In many RPG systems, Human is the average. The baseline. The mundane. The dull race.
This can be traced back to 1st ed. AD&D. Humans then had no special abilities, but two advantages: they could be any class, and could advance to maximum level (usually 20). All other races were severely limited in what professions they could have and how far they could go in them (Thief was an exception: unlimited advancement for all but half-Orcs).
This perspective of humans trickled over into many computer RPGs, not only those in the AD&D line. Humans rarely, if ever, had any special features, while the half-elves and the dwarfs and the elves, etc., came with advantages.
True, there was typically a stat hit here and there, but there were compensations with a boost somewhere else. Humans always came off second-best.
The usual specious excuse given for humans’ lack is that they are “versatile” and “unspecialized”, where other races have a strong tendency towards particular professions, the classic example being the Dwarven Fighter.
Why? Because that’s how AD&D did it, and many designers followed that model. It was easier and required little, if any, thought. Nothing special needed for those dull humans.
One series that got away from such nonsense is Elder Scrolls. In a clever move, they split out human into multiple races: Bretons, Nords, Redguards and Imperials. Each had its own particular abilities and advantages, putting them on a par with the non-human races. Being human was no longer being second-class.
However, it did saddle these human subraces with the same “tendencies” that the non-humans had. Redguards, for instance, are designed as the premier fighter class. Of course, you could run them as something else, perhaps for a challenge, but they wouldn’t be anywhere as competent in that profession as they would in their natural warrior class.
But at least it’s a step in the right direction. There is no reason why humans can’t have some special abilities of their own, just as other races do. The crumbs thrown by AD&D 3rd edition hardly compensate in that area.
It would be a refreshing - and welcome - change of pace if developers of non-AD&D RPGs sat down and really thought about the races in their games, instead of just throwing in the tired old “usual suspects”.
In particular, it would be good to see humans come in with some real advantages, instead of being almost an afterthought with nothing much to recommend them. Along with that, dispense with those elves, gnomes and such and design some interesting other races.
That alone would help to freshen up the RPG genre, and possibly open the way to unique story lines. But above all, give humans a better place than second class. We’ve been in the mundane ghetto far too long.