Today on d20diaries we’re going to take a look at an awesome supplement book for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, the Alien Archive! This book has a hardcover, and clocks in at 159 pages. It’s got an American cover price of $39.99, which means that if you’re Canadian (like myself), you’re looking at a cost of around forty-five to fifty dollars for the book online, or up to sixty in your local game store. There’s a sequel in the works, Starfinder Roleplaying Game: Alien Archive 2, which is due out in October, though I’ve heard little more than that about it.
At it’s core, Starfinder Roleplaying Game: Alien Archive is a book of monsters. Like Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Bestiary, you’ll find a ton of monsters to fight and ally with inside this book, as well as some new player races. With that being said, there are a lot of differences between the Alien Archive and the many Bestiaries available for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. For starters, it’s shorter, with a typical Bestiary being around 325 pages in length, compared to the Alien Archive’s 159 pages. But, that’s only scratching the surface. The Alien Archive is also easier to use, and much more adaptable, than any Bestiary I’ve ever read. So, without further ado, let’s get started!
The Alien Archive features lovely cover art by Remko Troost, which shows off some of my favourite creatures inside the book–the dragonkin and the skittermander–as well as a robot. The inside front and back covers feature an image of the Pact Worlds, although it’s faded looking, instead of shiny and bright. After that we come to the table of contents.
The Alien Archive has sixty distinct monster entries inside it, many of which have more than one stat block or variation of that creature, making the actual number of foes inside larger than it seems (around ninety four). Of these, twenty-two are playable as character races. Each of these player races is differentiated from the other entries by a star beside their name, which is really useful for quickly referencing player options.
After the table of contents we reach the introduction. This is where we learn how the races are oriented, and how to read a stat block. While most of this is basic information that only a player new to d20 games with need to read, some of the information is quite important.
For starters, each of the stat blocks inside the Alien Archive is sorted into one of three categories: combatants (which excels in physical combat), experts (who are most effective with skills), and spellcasters (who rely on spells or spell-like abilities). These categories are represented by an icon in the left margin. These images are easy to distinguish and provide a quick and easy way for GMs to realize the role each monster plays in combat, which makes it super easy to find the type of creatures your looking for, or to quickly discern a creature’s tactics.
There’s also a few interesting things to note about the stat blocks themselves. Very few of the creatures inside have Resolve Points and none have Stamina Points. A creatures ability scores aren’t listed, instead, their stats show their ability modifiers. This is a simple change that will make it easier for GMs–especially new GMs–to handle unexpected situations (like unlisted skill checks) in combat. Not all of a creatures feats are listed in their entry. Instead, only feats that grant new combat options will be shown. Feats that grant static bonuses (like improved initiative, or skill focus) are already factored into the stat block and will not be listed anywhere at all. This really streamlines the stat blocks, and makes it easier to find important information fast. Similarly, not all of a creature or NPCs spells will be listed in a stat block. Instead, it only features their most powerful spellcasting options.
In addition to information provided in this chapter, I’d like to point out a few other things of note. Every one of the bestiary entries in this book is two side-by-side pages long. These entries include information on the creature, where they’re found, their use throughout the Pact Worlds, and their society–if they have one. Many of the entries include more than one stat block on a theme. For example, the Aeon Guard entry gives us stats for a CR 3 rank and file soldier, along with a CR 7 specialist, capable of working without support for weeks and months at a time. Similarly, the apari entry features the both the hive-like apari, and it’s tiny, bug-like constituents. Some entries include many stat-blocks, or simple grafts that can be added to a featured creature to make it into other versions. Examples of this include elementals, which are statted out by size and have grafts which apply the elemental abilities themselves (including air, earth, fire and water), and dragons, which have one age category statted out, rules for making other age categories, and grafts which can be applied to determine the dragon’s colour (including black, blue, green, red and white). In fact, as you’ll soon discover, grafts and templates are a common sight in the Alien Archive, and are used to great effect. Many of the archive entries introduce new gear or consumables. My personal favourites include the shadowstaff found on the draelik’s entry, and the bone cestus of the crest eater.
After this we come to the meat of the book: the Alien Archive itself. There are a ton of cool creatures in this book, and even some that I wasn’t sure I’d like on first perusal, I ended up really enjoying. Some of my favourites you should check out include the asteray, a CR 12 fey which is to space what mysterious water creatures like mermaids and nixies were to the oceans and waterways of golarion. I also adored the caypin, a CR 6 aquatic tentacle beast with eyeball mouth worms which can detach and explore their surroundings, before returning to the caypin’s face. Seriously cool! Electrovores were a fun, low level challenge I also really enjoyed, as were the radioactive fey, hesper.
Mixed amongst the monster entries are twenty-two playable races. Each entry features two different CR stat blocks representative of their race, a bunch of interesting information on their societies and home worlds, and a side bar which include the rules for playing them as a race. Although many of these were ‘humanoid shaped’, with arms and hands or some sort, there were some which were not, most notably the jellyfish-like barathu. This was just awesome to see, and I really enjoyed it! Some of the races and monsters from old Golarion were up for selection, including contemplatives, drow, and space goblins but many were brand new. I honestly loved a TON of these races, but my favourite new additions are dragonkin, ikeshti, sarcesians, and the cheerful skittermanders.
Curious about the playable races available in this book? Well, look no further! The Alien Archive includes:
- Barathu: highly adaptable jellyfish-like race who float like blimps through the sky
- Contemplative: telepathic creatures with massive brains and atrophied little bodies
- Draelik: green, nihilistic, gaunt humanoids with ties to the negative energy plane
- Dragonkin: large bipedal dragons who form a close bond with their soul-mate
- Drow: dark-skinned, demon-worshipping, evil elves–a fantasy classic!
- Formian: ant-like humanoids who live in hives and are resistant to sonic effects
- Space Goblin: comical little runts with big heads, and bad attitudes. You know you love them!
- Gray: small, hairless humanoids with bulbous heads and telepathic powers who abduct and experiment on other beings for unknown reasons
- Haan: large insectile humanoids who can spew fire and create buoyant balloons of webbing
- Ikeshti: small lizardfolk who live in desert wastes and can squirt blood from their eyes
- Kalo: aquatic humanoids with wing-like fins who live in freezing cold waters
- Maraquoi: primitive simians with prehensile tails who have exceptional hearing
- Nuar: strong minotaurs with pale skin, a great sense of direction and an affinity for complex patterns
- Reptoid: cold-blooded reptilians who can assume the appearance of specific individuals
- Ryphorian: trimorphic elves who have adapted to the generations-long seasons of Triaxus
- Sarcesian: large humanoids who can survive in a vacuum for a time, and grow glowing wings of energy in the void of space
- Shobhad: large, four-armed, nomadic giants who are ferocious and quick
- Skittermander: small, furry, six-armed humanoids with a cheerful disposition who love to lend a helping hand
- Urog: large, crystalline magical beasts with meticulous minds, a lack of tact, and a resistance to electricity
- Verthani: tall, long-limbed humanoids with black, orb-like eyes and skin capable of camouflage
- Witchwyrd: terribly mysterious interstellar merchants with four-arms who are capable of absorbing force from magic missiles and launching them back at their enemies
- Wrikreechee: amphibious, humanoid, filter-feeders who look like a mix between bugs and mollusks
Past the statistics for all those snazzy new aliens we come to arguably the most important part of the book: Appendix 1: Creating Races and NPCs. In Starfinder, monsters and NPCs–even those with class levels–are created differently than PCs. Within these fifteen pages you’ll find simple, easy to use instructions on how to make any kind of creature you can imagine. To use some options you’ll also need access to the Starfinder Core Rulebook, which shouldn’t be an issue, as if you’ve purchased the Alien Archive you probably own the Core Rulebook it already. And if you haven’t? Well, you really should! Haha.
My kids and I gave making monsters a try and found it very simple and easy to use. It makes use of a few handy charts, some simple templates and your creativity. That’s it, that’s all. For those of you more interested in the nitty gritty, I’ll give you a quick rundown. First: a concept. Figure out what you want to make and what CR. Next? Pick an array. That means deciding if it’s a combatant, expert or spellcaster. Then you look at the chart for that category. Each category has two charts for it, which give you the all the stats you need to make the monster. These numbers are the actual values you’ll be using, so you won’t need to do any calculations. These values include everything from ACs, and hp, to the amount of damage they’ll do with ranged and melee attacks. In addition, it lists how many extra special abilities they’ll be able to select later on.
Once you’ve got your stats you need to select your monster’s creature type from a list. Each of these will grant your monster a slight variation to its statistics, as well as a few other static abilities (typically related to its vision types, and innate immunities). For example, aberrations gain darkvision 60 feet, and a +2 to all Will saves, while fey gain low-light vision, +2 on Fortitude and Reflex saves, and a -1 to all attack rolls. Simple and easy. Once you’ve got your creature’s type applied, you pick out it’s subtype. Not all creatures will have one, but if they do, it will grant them some extra traits. Give your monster the cold subtype and they gain immunity to cold and vulnerability to fire. Give them the demon subtype and they gain immunity to electricity and poison, resistance 10 to acid, cold and fire, the ability to summon allies, and telepathy. Slightly more complicated than applying a creature type, but still easy.
What’s next? A class graft. Now, not all monsters will have a class graft, but many intelligent NPCs you make will. This is essentially a quick and easy way to give your creations access to class abilities. So, how does it work? First, you choose the class you want them to have, then you check out the class graft. This will have a requirement (for example, envoys need to use the expert array), a few adjustments (like which saving throws they get an extra bonus to, and which skills they’re best at), a quick formula for giving them equipment, and a helpful chart. On this chart you look up the CR you’re aiming for and check out which abilities you’ll be applying. Now, this isn’t the full class abilities, but rather a few of the best abilities, which the creature will be able to use. You’re not literally applying a whole class here, but just the selected items on this list. For example, if you’re making a CR 1 mystic, the chart tells you to select one first level connection power and one special ability. Pick those out and you’re done. If he’s instead CR 11, the chart tells you to select the first, third, sixth and ninth connection powers, mind link and telepathic bond. Done and done. Although not overly complicated, this is the most difficult step involved in monster creation.
Once you’re done with your class graft (if you’re adding one) you can choose to add a simple template. These are available later in the Alien Archive (in Appendix Three) and include choices like fiendish, giant and two-headed. These grafts are as easy to use as the creature type ones are, and take barely any time at all to add. There’s also some other templates found in the Alien Archive which can be chosen.
The next step is to select your monster’s special abilities. Depending on their array and CR they’ll have a number between one and four that they can choose from. In addition, some abilities are free. These abilities include things like feats, universal monster abilities, and statistic increases. You can also select abilities that show up in other stat blocks. If you’re like my son, you’ll want to make radioactive broken robots, so you could select an aura of radiation as one ability, the ability to shoot blasts of electricity as a second, construct immunities as a third, a vulnerability to critical hits (to represent their broken chassis), and have them self-destruct upon their destruction. If you’re like my daughter, you’ll want to make colossal sized flying space rabbits who shoot laser beams from their eyes, breathe fire from their noses and can survive in a vacuum. Yes, that’s seriously what she made. So pick up a breath weapon as your first ability, a ranged natural attack as your second, as well as immunity to cold, vacuums, and the no breath universal monster ability. This is also where you’ll decide what kind of attacks your monsters will use. Maybe the aforementioned radioactive robots have a slam attack with the stun critical ability, or perhaps their slams do bludgeoning and electricity damage. (My son’s pretty fond of both at once). And the flying space rabbits? Their bite attacks do piercing damage, and perhaps they can swallow you whole. But their laser beam eyes? Definitely fire damage.
Once you’re done with the special abilities, you can select your monster’s skills. Your array chart already gave you the skill points you’ll have, and how many you’ll be good at, but now’s the time you choose which skills those will be. This is a simple step, and will be done in a flash. Then you’re onto selecting spells and spell-like abilities (if your creature happens to have them from a class graft or a special ability you’ve chosen). If it does you check out a simple chart to see what you’ll be adding by CR, make your spell selections and away you go. If you happen to be making a CR 2 creature with Spell-like abilities, they’ll have two 0 level spells usable at will, and two first level spells each usable once per day. If they instead are CR 16, they’ll have two third level spells usable at will, four fourth level spells usable three time a day each, and two fifth level spells usable once a day each. The chart works the same for spellcasting, but with different numbers. Again, only the most powerful spells will be added into your stat block. Your CR 15 creatures won’t have level one spells available, since they’ll be much more likely to use their third fourth and fifth level spells during battle.
And now it’s time for the last step: checking it over. Take a gander at your creation and make sure it lives up to your concept.
And you’re done! It may sound complicated, but it’s actually very easy to use in practise. Even my kids, who are only six and seven, managed to make something fun, balanced, and unique in a short amount of time.
Once you’re done with the first appendix you move on to the second, which focuses on summoning creatures. Much like the monster creation process, this six page section makes use of charts and grafts, although this is infinitely simpler and easier. Each time you gain access to a summon creature spell you select four specific creatures that you can summon. But what are the options? They’re awesome is what they are! Balanced, thematic and adaptable all at the same time. So what do you do?
First, head on over to the elemental statistics. These will be the base stats for all summoned creatures. The level of summoning spell you’re using determines which size stat block you’ll be using. Then, check out the charts and select what you’re summoning. Is it an aeon, agathion, angel or archon? An elemental? what about a protean, robot or shadow creature? Depending on what you choose it will allow you to select either an elemental or summoning graft which you can then apply to the creature. These grafts are simple and easy to use. And that’s it! You’re done. Get summoning. I, for one, can’t wait.
Which brings us on to our third appendix: simple template grafts. This is two pages of simples grafts, which I already mentioned when I spoke about creating monsters. In addition to their use for monster creation, NPC creation and summoned creature statistics, you can also use these templates to quickly alter existing creatures into new creations.
Past this is our fourth and final appendix, which focuses on universal creature rules. Here you’ll find a listing of the common abilities that the different monsters in the Alien Archive have, which also happen to be abilities you can choose to give your monstrous creations.
So what’s left? An index which sorts the creatures by CR for ease of reference, and an advertisement at the back of the book.
That’s it. We’ve come to the end of the Alien Archive.
And what did I think?
I highly recommend this book for players, even if just to have access to the plethora of fun races, but for GMs? This book isn’t recommended, it’s necessity. You need it for the monsters inside, and you need it for the monster creation rules. Lucky for us, this book is just awesome! I’m supremely happy to own it.
And now it’s time to say goodbye!
But before I go, I want to hear from you! What’s your favourite creatures and races from the Alien Archive? What have you made with it? Let me know in the comments!
Until next time,