Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials!

One very nice thing about gaming today is the sheer volume of resources available.  Need a good Viking Era sourcebook?  Chances are, you'll have no problem finding one.  There's lots of great material from the OSR alone, and you know how we embrace the amateur gaming community.  It's a GREAT time to play... 

But you know what was great about playing in the 70s BEFORE the gaming hobby went mainstream?

The near-complete ABSENCE of resources, which required GMs to research their own!  Often, this involved starting with non-gaming materials and tailoring them for use in the game.  This was fun precisely because it required GMs to do their own work, which was a challenging and enjoyable act that also gave a sense of personal ownership.  DIY is the very SOUL of the role-playing hobby.

One of these was Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials, a superb illustrated reference to some of the best aliens in classic sci-fi right at your fingertips!  Touted as a field guide to alien life, this book combined Barlowe's excellent illustrations with a detailed summary of their culture, history, and reproduction.

Its cover, alone, suggests 
the wealth of aliens found within...

The book begins with a foreword by the incomparable Robert Silverberg (some of his own creations are found within) that goes into some detail about sci-fi illustrations and how to convert literary visions into visual art.  And Barlowe's clear and concise writing matches his excellent and true-to-form depictions of his alien subjects.  Literally the BEST sci-fi has to offer.

Again, each alien is described in textbook form, including its physical features, habitat, and culture.  The amount of information equals that of the Monster Manual and exceeds it at times, so all anyone needs to do is stat them for whatever system is being played, which should actually be a fairly simple task.

I got my first copy for Christmas, 1980, the same year I got my Holmes Basic set, and I wasted no time at all converting its assorted aliens for use in my burgeoning campaign.  It seems there was a time portal in a certain dungeon, which also sported laser turrets in the first passageway.  I didn't know it, but this was in keeping with Arneson's Temple of the Frog and led to an all-night session that got most of my friends hooked on the game!

The layout of this fine book
really speaks for itself and its utility!

Among the lifeforms included were Lovecraft's Old Ones and the enigmatic Pnume by Jack Vance!  Years later, as I discovered Robert Silverberg, I was thrilled to recognize the Sulidor race from his excellent Downward to Earth novel.  By then, my reading was catching up with the book, and this was every bit as important as the list from Appendix N in the Dungeon Master's Guide...

Conversion was easy.  Each of the aliens was roughly analogous to something already present in the rules and, where applicable, technological weapons were treated as bows (with 24-round energy clips) or some sort of wand, etc.  Indeed, a game as rich as D&D had all bases covered here, and this was my first experience tailoring material for my own campaign, which was good practice!

As an added bonus, Barlowe ended with personal creations from his original "Thype" world.  These evocative images inspired me to create strange new worlds that I expressed through gaming, a medium unto itself and one I could share with friends!

Wayne Barlow clearly loved the aliens he depicted, and his love permeates this awesome reference.  Not only is it a must-have for classic sci-fi fans (who might also be gamers), but it's also an invaluable resource for clever GMs of any role-playing system, being only a few stats away from the toughest foes of the Monster Manual and its successors.  This great collection is well worth picking up!


  1. A fantastic book by any measure, but these days its an even rarer specimen since licenses would likely prohibit this kind of thing from being created today.

  2. You can still find copies of the 1987 edition without too much effort. They go for $30.00 to $40.00 in "new" condition.