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A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

If you see any fantastic setting involving Humans, they are highly likely to be average. Smart but not the smartest, strong but not the strongest, having ability to use magic but no affinity for it. They live longer than mayflies but shorter than elves. In other words, humans are the Jack of All Stats. They may be bastards but not necessarily chaotic evil. They don't have any special powers, but often their "power" is adaptability, and it is likely to put them on the fast-track on Kardashev's scale.

Another common trait is to make humans more driven and adaptable than other races, which accounts for what they're able to accomplish in comparison to other races that have longer lifespans or greater skills in any given area. Humans might not be as good as magic as elves or as good at blacksmithing as dwarves, but they're still better than dwarves when it comes to magic and they may still be better blacksmiths than elves. As a result, humans in various types of tabletop or online games may end up getting more skill points to reflect their ability to master a variety of situations.

Common contrasts with humanity include spiritual Elves and phlegmatic Dwarves in Fantasy, mindless Bugs and soulless Robots in Sci Fi, and purely good Angels and purely evil Demons in Mythology.

Compare Rubber Forehead Aliens (this tendency applied to alien looks), and contrast Humanity Is Superior (where humanity is... superior) and Puny Earthlings (where humanity is the worst).

Examples of Humans Are Average include:


Comic Books

  • In the Marvel Universe, humans are the average between two secret sister races, the immortal Eternals and the monstrous Deviants. Despite their powers and technology, we came to dominate Earth simply because of our much higher birth rates, along with the fact that we've developed technology and powers of our own that allow us to keep up with them both.


Film

  • In the 1989 film Arena, there is an intergalactic fighting championship. the film states that there has been no human champion in over 50 years, as well as featuring many creatures nastier than humans, along with many who were wimpier.


Literature

  • The Lord of the Rings: Humans are average even in size.
  • Diana Wynne Jones played with this trope in Power of Three, where the main protagonist race seem to be the human stand-ins in a world where there are also fairies and giants. They are 'normal', in-between the 'big people' and the 'little people'. Turns that the world is actually our world, or one close enough to it, and the 'giants' are actually humans, whereas the race we thought were humans are more akin to the small, shy and secretive elves of folklore.
  • The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy: As it turns out, Humans weren't even the smartest creature on Earth. Yet a Human Alien got elected as president of the galaxy...There are also examples of species developing deodorant before the wheel and so forth. But when you think about it, almost all the creature in the universe are portrayed as pretty unimpressive.
  • In Alan Dean Foster's The Damned trilogy, this is subverted in the fact that humans are both average in ability-- they can run, AND swim, AND climb, AND can adapt to climates wet and dry, hot and cold, etc.... yet this all forms a synergy with their psychology to make humans the deadliest damn warriors in the galaxy. (Of all the species in the universe, humans are the only ones who THRIVE in combat. To the other sentient races of the universe we are the equivalent of a Bengal tiger with tools.)
  • Explicitly prohibited by John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding Science Fiction-slash-Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact during the 40s-50s-60s, whose influence on SF cannot be understated. A bit of a chauvanist, he would reject any story in which humans weren't better than the aliens. (And by "humans" he meant "men of northern European descent", mostly, but that's another trope for another page.)


Live-Action TV

  • Stargate SG-1's humans pretty much count. They use this to become a major power in the universe, more or less, after the Asgard begin to trust them.


Tabletop Games

  • Dungeons and Dragons is gradually getting away from the trope with each new edition.
    • In 1st and 2nd, Humans don't get any special bonuses or penalties, but can be of any class and have no limits on what level they can achieve in any class.
    • In 3rd Edition, humans get a bonus feat at first level, an extra skill point at every level (four at first level), and they are easier to multi-class because whichever class they have the most levels in is treated as their racially favored class.
    • In 4th Edition, humans get +2 to any one stat of your choice (other races get +2 to two fixed stats), +1 to non-armor defenses and an extra feat, trained skill and first level at-will power. That last one can be a major advantage, depending on class.
  • Warhammer.
  • Warhammer 40 K either averts it because Imperial Guard are human and more depend on numbers and/or support to beat their enemies in all situations (though they generally fare better utilizing these things at range), or plays it straight if you count Space Marines as human (who are Super Soldiers to the extreme). According to the fluff, this is because any race weaker than humans gets annihilated by them.
  • In GURPS humans are the template that everything else is based on. By definition all other races (even ones functionally identical to humans) have some advantages and/or disadvantages relative to humans. A zero-point cost human in GURPS would have average-level basic stats and nothing else, not even skills. A Player Character, even one without special powers, costs much more.
  • In Rifts, humans roll 3D6 for every attribute. Every other race has a different number of die for each attribute, so that their typical stats might diverge wildly from a typical human's. Humans do get one advantage over other races when rolling attributes: any time they roll a 16, 17, or 18 for an attribute, they get to roll an extra die.
  • Enforced in Magic the Gathering, as Doug Beyer (of the team that oversees Magic's flavor and storyline) explains in one of his columns on the official website:

 From the behind-the-scenes point of view, the prevalence and variety of humans does a couple of good things for the game. First, it lets us put a human face on every color of Magic. That helps the look and feel of all the colors stay appealing to a wide variety of players. Our market research shows that we have a lot of human beings among our consumers, and having human beings in the art gives those players a familiar face that they can identify with. [...]



Second, humans play an important role as a point of comparison in every color. You get to see how tall or tough or magic-inclined goblins are compared to humans, for example, since you get to see them next to red-aligned humans that live in similar environments and have similar color values. You get to see what role griffins or pterons or leonin play in a given setting, because you get to see white-aligned humans riding them or hunting them or making alliances with them. We can afford to get more exotic with our nonhuman races, in part because there are plenty of examples of humans next to whom you can see similarities and differences—and we like that.

  • In Shadowrun, humans are the default race. All other "metatypes" cost character creation points. Humans receive no attribute bonuses or penalties, except they start with an extra point of Edge, which is basically luck.


Video Games

  • Warcraft
  • Dragon Age.
  • Arcanum.
  • Nethack.
  • Mass Effect has peaceful and warlike races, short-living and long-living, highly biotic-prone and unable to use it... Humans are average and adaptive, and they become highly respected thanks to it. While physically, they are normally average, they are lauded for their flexibility and perseverance, and are generally regarded as more creative than others.

    The asari have the best individual fighters, but can't stand up in a firestorm. The vorcha and krogans are incredibly biologically suited and disposed to physical conflict, but have to get technology from other races, who they're no good at negotiating with. The turians and batarians have strong senses of duty and collectivism, but aren't very good at economics (being reliant on other species, and destitute, respectively). The salarians are masters of technology and information, but are short lived and relatively fragile. Lacking the rigidity of other species, humans can adapt on the fly to new situations, and employ new tactics and techniques quicker than anybody else.
  • Starcraft has the Terrans, which rely more on numbers than the Protoss, but less than the Zerg. However, they are also the most specialized to range and the least tied to location, and so their specializations give them the greatest feel of adaptability.
  • Starflight: Humans are pretty much the most average species you can select for a crew member.
  • The third installment of Star Control, notably as explained by the human representative re the Earthling Cruiser.
  • Played completely straight in Ever Quest. Humans are "The race by which all others are judged by." They have completely average stats, excelling in nothing, but lacking in nothing either. Their strong sense of adaptability is the reason why the Gods chose the Human cities of Qeynos and Freeport to be spared from being destroyed by war, tectonic and geographical cataclysms, and even a Lunar Armageddon in Ever Quest II. All the other races had to abandon their home cities for one reason or another over the last 500 years and flock to those two Human cities just to survive.
  • Justified in Fall From Heaven, where humanity is the original race in which all of the Angels had an equal hand in creating. The other races are simply humans whose ancestors who spent a lot of time with a particular Angel, whose presence caused them to become more like that Angel. For example, elves hung out with the Angel of Nature, Sucellus.
  • Surprisingly not the case in Master of Magic. Humans (High Men) are balanced in their stats, but they trade off the ability for building some endgame buildings for a handful of elite units. On the other hand, orcs have no strikingly elite units but can build every town improvement in the game, and their combat stats are also average.
  • SaGa games (particularly the early ones) use this as part of their Class and Level System. Humans can equip anything they want, but have meh stats and are totally at the mercy of the RNG for getting stronger. All other races get awesome abilities at the sacrifice of something else equally useful.
  • Sort of straight and sort of not in the Fuzzy Knights roleplaying game. Human type fuzzies are stated to be the baseline, like in most games, but they also are a tiny minority, making up only 1% of the Fuzzy population.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics Advance mostly gives humans access to classes that at least one other species can access. Not counting slight variations like our Fighter and the Bangaa Gladiator, only unique classes are Blue Mage, Ninja, and Hunter, and we can't take any of the classes that require exceptional speed, magical skill, or technological aptitude (though interestingly, our Paladin is a slightly-faster variant of the Bangaa Defender.) The sequel differentiates us a bit more with the Parivir and Seer classes, but we're still noticeably non-unique compared to, Bangaas or Vieras, the Moogles, potentially lethal Seeqs[1] or even the powerful Gria who can fly. (Note that unlike most examples, this does not make us useless, since a): we're better at multiclassing, and b): Ninjas can dual-wield.) There are also human-unique classes, of course, which are good enough reasons for using them. Some classes do have similarities with others and are basically just the same class with different names.
  • In Sword of the Stars, humanity has average industrial capacity, research ability, terraforming speed and population growth. They are almost in every respect the Jack of All Stats, except for their unusual FTL drive that makes human fleets something of a Fragile Speedster on a strategic level, and also much more vulnerable to entrenchment. Humans also have a fairly high chance of getting most of the weapons techs, unlike most other races, who tend to favor one or two lines of weapons.
  • In The Battle for Wesnoth, humans have no preferred terrain types (except maybe plains by virtue of no one else being exceptionally good on them), have no special preference for melee or ranged combat, have both lawful (loyalists) and chaotic (outlaws) units, and can learn many different kinds of magic without being racially focused on one specific kind.
  • World of Warcraft is kinda like this, taking its page from Warcraft. Humans, instead of getting a few huge bonuses, get a lot of little bonuses like slightly increased stealth-detection, a little extra expertise with swords, and a small spirit boost.

    The Horde Version of the humans is typically either the undead (Former humans) or Darkspear Trolls (life-long rivals of humans), mostly due to the similar class-availability before Cataclysm. Instead, the "average" horde race is more Orcs.
  • The Humes in Final Fantasy XI.
  • In The Lord Of The Rings Battle For Middle Earth 2 human infantry and heroes are faster but weaker than the dwarves but slower and stronger than the elves. Though it's somewhat subverted with humans having the best cavalry units and having more heroes with leadership skills than other factions.
  • Averted in The Elder Scrolls due in part to the fact that there's more than one human ethnicity in the game world. Each has its own special perks, and none is truly the Jack of All Stats (instead it's the Dunmer who fill that role).
  • In the X-Universe series, Argon ships tend toward "jack of all trades, master of none". The Argon offering in a class is always a solid, well-rounded performer, but some players will stress that there's usually a better option depending on your flying style.

Notes

  1. The Ranger class can make items act in reverse.
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