due to the fact that all of our unique strengths as a species (intelligence, language, social structure) are assumed to be the default for sentient fantasy races. If we took those traits away from elves or orcs, we wouldn’t recognize them as beings capable of interacting peacefully with human society.
That isn’t to say that being human is without upsides. Consider how most D&D campaigns take place in or adjacent to a mostly-human society; our home turf! The unique advantage of being human is that you are NOT another race—elf, dwarf, etc—in a cultural context where being “the other” can be dangerous.
This secret racial perk goes unexplored in most additions of D&D, perhaps because the casual ttrpg crowd doesn’t want to drag fantasy racism into their campaign. (Unless you choose to be a tiefling, half-orc, or similarly “dark” race.)
At the very least, it feels weird to write it out as a mechanical tradeoff: “okay, you can choose between darkvision and a cast-iron stomach, or immunity to racial discrimination”
If being human is an option in your games, don’t give them mechanical bonuses for being human. Use them for speedy character creation and nothing else.
If, as a player, you want a mechanical bonus for your species, then don’t be a human. (Their bonuses range from boring to min/max anyway. Might as well ignore them)
Better yet, no bonuses for race at all. Screw weapon proficiencies, darkvision, and the horse they rode in on; you’re just people on an adventure, some of whom happen to have bad accents. I feel like 5e is moving in this direction after Tasha’s (even if they wussed out of making it the default) and its a much more freeing space to play pretend in.
“But that’s unbalanced! Nobody will want to play as a human without incentive!”
Fine. Play an international coalition of fae pirates. Or assemble a gonzo fantasy Oceans 11. Or re-enact the Hobbit.
Or just play a human anyway, because you want to.
Everyone loves an underdog.