Age of Shambles is meant to be a sprawling setting filled with oddities and remnants of a bygone era. This means that while there are the core of standard races, with GM approval, a representative of almost any race can find a home on Vernlarum.
In cases where the rules of game you are playing make a distinction between subtypes of a playable race, in Age of Shambles those "races" are viewed more as cultures. For example, rules might distinguish between "mountain" and "hill" dwarves. These are all dwarves. If the rules make the "hill" dwarves tougher, they are a better fit for representing newly freed slaves. If the rules make the "mountain" dwarves better at using armor, then that is a better fit for the small bands of freed dwarves scattered around the mountains.
In these cases, consult your GM for the sub race most suitable for your character's background.
When the Shambles rose, the dwarves did the only thing that made sense to them—they locked themselves away in their mountain kingdoms. Safe from the ravages of Shamblers and refugees alike, they continued their lives without much change.
That was until the dark elves attacked. The dwarves underestimated how much they relied upon surface dwellers to prevent or repeal a dark elf incursion. The dark elves had made no such mistake.
The dark elves struck swiftly with such savage ferocity, that the found themselves unable to even stall the obsidian skinned invaders. In short order, the dwarves surrendered, and the reign of their elven masters began.
No living dwarves remember their previous lives of freedom, though stories are still told in hushed whispers. A long-lived race, dwarven memory takes a long time to fade, but their masters have been efficient. All dwarves with royal blood were executed. Over the generations, any time a dwarf would lay claim to such blood, he, and all of his kin, would be slain.
The elves' own version of events, that the dwarves begged them to protect them from the Shambles above, is repeated often enough that many dwarves believe this version of events. Even more don't care either way. What does the cause or history of one's subjugation mean, when the earth must be mined and the ore worked into steel?
PCs who start play as slave-born dwarves have recently escaped from below the mountains. They may have made friends with a bearded dwarf who connived a way to free them, a dark elf of conscience might have done the same, or they may have braved the depths of the Deep Below to find their way free of the dark elves.
Dwarves who are slave-born are only allowed beards when they are particularly dutiful slaves. The dwarves who earn their beards wear them proudly. When dwarves escape, many immediately grow their beards as a sign, but some refuse, seeing beards as a mark of submission to dark elves.
Slave-born dwarves who escape often roam the Wastes until they encounter a caravan or tribe. This is a dangerous time for the former slave. The dark elves pay a large reward for the return of dwarves, and some prey upon the naïvety of newly freed dwarves to earn that reward.
A small, but growing, number of dwarves are free-born. They huddle together in the Mountains or Sorrow in small bands. They are nomadic—unable to stay in place for long because of bounty hunters or dark elf slave-retrieval bands.
These dwarves have become quite efficient at hiding their trails, living off of the meager givings of the land, and fighting a guerrilla war against those who pursue them.
Unfortunately, they've also lost much of the dwarven culture. A few storytellers and shaman have arisen who claim to know the stories of their ancestors, and these have a sacred place in the hearts of the dwarves. A well-timed story of dwarven ancestors can turn a tribe of dwarves down almost any path the teller wishes.
Most elves encountered in Age of Shambles are known as "The Mourning". The ancient homes of elven kind, the grand forests of the world, have all been trampled to ruin. Only dust and dried riverbeds remain of their once lush homelands.
The elves of Vernlarum are in constant mourning over this loss. They shave their heads and cover themselves with flowing, scrollwork tattoos. The tattoos tell the story of the forests the elf's family came from and are copied from their parents' tattoos over the course of adolescence. The First Tattooing Day is a sign an elf has reached his adolescence, and his Final Tattooing Day is the sign of his adulthood.
The birth ritual of the elves is a song of mourning for the newborn child, that she will not ever know the peace of a summer glade, the crisp expectation of a fall, the stern demands of winter, or the hope and joy of spring. Elves often view it as their duty to return the forests to the world; though the task seems so impossible, most do nothing about it.
Different from their surface brethren, dark elves have obsidian skin and white hair from a curse levied on their ancestors in a time long forgotten. Some say the curse twisted their hearts; others that their twisted hearts brought upon the curse.
Some dark elves, though, are reject the ways of their kin. They don't believe their subjugation of the dwarves is proper. Dark elves are the only race to not have their history and civilization eradicated by the Shambling, and some small number of dark elves see it as their responsibility to help a shattered world.
Helping others is not a popular sentiment in the dark elf empire. Some dark elves flee, hoping to fix what parts of the world they can. Others stay in the empire, hoping to fix it from within.
Dark elves, too, lost much in the Shambling. The cause of their invasion of dwarven land was the severing of their own. As Shambles began to move about the world, their weight caused many of the tunnels leading to the Deep Below empire of the dark elves to collapse. The elves faced a choice—be locked in the Deep Below or find some means of escape. The dwarven mountain kingdom presented the perfect solution.
Some dark elves don't worry themselves with larger concerns. Instead, they roam the Deep Below, fighting the twisted creatures there, looking for salvageable entrances to their ancestral cities wherein great wealth and knowledge lie.
Human mages are widely believed to be the cause of the Ruining. The term "Ruiner" is usually meant to describe the people who long ago created the Shambles and brought the end of an Age, but the term can also be used as derogatory slang by non-humans.
As much as the end of the last Age lays at the feet of humankind, so does the saving of the remnants of it for this Age. Humans are the ones who banded together with each other and the orcs to build cities atop the slow, shambling golems. And humans are the ones who invited others to join them.
Now, humans go through life in many ways as they always have—they vie for political power, ignore politics, seek adventure, seek shelter from dangers of all kinds, and procreate enough to continue to be the most populous race in Vernlarum.
Human and orc blood is now so mixed, that most humans will lay claim to some orc blood, though it is so diluted that there is no way to be sure. A strong jaw or broad shoulders could be a mark of an orc ancestor, or it could be part of human heritage. Few care enough to argue with such a claim if it is made.
Gnomes had a long tradition as both storytellers and inventors. They have carved out small niches for themselves along these lines. Gnomes living in the small enclave of Gno, high in the Mountains of Sorrow, have discovered the secrets of burstpowder, a black powder useful for creating explosions. They have even begun creating burstpowder rifles and pistols, though these are in very limited quantity and, some say, quality.
Other gnomes, knowing they might get left out as civilization reordered, established a communication network between Shambles. Messenger gnomes are now the most trusted and dependable way to send communication between cities. Nobles who seek absolute secrecy will even hire messenger gnomes to relay missives for them inside a city.
Gnomes have earned a reputation for neutrality in political dealings and honor that is beyond reproach. This puts a heavy burden on the younger generations who sometimes rebel against the strictures of their position. But those who rebel too much are cast out and reviled by their brethren. Being an outcast of a group of a highly trusted and regarded people who can quickly communicate one's status to everyone in the known world is not an enviable position.
Before the Shambling, halflings were gregarious traders who faced trouble with courage far larger than their small frames. After the Shambling, seemingly not much has changed. So little that some doubt whether they understand, or even can understand the magnitude of the catastrophe.
But that perception of halflings is very wrong. They do know the depth of loss. They also learn, from a very young age, how easily the rest of the races, especially the city-controlling humans, could oust them from the relative safety of the cities.
So halflings learn to put forward a brave face no matter the cost. This leads to a brittle mania in many, and those who think halflings have all gone a touch mad aren't far off. A halfling who is called out for cowardice, fear, or not being useful will go to great lengths to prove these claims false. This has, of course, led to some very unfortunate mishaps.
Not much has changed for half-elves. They are still the progeny of forbidden unions between humans and elves. They are still people of two worlds with a foot in either but two feet in neither.
They understand the Mourning, but they posses humanity's resilience and work for their own ends instead of wallowing in the loss of something they've never seen.
Some half-elves have the tattoos of the Mourning. Some don't. The ones who do often feel like fakes, for they don't feel the depths of loss the full-blooded elves so clearly do. The half-elves who don't pine for a lost piece of their culture.
Because of their situation, half-elves are better able to see all sides, and many cities call upon them to be diplomats or arbitrators in disputes. Others try and lessen the loss of the forests and become druids to bring forests and land back into the world.
Of all the races in Vernlarum, half-orcs and orcs gained the most from the Shambling. Orc leaders, knowing they faced an existential threat in the form of the giant golems, allied with human leaders to help build the cities atop the Shambles. In many cities, this led to a mixing of bloodlines.
There is no stigma attached to having orc blood in most cities, in fact many will lay claim to some amount of orcish ancestry now. There are some places, like the city of Mandith, where orcs and orc-bloods are still stigmatized, but most see that as odd and very old-fashioned.
True half-orcs are becoming a bit rare, as full-blooded orcs decline in number. Still, a child of two "humans" can carry enough traits of orcish ancestry to be considered a "half-orc". Parents of particularly strong or sturdy children will boast about the orc blood showing true.