" Everyone holding their breath, waiting to see if the races in the book are more playable than they were in Alien Anthology, please start breathing again. "
Title: Ultimate Alien Anthology by Wizards of the Coast
Format: D20 Star Wars Race Book
Reviewing Monkey: Genghis Kong
The Hype: Not long ago, in offices not very far away from the tree fort the Game Monkeys call home, Wizards of the Coast put out "Alien Anthology" for their Star Wars D20 game. Anxious gamers rushed forth to purchase the book in the hopes that they might finally play such beloved races as Devaronian, Gotal, Whiphid, or Nikto, and found a very slim volume with stats like a Monstrous Manual and no real method of converting these races over to playability. Needless to say, Star Wars gamers were not amused. Now, after the release of the Revised Core Rulebook, comes Ultimate Alien Anthology--a brand-new, more complete alien races supplement which will essentially attempt to do what Alien Anthology should have done in the first place. So does it do that? Well it wouldn't be much of a review if I answered that question right now, would it?
What This Monkey Thought...
Story and Drama: There are two ways of looking at this book--it has a lot of story and drama, and it has no story and drama. Allow me to explain. Each race is detailed with a history, culture, basic personality, and many other details which will allow players to detail their characters based upon slim but meaty information. The history and culture of some races is downright fascinating, with hooks meant to intrigue gamers enough that they might play a member of these species. This would be really impressive if almost all of it hadn't been completely cribbed from West End Star Wars supplements, who actually did the grunt work of fleshing these species out in detail before going bankrupt and selling the property to WotC. Even some of the writers are the same, and while West End put out brilliantly detailed product during their tenure, the fact remains that Wizards did not do the footwork on most of this story info. Most of you don't care about that, though, so if you're looking for a detailed product, well, here it is. It's not high drama, it doesn't precisely read like a novel, but it's enough to keep you interested if you want to broaden your Star Wars knowledge. 4 out of 5.
Layout and Presentation: The book is beautiful, no question--the cover art by Tommy Lee Edwards is fantastic, the book just plain looks cool and the layout is comfortable and familiar for Star Wars gamers. Each race has multiple categories--Personality, Physical Description, Homeworld, Language, Example Names, Age in Years, Adventurers, and Species Traits--plus the stats of a species commoner (or other class, if the species is primarily of one class type). It still has that stupid, ugly techno-launchpad-spotlight-looking border, and the backgrounds are an ugly pea green, but the artwork is impressive. It ranges from the decent (Dan Brereton, Kalman Andrasofszky) to the good (Carl Critchlow, Jeremy Jarvis) to the great (Raven Mimura, Sam Wood, Vindo Rams, Mikael Noguchi) to the incredible (RK Post, Doug Alexander Gregory), presenting some of the best artwork Wizards has ever printed, and showcasing exactly what that kind of money can buy in quality for a full-color, hardbound supplement. Some alien races have never looked better, and others… well, you win some, you lose some. Once again the Bothans have gone through another full make-over and look entirely different, and a few of the races' features were so exaggerated that they seem cartoony compared to their CGI counterparts from the films, or even the Mike Vilardi renditions from West End products. That may be the closest thing I have to a negative comment about the artwork, however, as it's just that good. 4.5 out of 5.
Playability: Everyone holding their breath, waiting to see if the races in the book are more playable than they were in Alien Anthology, please start breathing again. These aliens are fully statted to be played as PCs, with racial modifiers and abilities just like you would see in the core rulebook--in fact, the aliens from the core rulebook are in this volume. When they say Ultimate, I suppose they really mean it. Some races are more playable than others by their very nature, but overall they have been set up for easy character generation, each race different than the last in some way that makes it distinctive and unique. Anyone who can't make these stats work for a PC probably isn't playing D20 Star Wars. And if that wasn't enough, there are new Prestige Classes--who saw that coming? Certainly not this monkey, who was pleased to see the eight new classes which represent unique aspects of non-Human culture, from the winged Aerobats and rugged Big-Game Hunters to the mysterious Findsmen and shadowy Changelings. The book is in all ways set up for immediate insertion into any Star Wars campaign, and will likely become a mainstay of character creation for any Star Wars gaming group. 5 out of 5.
Desired Content: If you wanted aliens, you got aliens, and then you got more aliens. Jabba's Palace exploded, and everyone there moved into the Chalmun's Mos Eisley Cantina on its busiest day, posed for a big group photograph, and spouted off for a few minutes on the culture of their people. So was written the Ultimate Alien Anthology, which has races included that even I, the Conqueror Ape, have never heard of. We're talking about a monkey who has read nearly every Star Wars novel to date, folks. My West End Star Wars material fills an entire shelf on its own, and even I had a hard time figuring out where some of these folks were from. That's how Ultimate this guide is. As much as you want to throw dung at Wizards over the original Alien Anthology (and I know you all do), you cannot help but want to applaud their work on this supplement. Alien races galore, eight new Prestige Classes, new racial Feats, some new racial weaponry, and even guidelines on how to play a Yuuzhan Vong character. Wizards did this one right, from top to bottom, and at 225 pages, you know they didn't miss a single detail. 5 out of 5.
|There aren't many books which I consider a "must have" for any particular RPG, but considering that a lot of the draw and fascination of the Star Wars universe is the diverse menagerie of aliens it presents in film and fiction, the Ultimate Alien Anthology is practically required if you want your campaign to graduate from Padawan to Jedi Knight. So do yourself a favor and pick one up, and may the Force be with you.|
The Good: Incredible artwork, an abundance of races beyond your wildest imagination, and new Prestige Classes!
The Bad: The borders and background color are still really ugly, and someone needs to decide what Bothans look like for once and for all.
The Overall Ugly: In the words of Emperor Palpatine, "It is inevitable. It is… your destiny."
What it's Worth: At $35, it's not even that expensive (for WotC). It's worth the asking price… for once.