"You are creatures of action. You pursue your goals with an almost indomitable determination. It is an admirable trait, but also an intimidating one." -Sariel Shanairra
Cities: Harrack Unath, Maelbrathyr, Monadhan, Sarthel, Sutulak, Vor Kragal, Vor Rukoth
In a world filled with unusual creatures and bizarre races, humans stand on their own as a ubiquitous part. No other race has the same combination of ambition, aggressiveness, and energy. Those attributes have enabled humanity to spread far and wide, and human nations cover most of the map. Humans are interesting because they’re so active. While dwarves are mining the depths of the earth and elves are contemplating ancient mysteries, humans are building empires, settling new lands, and fighting titanic wars with one another. The average human isn’t as hardy as the average dwarf or as nimble as the average halfling. The average elf has a greater knack for arcane magic, and the average orc is certainly stronger. But human adaptability and energy makes the concept of an “average” human pretty nebulous.
Individually, humans are vastly different from one another. Two humans chosen at random have less in common with each other than two elves - and if the two humans come from different cultures, they might have less in common with each other than an elf and a dwarf do. Human societies are just as varied as the humans that comprise them. Some human nations are sophisticated and organized, while others are brutal and barbaric. Just by walking down the road in a human land, you can find yourself among humans who talk, work, play, and worship completely differently from the humans that you used to know. This cultural variety is why multiple human nations each have their own culture. That’s the way of humans - to divide themselves up into different societies with different behaviors, customs, and aspirations. Elves, on the other hand, tend to have a single culture in most campaigns, even if their communities are spread across the campaign map and they’re not politically affiliated with each other. Put simply, elves usually act like elves. But it doesn’t mean much to say that humans act like humans.
Members of other races shake their heads in amazement when confronted with the wide spectrum of personalities that comprise humanity. Even within the same society, humans push the limits on variety. However, regardless of cultural influence or individual personality, some psychological traits define the human mind. If humans have a central psychological trait, it’s the remarkable energy and drive they apply to their endeavors. Whether in trade, exploration, warfare, or the arts, humans have an insatiable appetite for pushing the boundaries. Humans are tenacious when they set their minds to something, although not as stubborn as dwarves or as farsighted in their quests as elves. No goal is too far out of reach for a motivated human, and no ambition is too grand. This ambitious energy impels humans to settle on the edge of the wilderness, to build great cities and monuments, and to crusade against those who threaten them.
Human ambition is usually tied to another human trait: aggression. Humans have a primal desire to take what they do not possess and to expand their reach as far as possible. While this aggression often translates to violence—from a barroom brawl to a global war—it can take other forms. Political maneuvering, commercial trade, and acquisition of knowledge are all tools of human aggression. In her own way, a scheming merchant guild master is just as aggressive as a cavalry captain. She doesn’t just want to enrich her guild, she wants to impoverish her rivals in the process. Because of this aggression, other races are often wary when dealing with humans. Nonhuman diplomats everywhere know the aggressive human mentality and are mindful that humans may push too hard or immediately make war to get what they want.
Of all the races in the world, humans are the most forward-thinking. They spend less time looking back and remembering the past, and more time imagining the future. For example, a dwarf might undertake an adventure to prove himself worthy to his ancestors (past focus). A halfling might adventure so she can revel in the excitement of the moment (present focus). But a human will adventure to earn a knighthood and thus a better life for himself and his children (future focus). While most other races focus on preserving their way of life in the face of the world’s dangers, humans actively try to improve their way of life, both in the short term and for generations to come. Satisfaction is fleeting for a human; there’s always another mountain to climb, another castle to build, or another land to conquer.
Humans respond well to new beliefs and schools of thought, including magic and technology, although repressive human societies may hinder the spread of such advances (probably to keep them in the hands of the elite). Humans respond to catastrophe with remarkable flexibility and can bounce back from severe problems with a speed that amazes some of the other races. Because they’re confident of their ability to adapt, humans naturally seek out challenges that other races find daunting. A middle-aged human scribe might purchase farmland on the frontier and learn to farm, leaving his old livelihood and community behind. Then, when bandits threaten his homestead, the new farmer will take up arms himself and train his children to do the same. One manifestation of this adaptability is humans’ acceptance of people who act and behave differently from them. Because there’s so much variety from human to human, it’s easy for humans to be accepting of nonhuman variety as well.
Humans must deal with each other all the time, so it’s not too much of a stretch for a human to deal with a dwarf, an elf, or some more exotic creature. Another aspect of human adaptability is that a given human behaves differently from day to day, so humans are comfortable with changing their own behaviors and personality traits. The happy-go-lucky minstrel you meet in the spring might be morose in the summer after a friend dies, then full of wrath and vengeance in the autumn when he finds his friend’s murderer. The variety of human existence naturally pulls human personalities in different directions. For example, humans crave having their own voice and standing out from the crowd, but they also tend to “follow the herd” and adhere to the status quo. An individual human who strives to break from the mold can later become a defender of the status quo—or can defend some aspects of the status quo while advocating radical change in other aspects.
Because of their ability to thrive in almost any climate and terrain, humans often find themselves encountering other races, whether they are wanted or not. Some human societies see their nonhuman neighbors as allies, trading partners, or someone to ignore. Other nations may see nonhumans as subjects to be conquered or strangers to be feared.