My gnome is great fun to play, and while it took a few levels to get her to pure awesome, it was well worth it.
She's a Druid 6 (Bear Shaman) and Oracle 1 (Life). Bear shamans get to function their wild shape ability as if their druid level is two levels higher after level 6, so at six she can wild shape three times a day into a dire bear (could go bigger up to huge, but large is usually all that fits in combat with an average five other PCs, in my experience). She also has a medium bear companion that follows her around and that, if she wants to be in melee without being a bear, she rides into battle. Because she's a druid, she can pull Summon Nature's Ally without having prepped it as long as it takes up a spell slot. As a Bear Shaman, she can cast Summon Nature's Ally as a standard action when summoning bears, applying templates to change the level of spell required to summon it, or the number of bears you summon based on the level of the spell.
So, when she sees fit, she sends in her companion, summons (right now) 1-2 bears (I think--I'll have to double check), and then becomes a bear herself. Before she changes, she yells out, "You get a bear! And you get a bear! And you get a bear! And you get a special bear!"
Then she has the Natural Spell feat, which lets her cast as a bear. She took the level of Oracle so that she can channel. Her purpose is to keep people alive, whether it is through standing near them with a wand or standing over them as a large bear with 95 hit points that channels. She doesn't like to see people die, because if they die, they can become undead, which is a slavery she hates in particular (Andoran, with a grudge against undead--You Only Die Twice was fun).
Story wise, she is an animal wrangler with my family's circus of characters (The Flying Flutterfoot Family (and Co.) Circus--perhaps you've heard of us?), as well as being the cook. She grew up among druids, where she learned all of her skills and grew rather fond of a certain bear, and then was a typical "teen" who ran off to join the circus.
My favorite story of her adventures happened when she was in a party with Gruk the Half-Orc Barbarian, with Throw Anything and a whole bunch of bonuses to throwing things. She was presented with a ten-foot hallway and a dire wolf blocking a doorway, so she came up to Gruk and told him to throw her (readied action). He shrugged, and picked up the small creature and threw her. Right before she made impact with the wolf, she wildshaped into a large bear, hitting him with 4d6 impact damage plus 7 from Gruk's throwing improvement and whatnot. By far the best story that those characters share around the camfire: "The time with the flying bear."
I recall seeing that the Racial Heritage feat lets you count as two races (your base race and the one you've chosen) for the purposes of taking feats, traits, etc. I know for sure that this doesn't apply to archetypes, however. I would think that you could only take always available races, and they may allow you to take it on any other race if you had a boon for it on another character (that's the only way I would see it happening.)
As far as any physical manifestations, I don't think that's how the feat works, but don't take my word for it. IMO, any physical manifestations wouldn't be as big as cat ears or a tail, more like a slight tinge to your skin tone or being slightly shorter than normal for your base race. I think that the ears and tail are awesome and would make a great home game, but I don't know if it falls under the Society's organized play rules. I also think that if they allow this they might be opening the floodgates for other people trying to do some serious re-skinning that changes the mechanics, and that's something that (I think) they take into account on their rulings.
I think one of my favorite moments was during a final encounter. The boss we were fighting was swinging pendulums at us, and hitting with horrible accuracy. My squishy, fifth level gnome druid got hit and it hurt. The fighter got hit and went down. On my next turn, I did something for the first time that I now do almost all the time.
GM: "[character] you're up, what do you do?"
Me: "I fall prone and let my bear companion stand over me. Since the fighter is right next to me, I'll poke her with a wand of cure light while prone."
That got the fighter up to positive enough to hit the guy, who then hit her back. Me gnome spent the encounter under her bear with a high AC and plenty of hit points while healing the fighter every time she goes down, turning her into a wack-a-mole.
Didn't know that. So I'll learn from my mistakes, and hope that other people learn from my mistakes too.
Thanks for pointing that out.
Just make sure that you know the scenario before running, and make sure that you are paying attention to your players and engaging them. Nothing makes a session worse than having to drill your GM for the answer to "Do I hit the guy?".
Another important thing is to make sure that your players are having fun. That's the most important part; if, for example, the players are whining about the scenario being easy (which happened to me), then bump the final encounters a bit. If they're having a hard time getting through the bad guys (which has also happened to me), then lower the attack bonus or damage bonus that a bag guy deals.
Remember, you're not there to ensure the players live (or, the reverse, out to TPK every table), you're there to narrate a story the players are running through. There is bound to be death. Sometimes a party will completely blow through a certain scenario. Just be flexible. Have a good balance between roleplaying and combat. If the table gets too off track, help guide them back to the scenario.
If you've kept the table interested, you've done a good job.
I've only run a few tables myself, but I play with a great group of people. I get good advice from the GMs and players that are more experienced than I am, and I'm thankful for it. Always be open to criticism. Ask the players if they had a good time, if there was something you did that they liked, or something that they didn't.
This. Mine only has about 10 slots, though, and my parents and I each have a separate folder for our own characters.
I just use a different storage method than they do. They use plastic sheets but I take folders with labels on top and put my chronicle sheets on one side an my character on the other, using these fasteners. They come in multiple sizes and boxes of one hundred for about 6 dollars (USD).
That's the best I've found, and I've tried quite a few methods.
I agree with Ryan- play what you want to play. I almost always play spellcasters because I love playing spellcasters, so at a table of fighters, I'm the primary healer.
What I do with at least one of my characters is make them a "battle healer" or someone who can deal out decent melee damage when someone fighting is needed or can run around healing fighters when that is needed. Whenever I play a spellcaster I try as hard as I can to make them hard to hit so that the healer isn't the first one to die.
But if you really wanted to be effective in the lower levels (my battle healer didn't get really good until level 6), then go with what Ryan says.