Samsarans have a very strange multi-life cycle, in that they are reincarnated automatically after death. They retain a bit of their previous few lives, and this gives a samsaran a bonus to two skills of her choice. Samsarans are therefore versatile and interesting, and one of my favorite of the Pathfinder races.
Ability Scores: +2 Intelligence, +2 Wisdom, -2 Constitution. With bonuses to both Int and Wis, samsarans can make excellent spellcasters of all types. The penalty to Constitution means a samsaran isn’t going to work too well as a Barbarian or other martial class, but their mystical nature means that most samsarans will be spellcasters anyway.
Type: Samsarans are humanoids with the samsaran subtype.
Size: Samsarans are Medium size, just like humans.
Speed: Samsarans move the same speed as humans.
Lifebound: This is a fun ability, giving you a +2 to saving throws against death effects, negative energy effects, negative levels, and stabilization checks. All of these are generally pretty painful if you don’t save against them, so this is a nice option for any character.
Shards of the Past: This is an excellent ability, allowing you to get two skills of your choosing as class skills and get a +2 racial bonus on them to boot. Obviously, one of those skills should be Perception, no matter what class you choose. However, I can’t rate this one blue because the alternate racial trait that replaces it, Mystic Past Life, is just SOO good!
Low-Light Vision: As always, I’ll point out here that many GMs will only pay attention to darkvision, not really worrying about the situations in which low-light vision is useful.
Samsaran Magic: As long as you have a decent Charisma score, you get a few free once-per-day spell-like abilities, none of which are extremely exciting, and all of which are more useful to healer-style characters than others.
Alternate Racial Traits:
Mystic Past Life [Shards of the Past]: This is one of the best alternate racial traits out there, by a long shot. You get to pick a bunch of spells from another spell list to add to your own, as long as that list is of the same type (arcane or divine) as your caster class. This is useful for any casting class, but the best one of all is probably the Witch, as there are so many good spells on the Wizard spell list that Witches don’t get access to.
IMPORTANT NOTE: I have found a post from James Jacobs that includes two rulings on this ability, and so keep that in mind when you’re choosing spells. Here’s the post. The important things to take from it are: 1) You can only choose a SINGLE class from which to pull your spells for Mystic Past Life. So if you choose Sorcerer/Wizard as a Witch, you can’t gain Summoner or Magus spells. 2) You CAN gain a spell at a different level even if it is already on your spell list. In other words, as a Sorcerer, you can choose your spells from the Summoner list to get early access to haste and spells like it, but ALL of your spells chosen for Mystic Past Life must be taken from that same spell list!
Alchemist: An Int bonus gives a samsaran a good chance of making a decent Alchemist, so this is a fine choice. However, this is the one “spellcaster” class that doesn’t have the option of using Mystic Past Life to get spells from other spell lists, so I can’t rate this one too high.
Barbarian: A Con penalty makes for a bad Barbarian, both because of the reduction in rage rounds and the loss of hit points. This just isn’t a great choice.
Bard: There’s nothing that necessarily makes a samsaran either good or bad at being a bard, so go for it if you’d like!
Cavalier [Samurai]: With the penalty to Con and the lack of a Strength or Dex bonus, samsarans don’t make very good Cavaliers or Samurai. All in all, there’s nothing that a samsaran brings to the table as far as these classes.
Cleric: This is a decent choice, thanks to the Wisdom bonus, and of course the Mystic Past Life option lets you pull ridiculously powerful spells from other divine casting classes, such as the Paladin. Spells such as litany of vengeance and bestow grace of the champion (as a 4th level spell!) are extremely powerful for a Cleric!
Druid: Just like the Cleric, a samsaran can make a great Druid, pulling several spells from the Cleric, Paladin, or Ranger spell list, and these can make for a much more diverse Druid than any other!
Fighter: A lack of bonuses to Strength or Dex, and a penalty to Con makes for a pretty crappy Fighter for the most part. You could make a pretty decent Lore Warden with the right build, but otherwise Fighter’s not the right way to go.
Gunslinger: Like the Fighter, a Gunslinger just isn’t any good without a bonus to at least one of the physical ability scores. Stick with something more mystical for your samsaran.
Inquisitor: Here’s another great option for a samsaran, able to add spells from the Cleric, Druid, or Paladin spell list, which can make for a much more powerful Inquisitor than other builds. Any archetypes and inquisitions will work fine for your samsaran Inquisitor.
Magus: A penalty to Con isn’t great for someone who needs to be in melee often, but the Magus isn’t such a bad choice for a samsaran, all things considered.
Monk: The Wisdom bonus helps to make a samsaran Monk a better choice than most other martial classes, but it’s still going to be sub-par, even with a decent racial favored class option. Stick with casters!
Oracle: Now here is a great option, for all the reasons that Cleric or Inquisitor are good choices. Even without a Charisma bonus, a samsaran Oracle is a great choice. There is a racial archetype available, too, the Reincarnated Oracle, which gives you two pretty sweet revelations (I like Location Memories because it gives you a +2 to Perception checks!), and the racial favored class option will let you pick up some more spells from the Cleric list to replace those that you’ve grabbed from the Druid or Paladin lists!
Paladin [Antipaladin]: Without a bonus to Strength or Dex, and with a penalty to Con, you’re never going to make a great Paladin as a samsaran. None of the archetypes will really change this, so like I said earlier, stick with [full] casters!
Ranger: This isn’t much better than the Paladin, for all the same reasons.
Rogue [Ninja]: Another martial class that you just can’t do very well with a samsaran. There is at least a nice favored class option, letting you get an extra rogue talent every six levels, so that’s something!
Sorcerer: While the Sorcerer makes thematic sense, samsarans make better Wizards or Witches thanks to the Int bonus. Sorcerer is by no means a bad choice, though, as you can pick some spells from the Summoner spell list to get earlier than normal (such as haste!).
Summoner: I can’t see any reason you’d pick a Summoner over the Sorcerer, since you can get early access to Summoner spells as any of the other caster classes, and there’s no Charisma bonus. You can pull off a decent Summoner if you really try, though.
Witch: Here we go! This is probably the very best option for a samsaran, for several reasons. First, you should be pulling spells from the Wizard and Summoner spell lists to get early access to spells you wouldn’t normally have ANY access to (such as haste!). You still have full hexing ability, despite your newly expanded spell list, and you’ve got access to healing spells and a familiar to boot!
Wizard: Another excellent choice for a samsaran, Wizards are already the most versatile class in the game when it comes to spellcasting, and grabbing some spells from the Summoner or Witch spell lists is just icing on an already delicious cake. The favored class option is a trap... you can buy spells with gold instead.
Racial Favored Class Options:
Monk: If you’re worried about being hit with death attacks, this is a great option. It’s not a really prevalent thing in most games, but sometimes you just want that extra security. I’d pick it in some games.
Oracle: Normally I’d say pick up some Pages of Spell Knowledge in place of taking this favored class option, but you’re going to want extra spells known because of the spells you learned from the other spell lists, so I’d say this is worth the investment.
Rogue: Extra talents are great for any Rogue, though I wouldn’t go with the Rogue class in the first place as a samsaran.
Wizard: This is a trap, just buy your new spells instead and take a skill point each level!
Reincarnated Oracle (Oracle, duh): This is a decent archetype, letting you take one of the least painful Oracle Curses and in exchange getting access to two really fun revelations. Location Memories gives you scent, a bonus to Perception and Survival, and low-light vision... wait... don’t Samsarans already have low-light vision?? Oh well, it’s still pretty good. Spirit Memories has a confusing description, as it says both “once per day” and has a number of uses per day equal to 3 + Charisma mod. I’m going to assume that the 3 + Cha is the correct amount, and in that case it’s a decent option, letting you sicken and stagger your enemies a bunch of times per day.
Life’s Blood: I can’t see this feat as a good choice when you could, instead, just grab cure light wounds from absolutely any spell class and use a wand. I suppose a Fighter could heal one of his allies to keep them from dying once per day, but there are better ways of doing so (potions of cure light wounds, for instance!)