Welcome to the review of the latest release from Gypsy Knights Games – ‘The Wondrous Menagerie’ (which I shall refer to from now on as ‘TWM’). It is available for $9.99 from Drivethru RPG, for which you get an 82 page watermarked PDF. The price is little more expensive than the recent releases from GKG, however what you get is a very comprehensive sourcebook packed with material.
TWM starts with a short introduction and a couple pages of contents. The book then dives in with five pages of the history of Uplifts, right from the late twentieth century to the (Clement Sector) present day of the twenty-fourth century. The Clement Sector (CS) doesn’t have an identifiable alien race, so Uplifts are designed to provide this sort of ‘exotic’ element in CS games. An Uplift is a terrestrial animal which has been genetically altered to enhance certain abilities, such as intelligence, walking upright, enhanced dexterity or some other ‘special’ ability. Many were enhanced to the point they are close to humans in intelligence and dexterity. Unfortunately Uplifts were used for little more than slaves by some governments and organisations. Their legal status isn’t always the same as humans and many Uplifts are segregated away from the rest of human life, even though they are ‘expected’ to perform many tasks that humans don’t want to do.
In some ways, I initially found reading that there was a great deal of slavery and not as much respect for man’s fellow creatures as I would hope for, a little depressing. Perhaps I have a little of the hope from ‘Star Trek’ in me in that as the human race advances technologically, you would hope that we would try and treat each other with more respect and work together. I know its only a game setting, but in light of current events around the world, it would be nice to think there is hope for the human race! More on this though later in the authors notes, which helped to put this background into context.
The book then describes the differences between class 1,2 and 3 Uplifts and the various creatures abilities. You get descriptions for Apes, Chimpanzees, Gorillas, Orangutans, Bears, Bovians, Pandas, Cats, Dogs, Dolphins, Elephants, Horses, Kraken, Lions, Quetzals, Tigers and Yeti. This is a thoroughly well-written section and covers just about everything about the creatures abilities, society and their interactions with humans.
Starting on page 54, the next section describes Uplift characters and rules, should you wish to play one. Additional character creation charts are provided for each type of Uplift, including events and rolling for their legal status. Because of the difference in creatures ageing processes, there are quite a few tables to refer to which indicate any ageing rolls and modifiers to apply. You are then presented with the Uplift slave career track, described over 6 pages.
To help make the character generation process as well rounded as possible, you get a page detailing how to name an Uplift along with some examples. The next three pages describe three political groups and their belief structure, with a final page on characters detailing some unique skills. Though I’m not of a religious persuasion, I did find it interesting which Uplift races would choose to participate in the different human religions.
John Watts has provided a useful ‘authors note’ on playing Uplift characters; I found this extremely useful and rewarding in how to get the most out of the book. Playing an Uplift presents some unique challenges and helped me to understand how and why the background to Uplift life is set up in the way that is has (for example, slavery is common on certain worlds). Uplifts have a different view on the world and playing one could give a unique experience into their situation. One thing that I thought would have been useful to mention was why some tasks couldn’t be performed by robots instead of Uplifts? Or is it simply a case that AI in robots hasn’t progressed as far as I might think and genetically- engineering terrestrial animals has become an easier solution?
The final page is rounded off with a monochrome silhouette height comparison chart, showing the differences between the races presented in the book. The book is packed with some excellent character artwork by Bradley Warnes – favourites have got to be the grizzly bears in blue and white one-piece utility suits and the panda in a flight suit acting as co-pilot aboard a starship!
This is a thoroughly well-written, well-researched and thought-provoking book and well worth purchasing. It adds an additional dimension to playing in the Clement Sector – no self-respecting captain should be without a ships panda! I would like to sincerely thank the author John Watts for sending me a copy to review.
I would like to mention it was saddening to hear of the passing of Loren Wiseman, one of the co-authors of the original Traveller RPG. My sympathies to his family and friends, may the legacy of his writings be long remembered.