Everybody’s played as the usual fantasy tropes: humans, dwarves, elves, half-orcs, and their ilk. You might have even played as some of the better-known alternative races, like tieflings, aasimar, fetchlings, tengu, or catfolk. In my travels, there are a few races I haven’t seen much of- races that deserve a little love. This post will highlight a few such lesser-known Pathfinder races available for play (depending, of course, on what sort of adventure your GM is running) and what, in my humble opinion, makes them worth taking a look at.
Samsarans are blue-skinned, clear-blooded humanoids who continually reincarnate, retaining the memories of their past lives as waking dreams and vague impressions. While their racial abilities are interesting enough as it is (with special resistances to death effects and a smattering of spell-like abilities), the true appeal of Samsarans lies in the roleplaying opportunities they present. Being able to access memories from lifetimes long past makes creating a backstory for any Samsaran character a fine excuse to flex your writing muscles. For instance: a samsaran monk who becomes the lone practitioner of a forbidden and long-dead martial arts style, taught entirely by her own memories of being the style’s last grand master in an incarnation hundreds of years ago, slowly learning each new technique as she delves deeper and deeper into her embedded spirit-memories… There’s also a cool Archetype for Oracles (the Reincarnated Oracle, of course) available only to Samsarans that practically writes itself as the story of a character whose quest to uncover the truth of their Mystery spans multiple lifetimes.
Just look at the picture. You already know what makes Strix stand out: they have wings. They don’t have to cast a spell or burn a bunch of Feats (I’m looking at you, aasimar) to fly; it’s built-in to their racial abilities. Some GMs consider flying characters to be their bane, and for good reason; you can’t restrict someone who can fly around all willy-nilly to just any old pedestrian method of travel, meaning Strix characters are particularly tough to railroad. In a dungeon-crawling adventure, those wings won’t do much good, but when it comes time to tackle the evil wizard camping out on the top floor of his enormous arcane tower, well… why doesn’t the Strix just fly up there and shank ‘im? Well, it’s time to get creative, GMs. Strix have a cool look (like dark elves, but with wings!), but the bad blood between them and humans makes for a fascinating RP opportunity- things are a little more hostile than the usual “Oh, sorry, this bar doesn’t serve half-orcs!” business attached to other races that supposedly bear some social stigma. Golarion, Paizo’s campaign setting, has Strix attached to a singular location, but there’s no reason why you can’t come up with your own, vastly-different habitat for Strix in your own games.
Elegant, seductive, and possessing an alien beauty that’s almost human, Vishkanya might be written off as “too much like elves” by some. But who says your campaign setting even has to have elves in it? If you decide to give our long-eared pals a break, Vishkanya make a very cool, very flavorful alternative, particularly if your campaign setting has a more Asian theme. With their poisonous bodily fluids, flexible bodies, and seductive nature makes Vishkanya perfect spies and saboteurs. Want an example of a somewhat more unconventional Vishkanya, though? I once played a Vishkanya Paladin (of a homebrewed, benevolent winged serpent deity) who treated her poisonous blood as a holy weapon, “anointing” her scimitar with it and enhancing its power with her “divine henna” tattoos.
Suli are the humanoid spawn of jann, a type of genie. This makes them kin to other elemental-blooded races like Ifrits, Sylphs, Undines, and Oreads, but what makes Suli interesting is that they embody all four elements. Their coolest racial ability is their Elemental Assault, which allows them to conjure up elemental energy into their fists to fire-punch (or ice-punch, or lightning-punch, etc.) enemies right in their damn faces. This makes them a natural fit for the Monk class. The alternate racial trait Energy Strike swaps out Elemental Assault and their all-round energy resistances for one of four very cool powers that focus on a single element- including the ability to walk on water by freezing it beneath your feet! That is just too damn cool.
Some of you out there are probably groaning: “Keep your sci-fi out of my fantasy!” While I won’t open the sci-fi-versus-fantasy can of worms today, I can say that Androids are one of the most interesting new races to come out of Pathfinder’s Inner Sea Bestiary. They’re also getting a little bit of exposure as of late thanks to Paizo’s most recent Adventure Path, Iron Gods, which has a distintive sci-fi theme and even pictures an iconic Android character on the cover of the first volume. With a number of fitting immunities and penalties thanks to their bionic nature, Androids are another one of those races that open up all kinds of doors for their backstories, and their difficulty in understanding and processing emotions is just begging for some great roleplay. Also: Nanite Surge is a very, very neat ability.
All art belongs to Paizo Publishing.