Hello, welcome to Gibbering Mouth! I’m Alex Augunas, Know Direction’s Everyman Gamer, and today I’ve got the need to GIBBER. See, two months ago the Ancestry Guide was released and with it, PATHFINDER SECOND EDITION KITSUNE! I’ve already gotten to play one, and I have THOUGHTS and OPINIONS!
So today, I’mma give you my thoughts and opinions on the Pathfinder 2E kitsune. Maybe someday I’ll do it for Starfinder too since Starfinder also has official kitsune now (they literally both came out in the same month), but not sure! We’ll see.
What’s to Love?
When I heard kitsune were being published, I was a little bit nervous. After all, I had / have a lot invested in kitsune both as a player and as a game designer, so I was pretty anxious to see what Paizo was going to do with them in the new edition of their game. When the Ancestry Guide came out, I found that there was a lot to love! Let me name four of my favorite things in the Ancestry Guide’s kitsune entry.
As many Know Direction fans know, I got to contribute to PF2’s Advanced Player’s Guide, and during that run I got to work closely with the author who wrote the tengu. Tengu as they’ve appeared in Pathfinder 1E don’t do a great job following the aesthetics of their mythological roots—in Japan, they’re basically just humans with long noses and raven wings sprouting from their backs like angels, rather than fully animal creatures. James wanted to make sure this type of tengu was represented in Pathfinder. When we swapped drafts for some good, old-fashioned peer review I offered him some suggestions and shared with him a WIP I had been designing for what I thought a kitsune’s change shape should look like using PF2’s rules. Chief among them, I commented about the importance of noting that for player shapeshifters, the alternate form shares a few phenotypical traits with the original form and is genetically inherited, same as any other trait.
“It’s all about the tell!” I said. “Shapeshifters aren’t fun if there aren’t details for players to find that hint about their existence outside of a high Perception roll.”
Needless to say, I like how kitsune change shape is written because it uses similar language to Tengu Long-Nose Form in the Advanced Player’s Guide, and I like that because Tengu Long-Nose Form uses a lot of the ideas James and I originally brainstormed back before the Advanced Player’s Guide was so much as a digital file being shipped off to a printer. Call me vain if you must!
“Kyubi” is a Japanese word that means “nine-tailed,” so when I say “kyubi mechanic” I mean the kitsune’s ancestry’s rules for gaining multiple tails. As someone who wrote every first-party means of getting Magical Tail in Pathfinder 1E after the release of the feat in the Advanced Race Guide, I am keenly aware of how much of a pain in the butt it is to gain nine tails in Pathfinder 1E, and how badly going for that goal often hurts your character’s abilities. Magical Tail is eight fights for a bunch of reality low-power spell-like abilities whose DCs don’t scale well because the highest-level spell is 4th-level, and it also causes this issue where all kitsune with nine tails are exactly the same (and not particularly powerful at that). The new mechanic is simple and elegant, allowing every kitsune to have their tails represent powers unique to them while also allowing every kitsune feat or archetype that grants spellcasting benefits that’s published to contribute to the kitsune’s advancement of magical tails. It’s a genius mechanic that makes magical tails a story progression rather than a power one, and I’m 100% here for it.
In general, I don’t like ability boosts being tied to species. I think that there’s a level of determinism when we assign Intelligence boosts to some species and Intelligence flaws to others, and ultimately PF2 and SF’s math is SO tight that ability flaws and boosts can literally make some builds unplayable for certain species; this is why you see Starfinder and Pathfinder 1E constantly adding alternate ability score adjustments. Personally, I think that games should just get rid of species-dependent ability adjustments, but Pathfinder 1E at least does the next best thing and makes the kitsune ability boosts pretty non-obtrusive. In Pathfinder 1E, kitsune got bonuses to Charisma and Dexterity and penalties to Strength. Now me, being a defiant hooligan of a player, have made a bunch of decent-strength kitsune to go against these restrictions, but overall I’ll say that most players stuck to bards, sorcerers, rogues, and swashbucklers for kitsune because of their bonuses. Which is why PF2’s version is much better; in PF2, you get a boost to Charisma and that’s it. No Dexterity bonus, sure, but also no Strength flaw. This makes kitsune decently flexible; yeah, you’re still going to have a predisposition towards Charisma characters, but now if you want to make a brawny kitsune you can! If we’re stuck with ancestry ability boosts, at least getting rid of the flaws helps with the determinism side of things.
Level 1 Fox Form
Honestly, the notion that you can be a Level 1 kitsune with a fox form is pretty great. While I love the lore and the implications one can do with kitsune if all of them have access to a human form, having a fox form available at Level 1 puts Pathfinder kitsune closer to mythological kitsune which I think is a good move. In 1E, I’ve heard the argument that the concept for kitsune was a phoned-in name because the ancestry had the name “kitusne” but none of the original East Asian lore. Being able to turn into foxes certainly helps bring the needs of a TTRPG player and the tales of old closer together, and I’m here for that.
The kitsune ancestry has a quite a few bangers when it comes to flavor. Star Orb is excellent, basically taking a beloved concept and making it into a little familiar rock that flies around with you all the time. Fox Fire is another incredibly flavorful feat that’s actually extremely useful. I was also super impressed by Shapechanger’s Intuition, which is essentially Stonecunning for shapeshifters, and THAT is super cool. Now remember, I love kitsune so I am super biased when I say this, but personally I think of all the ancestries in the game, no ancestry has feats that are quite as flavorful as kitsune feats, even if the Core ancestries have buckets more. Tengu’s pretty close, but it doesn’t quite reach the same pinnacle in my extremely biased opinion.
What Could Be Improved?
Now, while there’s a lot to love in the new design for PF2’s kitsune ancestry, I also think that there’s a few rough patches that, frankly, irk me. I respect if anyone doesn’t feel the same way about all of these topics—fellow Know Direction member and kitsune affectionate Dustin Knight and I have certainly had our verbal spars about some of these points—and I’m not trying to say that my vision is absolute or that the 1E design for kitsune was perfect. Anyone who’s had to try to figure out how to take eight Magical Tail feats on one character without making their character absolutely useless knows exactly what I mean. All I’m saying is that as a huge fan of kitsune in both editions, 1E and 2E, these are the places where I think the design of 2E is lacking.
Fox vs. Tailless
One of the best parts about the new kitsune system is also one of it’s biggest points of roughage. In the new system, your heritage determines whether you have a “tailless” form (ie a humanoid form) or a fox form. Now, I’m going to ignore for a moment my personal opinion that I believe that expanding kitsune to all humanoid ancestries takes away more than it adds. Instead, I want to draw attention to the fact that because every kitsune heritage specifies whether it gives you a tailless form, the rules need to have a specific caveat about what happens if you’re a kitsune with a universal heritage. Specifically, a kitsune’s change shape ability specifically notes that if your heritage doesn’t have a specific form, you have a tailless form. The problem with this is that it’s easy to come up with characters where this restriction, frankly, sucks. For example, say that you’re a kitsune whose father was a vulpinal agathion. Pretty appropriate, and because your father is literally a magical fox celestial, you should have a fox form, right? Wrong. You have to have a tailed form. What about if you’re a beastkin? You have ties to wild animals and places? Surely you have a fox form, right? Nah. This is an easy thing for a GM to hand-waive, but it should have never needed to be hand-waived in the first place.
And while I’m going on about fox form, let me talk about Pest Form, the spell that your fox form shapechanging works off of. I do NOT like this. Not at all. Because if we’re being honest, pest form is written like it wants to punish players who abused the mouser swashbuckler  in PF1. “Oh man, players were transforming into neigh-unhittable Tiny creatures? Tiny creatures shouldn’t be able to fight well! Better give players who use this new pest form spell weakness 5 to all damage. Yeah, that’ll teach ’em! Oh, and let’s lower their Speed to 10 feet! Who cares that cats and other Tiny animals can easily outrun humans.” And, like Pathfinder 2E’s rules SUPPORT that. The red fox in Bestiary 3 has a Speed of 35 feet! I am not sure if this is a problem with pest form being generic / designed to make sure that the songbird build never happens again, or whether this is a problem with the kitsune’s fox form, but why have this alternate form at all if you’re just going to punish people for using it? This could literally have been fixed if the kitsune’s rules said you get a +10-foot status bonus to Speed. but keep everything else; that way the weakness would have offset a benefit. But no, you shapeshift into an animal that is literally worse than the thing you’re pretending to be in every manner. (And do not DARE try to sell me on an ancestry feat that removes unfair penalties; that will only fuel my wrath.)
In Pathfinder 1E, every kitsune had a natural weapon. The fact that this isn’t true in PF2 isn’t necessarily a problem; in fact, in a few Everybody Games products, I write a few different alternate traits to swap out the natural weapon for other features incase you didn’t want to be a bitey boi (or gurl). However, PF2 has this problem when it comes to the bite natural weapons—now called jaws. That problem is that only one specific heritage gives access to a bite natural weapon. Now, I get it. The author didn’t want to have two natural weapon feats; Retractable Claws exists now and honestly, I will ALWAYS like the aesthetics of retractable claws more than chompers when it comes to natural weapon fighting. That being said, it doesn’t sit right with me that the rules basically imply that every PF1 kitsune by default belonged to this same earthen child kitsune heritage. Why? Because in PF1, every kitsune had an alternate human form, and because the jaws natural weapon is explicitly tied to a kitsune form with a jaws natural weapon, rebuilding kitsune characters from PF1 to PF2 is made more difficult if you’re looking for a point-by-point translation.  This could have been made easier simply by making the Retractable Claws feat into a choice between claws and jaws, maybe with the option of choosing the feat twice to get both if you wanted them.
Shifting Faces is basically the PF2 version of Realistic Likeness, and it’s one of those abilities that really got done dirty by PF2. In PF1, Realistic Likeness let you transform into anyone you’ve seen before, creating a perfect disguise. Real talk—the PF1 feat is poorly worded; for example, many people think it lets you transform into anyone when the flavor and rules text implies it’s just a modification on your base form, meaning you can turn into humans only. Furthermore, the bonus it grants is insanely high; I have a kitsune in 1E that doesn’t have much invested into Disguise, but with the meager skill ranks I do have basically no one can catch me when I’m using Realistic Likeness. Again, I do not think the PF1 Realistic Likeness feat is perfect, nor do I think it shouldn’t be changed.
But MAN is Shifting Faces worse in the most important ways, to the extent that I personally feat it hurts the narrative potential of the kitsune ancestry. Mostly, it’s the 1 hour per day limitation. Like, for real. If you could divide the time up between multiple uses, it might be useful. If you could use it whenever you wanted, it would DEFINITELY be useful. If you could use it as written initially and its duration improved based on your Deception TEML, it would be fare and useful. But the fact remains is that you get one transformation for 1 hour every day, and that doesn’t feel true to the high concept of the kitsune. Especially not when all you’re getting is a small +4 bonus and everyone’s guaranteed to be pretty good at Perception by default.
Like I mentioned, Dustin and I disagree heavily on this. He thinks that the limitation fosters roleplaying and places the power level of the ancestry feat in check. I feel that this actually hurts the kitsune thematically, because amazing shapechanging is just a thing that kitsune can do in real mythology. Pathfinder 2E is a game that encourages GMs and monster designers to make creatures with the custom abilities needed to tell the story that the GM wants to tell, but in my opinion this practice feels super unfair and unfun as a player when you see the GM designing exceptions to player rules that have high amounts of friction like this one. Instead of feeling like, “Oh, this NPC is special and cool look how awesome it is that they have this ability,” to a player it feels like, “Oh the GM recognizes that you can’t really do the cool thing you should be able to do with this ability and they’re breaking the rules to make this thing usable.” And when it comes to games, whether or not these feelings are TRUE doesn’t matter if they’re invoked by the design. Unfortunately, if you make your players feel like you’re fudging things and that ruins their immersion, then you’re fudging things and have ruined their immersion.
More Cultural Influences
One of the most interesting things about foxes is that they’re one of a handful of wild animals that have essentially followed humanity wherever we went across the globe. Not because they wanted to, persay, but because they’re opportunistic and we were probably all going in the same direction anyway. As a result, every continent on Earth sans Australia and Antarctica have foxes, and every culture on those continents where foxes live have fox myths that embellish the same vulpine traits of intelligence and guile. Mostly; stories of br’er fox are very much exceptions to this rule and are the result of Black American traditions in the South. Regardless, the point stands that when you’re talking vulpine humanoids, you have a plethora of real-world cultures to draw from. It’s common knowledge that China, Japan, and Korea all have fox mythology that have influenced one another for over a thousand years, but they’re hardly the only ones. The Inuit have stores of foxes with magical powers tied to the Northern Lights; Aesop told a ton of stories about anthropomorphized foxes in his fables, and in Greek mythology, the Teumessian fox was blessed by the gods to be uncatchable. In Europe, there’s an entire literary cycle featuring a fox protagonist called Reynard the Fox. The amount of references to foxes in First Nations stories is arguably more vast than than of Japanese and Chinese folklore combined.
But despite all of that, and despite how well researched kitsune most certainly are, Pathfinder 2E’s kitsune are overwhelmingly Japanese in their depiction and I haven’t decided whether or not I think that’s a problem. On one hand, I think that the kitsune are well-researched in their Japanese roots and do a good job of bringing very wonderful parts of Japanese culture to Pathfinder’s primarily English-speaking, Western audience. On the other hand, there are references throughout the Ancestry Guide and Paizo’s website that imply that the Chinese word for what Japanese stores call kitsune—Huli jing—is also an old Tian word for kitsune, and that kinda has problems. Chinese and Korean kitsune folktales aren’t the same as Japanese kitsune folktales, but at least in the case of Huli jing, the Pathfinder rules kinda say they are without really adding many Chinese influences. And that’s a shame; fox mythology across the world is super cool, and it would be awesome to see representations of different real-world cultures in the kitsune ancestry. My biggest fear, personally, is that kitsune will become this stand-in for Japan and Japanese culture rather than their own thing. Even if kitsune are treated well in the Pathfinder world compared to, say, orcs and how Tolkien’s original depiction of orcs very much codes them as Eastern and then others them, I think keeping kitsune too close to a real world culture’s mythology and spirituality is a poor move long term.
Overall, I think PF2’s take on kitsune is great. There’s a lot to love that really opens up the design space that the species inhabits. That being said, there’s a fair bit of stuff that I also wish was done differently. I don’t think that the stuff that’s bad is necessarily SO bad that it’ll stop me from playing kitsune, but I’m going to roll my eyes every time a kitsune heritage is published that tells me what type of form I have to have, or that makes me spend a feat for an hour of shapechanging. Maybe someday we’ll see improvements on these ideas, but probably not. Not unless there’s a big errata to the Ancestry Guide, and even then I’m skeptical. But hey, you never know, right?
Thanks for reading! I’m Alex Augunas, the Everyman gamer, and thanks for listing to my Gibbering Mouth. Take it easy, everyone!
 The mouser songbird was a nasty PF1 build that involved taking a single level in the mouser swashbuckler archetype and either being a kitsune with Fox Form or having a magic item that basically turned you into a Tiny songbird. The mouser archetype had this really powerful debuff it could put on enemies whose space it shared, but most characters would need to trigger a relatively difficult condition in order to share the space of an enemy of their size (Medium or Small). A Tiny creature can, however, just walk into a Small or Medium creature’s space because its space is only 2-1/2 feet, so basically you’d have this insane death build where the mouser would become Tiny and occupy an enemy’s space without much difficulty and debuff the heck out of that person. The build often involved sneak attacking and unchained roguing via debilitating injury in order to make sure the enemy couldn’t easily escape your Tiny death trap. It was widely considered a build that was not easy for a GM to deal with that trivialized encounters.
 This, in general, is something that annoys me about heritages in Pathfinder 2E. In general, every heritage seems to need to give a special ability that each race can only reasonably get from that heritage, with a few notable exceptions. Why? To me, part of the swap to ancestry over race was to remove the determinism. But in this case, only kitsune who belong to the earthen child heritage can learn to bite people? Why? The way that kitsune heritages are name, it’s implied that kitsune who live in cold places (aka “Frozen Wind kitsune”) can’t learn to bite people? Ever? Frozen Winds is especially problematic since, as far as I know, it’s the only heritage in the game that specifies, “Your ancestors came from place X,” where X is the Crown of the World in this case. Overall, I don’t like how jaws attacks are limited to the earthen wilds kitsune, but I think my distaste for it stems from the overall implications of the heritage system.
 In China, the most famous huli jing is Daji, a mythological figure that Pathfinder’s Iconic Witch is actually named for. In Chinese mythology, Daji is actually an extremely cruel fox spirit who possesses King Zhou Din’s wife and helps him devise a number of cruelties that he inflicts upon the people of China, namely various kinds of tortures for those who disobeyed the king. In Korea, the original gumiho myth largely resembles those told in Japan up until around halfway through the 17th century, when stories about gumiho transforming into beautiful women and luring good Korean boys to their deaths so they could eat their livers became popular. There’s a lot of mythological speculation that this shift in mythology happened because in 1675, Japan occupied Korea and Japanese reverence for foxes was well-known by Koreans, so many scholars believe the story was something of an allegory to worn young Korean children not to trust their Japanese occupiers.