By now, word’s gotten out that we’ve done something brand new in the third volume of the Extinction Curse Adventure Path, Life’s Long Shadows: we’ve presented a brand-new, complete, playable ancestry. Shoonies are small, dog-faced people who like simple, pastoral settings and hard work. Normally fishers and farmers rather than adventurers, you nevertheless have everything you need to play a shoony adventurer. 

Speaking as the developer: new ancestries take up SO MUCH SPACE, guys! Back in the days of Pathfinder First Edition, the rules to present a new race you could play were pretty tight. They could fit at the end of a single-page monster entry, in fact, and often did. “Hey, here’s the new caligni monster and…here’s the rules to play one!” Many people wanted more than this, so new races in PF1 sometimes got some additional support that other races got, such as a listing of alternate favored class bonuses, variant racial abilities, race-specific feats, or racial equipment or spells or even archetypes. Still, the amount of space to present a new PF1 race was pretty small.

In Pathfinder Second Edition, a new ancestry (what we’re now calling races, to be both technically correct and to try to tamp down, well, racism) takes up at least 4 pages. Sometimes, it’s a bit more than this. So we needed to find this amount of space for the shoonies, and we still had to keep in mind all the good design points about building a new ancestry. I thought it might be helpful to talk about the basic things that all new ancestries must have.

1. Flavorful Introduction. First, new ancestries have an introduction about why you want to play one, a physical description, society, alignment and religion, what people might think of you, and sample names. Those are about a page or more long. There’s been a big push to name creatures what they call themselves, not what other creatures call them. Dark folk don’t call themselves that, for example, so they’re caligni now. Lizardfolk tolerate that name, but they call themselves Iruxi, so that’s their proper name (and the name of their language). I’m assuming that it’s only out of adherence to traditional fantasy that Paizo still uses names for dwarves (who don’t consider themselves short) or halflings (who don’t consider themselves “half” of anything). I recall that halflings in the OD&D setting called themselves “hin,” and I’d really like to see something like that. But sacred cows sometimes persist. 

2. Base Statistics. Second, new ancestries have the base statistics that all ancestries of that type must have. This takes up part of a page, or a long sidebar. These include:

Hit Points: This is a baseline of 8; certain weak ancestries might warrant 6 Hit Points, while tough ancestries warrant 10 Hit Points.

Size: This seems to be always Small or Medium, as in Pathfinder First Edition. Larger or smaller ancestries aren’t impossible, but pose adventuring challenges.

Speed: This is a base of 25 feet. Ancestries might be a little slower or a little faster than this, but even a 5-foot adjustment in either direction is pretty significant.

Ability Boosts: This is probably a benefit to one physical ability score (Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution), one mental ability score (Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma), and one free boost, but this varies. An ancestry with only 6 Hit Points base shouldn’t have a boost to Constitution, as that’s not internally consistent.

Ability Flaw: This can be a single flaw to any of the ability scores. It’s never one that’s getting a boost. An ancestry with 10 Hit Points base shouldn’t have a flaw to Constitution, as that’s not internally consistent, either.

Note that some ancestries get only two boosts that they can put into whatever abilities they want, and no flaw. Humans are the most typical example here. This is a bit more flexible, but about the same level of power.

Languages: These are the languages that ancestry starts out knowing, as well as they languages they can pick for being really intelligent. Nearly all ancestries have an ancestral language that they can all speak among themselves, but this isn’t a requirement. 

Traits: These are the rule-mechanics traits that all members of an ancestry have. They’re almost always just “Humanoid” and the name of the ancestry itself, but there are some exceptions. Hobgoblins, for example, share the “Goblin” trait with actual goblins and don’t have a separate “Hobgoblin” trait. Leshies get the “Plant” trait rather than the “Humanoid” trait, and so on.

Special Abilities, Starting with Vision: If every single member of the ancestry has a particular ability, it’s listed here. If the ancestry has darkvision or low-light vision, that’s listed first. If the ancestry has a lot of beneficial tweaks so far, it might not warrant any other abilities; for example, an ancestry with 10 base Hit Points, an ability flaw in a not-very-useful ability like Charisma, and darkvision (the most useful type of vision), it might actually not need anything else to be balanced. 

For shoonies, it was important to have something that really showed off “these are pugs” and, simultaneously, made them really useful in a campaign filled with stinky troglodytes. So we gave them a racial ability to better resist bad smells and inhaled poisons. That might not be particularly useful for most campaigns, but it’s pretty handy in the Extinction Curse Adventure Path. 

3. Heritages. All ancestries now have four or five “subtypes,” and you’re required to pick one for your character. These are often circumstances of birth that can’t ever change: if you were a halfling born deep underground, you can see better in the dark, and you’ll never not be a halfling born deep underground. Each heritage should have an ability, and there’s something important to keep in mind with these: all the heritages should have about the same power level (or there wouldn’t be any reason to pick any but the most powerful), and they should almost always be static benefits that you don’t need to track. Maybe you have darkvision, or a bite attack, or resistance to fire, but these will only very rarely give you actions or reactions you choose to use. 

If a heritage gives a bonus, that bonus should scale. This is because a character only gets one heritage, and it should be valuable and viable throughout the character’s entire career. Resistance to fire 2 seems really useful at 1st level, but it’s practically valueless at higher levels. Fire resistance equal to one-half the character’s level is a more useful thing for an ancestry to grant.

Let me clarify that these don’t need to be equivalent in power across all ancestries, just across the ancestry that can take them. Maybe every human heritage is more powerful than every dwarf heritage, and that’s fine; dwarves have all sorts of built-in benefits that humans don’t get (like more Hit Points, darkvision, and so on). It’s good to eyeball the power level of heritages generally, but it’s only one ancestry’s heritages that count.

Heritages might take up a whole page or if there’s a lot of ancestral history that goes into them, but usually they all fit on less than a page.

4. Feats. This is why ancestries in Pathfinder Second Edition are so long: you need about 2 pages of ancestry feats to provide a good cross-section of options. Characters get feats at 1st level, 5th level, 9th level, 13th level, and 17th level, so there has to be viable options and interesting decisions at those levels. The more the better. Most ancestries have as many as six or more 1st-level feats, at least four 5th-level feats, and at least two 9th-level and 13th-level feats. Some ancestries don’t have 17th-level feats, on the assumption that you can circle back and select a different lower-level feat if you’re in one of those rare campaigns that makes it to 17th level. 

Unlike heritages, feats can provide actions or reactions that the character can take, but these still remain somewhat rare. Normally, feats provide additional passive abilities. Why is that? From a general design perspective, something you want to do every round in a fight should be a class feat—who you are and what you do in a fight should derive from your class. Ancestry feats should instead give you new ways to do things, or abilities that let you say, “here is what my people can do that your people can’t.” So they’re often things like better resistances, ways to mitigate specific conditions (like being sickened or doomed), spell-like abilities, special movement like burrowing or swimming, and so on.

Note that, unlike heritages, a feat can give an ability that doesn’t scale. Instead, it’s possible to scale the ability by making it a higher-level feat. For example, being able to ignore difficult terrain of some type is super useful, and might therefore be a 13th-level ancestry feat. 

It doesn't take a lot of looking to realize that most ancestries have some “default” ancestry feats:

Lore: One of these is AncestryName Lore, which gives some training in relevant skills. 

Weaponry: There are also the AncestryName Weapon Familiarity “tree” of feats: one that gives training to certain ancestral weapons, a later feat that gives critical specialization effects related to those weapons, and one that increases proficiency ranks in those weapons. 

Heritage Enhancements: Many ancestries have feats that have a prerequisite of a particular heritage, and generally make that heritage’s bonus better in some way. These look neat, but they actually serve to limit choice and probably should be used pretty sparingly. Here’s why: if an ancestry has 9 1st-level feats, that’s 9 choices any character of that ancestry can take. But if that same ancestry has 5 heritages and a 1st-level feat for each heritage, then a character doesn’t have 9 choices, but only 5: the four feats that require the ancestry she doesn’t have might as well not exist for her. That’s less choice. Still, they might be the right option if the ancestry’s heritage really cries out for an ability that’s more than a heritage should grant (either because it’s more powerful, or because it takes an action or reaction when most heritages don’t). 

And that's what it takes to build an ancestry in Pathfinder Second Edition!