Sunday, March 11, 2012

Humans in FRPGs: Awe and Wonder

My post on a potential Human Kindred Modifier at the beginning of February sparked some good discussion here and seemed to spark even more at Trollhalla (or at least I assume it was my mention of the topic; I could be wrong). So it seems to be a worthy topic to continue here.

The fundamental question raised by most is: why play a human in Tunnels and Trolls, or any fantasy role playing game for that matter, given the inherent mechanical advantages of nonhumans? I typically play human characters in T&T and other games so I feel that I can provide an answer to this question. The primary reason has nothing to do with game mechanics and everything to do with role playing.

Playing a human provides a sense of awe and wonder.

Nonhuman characters, dwarves, elves, hobbs, leprechauns, fairies, are fantastic in nature; they are a part of the fantasy world that you are exploring. If everything and everyone is fantastic in nature, then where is the marvel over the fantasy? Where is the awe and wonder as you explore the world? Dwarves were raised in huge underground cities. Elves live hundreds of years and are effectively immortal. Leprechauns and fairies are inherently magical. Fairies can even fly. You may even decide that some of the nonhuman kindred like dwarves and elves can see in the dark (I am glad Ken did not).

Will these nonhuman characters care if they are exploring an ancient ruined temple or castle? Will exploring a cave be anything other than like returning home? Will that dark forest fill your characters with a sense foreboding or a sense of nostalgia instead?

Raised in a small town or even a city, human characters will find such locations to be mysterious and wondrous. An alien world lies out there waiting to be explored; lost cities, lost civilizations, and lost treasures guarded by unknown beasts and strange creatures. All of these things have a powerful force of attraction to adventurous humans, but they still instill fear and even terror. What is a man or woman in comparison to these supernatural forces after all?

My basic point here is that the fragility of the average human character is an appealing trait to me. Those human warriors, wizards and rogues are heading out into a world where most things are tougher than they are with just some skill, knowledge, and equipment to set themselves apart. When they do go to explore those ruins, caves, or dark forests those locations will be as alien to them as another planet, full of mystery and unknown terrors.

Of course I don't expect everyone to agree with my opinion. Feel free to give your own thoughts on the matter.


  1. I like role-playing a human character. It's definitely much easier for me. I never really thought about a dwarf exploring a cavern as ho-hum. Nice thoughts. Very nice.

  2. I've always had a preference for playing human characters, myself. I've always thought about it in terms of my ability to "relate" to the human character. While not worded exactly the same way, this idea does seem largely connected to the sense of wonder you describe above (i.e. it's easy for me to see the world through my human character's eyes). Very nice post.

  3. I almost exclusively role-play human characters in T&T ('coz I like the added challenge!); but I haven't succeeded very often in getting human characters beyond 1st level in v5 T&T (admittedly, that's playing the FBI solos, many of which are pretty lethal - but especially for human characters in my experience, as it's often failed SRs that have been their downfall).

  4. In his Fragmentary History of Trollworld Ken includes his own personal takes on the races, and in those descriptions they all have a defect of some sort that helps balancing them. Sadly he didn't include these as an option in the actual rules, because now players will feel cheated if you tack them on later, on the other hand if he had then you'd have that same set of rules lawyers complaining that they want to play a Dwarf "By The Book" should you decide that your dwarves are blind troglodytes.

  5. Not only do I Dan's original essay, but I think this is the sort of thing which should go into TrollZine.

    And Capheind, if you get rules lawyers in a T&T game, remind them that going by the book is almost actively discouraged in T&T, where we're encouraged to wing it so often!

    *jeep! & God Bless!

  6. Rules lawyers were the main reason I stopped playing D&D in the first place... I fear their encroachment in every RPG.

  7. Great post, Dan: I also have a fondness for the human characters - both as a player and a GM. I've been finding a need to humanize the other kindreds in my games somewhat, for that matter. Heck, if it weren't for "The Good Kindreds" being so close to the heart of the game, I've half a mind to run a "human players only" game, and go the low-fantasy, Fritz Leiber route.

    A lot comes down to the game, like most RPGs, being a game of limited information.: how does one reconcile the *player's* basic lack of information about the wider world, with the supposed breadth of experience of their elvish character? Even at level one, what has that elf been doing the fifty years or so it's been alive? Frolicking? I suppose we handwave that away as part of the elf's inherent braininess...

    Capehind, you and me are together on that: I abandoned D&D for the same reason and have always run T&T or Classic Traveller (books 1-3, not so much the later stuff) in order to defeat the lawyer hordes.