Little is known of the origin of humanity. All that the human scholars will agree upon is that their past is murky and confused. The elves and dwarves say that there was once a time when humans did not live on Arcus and that a terrible magical event brought them to this world. Most humans believe this to be nonsense and think that the gods gave the world to humanity and the other races were put on the world to serve them.
Humans are the dominant race in the current age. Humans control the largest cities and the majority of established resources including the best mines, farms, fishing grounds, and wild game herds. Humanity is a feudal society divided into many kingdoms, some large and some small. These nations are in a constant state of struggle with each other and continuously make and break alliances in the never ending quest for more power.
The average human has an extreme superiority complex and looks down on the other races with disdain and is frequently vocally racist while in the presence of other races. They almost always try to offer unfair trades to any non-human. They tolerate dwarves and elves only because these ancient races still retain enough power to deter a human led assault. Dwarves and Elves frequently visit human lands to work as mercenaries or to trade goods with the humans. Humans view Halflings and gnomes as pathetic weaklings worthy of little more than slavery. They are permitted in human settlements to work the jobs no human would take and are frequently kept as slaves. Half-elves are the most highly regarded of the non-humans and are usually hired to work as messengers to the elves but are also employed as exotic household servants or prostitutes.
Dwarven scholars say they were the first inhabitants of Arcus. The “First Born” crawled up out of the deepest caves to find a surface world that was theirs alone to dominate. They created a vast civilization of surface cities and underground fortresses where they mined metals and gems and crafted incredible treasures using powerful magic.
At some point the elves arrived and the dwarves were not happy to share their world. Thus began the great war of dwarves and elves which raged for a countless age. Eventually the stalemate was broken with the first arrival of dragons. These powerful creatures battled both the elves and dwarves and the ancient races were forced into an uneasy alliance to survive the onslaught. Eventually some of the dragons made peace with the alliance and assisted them in defeating the worst of their kin.
The arrival of humans on Arcus was a disaster for the dwarves. This new race quickly pushed into the dwarven heartlands and drove them back to their mountain fortresses for extended sieges. Eventually the fortresses fell and the surviving dwarves were permitted to scatter to the hills. Although they rebuilt some degree of power, most of the dwarven nations are forced to live at the edges of civilization and are in constant threat of conflict with humanity.
The dwarves are a proud people and are well aware of both the glories of their past and of their weakness in the current age. Most of their magical knowledge was lost and with it their ability to build mountain fortresses and powerful magic items. Although they frequently talk like they have the power of their ancestors, the dwarves currently subsist as miners, smiths, and woodsmen.
Dwarves are bitter towards humans in private but coldly respectful in person. Dwarves respect and tolerate elves but prefer to not be in their presence. Dwarves are very sympathetic to Halflings and Gnomes and will fairly trade with them and secretly give them aid and shelter when it is requested. Dwarves secretly view half-elves as an abomination but will grudgingly tolerate their presence as effective ambassadors to the human and Elvin nations.
The Elvin history books are full of spectacular tales of their arrival on Arcus when they descended from heaven to the land in ships made of pure light and fire. There are those among the elves who doubt this tale, but they are few and the leaders of the elves promote the story as it supports their notions of superiority.
Elvin scholars disagree with the dwarves in one important fact. The elves believe that dwarves arrived on Arcus after them when a group of Elvin wizards inadvertently opened a portal to the elemental planes. The elves see themselves as father figures to the dwarves, which is something that fills the dwarves with rage. What is well known to both groups is the fact that elves and dwarves once fought a terrible war that nearly destroyed them both. The powerful magic of the ancient elves was well matched by the military might of the dwarves. The war weakened both nations so much that the arrival of dragons nearly caused their destruction. Although they would rebuild their strength and power, too many of their most powerful wizards were killed and they would never again be true masters of magic.
By the time humans arrived on the world, the elves had already retreated to their fortress cities in the forests and foothills. The “high-elves” had become obsessed with relearning the ancient magic while the “wood-elves” became enamored of the natural world. Both groups were so inward looking that the rapid onslaught of humanity caught them off guard. The elves lost most of their homelands and now exist only in a few scattered strongholds although many elves travel the world for a variety of reasons.
Elves view themselves as absolutely superior to all other races but are usually smart enough to keep their egos in check while in the presence of other races. They tolerate the presence of dwarves when they are required to be together but prefer to stay away from them. They despise humans but will be polite in their presence solely due to their need to trade with humanity for raw materials and finished goods. Half-elves are looked upon as inferior cousins but the elves frequently employ them as messengers and diplomats to the human realms so that they don’t have to personally deal with the human leaders. Elves are ambivalent towards Halflings and gnomes and could care less whether they survive or go extinct.
Halflings are the most troubled race on Arcus. For over a thousand years they have been viciously persecuted by humans and largely ignored by the other races. Originally a river and sea folk, they were pushed out of the best fishing areas and now largely survive in the bogs and scrublands that the other races see as worthless. They survive by eating from the bottom of the food chain, consuming plants and animals that no human would ever eat. When they need coin to trade with the other races, they typically make a living by doing menial labor or engaging in the seedier side of civilization: thievery, assassinations, prostitution and smuggling. Within their own communities, however, they live by a strict moral code that puts the good of the community first.
Halflings are ruled by their emotions, impulsivity and their love of freedom. Their culture is based on sharing the experiences of your life with those around you. They have a long tradition of storytelling and the names they choose for themselves reflect the adventures they've had in life. Musical instruments, song, and dance are common in Halfling communities and they are frequently employed by humans to act as entertainers.
Halfling communities have to be careful to not grow too large because they will attract the attention of nearby human colonies and will certainly be raided by slavers or simply those how won’t tolerate so many Halflings nearby. When a Halfling community grows too large, a group of colonists will set out in a caravan convoy to set up a new community. These convoys only travel at night and take great pains to stay out of sight. Within the large human towns and cities, the populations of Halflings form a tight social network that greatly improves their chances of success (and survival).
Of all the civilized races only Halflings have no origin story of their own to explain their place in the world. They simply believe they've always been on Arcus since they've been there and that’s enough for them. Other races, however, have their own beliefs about the origin of Halflings. The human scholars believe them to be the result of human interbreeding with gnomes and dwarves. Such a debased act is reviled amongst humans which perhaps explains some of the animosity humans have for the Halflings. The elves believe they created the Halflings through magical experiments on captured humans while the dwarves believe Halflings were once captured dwarves partially converted to humans by Elvin magic. The gnomes believe Halflings are the embodiment of the natural spirits of the world, a physical presence sent to act as agents of the primal forces and observe the actions of the other races.
Halflings hate humans but will always act subservient in their presence if humans are in a position of power. Halflings dislike elves but will eagerly trade with them given the chance as elves tend to offer more fair bargains than the humans. Halflings enjoy the presence of dwarves and will frequently trade with them and offer whatever assistance a dwarf requires. Gnomes are a mystery to Halflings who can’t fathom their strange analytical approach to the world, but they are on good terms with each other and fairly trade when given the chance.
Of all the civilized races on Arcus, the gnomes are the least understood. They are a very secretive people who never speak of their homes or families when they travel outside of their lands. They are extremely inquisitive which makes them a race of scientists and inventors, constantly analyzing the world around them. The forest gnomes seek to learn the ways of the forest and have just as much knowledge of nature as the elves. The rock gnomes live in the hills where they study the non-living aspects of the world and build incredible machines. All gnomes are masters of illusion and have a limited amount of natural magic ability.
The gnomes believe they are the original inhabitants of Arcus and their histories tell the story of an age when they alone walked the world. The arrival of each of the other races occurred with a new wave of dragons descending from the sky and the gnomes believe the other races are in fact the playthings of the dragons who use Arcus as their arena for their pets. The gnomes are the greatest believers of the draconic prophecies and they spend a great deal of time planning for the day when dragons return to Arcus.
Since the domination of humans, the gnomes have fallen on hard times. Humans are deeply distrustful of the natural illusion magic of gnomes and their ability to easily craft complex machines. Whenever a human king discovers a gnome colony he almost certainly raids it to take what technology he can get and enslave the smartest of the gnomes for his own use. Some humans are so distrustful of gnomes they just raze their communities to the ground leaving no survivors. As a result, the gnomes take great care to keep secret the locations of their communities and non-gnomes are rarely allowed to visit. When the other races trade with the gnomes, the deal is done on neutral ground and the gnomes take great care to mask their return home.
Gnomes prefer to be on their own and will only seek out the company of other races when required. They are very sympathetic to the Halflings and generally treat them better than the other races. Gnomes are also on good terms with the dwarves with whom they share a love of gem stones, machines, and manufacturing. Gnomes are ambivalent towards high-elves who they see as having an unjustified superiority complex. They trade with them when required, but will not speak to them otherwise. On the other hand they get along quite well with forest elves, although they still do not trust them enough to invite them to their communities. Gnomes deeply distrust half-elves who they see as double crossing liars who play both sides of every conflict. Gnomes have a strange attitude towards humans; they hate the fact that humans persecute them, but have a cold respect for the fact that humans use their great power to so effectively dominate the world.
Caught between two very different cultures, the half-elves survive by playing up their unusual heritage. They frequently travel back and forth between Elvin and human lands working as entertainers, advisors, messengers and servants. The best way to describe them is that they are the willing accomplices to their parent races.
Half-elves have no lands of their own but frequently form communities within human and Elvin settlements. These groups have no real leadership and more of a loose association held together by marriage more often than any kind of formal organization. Keenly aware of their place as lesser peoples in these settlements, half-elves go out of their way to avoid offending their human or Elvin overlords.
Although some half-elves are born through the intermarriage of humans and elves, this is not enough to replace their losses. Most half-elf children are born to half-elf parents. The question often asked is how did the first half-elves come about? The Elvin scholars say they are the result of elf women taken as slaves by the humans in their war of conquest while the humans say it was a group of elves who switched sides during the war and willingly came to live with the humans. Regardless, the half-elves know they are a people between worlds and must tread carefully to ensure their relative high status with both factions does not change.
Half-elves enjoy the company of both elves and humans but vocally dislike dwarves who they see as brutish, uncivilized thugs. They freely take advantage of their higher social rank over Halflings and often hire them as servants or keep them as slaves. Half-elves distrust the secretive gnomes and will not do business with them unless it is absolutely necessary.