Here’s my take. In most RPGs, despite what we tell ourselves, we are essentially playing ourselves on some fundamental, id-versus-ego level. As such, we offer up our most frank, honest roleplaying moments when we’re playing a character that’s fairly near to our own selves.Definitely worth repeating here. I always play humans, and I tend to have a more satisfying time as GM when I’m running a group of human characters. The best moments, most sublime flashes of in-character inspiration, come when we’re confronting things that affect us on a human level. No amount of character immersion can replace the unfiltered utterances that slip out in the heat of the moment.
I mean think about it: when the DM takes a moment and describes something stunning and/or magnificent in the game, you don’t automatically say “By Alrindel’s fair eyes!” if you’re playing an elf, or “Stroke my beard if that isn’t a wondrous sight” if you’re a dwarf. You say “Sweet! That’s awesome!” — and then you scramble to “get into character” and react the way you think your character would act.
That’s why humans are so appealing. They allow us to experience the game through familiar eyes. This in turn preserves the wonder and majesty of the game.
This, I think, is why OD&D had such a mythical quality attached to it. You were basically playing yourself. You had a spear and maybe some leather armor, or a couple minor spells — but mostly, you were playing a scrub adventurer trying to stay alive in an environment that wanted to kill you. To play a human in such a setting is to enter into a social contract with the game itself. The price of admission is participation.