As in Baldur’s Gate II, there are seven races to choose from for your protagonist, split into two uneven groups: the fey races (elves and gnomes) and the natural races (humans, half-elves, half-orcs, dwarves and halflings). Beyond obvious cosmetic and cultural differences, this also influences their attributes and abilities, as well as their relative proficiency at some classes. Five out of the seven races have some form of advantage for seeing in the dark (all except humans and halflings), but I’ve yet to perceive any actual usefulness to it. It’s worth mentioning that, while there are many subraces of elves, dwarves and gnomes, the game picks one as the racial standard, which may be a bit misleading.
Humans: As is usual in RPGs, humans are the most numerous and the most adaptable race around. They are fond of travelling and warring, which results in a great variability in terms of both ideologies and physical appearance. This also extends to lifestyle and dress, and humans in this game are noted for their penchant towards eccentricity in both of these domains. To reflect this versatility, humans start out with one extra Feat and four extra Skill Points, and gain one extra Skill Point every level afterwards. They have no attribute bonuses or penalties, but are advantaged over other races in terms of multiclassing, as their highest level class is automatically disregarded when determining EXP penalties. Still, as is my custom, this is the last race I would ever consider for my character. It’s a fantasy game, might as well try something more exotic! Among the henchmen, Sharwyn is a human.
Elves: In typical Western fantasy fashion, elves are beautiful, slender and graceful, with a penchant for arts, music and nature, and a much longer lifespan than other races (700+). This means that they are slow to trust and steadfast in both their friendships and enmities. Elves are shorter than humans, with pointy ears and no body or facial hair. The Forgotten Realms setting usually features several subraces of elves, but in this game, moon elves are the default choice, for some reason, meaning that they generally have dark hair, pale skin and green eyes. That being said, Hordes of the Underdark also prominently features the drow: the dark-skinned and white-haired underground-dwelling and generally Evil subrace of Elves. Elves are naturally agile, which results in a two-point bonus to Dexterity, but also quite frail, as indicated by a two-point penalty to Constitution. They’re also immune to Sleep, see better in the dark than humans or halflings and have a two-point Saving Throw bonus against mind-affecting spells. They have bonus proficiencies with one-handed swords and bows, as well as a two-point bonus to all their detection checks. What’s more, they make their Search checks automatically and with no movement penalty. Their favoured class is Wizard. Among the henchmen, Linu (OC) and Nathyrra (HotU) are elves.
Half-elves: The offspring of elves and humans, they combine their elven parent’s refinement and love of nature, and their human parent’s curiosity and ambition, although they are usually seen as outsiders in both cultures. They tend to be paler and slimmer than humans, with green eyes, although all their other features are more variable than those of an elf (the game just gives them the same body models as humans). They’re also longer-lived than humans, reaching about 180 years. In terms of attributes, they’re also a mix between their two parent races, although lacking the best features of both, which makes them less popular in terms of player choice. They have no attribute bonuses or penalties, and their highest level class is automatically disregarded when determining EXP penalties, just like for humans, but they lack the extra Feat and Skill Points. Similarly, while they share elves’ immunity to sleep, ability to see in the dark and bonus against mind-affecting spells, they only get a one-point bonus to their detection skills, and lack their bonus weapon proficiencies and automatic Search checks. There are no half-elven henchmen in the original campaign, but Aribeth is retconned as a half-elf in HotU.
Half-orcs: The offspring of orcs and humans, they are generally shunned by other races and considered to be violent and uncouth. They are the same height as humans (maybe slightly shorter), but have coarse features, greenish or greyish skin, pointy ears and, sometimes, protruding fangs that signal their orcish heritage. They’re also somewhat shorter-lived than humans, and take pride in displaying their scars as tokens of battle and resilience. Half-orcs are very strong, which is reflected by a two-point bonus to Strength, but not the most intelligent or the most likeable of folks, as demonstrated by a two-point penalty to both Intelligence and Charisma. They have the best ability to see in the dark, along with dwarves, but no other bonuses. Their favoured class is Barbarian, and they generally make great melee characters. Among the henchmen, Daelan (OC) and Xanos (Shadows of Undrentide) are half-orcs.
Dwarves: Again, as is typical of Western fantasy, dwarves are a short, stocky, sturdy race, longer-lived than humans, generally dwelling underground close to mines, due to their love of gems. They tend to be stubborn, averse to change and slow to trust, but also determined and very loyal. Most males take particular pride in their beards. There are several subraces of dwarves, but this game considers gold dwarves as the default, meaning that they have tan or light brown skin, and grey, brown or black hair. They’re also at the shorter end of the dwarven height spectrum. Dwarves are very resilient, which translates into a two-point Constitution bonus, but not very personable, as reflected by a two-point Charisma penalty. Their hardiness also gives them a two-point Saving Throw bonus against poison and spells. Due to their underground-dwelling habits, they have the best ability to see in the dark, along with half-orcs, but also a two-point bonus to all Search checks in underground areas. Their size grants them a four-point Armour Class (AC) bonus against giants, but they also get a one-point bonus on attack rolls against orcs and goblinoid creatures. Finally, they get a two-point lore bonus for identifying items. Their favoured class is Fighter, and they make very durable melee characters. Among the henchmen, Grimgnaw (OC) and Dorna (SoU) are dwarves.
Halflings: So called because they are roughly half the size of a human (think Tolkien’s hobbits), halflings are a cheerful, sociable, curious and resourceful folk, somewhat longer-lived than humans. They tend to have ruddy skin, pointy ears, dark hair and brown or black eyes, as well as a preference for comfortable clothing. Halflings are naturally very agile, which results in a two-point Dexterity bonus and a one-point bonus to attack rolls with throwing weapons, but they’re rather weak, as their two-point Strength penalty indicates. They’re also considered to be particularly lucky and thus gain a one-point bonus to all their Saving Throws. Moreover, their natural daring gives them a two-point bonus to all Saving Throws against Fear-related spells and abilities. Halflings are also stealthier than other races, getting a two-point bonus to Listen and Move Silently checks. Due to their size, they can’t use large shields or weapons, or wield medium-sized weapons (e.g. longswords) in both hands, but get a one-point bonus to attack rolls and AC in exchange, as well as a four-point bonus to all stealth and detection checks. Their favoured class is Rogue, and they are probably the best-suited race for it. Among the henchmen, Tomi is a halfling.
Gnomes: These diminutive fey humanoids with pointy ears are known for being avid inventors, researchers and technicians, but also pranksters. They are very long lived (300-500 years), but tend to keep to themselves rather than travel. There are several gnome subraces, but this game has chosen rock gnomes as the default, meaning that they have brown skin, light hair and usually blue eyes, with males having a tendency to grow beards. The game also gives them freakishly long arms, for some reason. Despite their size, gnomes are surprisingly hardy, which translates into a two-point Constitution bonus, but not very strong, as witnessed by their two-point Strength penalty. Due to their affinity for illusion magic, gnomes have a two-point bonus to Saving Throws against mind-affecting spells, but also a two-point bonus to any illusion spell they cast. They also see better in the dark than humans or halflings, have a two-point bonus to Listen and Concentration checks, and a one-point attack roll bonus against reptilian and goblinoid creatures. Due to their size, gnomes cannot use large shields or weapons, or wield medium-sized weapons (e.g. longswords) in both hands, but, in exchange, they get a one-point bonus to attack rolls and AC, as well as a four-point bonus to all stealth and detection checks, just like halflings. Moreover, they gain a four-point AC bonus against giants, like dwarves. Their favoured class is Wizard. Among the henchmen, Boddyknock is a gnome.