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Ontario Pathfinder Society | 5-Foot Theatre: Role-Playing Fantasy Races
5-Foot Theatre: Role-Playing Fantasy Races

5-Foot Theatre: Role-Playing Fantasy Races

Wherever you go, there you are.” – Unknown

Being Pathfinders can make PCs a little jaded. They’re surrounded by the most extraordinary people on the planet and they get to visit the most amazing locations in the world. Without context, such adventures can make the extraordinary seem pretty ho hum. Being awesome? Yeah, it’s all in a night’s work.

The next few installments of 5-Foot Theatre will explore the enriching role-playing opportunities available when players and GMs mesh game-mechanics with the Lore of Golarion. This month’s focus: role-playing fantasy races.

The Skyreach Skew

First things first: the majority of the population of Golarion are not adventurers.

The routine meetings of powerful and unusual characters that occur at Skyreach would be considered extremely rare anywhere else on the planet. So, while it may seem second-nature for an Elven Pathfinder to have a pleasant chat with a Tengu, a Dwarf, and an Aasimar – it would be considered highly unusual to almost anyone else. If even in cosmopolitan Absalom such an unusual grouping would at least warrant a second glance, then imagine how a party of Pathfinders might be treated in a small town at the far edges of the globe.

Fantasy race can offer role-playing opportunities for enthusiastic players and crafty GMs. In some cases, race can make PCs feel special. In others, race can flesh-out the local culture the PCs are visiting. When fantasy race offers such opportunities, be sure to seize them!

If a largely non-human party of PCs walk into a hamlet where the majority of the population is human, maybe the townsfolk will gawk a bit at the exotic strangers visiting their home. Maybe they’ll gawk a lot! Similarly, if the PCs are walking through an Elf city, a tiefling, dwarf, or half-orc might feel a little uncomfortable under the wary eyes of the city’s inhabitants. Then again, maybe an elf would feel the most uncomfortable (being an adventurer and all). Like anything else, if this technique is overdone it can get annoying, but when a worthy opportunity presents itself, a wily GM should be ready to spring.

It’s More Than Half The Page

In the Core Rulebook, the bottom-half of each Race chapter’s page describes the game mechanics of race. During character creation, players rightfully go to those stat-blocks and carefully consider the impact each trait will have on their character’s career. When it comes to the crunch of numbers, players are eager to work every angle in order to optimize their character.

Strangely, this meticulousness doesn’t always extend to the top section of that same page. There, the page discusses typical aspects of each race, including physical description, society, alignment, religion and the reasons why members of that race might turn to a life of adventure. There are good arguments for why a player might gloss over the fluff while clinging to the crunch – but there are equally good arguments against doing so.

I’m Different…

The top section of the Race chapter discusses typical members of that race, but adventurers are anything but typical! It’s sometimes because of their inability to fit-in that that PCs become adventurers in the first place. That’s a fair argument for why players might not be as detail oriented when it comes to fluff.

Different From What Though?

Being different is a comparative statement. So your character is different. Well, different from what?  Your character didn’t emerge from a vacuum. If he’s rebelling against the ways of his people, then the ways of his people have had a huge influence on his development. Afterall, we don’t rebel against ideas that don’t impact us.

Other Avenues Available

Maybe you’ve delved deeply into role-playing race and you’re still looking for something a little different. No one wants an ordinary character. A typical elf adventurer who never deviates from racial norms will get dull quickly, but spicing things up doesn’t have to go against cannon. Golarion has many atypical, but canonical, racial variances that are perfect for unusual role-playing opportunities. You’ll find a few examples in the links below, taken from the Pathfinder wiki (an unofficial community use project that gathers canonical elements from the Pathfinder Campaign Setting).

Sand Dwarfs of the desert

Forlorn Elves

A unique Half-elf settlement

And for good measure, something you might not know about Gnomes!


Role-Playing Race: Step-By-Step

Here’s a simple guide about how to make aspects of your character’s race interesting and unique while honouring the Lore of Golarion.

  1. Know the basics: If you’re playing a specific race, know the typical culture, behavior, and motivation associated with that race. You’ll find useful information in the Core Rulebook and in the Advanced Race Guide (among other great resources).
  2. Tweek the typical: Decide how your character embraces or rebels against racial generalizations. Are there aspects of the typical elf that your character exemplifies?  Are there others she disdains? Figure out why she behaves the way she does. Include these explanations in your character background then try to role-play these choices consistently in order to add depth to your character.
  3. Learn the Lore. The Core Rulebook is a great place to start, but Golarion is a big, rich fantasy world. There are many resources available to a player or GM who wants to learn more about the history of race on Golarion. Below you’ll find a few links to get you started. The related links within each article will help expand your knowledge.











It’s important to realize that fantasy race is a fundemental filter through which each character sees their world. This can’t be overstated. Remember, the most significant event in Golarion’s recent history was the the death of the god of humanityAroden. Undoubtedly, fantasy race is intrinsic to role-playing in Golarion. Players and GMs who put in the effort to role-play race appropriately, will be rewarded with more meaningful encounters between PCs and NPCs and with an understanding of the rich mix of history and culture that Golarion has to offer – a history and culture that is deeply embedded in every PFS scenario.

Blaise is a Toronto area writer and gamer. "...an excessive min/maxer is missing the point of the game. Reducing a character to a list of combat modifiers and dice rolls is not role-playing." -AD&D 2nd Edition DMG page 30 When you think about it, if the Hobbits were optimized it would have kinda ruined the Lord of the Rings.


  1. sulaco

    sulaco - March 28, 2014, 5:18 pm

    Good stuff, Blaise. It is all too easy for players to play non-human species as little more than humans in funny masks.

  2. Blaise

    Blaise - March 30, 2014, 7:29 pm

    Thanks Sulaco. 🙂 I appreciate your taking the time to read and comment.

  3. posterguy - April 3, 2014, 11:10 pm

    The quote may be from Buckaroo Banzai….movie before your time!

  4. Jeff

    Jeff - April 4, 2014, 10:40 am

    It’s also been attributed to both Lao-Tzu and Confucious – both considerably before your time. 🙂

  5. Ovlar - April 22, 2014, 10:08 am

    I agree wholeheartedly. Another thing that help flesh out a character is how they treat these other races. Maybe your character believe all races are equal, regardless of there background or maybe they have slightly racist undertones that are completely unwarranted. How your character treats others based on race become even more in character when you come from a nation that has slave races, like Cheliax, or if your character hails from an isolated settlement and has rarely seen other exotic races. All thing to consider when you develop a character.

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