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I proposed, a long time ago a setting without humans in it. Instead I'd designed a series of fairly 'alien' creatures, and I was going to set it up as Science-Fantasy (set on the moon of a brown dwarf, evolutionary trees). Something that could have existed on an exoplanet...with magic.

The response I got back was that this wouldn't work, as people needed to have humans to associate with.

Do people need human/humanoid characters to associate with in a setting?

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I think it depends on why you're trying to eliminate the 'human factor'. Even the other peoples in a fantasy setting still tend to have human personalities for the players to associate with. – Wesley Obenshain Jan 3 '12 at 22:09
up vote 14 down vote accepted

The short answer is of course you don't need to include humans as a race in a setting. But the situation is not as simple as that.

In any fantastic setting you have to remember that the during the campaign the world is filtered through you the human referee. And it can be a lot of work making sure that you give enough details so that the players can make meaningful decisions for their characters. The advantage of using ordinary or mundane details in a setting that it allows the players to make valid assumptions during the campaigns. This lessens the amount of detail you need to communicate and increase the player's confidence that their decisions are meaningful and are not the equivalent of throwing darts at a board.

If you are planning to create a truly alien setting then you also need to plan how the players are going to learn about the setting while the campaign unfolds. For Tekumel's initial campaign M.A.R.Barker made the player characters barbarians from another continent. The player's lack of knowledge of the detailed alien cultures Barker created was the same as their characters.

That was just one referee's solution. You may come with an alternative that works better for your setting. One thing you should avoid is the info dump. If you hand out more than one page of personal information and one page of general background then that is probably too much.

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Great answer, except the "more than one page of background is probably too much." I have dealt with games with far more, and in a custom setting that is radically different from others, you probably need more. What I would say, if you need to get it to your players several days in advance so they can read it at their convenience instad of all sitting around reading instead of playing. – TimothyAWiseman Apr 20 '12 at 22:00
@TimothyAWiseman It depends on the players. Some players love this kind of thing, others hate homework of any kind. – GMJoe Oct 10 '13 at 3:55
@GMJoe Good point. I certainly wouldn't make 1 page a hard and fast rule though. Some alien settings will absolutely demand more up front exposition, as long as the players will tolerate it. – TimothyAWiseman Oct 10 '13 at 15:22

Obviously, no. Fiction and even RPGs are full of examples of stories or settings predicated on nonhumans - for example playing animals in GURPS Bunnies and Burrows and Mouse Guard, or anthropomorphic furries in Ironclaw, or some of the White Wolf games (Sure, vampires and werewolves technically were human, but fairies and demons weren't). Or D&D, where everyone plays crazed murderous twitch monkeys instead of human beings. Quite common really.

Now, not having human characters may reduce the popularity of your game with Joe Six-Pack (whatever that's supposed to mean in the RPG world...). But many games can and do dispense with it.

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Someone saying your idea 'wouldnt work' is pretty meaningless in this context. Its really just a subjective question of what kind of game the players want. If they want one without humans, then how could it not 'work'?

Players who are truly interested in the setting wont have any problem relating to it. Or if they do, they'll enjoy the challenge of trying to relate to it. You'll certainly have a lot of work to do to make it feel alien, of course, as opposed to just being people in rubber masks. I say go for it, if thats your vision.

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Definately No. from my own experience.

Players needs traits, tropes or ways to conceptualise characters, whatever they are, or ways to understand how the thing they're playing might think, but in no way do they need to be human.

The setting too also needs to help; if you want to drag people away from humanistic thinking then keeping away from common human ideals and ways of living really helps (from my experience)

The most extreme example of non-human characters from my experience is from a game of Toon; the characters were:

  • A paintpot wielding Octopus
  • A cheshire cat
  • A military backpack
  • A human-sized stay-puff the marshmallow man

I can safely say that none of those classify as humans, everyone had a great time!

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Not in the slightest, though it can help with affective barriers to roleplaying.

The important thing to consider about roleplaying is that players take on a role. What this role is will be a reflection of what they think it will be, so in many cases humans are preferred because they're what players will do. Look at Eclipse Phase, for instance, which includes interesting transhuman combinations but can result in stuff like uplifted octopi, who have different hormone-driven psycho-phsyiology. Now, don't get me wrong, I know enough about cognitive development theory that I don't buy in too heavily to "it's hormones", but aliens are aliens, and an alien played by a human is a human alien.

So will you include humans, whether you want to or not? Yes. Do they have to be labeled as such? No.

For instance, if we look at the field of human psychology, we see that there are limits to how mainstream humans will think, but there are serious deviations in worldview and psyche that can result or cause various interesting outcomes. We can, however, within roleplaying attempt to force ourselves into a different mindset; it will always be our perceived notion of that said mindset, but it will be different from how we'd normally think. This is why we use them in educational fields; not because it teaches the students anything they do not already know but because the exercise is metacognitive (self-reflecting) in nature.

So in this sense a roleplaying game does not have to touch on the human, but it always will, and you don't have to include a human character because the players are more than capable of stretching to fill roles and may even have more fun trying to play something unlike them.

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No. Several games from my personal experience.

Coral Gate, one of the game systems I played, allowed players to choose from several races (Human, Elf, Dark Elf, Light Elf, Dwarf, Dark Dwarf, Water Troll, Barbarian), and had to reward players for choosing to play Human. Other races had special abilities, interesting story-arcs, interesting traits, but also had weaknesses, but the non-Human choices were more attractive. Human characters were just so plain, compared to all the extras (even balanced with weaknesses) the other races had.

Everhate, another game system I played, allowed players to choose any of several races (Human, Elf, Dwarf, Truell, etc), but all characters were all raised dead, not zombies, but tainted living, called necrites. These necrites could become undead by allying themselves with more powerful undead and necromancers. Most characters either started non-Human, or chose to become undead. It was an interesting game and story-arc that lasted for several years. No complaints about the scarcity of Humans.

Bunnies and Burrows - had to mention it.

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