It’s game night. Fifteen minutes before the guys show up and you start rolling some dice and blowing off the stress of the work week. And, if you don’t say so yourself, you’ve really outdone yourself in your prep work this time. You not only have a compelling adventure including an awesome, possibly recurring villain, but you’ve thought of all the possible ways that the PCs might conduct their assault on his lair and come up with contingencies within contingencies, but you have a full write-up of dialogue for the old man that’s going to give them the quest as well as well thought-out answers to any questions the PCs might have for him. You sit down, and you introduce the scene.
Less than a minute later, it’s all over like a bad date. The party leader looks you square in the eye and says, “We want to go talk to the high priest about this tower that’s appeared outside of town.”
In shock, a look of intense disappointment on your face, you ask him “You want to talk to who?”
“The high priest.”
Looking down at your notes, you rifle through the various pages looking for something, anything that can help you out in this situation. You find nothing about a high priest. You’re not even sure if this town has a temple much less what religion they are! The next decision will be crucial. Do you:
A) Curl up into a fetal position and start crying?
B) Angrily insist that your players go to the bar and do the adventure like you’ve written it?
C) Close your eyes and fervently disbelieve your players sitting around the table? or
D) Call for a five minute break and reach for your copy of Masks from the guys at Gnomestew.com you have in your bag for just such an occasion to pull out an NPC to play the high priest?
If you answered D, you’re going to be just fine. If you answered any of the other three, it had better be because you don’t yet own a copy of Masks. And if that’s the case, then run, don’t walk, to http://www.enginepublishing.com to order yourself a copy of this book.
Seriously, everyone who GMs or even thinks that they might want to GM sometime in the future needs a copy of this book. It is that good, and that invaluable a resource.
Like their last success, Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots, Masks is a gaming aid. It’s designed to be system and (to a lesser degree) setting neutral in order to give the GM ready options should they find themselves stuck at the table for who the PCs should talk to or interact with. It’s filled near to bursting with the skeletons of NPCs just waiting for you to hang the skin over and make your own, providing you with ways to roleplay them, give them proper motivation, and even a believable background to build on.
The first chapter is an explanation of how to use the book. More than that, it really goes into an explanation of what makes a memorable NPC well, memorable. It offers a variety of tips and tricks on how to fully utilize the various NPCs in this book, as well as make your own and give them that certain spark and staying power in your campaign world. It introduces and explains the various keywords that they use to describe their NPCs as well as gives insight into what I feel may be the most useful part of this book for some GMs- the Name Ribbon. On the bottom of every page containing NPCs is a list of names. On one page is a list of first names. On the opposite is a list of titles and surnames, all of them genre appropriate for the chapter they appear in. Did your PCs piss you off again by asking you the name of an NPC? Fret no longer! Just open to a page in the book and pick one out.
This chapter also gives some great advice on using the various NPCs in genres that they aren’t necessarily designed for in broad strokes. For example, is the character defined by a ranged weapon, like a marksman or a warrior? Well, this weapon could be a crossbow in a fantasy game, a rifle in a modern game, or a zat gun or a laser cannon in a sci-fi game. The characters in this book are written in such a way that nearly all of them can be easily “reskinned” into any of the other genres, and are a good start for writing your own in a similar way.
The 1,000 NPCs (and yes, there really are that many), are divided into three chapters, each containing three sections. They are first largely divided by genre – fantasy, science fiction, and modern (a catch-all term for everything not clearly defined as either fantasy or science fiction). They are then further divided into one of three groups: Ally, Enemy, or Neutral. Each of those is exactly what it sounds like – friend, bad guys, and everyone else.
Each NPC is presented in the following format
Name – The characters name
Two Phrase Description – This is a capsule description of the NPC, a headline if you will. Things like Stupid Bouncer, Alien Warlord, or Power Mad Sorcerer to give you a quick mental image of the character.
Descriptive Quote – This is a piece of dialogue that you can use to help get an early image of the character. From the mysterious assassin who you hear chamber his next round to the roustabout calling for another pint, this can sometimes be all the more you need to start playing the character.
Appearance Notes – This section describes what the NPC looks like, what they wear, and gives a general description on some of his mannerisms.
Roleplaying Notes – This section of the NPC write-up gives you advice on how to play the character at the table. What parts should you play up, what parts should you play down? What can you grab from this character to really make them “pop?”
Personality Notes – Is this character a little bit country? Or are they a little bit rock and roll? Or are they just plain creepy. This is a small description of the character’s personality and social mannerisms.
Motivation Notes – Characters don’t exist in a vacuum. Well… let me rephrase that. Believable characters don’t exist in a vacuum. What drives this character? What makes him want to do what he does?
Background Notes – “Jim was born to wealthy parents and was sent to the finest university where he promptly washed out, bought a bike, and started a gang.” Okay, so they aren’t that short, but that’s the basic gist of this section. It gives you a little bit of insight into the character’s history and as to why he is where he is today. This can also provide some great ideas should the NPC become recurring or a PC favorite.
Traits – This is a list of a few traits to describe the character in a few words that you can use at the table real quick. They are also one of the ways that the authors have indexed the NPCs at the end of the book. Looking for a beautiful young maid to woo one of the players? Flip open to the back of the book, find the “beautiful” trait and flip to the listed pages. The traits are described in further detail in the first chapter of the book.
So there you have it. Seriously. If you buy one gaming supplement this month, this year, make it this one. You may never read it cover to cover, but I guarantee that you will use it more than you think you will. Honestly.
Thanks for the book guys. I’m waiting on next years “1503 Items of Mystery.” ;)
Here’s where you can buy your copy of the book: http://www.enginepublishing.com/masks-1000-memorable-npcs-for-any-roleplaying-game
If you want to keep up with the Gnomes, you can do so here: http://www.gnomestew.com/