Humans take a minor hit in Eclipse: with the abolishment of Classes, being able to treat any class they like as being “Favored” becomes meaningless. With the ability to design your own feats the ability to freely select a bonus feat is more useful than ever, but – since every character can spend their character points on any desired ability – it’s less impressive in comparison. It’s not that humans have gotten any weaker, it’s just that the other races have been let out of their straitjackets.
On the other hand, humans do get Fast Learner as a racial bonus, allowing them to take it twice – a major long-term benefit. More importantly, they can spend three character points (since they’ve already got 3 CP invested in the half-cost version), whether from disadvantages or from that initial bonus feat, to upgrade it’s Specialization/Skills only from “half cost” to “double effect” – thus gaining eight skill points at level one and two additional skill points per level, rather than four and one. That option effectively pays for itself at first level, and will continue to pay dividends throughout the character’s career.
Personally, I don’t really think that humans need any additional bonuses to stay competitive in an Eclipse-based d20 game. Neither do most of the local players, who often make human characters. Still, human variants and upgrades are one of the more common requests – so here are a few possibilities based on the notion that “humans” are not the bland base on which other races are built.
The best place to start is probably a look at what traits are distinctively human. Not items that go with simply being sapient – complex speech, tool use, the ability to pass on information to future generations, and so on – but what would fundamentally distinguish a human from, let us say, a sapient anthropomorphic raccoon in game terms? Looks, skin covering, and similar cosmetic modifications don’t really mean anything in d20. A sapient creature with feathers for hair, green blood, and a radically different skeletal layout that was interfertile with normal humans would send a biologist into raving fits, but on many d20 worlds no one would even blink. In many d20 worlds humans are interfertile with animated hunks or rock or masses of fire!
So what are some distinctive human traits?
Humans are intensely tribal. They form intensely-loyal groups easily on a small scale, but when those groups get too large, tend to break up into quarrelsome smaller groups just as easily. Neurologically, this is simply because the human brain can only handle a limited number of complex personal relationships before resorting to a simplified classification scheme to handle the remainder. Of course, most other creatures can’t handle anywhere near that many complex relationships – and aren’t nearly so intense about it. Ergo we could add:
Tribalism: Humans group with other humans to form close personal friendships, and intensely-loyal tribes, quickly and easily. They perform at their best when defending those relationships. Presence/+1 Morale Bonus to attacks, damage, saves, and checks, Specialized for double effect (+2 bonuses)/only when defending members of their immediate tribe or family or extremely close personal friends (6 CP).
That wouldn’t usually make a difference in small-party play – at least not until they’d been together long enough to consider each other close friends – but it would certainly say something about why so many towns and cities are primarily human.
Humans are good with missile weapons. There’s a well thought out theory that the human brain is, in large part, optimized for the “Projectile Predator” niche. Now, there’s no reason to expect that nonhuman brains – which may have arrived at sapience in radically different ways, or be optimized for entirely different things – to have that same adaption. Ergo, we could simply assign humans a bonus:
Projectile Predator, bonus to BAB, Specialized/only with projectile weapons, does not contribute to iterative attacks (3 CP for +1, 6 CP for +2).
That would have more effect on small-group play, but probably less effect – if only because it’s less general – on the overall dominance of humans in the world. You might expect to see humans relying a bit more on projectile weapons than on melee weapons, but the rule of “ranged weapons first, then close” is pretty much universal anyway.
Humans can tolerate heat well. Humans lack of fur and large numbers of sweat glands may make them easier to track by scent, but it also gives them a major advantage when it comes to heat tolerance and endurance. This may not be too noticeable if all the local playable species are simply near-humans, but in worlds featuring furry (and thus heat-retaining due to insulation), large (and thus heat-retaining due to the smaller ratio of surface area to volume) or otherwise heat-sensitive types, it’s worth noting. Humans might thus have
Heat Tolerance: Resist/+2 (3 CP) or Resist/+4 (6 CP) Nameless Bonus on saving throws to resist the effects of fatigue, heat exhaustion, and similar difficulties.
This won’t have much effect on most games, since the topic doesn’t come up at all often – but it would neatly explain why you so often find desert-dwelling humans, and so rarely find desert-dwelling dwarves, elves, and halflings.
Humans are remarkably well-adapted for long-term efforts – especially long-distance jogging and walking, at which humans are astoundingly energy-efficient (you can find some biological information on that HERE and HERE). Humans aren’t as good at sprinting or short-range movement as many other animals, but they run marathons that would kill many other mammals simply for fun, they can use their hands to eat and drink while moving, and they can exploit a wider variety of food resources than most other mammals. They can’t match a bird or a cetacean – both of whom have their own, very specialized, advantages – but humans sometimes act as endurance hunters, simply continuing to push a prey animal until it collapses from exhaustion. Their advantage here would be partially covered by the bonus on saves from the last paragraph, but we could quite reasonably give them something like:
Enduring Traveler: Celerity, +20′ ground movement, Specialized/only for use in calculating long-distance travel ranges (4 CP).
Well, there we have a reason why you find humans everywhere you go; they just do better at long-distance walking travel than anyone else. Of course, since the speed of a group is set by the slowest member, this isn’t going to have much of any effect on a party of adventurers – although it may affect foot-messengers. Of course, a message-spell or radio will still beat out pretty much any runner, so that’s a moot point in most d20 settings.
Humans also swim extremely well for a land-based creature, and can learn to swim very easily and very early – but there are still plenty of non-swimmers out there, ergo this isn’t an innate bonus. In d20, it’s simply represented by the fact that humans start getting some bonus skill points early on, and are perfectly free to spend them on the Swim skill if they so desire. There’s no cost for making that decision other than the usual opportunity cost – that is, not having those skill points available to spend on something else.
We could get into the various benefits and limitations of the human spine, variously optimized eyes, the fact that humans are prone to respiratory illnesses due to problems with their upright posture and lung drainage, and many more such tradeoffs – but in game terms they’re both pretty trivial and create an annoying mass of minutiae for the game master to deal with. It’s not worth it.
So; what does that give us for our revised human?
The Revised Eclipse Human:
Bonus Feat (6 CP): Humans get their usual bonus feat at level zero.
Fast Learner, Specialized for reduced cost/skills only (3 CP): Humans get (Level + 3) bonus skill points.
Tribalism (6 CP): +2 Morale Bonus to Attacks, Damage, Saves, and Checks when defending members of their immediate tribe or family – or such close personal friends as the game master feels qualify. They will qualify for this bonus while hunting down and fighting a monster that’s been attacking their village or kin, but not when simply looking for loot or generally protecting civilization or some such.
Projectile Predator (3 CP): +1 Racial Bonus to attacks with projectile weapons.
Heat Tolerance (6 CP): +4 Racial Bonus on saving throws to resist the effects of fatigue, heat exhaustion, and similar difficulties.
Enduring Traveler (4 CP): +20′ ground movement only for use in calculating long-distance travel ranges.
Well, that comes out to 28 CP – just 3 CP short of the maximum allowance for a +0 ECL species. It also isn’t likely to upset the game any; many of those bonuses won’t come into play very often if they ever come up at all – just like some of the bonuses that other races get.
Of course, there’s always someone out there who wants to min-max everything, and spend those last three character points. Oh all right. What other distinctively human characteristics have we got left though?
Compared to almost all the other playable fantasy races, humans are short-lived. That’s pretty understandable. Fantasy – and RPG’s – are all about doing things you can’t do normally, and there are few notions more attractive and out of reach than living longer. Fantasy races always have some wish-fulfillment about them, otherwise no one would want to play them. Ergo, most of them live for a long time.
What would that do? Well, first off, it means that their societies are likely to be more egalitarian and ability-oriented. A long-lived creatures parents position and social class probably won’t mean that much when they left them behind a century ago – and, unlike humans, it won’t have been after spending a sizeable chunk of their life expectancy with them. Even small differences in competence will have plenty of time to show. Humans generally can’t afford to take three apprenticeships and find out what they’re best at. Humans have to get out and live right away, or they may not leave any descendants.
Similarly, humans tend to take a family reputation as a fair indication of the worth of any given member of that family, and to see it as a guideline to what their abilities are likely to be. That’s not unreasonable. A young humans family background will have determined most of what he or she learned, where he or she might have been apprenticed or sent to study, and what environmental factors he or she will have been immersed in for a third of his or her life.
All right: lets work with that.
Humans understand the importance of their heritage instinctively. Elves tend to be themselves, taking pride in their own accomplishments. Dwarves take pride in the great heritage of all dwarves. Gnomes follow their own eccentric paths – but Humans, Half-Elves, and Half-Orcs may follow in the footsteps of their ancestors. Ergo, under this rule:
A human, half-elven, or half-orc character may select a Heritage – a bonus racial ability or set of abilities worth a total of six character points. In consultation with the game master, he or she must name and describe it – and come up with a related three-point Disadvantage. For example:
The descendants of the old Davrin royal line all carry the potential to harness the power of Dominion in their blood (6 CP) – but the old enemies of their line still seek to wipe out their bloodline forever (Hunted, – 3 CP).
Edrik’s parents beat him regularly as a child, going so far as to often fracture his bones. Thanks to this maltreatment, he has great inner reserves of rage (Berserker, 6 CP), but suffers from many old and badly-healed fractures, which often cause him great pain (Stigmata, -3 CP).
Clarissa comes from a family of mages. Although she has rejected their teachings to become a forester, she has enough skill to bond a Familiar to herself (Companion, 6 CP), but – since she fled into the woods rather then endure yet another course in basic spellcasting – starts off with very little funds or equipment (Broke, -3 CP).
Since disadvantages are normally more trouble than they’re worth, allowing Heritages may fill out a Human characters background very nicely – and spend those last three points to satisfy the min-maxers – without especially upsetting the game.