Paranormal Animals of North America
When I saw that Shadowrun 3rd edition didn't include any of the neat critters from the previous versions, and heard that the GM pack included only a small booklet, I assumed that Paranormal Animals of North America would be a great reference for GMs to add new creatures to the world. Unfortunately, I know now that this is not automatically the case. While serviceable and providing numerous interesting, canon creatures, the listings are a bit skimpy and my general feeling is that it didn't live up to its potential. It could have been a great product, but unfortunately, is only a moderate to good one.
[Admission: I do not own the SR3 GM Pack and thus do not know which creatures are included in it. I have heard that it includes a smattering of creatures from the previous main books and from the North America and Europe sourcebooks.]
The main part of the book is its listing of 80 new creatures. Well, they aren't exactly new; the point is that they are awakened versions of normal creatures. Of course, while some are normal critters with a few neat powers, many are so far removed from their predecessors to seem like completely new creatures. The Juggernaut is over 14 meters long and is almost unstoppable, yet is derived from the common armadillo. Similarly the Behemoth looks like a giant reptilian elephant, yet is actually an awakened alligator!
The listings do have a good breadth to them. They include some deadly creatures (the Juggernaut), some annoying ones (the Bandit, an awakened raccoon), and some added just for humor (the Bombardier, a flying squirrel that likes dropping nuts on people). The variety also extends to land, water, and flying creatures; so no matter where the runners go you can always throw something new at them. Surprisingly, a number of awakened primates are included. They are ostensibly due to releases from animal research labs across the country. They could provide a rude shock for some runners if they are used to fighting other runners or deadly creatures and suddenly come across little "people" wielding spears. Also included are HMHVV (the vampiric virus) infected variants of other creatures, such as the Dzoo-Noo-Qua, an infected Troll, and the Bandersnatch, an infected Sasquatch.
There are also a number of astral or dual-natured beings. These range from the Salamander (a fire elemental that loves to start fires), to the Corpselight (a small, glowing ball of light that drains essence from its target while giving them a feeling of absolute bliss). These creatures can also provide a nasty shock to any mage who attempts to scout astrally.
While the creatures themselves are fairly interesting, their entries in the book are not. The book claims to be a "Peterson's Reference Guide" and thus is more scientific in nature than other SR sourcebooks. This means that while each creature gets a two page spread, there is less than half a page of actual text describing it. Where does the rest of the space go? Well, there is a nice half page picture of the creature, there are the requisite stats, then there is the one saving grace of the layout: the comments. In similar fashion to other SR sourcebooks, each entry includes comments from other runners on their encounters with the creatures, theories about them, or general BS between themselves. There are also small pictures showing the habitat of the creature and a size comparison to a normal human, which is surprisingly useful. Finally, a number of creatures have up to half a page of simply blank space!
The book also includes a section on the powers that the new creatures can control. These powers range from traditional Venom, to "Adaptive Coloration" (similar to the Predator's camouflage power), to being able to boost a stat for a short time (just wait until that giant bear suddenly becomes twice as strong as your troll and faster than your Samurai). Finally, there is an index of the awakened creatures, giving just their stats. I'm not sure of the usefulness of this, for its primary use would seem to be in helping a GM gauge the power levels of the creatures, to see which one to use in a given situation. Of course, since each one has a distinct habitat, it would seem better to choose one that is local to where the PCs are going.
I am a bit torn about the book's artwork. The drawings of the creatures are top notch -- they certainly bring the creatures to life. Most of the drawings make you want to stay well away from the creatures, which isn't surprising considering how nasty some of them are! There are also color plates, which are colorized versions of five of the creature drawings. While these are good, they aren't exceptional. I would have preferred new artwork, as the color plates don't really add anything to the book.
My primary complaint concerns the layout of the book. The text describing the creature is quite dry and while informative, I can't help but feel that there would be a better way of presenting it. I also think that more effort should have been put into describing the creatures, either in the text or in the Shadowtalk comments. The blank space just screams out for more description.
Finally, you must remember that this book came out under first edition rules. You'll need to update the armor ratings and attack codes on these creatures before you can use them in your third edition campaign.
I have a hard time making up my mind on the usefulness of this book to a modern campaign. Some creatures can be used in city-based runs, primarily as "guard dogs," and some are primarily city dwelling, but most are wild. If you aren't planning on leaving Seattle, then you are probably best skipping this product. If you want more creatures than presented in the GM Pack, you should consider picking it up, as it is a fairly solid bestiary full of interesting creatures; it is not spectacular, but certainly not a bad supplement. If you aren't a Shadowrun GM, but are merely looking for more interesting creatures to add to your fantastic campaign, I would suggest looking at the Creatures of Barsaive book for Earthdawn, as its presentation is far superior and gives you a better idea on how to play the creatures.
Style: 3 (Average)