Thursday, December 06, 2007

Why aren't humans weird?

About a month ago, Jeff wrote this nifty post describing religion in a home-brew campaign world he's creating. In it, he describes how religion is a distinctly human activity and other races find it kind of creepy. Personally, I think the idea would work without his cosmology... even letting other races believe in the existence of gods without worship or religion is sort of neat in my head.

Why?

Well, to me it comes down to the characterization of other races in RPGs (and much fiction). Typically, elves are nature-loving, long-lived humans with pointy ears. Dwarves are short, tough, underground-dwelling humans with a love of stone. Vulcans are emotionless, psychic humans with pointy ears. Klingons are warlike, honorable humans with funny foreheads.

See a pattern? Humans are the base. Humans are normal. D&D - and, really, every RPG I've seen other than Decipher's Lord of the Rings game - formalizes this by making the default human ability scores and such the base for everything else in the game.

Why aren't humans weird. That's where I thought Jeff's idea was brilliant. It took something we see as central to human culture - religion - and said, "This is weird. This isn't something other races do... or even understand."

How could this idea be expanded on? What alternatives could there be to religion as a distinctly human activity?

Here are a few possibilities:
  • Drunkenness (or, really, any intentional artificial mind-altering) for recreational purposes
  • Cuisine - maybe other races lack an acute sense of taste, or don't see food as anything other than needed to survive.
  • Money
  • Careers
  • Economics in general - employment, ownership, trade, economic valuation, whatever.
  • Medicine/health care
  • Art
  • Music
  • Romantic love
  • Recreational sex
  • Spoken language
  • Heredity/family ties
The list could go on.

What's the point, though? Well, let's grab one of these and say that humans are the only intelligent creatures (in a standard D&Desque fantasy world) that really care about family. Other races are longer lived, so heredity isn't really important. Marriage is a distinctly human idea. Elves don't connect sexuality with romance or commitment in any way. Dwarves engage in ritual sexual intercourse as a duty to their community and don't particularly enjoy it. Elven children are cherished and are raised by their entire community. An elven child's father is almost never known, and holds no special place in that child's life. Even an elven child's mother doesn't play a particularly important role for that child once it is a few days old. Dwarves don't go in for that mushy stuff with kids. They're all tossed into a nursery and someone tends them. They don't even get named or differentiated from each other until they can talk. Both of them think that humans with their nuclear families and dynasties and inheritances and family names are nuts.

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