Look at the humanoids lined up in Pathfinder’s Classic Monsters Revisited. One of these things is not like the other: lizardfolk, the only non-evil creature in the bunch.
And that’s why they’re great for role-playing. Since lizardfolk aren’t automatically evil, a party of bards and sorcerers negotiating with a tribe might walk away with more story XP than a troupe of paladins and fighters could earn hacking through them. They can even be staunch allies and retainers, with class levels in fighter, ranger, druid, and adept especially. But at the same time, they are practically alien and certainly reptilian. Just when you think you get lizardmen, they’ll do something—cannibalize their dead, slay captives, breed through parthenogenesis—that makes you remember that they are not mammals, are definitely neutral, and may regard you as a friend and a potential meal at the same time.
But if you want to skip the role-playing and go straight to the fighting, lizardfolk are great for that, too—and you get to stat-tinker and world-build at the same time. Steal from real-world lizards to create subraces (CMR mentions horned-lizard-like sandfolk, gecko-like cliffborn, and chameleon-like Unseen). Just bought a new rulebook? Try out an exotic weapon or feat or CMB move or sorcerer bloodline. Scale up the encounters with class levels, advanced or templated chieftains, dinosaur pets, or naga and dragon masters. Know anything about real-world tribes and defenses? Use an Irish crannog or a Vietnamese floating village for inspiration.
If you’re a GM, lizardfolk are the ultimate permission slip.
An envoy from a nearby lizardfolk tribe arrives in the Viscounty of Kerrick. If all goes well, he has the authority from his chieftain to allow a trade road through tribal lands, turning Kerrick from a backwater to a trading hub. Yet his habits—taking from shop owners too weak to defend themselves, blithely suggesting the residents of the local orphanage be auctioned at the livestock fair, etc.—put many of the citizens off. When the local priest starts decrying him as a demon worshipper, his parishioners start feuding with the guildmasters and the viscount. Or is the cleric more right than anyone realizes—and are the negotiations just a front?
The Venom Dawn lizardfolk are more than occasional predators of humanoids; they avidly seek out such repasts. They specialize in weapons like blowguns that take advantage of humans’ soft, scaleless flesh. When one of their warriors returns from a crusade with a sack of megaraptor (giant advanced deinonychus) eggs, they begin plans to ride the dinosaurs into human towns to feed.
Survival in a swamp offers specific challenges, and thus encourages specific prestige classes. Lizardfolk stalwart defenders guard their egg barrows and crannogs from pilfering boggards, oviraptors, and other threats; status-hungry nags also prize them as guards. Tribes blessed or cursed with albinism, melanism, or demonic patrons often spawn rage prophets; the Black Spears of the Geistfens are one of the most well known. And many a druid has been shocked to discover the leader of her circle is not some graybeard or treant but one of the lizardfolk; many of these are stalwart defenders with dinosaur companions, especially compsognathuses. (See the Advanced Players Guide.)
—Classic Monsters Revisited 34–39 & Pathfinder Bestiary 195
Line I was tempted to put above, during all that cannibal/murder/herm talk: “They’re basically the GUROchan of monsters.” And no, I’m not linking. ;-)
I love lizardfolk almost as much as I love gnolls. I bought the 3.5 Dungeon Master’s Guide II just because it described a city that had lizardmen at its gates. (I wish I was kidding—I’m a sucker for city/nation write-ups of any kind, especially if exotic humanoids are involved. Hell, I bought the Ptolus PDF despite hating reading digitally, and that thing is a tome.)
I also want to give a shout out to the wonderful lizardfolk of D&D’s Known World/Hollow World/Mystara—the undead lizardmen of Ken Rolston’s The Emirates of Ylaruam, the ancient lizardmen of Aaron Allston’s Hollow World Box Set, and the “Squamous Ones” (including cay-men and gatormen) from Bruce Heard’s “Voyage of the Princess Ark” in Dragon Magazine #185.
Good luck finding most of those books, but you can and should (as I’ve mentioned before) find 3.5’s Serpent Kingdoms by Greenwood/Boyd/Drader which is a steal at under 15 bucks (and that’s new, let alone used) at a certain tax-evading online bookseller you may be familiar with.
Also, a lot of you have written or commented lately; will try to do a mailbag post as soon as I’m a hair less swamped.