Hey everyone! One of the areas of Starfinder design that I’m quickly becoming known for is races. I wrote the twenty-ish races that appear in the Starfarer’s Compamion, plus conversions for the skinwalker and an all-new race that my company is putting out early on in January called the mskova. (They’re a radiation-eating creature that appears like a cross between cuttlefish and phoenixes!) However, we designers can’t account for ALL of the aliens that your twisted minds could want, and chances are you’ll want some custom ones. But alas, the Alien Archive doesn’t have any race building rules. What’s a person to do?!
Why, you come and talk to the Everyman Gamer, of course!
Basics of Race Design
If you take a peak at Starfinder’s core and legacy races, you’ll see immediately that all races fall into a predictable pattern, which is as follows:
- All Starfinder races have a total ability score bonus of +2. These bonuses range from simple (such as humanity’s flexible +2 to any ability score) to classic (such as a maraquoi’s +2 Con, +2 Wis, –2 Dex) to lopsided (such as a dragonkin’s +4 Str, –2 Dex) to downright complicated (such as a contemplative’s +4 Int, +2 Cha, –2 Str, –2 Con). No matter what race you’re talking about, all of the race’s ability score modifiers add up to an adjusted +2.
- All Starfinder races have one major racial trait and three minor racial traits. The only exception to this rule is humanity, which basically has two major racial traits. Major racial traits are usually the one “big thing” that the race does, while the minor ones are things like one/day powers and small bonuses. Remember that the major racial trait isn’t always flashy. For example, the major vesk racial trait is the Armor Class bonus—Starfinder’s math is so strongly designed around specific benchmark numbers that their racial bonus to AC—which stacks with all other bonuses—basically makes them a level or two higher then normal in terms of AC.
- Starfinder races can belong to any creature type, but they don’t get buckets of immunities based on type—immunities are generally split from type in SF after all.
Here are some more advanced topics as far as SF races are concerned.
- Use existing SF races to guide your design. For example, if you want to have a flying race, consider pulling the dragonkin’s racial trait for use. It is not lazy, it is essential for proper game balance—if your flying race has better flight then the dragonkin, you inherently push the power level of the game higher. Don’t be that guy.
- Try to shoot for two to four racial traits. It’s okay to have more than four if the additional ones are weaker then a standard minor racial trait. For instance, Shirren get one racial trait with a +2 racial bonus to two different skills, so if you want to have two racial traits that each have one +2 racial bonus, that’s okay. Remember, if you have three skills that trait is inherently 50% more powerful then the shirren’s trait with a +2, so balance your other traits around that.
- Racial balance is not a vacuum. This means that you need to consider the WHOLE package when you build a race. It is okay to make some traits stronger and others wearer as long as the collective package is around the same as a core race—either two major or one major, three minor.
I hope this helps you as you plan more alien races for your campaigns! Do you want me to talk more about race building? Maybe do an actual example? Leave your comments, questions, and requests below and I’ll definitely take them into consideration. Thanks, and toodles!
Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alex’s Twitter, @AlJAug.