I’ll list the most common player races here and tell a bit about their nature in Midgard. This is not meant to be an exhaustive catalog of options, but anything not listed here will require some extra consideration.
Humans are most populous race in Midgard and the only made in the image of the Aesir. They range across Midgard from the mountains to the sea. The live in numerous towns and villages, too fractious to unite in a common government or larger city.
Because the Aesir made no races after humans, most humans will argue that they represent the gods’ finest work. It’s true that human civilization has made great progress in its relatively short time, often aided by other races. Humans are a young and brash race, in their adolescence as a society, but they show great potential and ambition.
Humans definitely tend toward the chaotic and don’t have any strongly developed social structures, but they are still deeply rooted in traditions of honor and loyalty — loyalty to one’s family, village, or tribe rather than to a larger governmental unit. They’re anarchic and libertarian, but understand the importance of trusted cohorts in a dangerous world.
Humans place a strong cultural emphasis on personal excellence, often in matters of physical strength but also in matters of skill or intellect. Common interests can lead to the formation of loose organizations of warriors, mages, or artisans — any group that can benefit from pooled expertise. However, such brotherhoods are generally uneasy, with every participant wanting to come out ahead. Most eventually fall apart due to one member’s schemes for power.
The halflings cover the islands around Midgard. The oldest human histories tell of ships of halflings appearing out of nowhere, seeking to sell goods and weapons taken from Jotun raiders the halflings had defeated. They make a living through fishing, trading, and occasional bouts of piracy. Years as the first target of raiding parties from Jotunheim have taught the halflings to excel at stealth and trickery (and led them to revere Loki). The presence of the halflings, serving as both a prime target and a first line of defense, has introduced a relative calm to human lands. The wiser human chieftains understand the debt they owe to the halflings and accept any human ships taken by halflings as a necessary sacrifice.
Halflings are wild and feral, but their survival is predicated upon a strict militaristic order throughout society. All young halflings of both genders serve in the navy in whatever capacity they can. Halfling society is formed around a very stable and well-loved monarchy with regional captains administering day to day affairs.
Elves were originally created in Midgard, but later given their own realm, Alfheim, an etherial realm of great magic and beauty, tied closely to the Aesir. However, some elves stayed in (or later returned to) Midgard, choosing to abandon what they saw as the fickleness of the Aesir in favor of the Vanir’s steadfast simplicity. Those elves who remained gathered in the valley around Yggdrasil and, over time, their very nature shifted, becoming more earthly and human-like.
The distinction between high elves and wood elves is one of culture rather than physiology. High elves, who generally gather closer to Yggdrasil, favor magic, natural science, and other mental pursuits. Wood elves live further out in the forest and work to perfect their mastery of physical arts like hunting and woodworking.
Both high and wood elves revere nature and tend to worship the Vanir over the Aesir. While the heart of elven culture is centered in the Great Forest and around Yggdrasil, elves have been known to travel to or even live for short periods in all corners of Midgard, seeking to experience and appreciate everything the continent has to offer. In their travels, they tend to treat other races with a sort of benevolent paternalism — as one would treat a child or a particularly bright pet.
Elves are generally quiet and thoughtful, with the patience and subtlety of one long-lived enough to spend a century coaxing a tree to shape itself into a building. Their magic is subtle, graceful, and minimalist.
The first humanoid race, created deep underground by Aesir magic, gnomes rarely venture to the surface. Their interactions with humans generally take place in dwarven holds, a convenient middle ground between the surface lands and the gnomes’ deep kingdoms. On the other hand, gnomes are natural scholars and tinkerers so it’s not unheard of for a gnome to head to the surface seeking firsthand knowledge.
In the tales humans tell, gnomes are best known as the creators of the gods’ most powerful artifacts. It is true that gnomes are inspired artificers. In fact, they care for little else. They have no civil government but are organized into ancient and fiercely competitive universities. What little religious practice exists among them tends to focus on the gods as both valuable customers and demonstrably useful sources of power. Their communities are purposefully isolated and any interaction with other races is sure to be in service of some complicated project. A gnomish home-crafter would take great offence at the suggestion that he might grow a plant in the dirt rather than using his knowledge and skill to enchant an ornate golden urn to bubble forth with stew.
Most races in Midgard are convinced of their own superiority. For gnomes, this is such a foregone conclusion that it scarcely need be mentioned. A discussion of the relative merits of gnomes and elves would be as laughably disinteresting as arguing whether a badger or a rainbow could dig a better burrow.
The dwarves appeared in the mountains some time after the gnomes. They’re also renowned for their craftsmanship, though they work exclusively in stone and base metals, in accordance with an ancient treaty between the two subterranean races. They do not share the gnomes’ more codified approach to scholarship and organize in secluded familial holds. Nor do they share the gnomes’ fundamental attraction to enchantment. For the dwarves, utility is all-important. A tool, weapon, or person need not be flashy, pretty, or impressive so long as it excels at the task for which it was created. Their creations can contain very powerful magic, but only in the service of accomplishing a task most efficiently. Dwarves are practical in all things and other races often see them as dour and humorless.
Dwarves value hard work, plain dealing, honor, and endurance. Their magic is strong and direct.
(Given the unworkability of half-orcs as PC races, I’m putting in a new race. The skraelings use the same mechanics as half-orcs, except for the darkvision — I’ll have to come up with something to replace that.)
The skraelings are rough and wild and live in small groups in the mountains and forests. It’s up for debate whether they are a race of their own or simply an offshoot of humanity, but they are unquestionably larger and tougher than most civilised humans. Skraelings do not farm. They hunt for meat and either trade with or steal from men. They have no villages, only nomadic tribes with a very voltile social structure based on strength and willingness to fight.
Some scholars believe that skraelings are simply descendants of a group of humans who rejected the more peaceful and agrarian nature of their brethren. Others suggest that skraelings were something of a first draft of humanity, a rough prototype that was discarded and forgotten. Either way, the skraelings aren’t much for philosophy or self-examination and the question goes unsettled.
Other humanoid races look down on Skraelings as barbaric and simple, but concede that they at least have some common ground in worship of the Aesir and Vanir and hatred of the jotuns.