I had the Alien Archive for Starfinder on pre-order directly from Paizo so I’ve had the book since the day it came out. It arrived and I flicked through the pages, checked out the artwork and ultimately felt slightly disappointed with it’s page count but promised myself I’d give it a thorough read once I needed to. With our game of Dead Suns closing it at warp speed it was time to take the Alien Archive from the bookshelf and make true to the promise I made myself.
The book checks in at a lean 159 pages which includes the contents and other fluff you get at the front and back, the actual amount of usable content is spread out upon the remaining 152 pages or so. Coming from D&D’s Monster Manuals and having seen Pathfinder’s tome like bestiary books I can’t pretend that I wasn’t little disappointed that the book wasn’t bigger. With so many worlds and planets to explore this book should be jam-packed full of monsters, right? Then why so thin? Well, I’ll get into that in a minute. First I want to talk about the quality of the book itself. Despite being on the lean side, the book is chock full of beautifully rendered artwork are is expertly laid out. The stat-blocks, the tables, the written lore content is all informative whilst being concise enough to not overburden you with too much insider information. Everything is spaced neatly to be able to gain all the informative parts (such as CR) at a glance, there was never a situation through reading it where I felt lost – which is more than can be said for the Core Rulebook. The genre of Science-Fantasy -which Paizo is labelling Starfinder- was an alien concept to me at the time (PUNS SET TO KILL) but the combination of the art direction and the lore surrounding these creatures really has set a solid idea in my mind of what the universe Paizo is creating here is meant to feel like.
Now I mentioned that the actual number of creatures contained in this book is limited but what I didn’t take into account during my first skim-through was the fact that within almost every statblock there are variations for the enemy in question. Usually consisting of basic and advanced versions of the same creature but in many cases pretty much changing the creature entirely. This pretty much doubles the creature count I initially thought the book contained. Some of the more technological creatures also have options for how to kit them out, what gear they’re using, what weapons, what armour and the book has almost a page of lore for every entry. Whilst this definitely pads out the number of options available to you it still doesn’t quite feel as though there’s enough of what’s presented – especially when taking the price tag into account. How much of this is down to my own expectations though probably says alot as I was expecting a huge, mammoth 400 page monster book akin to what I’d experienced from the D&D Monster Manual and the Pathfinder Bestiaries. Based on the selection of creatures available the Alien Archive just doesn’t deliver that same feel or sense of value for money.
One thing to note however is the absolutely amazing “Appendix 1: Creating Monsters” section of the book which really pulls this thing up from the nose dive it was entering. After reading the overview of this section it suddenly became very clear to me that maybe it was me who was at fault all along. Perhaps this book never set out to be a Starfinder Bestiary or Monster Manual, perhaps this here is the real meat of it and what in the future I’ll refer back to more than the pre-created creatures on the first 120 pages. With 20 pages of dedicated tables and guidelines, this book offers the framework to build any monster or creature you can imagine to throw against your players. The steps are broken down into 10 stages and as you work through the checklist the support text the book offers you is as informative and as concise as the rest of the text throughout the book
- Concept: What are you going to make?
- Array: Is it at combatant, spellcaster or expert?
- Creature Graft: Basic attributes
- Subtype Graft: Refined attributes
- Class Graft: Abilities based on an existing class
- Template Graft: Choose an NPC template
- Special Abilities: Combat tricks
- Skills: Skill bonuses
- Spells: Choose spells where necessary
- Final Check: Double check the numbers
Whilst some of the steps seem a little complex from looking at their titles alone, each is fully explained in-depth and the book really holds your hand throughout the entire process. The ability to be able to take a Xenomorph, a Predator, a… Howard the Duck, and recreate those monsters as realistically as you can whilst keeping them mechanically viable in Starfinder is an amazing resource to have. A quick Google search brings up dozens of pages where people have done just that and if it means bringing the community together and sharing creations then I’m all for it … but. And there is a but. Is this what I’ve gone and paid my money for? To do the work and the maths in creating these creatures myself? Sure, the universe is vast and lifeforms can vary from planet to planet and they could release a hundred Alien Archives and not create the exact monster you had in your imagination, but if the only saving grace of this book is the fact that includes are the templates you need to create your own viable monsters then doesn’t that speak to Paizo’s self awareness that the rest of the book was lacking?
Another thing is that many of the included creatures also include options to be used as player races. From Space Goblins, to Drow, to the primate like Maraquoi there are a total of 21 (TWENTY ONE!) creatures here that can be used by your players to create some crazy characters. Some of them are a little more out there than others and many will probably be unlikely to ever be used but with that aside, that’s still alot of options to round out your own homebrew version of the Mos Eisley cantina with. Infact, if you were to combine the 21 playable races included in the Alien Archive with the 6 in the Pact Worlds book and the 13 available in the Core Rulebook that’s a total of 40 races to be used as PC’s. Bonkers.
All in all I’d find it really hard to recommend the Alien Archive to anyone other than the GM of your group and even then only if they really plan to build a homebrew environment. I have found through reading the Dead Suns Adventure Path that it does refer to the Alien Archive for the statblocks of a few creatures but even so, not enough to really warrant this being a must-buy purchase. You could quite easily swap out the monsters the AP does mention for something of an equivalent challenge in the AP’s themselves. Not to be ignored is the handy conversion guide to take any Pathfinder monster and convert it to the Starfinder universe. This adds 6 Pathfinder Bestiaries of monsters to the game which is a whole lot of monster selection for your perusal but also means having to go out and buy Pathfinder books for a game you might not even be playing.
The Alien Archive definitely falls short of the book I not only expected it to be but also wanted it to be. The inclusion of being able to create your own monsters or import some famous others is fantastic and having the entire back catalogue of Pathfinder to pick from is mind boggling in it’s vastness but the fact that all of these things rely on you having to the leg work really lets this down for me. I wouldn’t go out and buy a novel and then expect to have to finish the book off myself and I think the same mentality (either rightly or wrongly) applies to my thought process here. At most, I can’t really grade this book as any higher than being 5/10 despite really, really wanting to.