There are a bunch of 5e races that are not playable as PCs in this game because they don’t exist in this world. It’s easier to list the races that are playable, so here they are:
Dwarves – These folks are very rare above ground, and they are extremely clan/family oriented, so most likely not used as a PC.
Elves – Rarer than dwarves. Alien in thought and custom. Almost certainly not a PC.
Halflings – More abundant that any other non-human race.
Half-Elves – Very rare and cause for disruption. Always assumed to have inscrutable motivations.
Half-Orcs – These poor creature are usually slain at birth in human communities, and they are shunned and bullied by orcs.
Humans – Almost everyone should play a human.
In 1st Edition AD&D, humans were the norm, the normal characters. They were the standard. The other races were significantly different from humans in a number of amazing, high-fantasy ways. Because later editions put more emphasis on inclusivity, fairness, and balance, a great number of the other races’ exceptional abilities were downgraded or removed.
I don’t like “fair” or “balanced.” Those equate to “dull” or “plain” for me. I love the idea that if you could handle being a weirdo, you could do some pretty cool things. In our game, we’re going back to a lot of AD&D 1e stuff.
There are dwarves, but they are solitary and clannish. They live in the hills and mountains. Dwarves don’t like or trust humans in general, but they have been known to form generations-long, deep relationships with human people and families because they are very long lived.
There are rare dwarven merchants who sell special dwarven-manufactured goods.
Updated for 5th Edition, here’s the 1e statement on Dwarves:
Because of their very nature, dwarves are non-magical and do not ever use magical spells. However, this nature gives them a bonus with regard to their saving throws against attacks by magic wands, staves, rods, and spells.
In our game, Dwarves cannot be Wizards, Sorcerers, or Bards. They can/could/might be Warlocks or Clerics because those magics come from elsewhere.
The game effect of their non-magical nature is that dwarves get a +1 to Saves involving magic if their CON is between 3 and 9, +2 if their CON is from 10 to 16, and a +3 if their CON is 17+.
Similarly, dwarves have exceptional constitutional strength with regard to toxic substances, ingested or injected. Therefore, all dwarven characters make saving throws against poisons in the same manner and with the same bonuses as they do against magical attacks. Poisons include alcohol, leading to the dwarven ability to drink large quantities.
All dwarves are able to speak the following languages: dwarven, gnome, and kobold.
Dwarves are exceptional miners. As such, they can (for the most part):
Detect grade or slope in passage, upwards or downwards
Detect new construction or passage/tunnel
Detect sliding or shifting walls or rooms
Detect traps involving pits, falling blocks, and other stonework
Determine approximate depth underground
Elves, Half-Elves, & Eladrin –
The following is not the truth about elves, but it’s close enough for our game for now…
There are elves, but no one has seen an elf in at least three generations. They are rumored to retreated back into their Homewood on the western border of the kingdom. They are rumored to be innately magical and no one knows much about them.
All of the stories about faeries and pixies and all the fae influences in the world are also associated with the Elven Homewood.
As a throwback to 1st Edition, Eladrin and Elves will get a +2 on Wisdom (Perception) rolls, and the distance modifier will be cut in half (rounded down as per usual). So if there is a sound from noise 110′ away, everyone else will have a -5 to their Wisdom (Perception) rolls while an elf will take only a -2.
Half-elves will gain a +1 on Wisdom (Perception) rolls.
Likewise in forest/nature, eladrin and elves will get a +2 on their Dexterity (Stealth) rolls. Half-elves will get a +1.
Eladrin and elves get a +1 To Hit with Longsword, Longbow, and Shortbow.
All elven characters are able to speak the following languages: elvish, gnome, halfling, goblin, hobgoblin, orcish, gnoll, and the “common tongue” of mankind.
Half-elves are able to speak these language if they were raised in an elven enclave.
Elves have a very bad sense of time… like, they understand morning, mid-day, and evening, but not days or weeks or years… If you tell an elf, “Meet me by the well at mid-day,” she will be at the well on some mid-day and be waiting for you… but a century may have passed from when you wanted the meeting.
Eladrin are immortal. Elves have lifespans in the thousands of years. Half-elves can live 250 years in good health.
Eldarin can use Fey Step as a Bonus Action at will. They can use Pass Without Trace as an Action at will within an elven forest and up to six times per day while in a mundane environment. They can allow non-elves to follow them through any woodland if they choose.
Elves can use Fey Step as a Bonus Action twice before requiring a Short or Long Rest, and they can use Pass Without Trace as an Action twice before requiring a Long Rest. They can allow non-elves to follow them through any woodland if they choose.
Half-elves can use Fey Step and Pass Without Trace as an Action once each before requiring a Long Rest.
There are no Drow… Drow don’t exist. There isn’t even a word “Drow” in anyone’s lexicon. There is a demon/spider-goddess though, so go figure.
Called Halflings, Hobbits, Little People, or Munchkins depending on the human culture you’re dealing with, they are surface dwellers like humans, but they prefer their homes to be more like burrows than free-standing structures, so their communities can be favorably compared to groundhog warrens, but with nicer gardens.
All Halflings get a +1 to their Dexterity (Stealth) checks because they tend to go without being noticed.
Like dwarves, halflings are mostly nonmagical and receive bonuses to Saving Throws against magic and magical effects, +1 if their CON is greater than 8, and +2 if their CON is greater than 15.
All halflings speak the following languages: dwarven, elven, gnome, goblin, halfling, orcish, and the “common tongue” of mankind.
Gnomes (NPCs only) –
I put this section on Gnomes in here because I need anyone reading to distance themselves from the typical notion of Gnomes that exists in modern RPGs (like D&D). Gnomes are not kind, friendly, smaller Halflings with a penchant for machinery.
Our Gnomes in Erldworn are going back a darker understanding of the creatures.
In the game world, Gnomes and Kobolds are closely related in terms of temperament and outlook if not actual relations. This is one of the reasons they fight amongst themselves so much. Their origin myths are intertwined and their conflict seems karmic in nature.
Gnomes are much more like the fey Knockers than anything cheerful or pleasant. They seem closely related to Brownies or Leprechauns, but prefer burrows and living in the earth rather than on it.
They are territorial and gruff and need to be treated, and respected, like a threat. They are not human. They do not think like humans in general, and it takes great care when dealing with them to not give offense in some way. They can seem petty and obstinate as anyone familiar with faerie creatures can attest.