Two things come to mind. First off, while DH5, like all DH settings, is primarily humano-centric, I have purposefully eschewed using very many traditional fantasy races such as are common in D&D and mostly come to us as bowdlerized Tolkien products. Instead of elfs and dwarfs and halflings and stuff, I've gone the same direction as I did in my now quite old Bloodlines setting, which pre-dated Dark•Heritage by some degree, and which while also humano-centric, was focused on the notion of magical or monstrous admixture with humanity to create racial variety. At that time, that meant that there would be nations of tieflings, aasimar, and the four types of genasi alongside populations of humans, but I've gradually "evolved" those concepts.
Dark•Heritage's earlier incarnations dropped most of the elemental types, with the exception of the fire genasi (probably here under influence from Freeport's azhar race) but picked up some other races that had other monstrous or cursed admixture. While my races today aren't really the same as the D&D race which prompted me to add them in the first place, and I prefer, when borrowing from D&D, to go back to the original folkloric or mythic source material (if any) and utilize as much of that as I can rather than the D&Diana version of the concept, one can still draw a line of sorts from a race that is known in D&D to one that is in DH5. Most of these are either cursed or monstrous, certainly qualifying as a dark heritage, I'd think. A few other races are indeed merely monstrous races to begin with. Let's have a quick look, shall we, at the races in the DH5 game and discuss them briefly, including how their heritage can be seen as "dark" compared to real world people.
- Human: All humans in DH5 belong to one of two groups: 1) exiles from the early medieval Europe, who's heritage is affected by the fact that they know that they don't really belong here unless they can make themselves belong by carving out and defending their place here, or 2) ancient slaves to other races who have only relatively recently come to freedom, and who struggle with a heritage where they were sources of contempt and abuse. They have no real cultural or civilizational heritage of their own to draw upon, and have to forge one anew still.
- Skraelings: Are they human? Or not quite? The debased inhabitants of the most wicked of all nations that ever existed (well, that may be arguable. Baal Hamazi certainly gives them a run for their money) these former Atlanteans have their backs against the wall, their homes in exile now overrun with the Colonists and their own numbers drastically reduced. They live a life in the shadows preying on the weak, when they can, or giving up their culture and attempting to mingle when they can't. Although represented by a different stat-block, these aren't meant to be non-human, but merely a highly divergent population.
- Orc: Much like orcs as everyone knows them, these are clearly not humans, and their origin is shrouded in shadow. Perhaps they never were human, but persistent stories of their former humanity until corrupted by a Dark Lord of unparalleled power (who came from Atlantis himself, and he may have been the cause of the sinking of that evil place) linger still. If that doesn't remind you of Sauron and the sinking of Numenor, then you can't call yourself a fan of fantasy.
- Goblin: If the origin of orcs is mysterious, the origin of goblins is even moreso. Most people believe them to be merely a much smaller, weaker morph of the same species, much as pygmies are still people in spite of their size, but some wonder if they have a completely different origin altogether.
- Cursed: As the Skraelings are the final dregs of Atlantean civilization, the Cursed are the remnants of Hyperborean civilization. Unlike those from Atlantis, they still retain some vestiges of living in their far northern home with its glorious capital city of Zobna. They are in exile, chased southwards by the advance of Inuto savages and the gradual failing of their own nation and culture, but they still linger yet. These guys retain something of the nature of the shadar-kai from D&D (although more like the Pathfinder fetchling interpretation than the 4e shadar-kai interpretation) but in origin, they were probably originally more like the dhampyr. I see them as retaining some of the tone and flavor of both still—both races that posit a cursed backstory.
- Jann: One of the few remnants from Bloodlines. Probably because of Freeport's azhar, at least in part, I always had more interest in the fire genasi than any other type of genasi, and the jann inherited that mantle; mostly human but with monstrous ifrit admixture from the City of Brass. In spite of how D&D has always done it, the ifrit (or efreet or afrit; there are various transliterations) were evil and daemonic spirits, not elemental spirits. While more overtly fiery, of course, than the kemlings (see below) and still retaining some of their origin as fire genasi originally, this is still a dark heritage to have.
- Kemling: Started out as tieflings in Bloodlines, were carried forward into the earliest versions of Dark•Heritage. Later, some of the Bael Turath lore from 4e got bowdlerized by me (mostly because I didn't know much about it other than that it was a long-lost tiefling empire, so I was working on just the concept and the name, not any details). Needless to say, the whole schtick of the tiefling race is that it has a dark heritage, which carries on to the kemlings too.
- Nephilim: While the aasimar race that my Bloodlines setting had is hardly a dark heritage, it occurred to me that the only real explanation for the existence of the aasimar in the first place is that the angels involved are fallen angels. Looking into old Second Temple Hebrew traditions of the Nephilim and Samyassa, a notorious fallen angel, that gave me the details of this race as it came to be.
- Wose: While the name comes from Tolkien, and Tolkien got it from folklore, I had to, of course, look deeply in the wood-wose or wildman of the wood folklore to work on this race. But it really started as the shifters (from Eberron); the descendants of werewolves who lost much of the potency (but not necessarily the savagery) of their curse over time.
But all of that isn't really the reason that the heritage of Dark•Heritage is dark. No, the reason for that is that the world is somewhat more challenging and difficult than most, because The plan for Mankind has been sent somewhat askew. Whereas in our world, a third of the Heavenly Host fell and were cast out, in this world, an additional third refused to participate at all, and stayed neutral. Because these were lukewarm, neither cold nor hot, they were also spewed out of Heaven, but did not become devils, but rather inhabit the near domains of the Otherworld. The most powerful of these are mighty beings like Odin or Zeus, and pagans in the past worshiped them as gods. Others took monstrous forms, like Scylla or Typhon. Lesser members of the host became smaller elfs, faeries, or other denizens of the Otherworld. Together, they were tasked, as a means of redemption f sorts, with protecting mortals from threats from outside creation, but the lukewarm have generally done a poor job of it; either because they were resentful of their fall in status and became bitter and uncooperative, or because they were poor in judgement and lost track of their task, or because they quarreled with each other, jockeying for power or influence in their Otherworld courts and domains. In other words, they remained lukewarm in this phase of existence too.
Because of this, the threats from Outside creation have become a bit more emboldened here, and leak into Creation more readily than they do in any other Creation. This lends a Lovecraftian edge to the setting, on top of the mythological edge that the lukewarm former Heavenly Hosts have done. And these lukewarm Otherworld residents aren't usually very friendly to mortals anyway, even if they still remember their mission to mortals overall, they tend to see individual mortals as occasionally interesting, but usually unimportant in the long run.
These Otherworldly creatures and beings can be fought and killed, but because their substance is immortal, they will eventually reform. They won't have their memories, but they do retain their abilities, or rather, they will grow into them as they mature. In this sense, they operate much like the immortals from my MYTHS REVISITED project. Let me quote a small part of that which explains how this will work for DH5. And before I do, let me reiterate once more that this is all backstory, and doesn't really matter too much in terms of what any character, or even player, would know or need to know. It's just me noodling around with cosmology and deep backstory about how things work.
One of the great mysteries of humanity is exactly what happens to the souls of those who die, however, such is not the case with these Outsiders, as they are collectively sometimes called. While not actually immortal, and certainly capable of being slain, the souls of Outsiders eventually re-coalesce and reform to be reborn when one is slain. They will grow up to possess all of the abilities that they had before, although none of the memories of their prior lives. This does grant them a measure of immortality, but a very limited one, since if you are killed, have to be reborn a number of years later, grow up, and then still don't have any of your prior memories, death to the Outsiders is fairly final, and is certainly a viable solution to dealing with the plans of a rival or enemy. Certain rituals can give characters random (and usually more confusing rather than helpful) glimpses into their past lives, and can be done on occasion, although they are very fearful of doing so because prolonged exposure to these glimpses leads to insanity and violent, paranoid madness.
Outsiders can often manipulate magic and exhibit Otherworldly traits, as befits their nature as Otherworlders. There are also a number of other, more exotic beasts that live in these Otherworld domains—creatures that may be semi-human like, as in centaurs or rusalka, or others that are purely monstrous, such as trolls, hydras or worse.
In the past, various populations of Outsiders usually had limited geographical exposure to Earth, but as the population of Earth has become increasingly scattered and intermingled, that is no longer true, and the various populations of Outsiders now interact not only with humanity, but also with each other quite a bit. In addition, as their wars and often brutal politics proceed, in many cases, individual heroes are reborn, or hidden after their birth, on the Earth, where they may be completely unconnected from their forebears (and in an ironic twist, may in fact grow up to later become more familiar with a rival population of Outsiders.) Also, the myths as presented show a point in time only—echoes of past upheavals are reflected in the mythology, such as in the Æsir-Vanir War or the Titanomachy—are merely past upheavals, and others of often similar scope have taken place since the time that the myths were first transmitted to "mortals."As the Dresden Files says about Old Gods, "It is said that most gods are the first generation scions of angels, demons, or powerful beings of the Nevernever. Some of them are derelict angels—not cast out of Heaven, but just departed on their own. Millennia ago, such beings gathered into tribes (the Olympians, the Aesir and Vanir, the Jotuns, and so on) and were eventually venerated as gods by the local mortals. The strongest, most capricious, most frightening, most helpful, or most stylish are the ones that tend to be remembered today."
This is the model used in Dark•Heritage, even though it's obviously not Earth. That said, I'll be making reference to Greek, Roman, Norse and other mythological figures even though it's a fantasy earth, and I'm not going to apologize for it either.