This article appeared in the August Issue of Meeples Monthly. We are pleased to present it to you now.
Putting together Alien Archive 3, the third volume of the Starfinder roleplaying game’s science-fantasy counterpart to the bestiaries of fantasy games, carried with it plenty of challenges. Not least of these was carrying through on the promise of the successful formula established by the previous two volumes: scores of aliens, each with a two-page spread and plenty of art, all accompanied by a raft of player options, such as gear, feats, and a bunch of alien species that player characters can use to build their own characters. But Alien Archive 3 also has quite a few things going for it that make it a lot more than just another book of weird and wonderful aliens.
First and foremost, more than half of the authors of this book are women, non-binary people, or from other groups traditionally underrepresented in the mainstream roleplaying game community (both in terms of bylines and storylines). The diverse perspectives of this pool of authors shine through brilliantly in the final book, and it was my great pleasure to work with all of its authors, whose experience ranged from 20-year veterans to first-time writers for Starfinder. Several authors also helped achieve this representation, asking to take fewer writing assignments, or even none at all, to ensure that others could have the opportunity to contribute.
Speaking of authorship, I had the pleasure—and pain—of writing Starfinder’s new creature companion system for Alien Archive 3. The process was a thrill ride of flow charts, tables upon tables (upon tables!) of statistics, and frantic loophole-closing. Fortunately, Starfinder Design Lead Owen K.C. Stephens and Organized Play Lead Developer John Compton were on the case during development. They helped shape the system into its final form, which lets Starfinder player characters pal around the galaxy with a dinosaur mount, an empathic spider friend, a laser-wolf pup—just to name a few. I sought John’s consultation in particular, as he views our products from an Organized Play perspective and can anticipate the needs of that robust player base (along with some of the exploits they might have otherwise found).
And that same player base made its own contributions to this book! One of the most popular aliens introduced in our Starfinder Society adventures are morlamaws, who can be briefly described as brightly colored space walruses with four tusks and a rich culture. The charismatic creatures were an instant hit with the community, especially since players can create their own morlamaw characters, so they were a shoo-in for an expanded treatment in Alien Archive 3. They were originally brought to life by author Kate Baker, a prolific game master and Starfinder Society volunteer, and we were lucky to have her back to flesh morlamaws out for a full entry in this book.
One of the aliens I’m most excited to share with the wider world is the cephalume, a bioluminescent squid-like alien that hails from the liquid-methane seas of its home planet and has a symbiotic relationship with its barnacles. But I love the origin of this creature even more than its fascinating physiology. At last year’s PaizoCon, our company’s annual convention, we held two alien-design panels, during which we collaborated with the attending audience to create a brand new alien, all while artist guest of honor Taylor Fischer sketched out our ideas on a projector. When it came time to name the creature, an audience member suggested the name cephalume, which was an instant lock. Months later, when writing the outline for Alien Archive 3, I knew we had to include the cephalume, and I knew who to ask to write it: the audience member who’d named it, Jessica Redekop! Jessica did a great job making a marginally plausible creature into a fascinating alien—and especially adventurous players can choose to play as one. We were even able to send Taylor’s fantastic sketches as reference material to artist Nathanael James, who rendered a captivating pair of cephalumes that made me love them even more.
Along with morlamaws and cephalumes, Alien Archive 3 presents 18 species that players can use when creating their own characters, bringing the total count of playable alien species in Starfinder to more than 100! Notable new options are playable undead creatures and a playable sentient swarm of insects. This incredible total is a concrete sign of our efforts to give Starfinder a galaxy-spanning cantina feel… but there’s no way we’re stopping there! One of the best parts of creating a book full of new creatures is giving life to things that were single-sentence throwaways in previous books—and seeding new single-sentence throwaways for the future…
Joe Pasini is a game designer and served as Lead Developer for Starfinder Alien Archive 3 at Paizo Inc. He is steadfast in his belief that gaming is for absolutely everyone, and he’d love to play a game with you sometime.
Alien Archive 3: Weird and Wonderful by Design
Tuesday, October 15, 2019