I felt a glow anticipation when I first opened my Starfinder Alien Archive. After all, there aren’t many occasions when I am certain that a new roleplaying game is destined for long-term greatness (I did, after all, kind of proclaim Starfinder “the best science fiction or science fantasy roleplaying game ever”), so there aren’t many chances to get this pepped up to read one of the key books for a game for the first time. A Monster Manual is one of those key books (sorry, I cut my teeth on Monster Manuals long before there were Bestiaries), and Alien Archive is the Starfinder Monster Manual, right?
Well, while Alien Archive is great, it isn’t a Monster Manual/Bestiary. It’s the sort of thing in hindsight I probably should have glommed onto in advance. Science fiction is almost never about fantastic beasts in the way that fantasy often is. And at half the page count (about 160 pages), Alien Archive is constructed like a supplement, not a core book. So while Alien Archive is an excellent book, I think the one place avenue for disappointment is thinking it’s something it’s not.
Now, the Alien Archive does have some “monsters” to be fought, but it’s filled more with cultures, organizations, and species. Indeed, it’s loaded with 22! playable races (note: to make them playable as characters, most of the species have to be toned down from the adversary version, some of them by quite a bit; even so GM permission is still required and may be withheld for some). Even some entries that aren’t playable species have something for a PC, such as equipment made from a creatures hides, or a signature weapon of the listed group. There are also starship-level foes, including at least one entity that is as much an adventure location as a creature.
Along with the theme of entries expected to see more thorough use in a campaign, rather than one-shot slugfests, the aliens (and robots, of course) in the archive all get two-page spreads. No two-to-a-page stat blocks here – there’s room for a couple of pieces of art, a lengthy writeup, and extras like variants, or the player-friendly facets mentioned above. There’s a relative lot of content that isn’t just entries, so with those big two-page spreads, the number of entries is only about 60 (that isn’t counting any variants within an entry).
Normally, because they’re so important, I would devote more time to the new player-character species. But with 22 of them, you’ll have to settle for the very rough recap below – you’ll have to pick up the book to get the skinny on these cultures:
- Barathu: These floating denizens of the Pact World gas giant Bretheda can use their mutable anatomy to gain various bonuses;
- Contemplative: Another “floater,” the contemplatives are big psychic brains with atrophied bodies dangling beneath;
- Draelik: Gaunt, aquatic humanoids whose society worships entropy, the draelik have some darkness-related abilities;
- Dragonkin: One of several Large PC races (still seems strange to me, after all those years of d20 fantasy play), you’re basically a dragon – flying, breath weapon, draconic immunities;
- Drow: Basically the same evil dark elves they’ve always been;
- Formian: As the name might give away, the Formians are ant-like monstrous humanoids, with excellent ability to get around without light and limited telepathy;
- Gray: The Starfinder take on aliens abducting people in the night, the PC version of the grays have telepathy-related spell-like abilities and can phase;
- Haan: Large arthropodan aliens, the haan can create web balloons to slow their fall, or shoot jets of fire;
- Ikeshti: Small lizardfolk, the ikeshti have strong survival skills and can squirt blood;
- Kalo: The abilities of these aquatic, yet bat-like, aliens focus on their ability to get around and sense things in frigid water;
- Maraquoi: Large-eyed, fur-covered humanoids with a complex family structure, the maraquoi have excellent senses and a prehensile tail;
- Nuar: The minotaur-like Nuar have natural weapons and high-speed;
- Retpoid: Reptilian humanoids with limited shapeshifting and mimicry abilities;
- Ryphorian: Natives of the Pact World planet Triaxus, the eccentric orbit of which produces years-long seasons, the ryphorians have summer, winter, and transitional forms, depending on when they were born;
- Sarcesian: Large humanoids with the ability to fly through the void and a history as super-long-range space snipers;
- Shobhad: Here to demonstrate that four arms is a thing in the world of Starfinder, the nomadic shobhad are Large, fast, and tough;
- Skittermander: In addition to wining the “cutest PC” award; the hyper and helpful skittermander go even better with six arms;
- Urog: Silicon-based, crystalline life forms, the urog are Large, plodding, and blunt, but sharp-minded when given the time;
- Verthani: The most distinctive feature of the verthani is their ability to shift the patterns on their skin like living tattoos, but they are also more receptive to body augmentation;
- Witchwyrd: Another entry in the four-armed category, the witchwyrd are inveterate traders and an affinity for magic missile;
- Wrikreechee: Looking kind of like mollusks with arms and legs, the aquatic wrikreechee work well with others and in close quarters.
Some of the more creature-type entries I liked were:
- Assembly Ooze: Oozes are some of the most iconic fantasy monsters, and I got a kick out of seeing this sci-fi update. These oozes consume and create technology;
- Barachius Angels: NPCs are obviously not all foes, and the same extends to the creature section. These CR7 angels keep watch over technology, and so may be on the side of the PCs (because they are good) or opposed to them (because they have decided that some technological advancement will lead to evil, and maybe the PCs don’t agree with that;
- Caypin: Maybe my favorite new “monster” in the Alien Archive, the caypin is a large four-legged beast with a mass of tentacles/eyestalks/mouths where one might normally expect to see a face. The CR6 creature eats and see through these appendages, which can detach and move about on their own;
- Endbringer Devil: It’s a devil the size of a spaceship, with stat blocks to represent facing it on the gorund or in space (facing it in space is probably better, since it’s function is to crash into a planet, release more combatants, and then tear the place up);
- Kyokor: The Kyokor top off the CR scale in Alien Archive. These city-destroying colossi rampage across the surface of the ruined planet Daimalko. I’m not sure how much they’d ever come up in actual play, so I’ll admit that I included them here mostly to point out how much like an Evangelion they look;
- Marooned One and Nihili: The former is a potent undead arising out of those who have slowly died alone, such as starving to death in a wrecked spaceship, while the latter arise specifically from those who have died from the vacuum of space;
- The Swarm: The first two of what I presume will be many Swarm make their appearance in Alien Archive (CR3 and CR10); the arrival of these collective-minded insectile aliens are led to peace between the Pact Worlds and the Vesk;
- Space Goblins: Just in case you were wondering, they’re still here; and
- Undead Minion: In one convenient entry we get three template grafts for traditional skeletons and zombies, as well as cybernetic zombies.
Along with these specific entries are about 40 pages of additional material, leading off with almost 20 pages of rules for quickly generating NPCs (because that’s probably more useful in a science fiction game than another 10 monsters-of-the-week to fight). There’s also a the Summon Creature spell and six pages of tables and grafts to generate appropriate summons given the level of the spell and alignment (and other features) of the caster. That’s rounded out by simple template grafts and universal monster rules (e.g., that place you go to double-check how blindsense or ooze immunities work).
Of course, because Paizo would not leave out such a thing, there is also an index of aliens by challenge rating. This ranges from 1/3 to 20, but it is heavily weighted towards the lower half of that range (there is only one entry per CR above 13). I think that’s pretty appropriate – most play for most RPGs is focused on the earlier levels, and with Starfinder fairly new on the block one would need to be pretty dedicated to be needing CR 17 foes already (plus the GM can always create high-level NPC adverseries).
All told, Alien Archive is a great start in laying out the inhabitants of the world of Starfinder, although not a terribly lengthy one. I’m really looking forward to seeing the playable species fleshed out more in upcoming Starfinder Campaign Setting supplements.
Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.