Pathfinder is the D&D 3rd edition rule set copied and pasted (legally permitted by the Open Game License), with a few nominal adjustments, into a book labeled "Pathfinder". Now that D&D is on its 5th edition (and heading toward its next incarnation), and Pathfinder has released a 2nd edition of its own, their paths have diverged substantially, and yet they're both implementing essentially the same game. I'm comparing these implementations from the perspective of building a character. So far I've looked at dwarves, elves, and gnomes. In this blog post, I'm comparing humans.
If you don't have time to read this post right now, you can also view this article on Youtube
At the time of this writing, there's a new edition ("One D&D") on the distant horizon, and Tasha's Cauldron of Everything) has established a "Custom Lineage" option. I'm ignoring exceptions based on custom lineages, and using just the Player's Handbook.
In Pathfinder's Golarion setting, humans began as an unremarkable primitive race. Early on, though, aboleths (yes, the aboleths from your favourite bestiary) started enhancing human abilities, inspiring (or compelling?) them to stop their aimless nomadic lifestyle, and settle into civilisation. For thousands of years, these advanced versions of humans flourished in the form of the Azlanti Empire. But eventually, they began to believe themselves superiour to their aboleth masters. As a result, the aboleths performed a ritual that caused stones to fall from the sky, pummeling Golarion and destroying the Azlanti people. The greatest stone to fall was the Starstone, which remained buried under water until 1 AR, when Aroden caused it to raise from the ocean, forming an island where he founded the great city of Absalom. Even today, the Starstone remains a powerful holy relic, and the object of a deadly test that grants mortals godhood upon completion.
In D&D's Forgotten Realms setting, the early world of Abier-Toril endured a great war between gods and primordials, after which there began the Days of Thunder. During this era, a few different races were born, and they in turn created new races. These so-called "creator races" were the Sarrukh (scalykind, like lizardfolk, Naga, Yuan-ti), the Aerie (birdfolk, such as Kenku and Aarakocra), the Fey (pixies, nymphs), the Batrachi (kuo-toa, bullywugs), and humans (they didn't create anything, as they were still just primitive cavepeople). Humans existed and developed in the background of further world-shaping strife, including a war between giants and dragons, the Crown Wars of the elves. In the wake of this turmoil, there was relative peace and humans started forming tribes and civilisations for themselves. The Imaskar Empire (or Raurin Empire, after the plateau where it formed), was ruled by wizard kings, encompassing Mulhorand, Unther, and Thay. The humans of this empire were the ancestors of the modern Mulan human sub-race, an option in the Player's Handbook. Empires rise and fall, of course, but humanity as a race had come into its own.
In 5e, ability scores are determined by dice rolls or by assigning a standard array of numbers (15,14,13,12,10,8). A boost is granted by your choice of race.
In Pathfinder 2, ability scores start at 10 and accumulate boosts and penalties according to the choices you make for your character, including ancestry.
25 feet is the most common speed for Pathfinder 2nd Edition, while 30 feet is the common speed for D&D 5th Edition.
5e has nine ethnicities, reflecting different regions of Faerûn. None get any special traits.
Pathfinder 2 has three heritages:
There are heritage traits specific to half-elves and half-orcs. I'll cover half-elf and half-orc in their own posts, because 5e treats them as their own distinct race.
There are two heritages for humans:
In Pathfinder, you get an ancestry feat at 1st level. There are blah to choose from:
In 5e, this flexibility is provided by the Variant Human option, which grants you a skill proficiency and a feat. It's called a "variant" human because it grants a feat, which is considered an optional rule in 5th Edition.
There are a few common threads in fantasy humans. First, humans are seen as excellent generalists. They don't do any one thing very well, but they do a lot of things well enough. You don't go to the human market to find amazing swords, you go to the elves for that. You don't visit human cities to look at architecture, you go to the dwarves for that. But talk to a human when you want your choice between 80 romance books that are basically the same story with different costumes, cheap cutlery and dinnerware, and some silk flowers because you're never home to water real house plants.
Humans are relatively short-lived, but they reproduce often enough to make up for it.
And finally, humans are dreamers. They get excited about weird things, they obsess over details nobody else cares about, they fall deeply in love, they're hot-headed, difficult, and they're capable of great good, and sadly also of great evil.
It may seem strange, and almost self-congratulatory, to have humans in a game that lets you escape to a fantasy world. But a fantasy world populated by nothing but mystical races, like elves and gnomes, is genuinely fantastic to you and me, the real humans looking at it from afar. But in a roleplaying game, you're not meant to look at the world from afar. You're meant to pretend you're actually a part of that world, and to interpret and react to it from that perspective.
With that in mind, a fantasy world with nothing but elves and gnomes is by definition mundane, normal. If everyone around you has pointed ears, then pointed ears aren't called "pointed ears" any more. They're just...ears.
To make it possible for players to react to a fantasy world with wonderment and fear, you have to establish what's mundane in that world. The easiest and most effective way to establish that baseline is to populate your world with plain old, ordinary, boring humans. That's our real life race, and we know there's nothing magical about it, from daily experience. The more mundane humans your world has in it, the more fantastical and magical and mystical and strange the other races become.