Monday, August 15, 2022

Humans, the People of the Valley

All along the creeks and the lake-shores live the humans, farming and hunting where the water and the woods meet.  Humans are a proud people, bold and eager for fame.  Whenever you hear shouts and the barking of dogs, get ready it's either time for a feast or time for a fight.

Appearance

Humans (called yaskan yah-skahn in their own tongue) are taller than goblins, shorter than giants and elves, and quite strong for their size.  They are mostly hairless except for the hair on their heads, which grows very long and is the object of much attention and vanity.

Unlike other species, humans have a very poor sense of smell, having to rely on the senses of their dogs instead.

Roleplaying

The yaskan are the only people with enough strength and accuracy to use throwing weapons.  While they do make their own (such as spears) a human is never unarmed as long as they can find a rock or a heavy stick to throw.

When playing a human character, here are some tips to make them feel more human:

  • Show your value.  Before a fight, make a show of your strength and ferocity.  When trading, show off the superior qualities of your trade goods.  In a social gathering, tell a boastful tale of your accomplishments.
  • If you're not sure what to do, improvise.  Humans are famous for jury-rigging a solution out of whatever tools they have at hand.  If anyone's going to use something the wrong way and make it work, it's a human.

If you're going to have the indigenous humans in your roleplaying game, I've got some other guidelines you might want to consider:

  • Being poor doesn't mean you deserve it.  You can make all the right choices and still lose.
  • Everyone is active in the world; no one's just sitting around waiting to be discovered.

These guidelines apply to all three of the indigenous peoples, but I'm mentioning them here for human characters because the real history is all about humans, and some of those humans got about the shortest end of the stick ever offered in this universe.

Lifestyle

Humans mostly live near lakes and small waterways, preferably in lightly-forested or grassy areas.  You won't find many humans in areas that are too dry, too cold, too overgrown, or too waterlogged.  Living near the water, humans use canoes or other small boats to get around.  On land they travel by foot, by dogsled, or by travois.

Their preferred weapons are guns (when they can get them) or bows (when they cannot).  In close quarters the humans often use iron throwing axes and wooden war clubs.

Humans are divided up into tribes, identifiable to outsiders by their tattoos, clothing, and hairstyles.  Outsiders who don't know any better tend to judge humans by their tribe, bringing retribution on everyone.  To themselves, the primary unit of human governance is the town.

Their usual food is heavy in corn, fish, and potatoes.  Human food is known for being smokier and greasier than other people like.

Other People

These days, the yaskan often find themselves at war with their neighbors.  Times are tough and resources are scarce.

  • The elves are a dangerous and wealthy foe.  Individual elves are weak and fare poorly in the wilderness, but a whole regiment of elves can kill and loot as they please.  Humans have gone deeply into debt buying the guns and powder they need to fight the cities of the elves.
  • Most human tribes have a healthy respect for the giants, telling folktales of the terrible vengeance of the giants in days long gone by.  When a giant wanders through a human town today, they're respected as a trader and storyteller.
  • Goblins are the reason humans don't like to go deep into the woods.  You hear the cry of a child or the patter of distant conversation, but it's all a ruse, and a dozen goblins land on you with teeth and claws.

Most human tribes are struggling to reclaim what they lost during the Starving Time, seeing their lands encroached on further and further each year.

Inspiration

Humans in this setting fill the historical role of organized indigenous people responding to colonialism: the Iroquois League, the stratified societies of the Pacific Northwest, the Lakota moving onto the plains, people trying to rebuild a life after the decimation of warfare and disease.

Their aesthetics are mostly inspired by the indigenous people of the eastern woodlands of the US, with some Maori influence thrown in.  Their language borrows its sounds mostly from Algonquian tongues (because that's what all the placenames were in where I grew up) but a few consonant clusters are taken from Iroquoian languages.  (As much as I'd like to, I won't try to make my players pronounce Salishan-inspired names.)

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