Esper Genesis is a science-fiction D&D 5e game that I’ve been excited to see grow better and better since its launch. They have a series of adventures out and another on the way, plus pregenerated characters and a bunch of great digital resources. Today, though, I’m going to talk about their biggest and most recent supplement: the Threat Database.
Basics of the Book
Bestiary-style books like this aren’t always super-useful. Sometimes they’re just a collection of monsters that you can throw at players which can come in handy for specific adventures. But even if there are cool, widely useful creatures in a bestiary book it’s not usually an interesting read. This book might go either way so I’m firstly interested in does this book improve the setting?
Also, and from a purely cynical standpoint, does this book offer things I couldn’t do myself? The beauty of tabletop games (as opposed to video games or movies or a lot of other media) is that they’re very adaptable. Follow the guidelines and you can churn out your own monsters for your game without spending a cent. So, what does this book offer and (relatedly) can it be used for other 5e games?
Well, those questions will be featured throughout this post but to start off with there are some tweaks to 5e monsters that are intriguing straight off the bat. All the usual monster stats are represented, but notably creature type is slightly different in Esper Genesis. These are featured in the threats found in Appendix B of the core book but they are spelled out here. Some are familiar from the Monster Manual: aberrations, beasts, dragons, humanoids, monstrosities (monsters), and plants. Others, though, are particular to Esper Genesis and they provide some intriguing variety.
Technological threats are broken up into automatons (which have artificial intelligence), constructs (which are dumb drones), and cyborgs (which are partially organic). These are compared to golems (just like in D&D, they’re dumb magic creations) and primordials (elemental creatures) which form the magical side of things. Lastly, there’s a weird pair of types which are opposites: proteans are good life-giving beings and netheraunts are destructive energy beings. Often you get a protean version and a netheraunt version of a creature.
Most of the other details I’m happy to pass over, although one part did give me pause. Creatures in this book have the usual slew of senses but the authors here added infravision as a sci-fi touch. Basically, this lets you see heat signatures or electrical signatures, giving you Predator-vision. The problem is that there’s already darkvision in 5e which let’s you see in the dark. These aren’t quite the same but given that there’s also blindsight, magical truesight, and other options it really feels like we’re splitting hairs. I think this is one of the few cases where the authors of Esper Genesis stuck too much to the 5e skeleton and the seams are showing.
Many of the threats in this book are humanoid aliens, rival species that the main species share the galaxy with. They might be savage and cruel, wise and removed, primitive and backwards, or anything else but they enter the story like NPCs and are dealt with through negotiation as well as combat. I would love it if there were rules here for new alien PCs but none are included here so that’s a little disappointing.
The aluphax are your typical roving space-barbarians, complete with tribes and a focus on reputation. They’re a little one-note for me especially as they are pretty much Klingons, and even chalk up their violence to early contact with power alien overlords. Bachorta are in a similar boat: even though they are yellow-skinned with three eyes, they’re pretty much space-gnolls. Their packs are led by the strongest, their mechanics are geared for hit-and-run, and they are the galaxy’s scavengers. I could reskin gnolls with sci-fi weapons and get something similar with a lot more statblock options. Stossians are a bit more interesting (primitives who were genetically enhanced by a corporate research team) but their backstory doesn’t really impact their use as reptilian space-orcs.
The atoru are a bit more interesting, being 15-foot-tall, blue-skinned merchants from a collapsed civilization. The scale of these folks, the mysterious “apotheosis” that took their civilization, and their innate abilities with esper magic are all pretty cool. Mechanically, though, their type is “giant” which was not one of the types at the start of the book. A really small thing but irksome. Ilarios are a similar lost species, though a little less mystical and more custom-made-fiends. The martenka are a little more palatable, lynx-like nomads who have settled on the moon of the lion-like valna from the core book. They can talk to any beast which is an unexpected twist.
If you want weird technological species, hadraxis are space-crabs who modify themselves in an effort to adapt, a quality which makes them fascinated with humans. Zek are adorable little pangolin-looking, halfling-like aliens with extraordinary luck. The avian zalpheed are like space-aarokocra with a naturalistic, druidic sort of culture.
The aseni dendus are an interesting adaptation of the dendus species from the core book. Dendus are big into self-modification but the graceful, esoteric vibe is distinctly elf-like, which makes the aseni their drow. When the Crucibles were first discovered a bunch of dendus got pulled into a crazy dimension and some of them stayed. Aseni have dual-dimensional powers and some sweet esper abilities. The zelchor are natives of that other plane, information brokers serving an energy being called the Widow of Night.
Another magically-enhanced species is the lorendi who are devil-like spellcasters with an interstellar empire that is pretty totalitarian. They’re not really in league with devils but more like esper-infused fascists, though they’re more than willing to let other species in for trading. The short, dwarf-like malegorians were first contacted by the lorendi, but their growing nanotechnology helped them overcome their heavy-handed rulers. Zultaran are cave-dwelling savages devastated by an eruption of Crucible magics and then rescued by the lorendi who use them as attack beasts.
Ganarays are a savage, pre-technological species who hate technology, which isn’t the most versatile alien species but interesting. Similarly, the aquatic kentrodar are cool space-merfolk but they don’t travel the stars very much. Gorvaxes are similar but they have pulled themselves out of their primitive roots with mercenary work (like Trandoshans) and they have a rivalry with the genasi-like matokai from the core book (again, like Trandoshans). Namruda are lizard-like early spacefarers who had early conflict with the eldori from the core book and are divided over whether they’re the best thing ever or meddling aliens.
Two insectile species meet that classic sci-fi niche in different (if not totally novel ways). The tserka are hive-dwelling, cast-based insectoids who are more or less NPCs who look and act like bugs. Much more interesting are the xamorans who are like space-locusts traveling in huge ships bristling with weaponry. Their monarchs create lairs on worlds while their underlings spread across the surface, and those lairs are like dragon lairs which warp the land around them. The coloterim are similar but independent space-locusts, if you want something to ramp-up with.
In a science fiction setting, robots are a frequent sight and there are plenty of robotic threats in the core Esper Genesis book. You can never have too many, though, so there are many more here as well. As mentioned at the top of this post there are a few different categories of robotic threat, from simple to sentient.
Constructs are basically drones, though they might be fairly advanced in terms of ability and capabilities. Some are literally drones, from armored drones to surveillance drones. The aerial stalker is is a jet-pack-equipped, clawed robots who hunt down targets while forged constructs are humanoid security drones laced with magic. Gammaroid synths are the best security designs on the market without AI. The Reisa Group is responsible for a wide array of powerful Reisa Series bots from protective guardians to fast strikers.
On the other hand, automatons are self-aware, sentient robots Some specific robot designs include the adaptable alphalite synth, the upgrade of gammaroids, and mecharoids which are “advanced tactical defense units equipped with state-of-the-art artificial intelligence.”
All of these are well-designed creatures to throw at PCs but they do sort of blend together. Instead, you might want truly inhuman robotic threats so there are the ilvaril (swarms of hive-bots who want to pull you apart for raw materials) and kanasi (magic-hunting devastator-droids). If you instead prefer formerly-organic threats there’s a cyborg template called synthantic to make cyborgs of anything while the virtual echo is the remnant of an uploaded mind that has gone wrong and now haunts the space-internet.
Not all aliens walk and talk and sell you stuff. Some of them are just animals of their world and are driven by instincts that might be strange but are certainly base. On the other hand, you can only have so many hungry, slavering predator-aliens before it because a trope.
For instance, the aragell are scary-looking hunters from a desolate world with pounce and pack tactics. Compare that to the casarian rippers which are… scary-looking hunters from a desolate world with pounce and pack tactics. You can add to this list the Ceti snapper (which at least has the decency to look like a murderous teddy bear), the kleesh (no pack tactics but just an eating machine), koatku (space-lions!), nagorok (hibernating juggernauts), taarjasa (ambush-octopus!), pyagark (space-pteradactyl), and tremial (another space-pteradactyl?). An embarrassment of… something.
Glahg and wolog are fully in the pack-tactic-and-leaping predator mode, but they do deserve special mention because you can have them as pets so that seems fun. Similarly, the vorkata is an energy-absorbing space-slug which gets points for originality. Borlakan sky saws are huge, flying beasts who can smash your ship apart if you mess with them except… why would you? The talvarius is a gigantic space-shark, which is weird enough, but they can transition from vacuum to ocean which… honestly that breaks it for me. For a dimensional threat, phase beasts are teleporting hunters which make them space-blink-dogs (which they also resemble). These are the diamonds in the rough for this category, though, and they aren’t terribly polished.
This is getting long so I’m cutting it off there. While there are portions to the lists I’ve already gone through that aren’t my favorite, I really like the book on a whole. There are still some cool parts to this book, though, so tune in next time for more alien craziness!