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Human Diversity And Demihuman Similiarity: The Impact On Oerth
Posted on Sun, September 21, 2014 by LordCeb
CruelSummerLord writes "

"Admittedly, I cannot but feel a certain pride when I consider that humanity is the dominant race of Oerth. However, only a fool would denigrate the abilities of the other races of this world, to say nothing of the power of their gods. For it is with their aid that humanity has grown to its current state of being, just as humanity has caused them to grow in turn; without either side of the formula, all would fall into ruin." 

-The Archmage Mordenkainen


One of the peculiar ironies of life on Oerth is how many of the races that dwell in the Flanaess also dwell in other parts of the world, and how similar beings of the same race share the same cultural traits, regardless of where they dwell in the world. In every report that has come to the Flanaess of other realms in the world, whether west of the Flanaess in the rest of Oerik, to the south in Hepmonaland or east in the mysterious lands over the Solnor Ocean, dwarves, elves, orcs and other races have always without exception been reported as having their own civilizations in these foreign lands. What is even more striking is how so many of the nonhuman races still display many of the same abilities and cultural traits, regardless of where they live in the world. Elves are skilled with magic and dwell in loose, chaotic societies; orcs are sadistic killers who live in tribal kingdoms and possess a strongly lawful bent to their evil; dwarves are master craftsmen with a strong sense of lawful honor, and so forth.

The sole exception to this rule is humanity. Humans alone possess the greatest cultural diversity of any race on Oerth, and possess a far greater variety of alignments as well. The human race’s major cultural trait, if one can call it that, is its adaptability to a great variety of situations, skills and climates, an adaptability more notable than that of most nonhumans, who specialize more in particular climes and abilities. They are also apt to live in everything from religious theocracies to open democracies to royal monarchies, having governed themselves in far more diverse ways than other sentient races.

This tendency has puzzled scholars for centuries, although more recent research has suggested that there may be a religious aspect to it, one that explains why humans stand out so much from other races.

Namely, the fact that humans have no single creator god or pantheon.

Almost every other race on Oerth tends to revere a single creator god and an association of related deities. The gnomes, for instance, worship Garl Glittergold as their primary god, while also revering other related gods such as Baravan Wildwanderer and Segojan Oerthcaller. Studies of the creation myths of the various nonhuman races has led to the observation that the gods who created the various races have generally tended to make these races in their own images, imbuing the races with those skills and tendencies that they themselves most favor. Even as the gods imbued their creations with free will and set them out to live their lives on Oerth, most of these races still tended to live according to the cultural precepts that their creators imbued them with. Free will led to the races adapting to their surroundings, making new innovations and alliances as necessary, but for these races this progress has been an evolution, not a clean break from the past.

Humans themselves are another matter entirely. Different human faiths have all put forth various gods as the creator of humanity, and unlike the vast majority of other races their myths do not agree on the creator. The Flan legends state that Beory the Oerth Mother was herself responsible for the creation of humanity, while the Baklunish traditionally credit Istus, the Lady of Fates, with bringing humanity to life. Predictably, the Suel, the Olman and other human races all attribute the creation of humanity to other deities.

Hence it is that humanity is a far more fractured race than any other upon the Oerth. They have experienced many different breaks in their history, often starting over after previous disasters, such as the Twin Cataclysms or even on a smaller scale the modern Greyhawk Wars. Human societies have also repeatedly risen and fallen, as witnessed by the rise of new realms such as the Solnor Compact and the expansion of Ratik, and the destruction of states such as Bissel and the Shield Lands. Such foundations and collapses occur among nonhuman races as well, but rarely do their communities go so suddenly from stability to collapse, as evidenced by the constant turnover among orcs and goblins compared to the centuries-old monarchies of Celene or the gnomes of the Flinty Hills.

As previously noted, another consequence is that humans tend to lack many of the inherent talents of other Oerthly races. Instead, humanity has thrived by adapting the inventions and innovations of the other races they deal with. The Flan have long been seen as nomadic hunter-gatherers, but historical research, to say nothing of the Flan’s own oral testimony, shows the extent to which the Flan used metal swords and shields, had written books and manuscripts, and otherwise possessed all the trappings of civilized societies. Much of this came from cooperation with other races, as human Flan frequently traded foodstuffs, furs and other goods to the dwarves in exchange for weapons and armor, or took the weapons of orcs and goblins they slew in battle. The more civilized Olman peoples in Hepmonaland, and the civilizations of the Touv far to the south, have also shown themselves wielding metal weapons, eschewing heavy metal armor more because of the hot and humid climes of their homelands rather than any ignorance of it.

This contact with nonhuman races has, paradoxically, allowed most humans to attain a fairly uniform level of civilization. Every human culture ever recorded has shown itself capable of industry, crafting metal weapons, wooden furniture, and other goods that it does not obtain in trade; every human culture, likely because of the need for spellbooks, has developed literacy and its own written script; every human culture has developed measures to mark the passage of time; and every human culture has developed the ability to use both divine and arcane magic. The Touv and the Olman have been in contact with dwarven smiths and halfling farmers just as much as have the Oeridians and the Suel, taking what innovations they need and ignoring the rest. Humanity’s difference is expressed in its cultural variety, which extends to everything from support for scholarship and philosophy to brutal martial hierarchies.

The nonhuman races have, in turn, often tailored their own cultural tendencies to match those of humanity’s. Dwarves who are in contact with human societies that place a high value on honor and avenging feuds will often sign blood oaths to support these humans in any vendetta, fighting alongside them as a matter of honor; gnomes who are in contact with cultures that place a high value both on mechanical development and mystical study will find themselves honored by their human neighbors; halflings who are in contact with strong martial societies will offer their skills at farming to the humans in a mutually beneficial alliance, as the halflings provide food to the humans in exchange for the humans protecting them from humanoids; evil human cultures who exist to slaughter their neighbors but place a high value on lawful personal honor may find powerful allies in orcs who have similar beliefs.

Humanity thus functions in a strange symbiosis with the other races of the world. Just as humanity adapts itself to its surroundings and has borrowed the innovations of other races to evolve, constantly breaking new ground, so too have the nonhumans of this world kept pace with humanity, evolving their original traits and beliefs to meet the challenges of today.

Humanity is revolutionary, and the other races of the world are evolutionary; while humanity is the dominant race in the world today, it is unlikely that it would have grown to its current state, much less that it will survive in the future, without the other races of Oerth. 

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Re: Human Diversity And Demihuman Similiarity: The Impact On Oerth (Score: 1)
by SirXaris on Mon, September 22, 2014
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First, I want to say that your theory on the reasons why the various races generally stick to one particular alignment and have societies similar to one another, with the exception of humanity, is practically identical to my own working hypothesis. :)I will suggest, however, that Mordenkainen wouldn't bother to include "The Archmage" in front of his signature.  Nobody ever asks, "Mordenkainen who?" :PSirXaris

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