Monday, May 19, 2008

The Races: Humans


This entry is made is in memory of my beloved cat Pebbles, who was more human than feline.

“No fires tonight. We’re miles away from the Great Forest, but Blood Elves sometimes explore these plains, as well as orcs and who knows what else. Don’t think Merryl or Kors here will save you from their stewpots- Gods beyond, they’d probably eat them first. Don’t look so surprised. You ain’t the only one to realize it takes more n' round ears and blunt teeth to make someone human.”

Varshyl Threeteeth, an old reaver filling a new recruit’s head with truth and nonsense in equal measure.

Ages ago, the gods worked their divine forges day and night, breathing life into the world. They created all manner of races, from foul orcs to fair halflings. Humans would be their final creation. Although there are numerous theories, no one knows for sure why this is- and only the most cerebral of humans are even remotely interested. As a people, they prefer to create history rather than study it, and have raised empires, improved on simple hearth magics to create wizardry, and distilled love for their creators into organized religion. While they have not been playing on the world stage for very long compared to their fellows, an idealist would say that they have already made their mark and seem destined for greatness. A realist, however, would point out that no one is passing the torch on to humanity in particular. A true elf once compared humans to the youngest child of a large family, blissfully ignorant of their charmed existence.

Early, feral humanity needed many natural resources due to their fertility. They spread throughout the land in search of sustenance, and while the elves let them pass through the Yggdrasil unmolested- they were no better or worse than any other animal- the dwarves considered them dangerous savages, and sought to protect their lands from human depredation. Only the First Races had regular contact with them, but this too was violent. Life on the periphery of rising civilizations lead to competition, and each found the other too alien to coexist. Already weakened by aggression from the other Second Races, the disorganized First Races could not stand against the sheer ferocity of the humans. Victory was short lived, for no sooner did humans drive away their rivals did they begin to fight a losing battle against disease, exposure, and hunger. The fledgling people may not have survived if not for the sporadic clashes with the dwarves, who paradoxically introduced both sophisticated warfare and a rough system of barter. These stressors brought humans together as a people, introducing the beginnings of civilization.

Gnomes, who had watched these strange big folk from afar, saw in them a crude potential. They were curious where the average dwarf was stoic, and had a certain stability that halflings lacked. The gnomes advocated to keep the dwarves from slaying them out of hand, arguing that they needed the haft of the axe and not the blade. The dwarves were initially skeptical, but halflings supported the idea and put their energies into enforcing it rather than criticizing it. Initial encounters ended in violence, but over time the humans were convinced that the comparatively diminutive people were there to help, not harm. The halflings taught the humans the nuances of traveling with the seasons and how to find bounty even when at the mercy of the elements. The dwarves shared the secrets of the forge, and donated blooded weapons so that humans would be able to defend themselves should the First Races attack. Finally, the gnomes themselves educated humans in the magical and mundane aspects of trades such as carpentry and masonry, the better to turn their rough civilization into a true society.

Humans proved to be quick studies, learning by imitation. When the clannishness they picked up from the dwarves became bloody, they would take to the roads like halflings, and make new homes using the skills taught to them by the gnomes. They worked the land with reckless abandon, and soon human settlements could be found all over the continent, although the great metropolises of the north were renown for their seamless blend of gnomish and dwarven influences. There were some conservative voices among their patrons that began to urge caution and restraint- arguing that humanity had done too much too quickly, that they needed a few more centuries of guidance and education- but such protests fell upon deaf ears. Many on both sides argued that their star was on the rise.

Then, just as quickly as it had begun, their period of fosterage ended. Forces beyond human understanding clashed in a conflict they could not appreciate. The First Races swept through their cities like wildfire, and laid siege to keep them isolated. The comparatively short life span of humanity turned what the longer-lived races knew to be the Divine War into a Long Night with neither beginning nor end, entire generations knowing nothing but grief. The passage of time warped and eroded the lessons they had learned centuries previous. Scattered and backward once more, humanity did the only thing it could remember- adapt.

The circumstances to which they adapted to varied wildly depending on where they settled after the war. In the North, the dragons found that they needed but wait a few centuries before these fragile, naive creatures came to view them with the same reverence as the gods they replaced. To the South, orcs found them to be delightful chattel, both intrigued and repulsed by their similarities. Humans were rare sights in the East and West, but served as entertainment and nourishment when found, with a slight emphasis towards the latter with the dead and the former with the living. Hunted into their last generation, gnomes could only watch with pity as this once-great people grew accustomed to life upon its knees.

However, there were those who preferred to die on their feet. For every score that endured and even relished servitude, there were a few who raised the hue and cry of rebellion. Most of these firebrands met the painful and public ends reserved for traitors and their collaborators, but some broke through siege lines and evaded capture to make contact with a world that had forgotten them.

Lacking any centralized identity, individual groups of humans made and received a variety of first impressions. Depending on their point of departure, the first people a group of rogue humans stumbled across were either halflings or the Shuu, and neither knew what to make of these bedraggled savages. With rare exception, the elves condemned these refugees and interacted with them only at the considerable reach of a longbow, but the halflings approached them, sensing the financial opportunities that accompany isolation. Some rebuffed the diminutive con artists and preferred to survive on their own- slowly returning to their barbarous origins- but many were eager for civilized companionship and traded their few possessions for supplies and information about the world around them. When talk turned to avenging themselves upon their enemies, halflings cautiously re-introduced humanity to dwarves, who were all too happy to equip such a crusade. Now outfitted with arms and allies, a new age began as the last Second Race struggled to regain its birthright.

Now into their third generation, what was once a clutch of desperate refugees had grown into a small army of free men. Marching with the double handful of halflings and dwarves that deigned to follow them into battle, they took the South by storm with raids that were disorganized as they were brutal. Casualties were high, but the humans once kept as thralls by the nascent orc province swelled the flagging numbers of their liberators. Some even went so far as to bring their half-orc offspring with them, although those who were born free would trust neither parent nor child in full. The ensuing friction caused a major rift within an already opinionated people, as humanity quarreled over what to make of their neighbors. Most considered the dwarves by turns staid or reckless but ultimately trustworthy, and enjoyed the company of halflings provided they kept their opinions and hands to themselves. All were at a loss when it came to true elves, which loosed more than one kind of quarrel at the mothers of elf-blooded bastards. These latest half-breeds were accepted with greater joy than the first; but as the campaign spread into the Northern Marches and swords were crossed with devious common elves, whose half-human get often carried the standard of vile half-dragon lieutenants into battle, the fruit of all mixed unions was deemed rotten. But to this day, nothing can match the compassion and loathing with which humans on opposite sides of the compass rose view each other. Men of the North consider their cousins brutes who should offer their wyrm-gods expiation, and those in the South believe all others to be slaves so inured to obedience that they are almost too dangerous be set to free.

Humans vary widely in height and weight, although males are usually taller and broader than females. Parent and child resemble each other as often as not due to the high incidence of recessive and novel traits expressed in hair, eye and skin color throughout the generations.

More so than any other people, humans are molded by their personal experiences, yet paradoxically place great stock in hearsay and conjecture. Most are willing to entertain the idea of exceptions to the rule, but there are those who will cling to their preconceived notions even in the face of evidence to the contrary. They are great lovers of slang and innuendo, and their language- a mishmash of dwarven and halfling, with bits of gnomish called Trade- grows each day in reflection of the people that created it.

Humans are too individualistic to prefer any one alignment as a people. Bloody-handed murderers, crusading anodynes, and humble scribes can all be found among them.

Only half-elves are more willful and diverse than humans, who want to know everything about anything- and then some. The first class an adventurer takes a level in is their preferred class, but the impulsive nature of humanity makes multi-classing common.

As described in the PHB.

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