Masks: 1,000 Memorable NPCs for Any Roleplaying Game is the second offering from Engine Publishing (i.e., the authors of the Gnome Stew blog); this one addresses NPCs rather than plots.
As the first (Eureka – 501 plots) was based on Georges Polti’s 36 Dramatic Situations, this one is based on an old Dragon article by C.M. Cline entitled "The 7-Sentence NPC".
Setting aside the foreword, introduction, and contributor biographies, the book has five chapters: Game Mastering Advice, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Modern and Indices.
GAME MASTERING ADVICE
This is the "how to use this book" section, and covers choosing an NPC, how they are described and grouped within the book, how to reskin one for your game, and how to make the NPCs memorable.
THE NPCS: FANTASY, SCI-FI AND MODERN
Each of these umbrella genres has its NPCs divided into Villains, Neutrals and Allies. There are more neutrals than allies or villains, as one might expect.
Each NPC has about a quarter-page writeup, with a name, a number, a one-line description such as "Eccentric Wizard", and paragraphs on his appearance, roleplaying, personality, motivation, background and traits. Roleplaying explains how to portray the character, traits are used in the traits index to find NPCs of a particular type, and the rest are what they say on the tin.
The book describes all the NPCs as human, but there is no reason why they couldn’t be "reskinned" as members of other races, and some of the interior art does so.
As for Eureka, I don’t want to give away the details, so I did roughly a 5% sample, evenly split across the three umbrella genres, to see how usable I thought the NPCs were…
- Wow! This one’s in my campaign, right now: 1.
- Hmm, that one’s pretty cool: 17.
- Yeah, I can use that one I guess: 26.
- Meh: 4.
- Drive on, there’s nothing to see here: 0.
Obviously, your mileage may vary; but if these proportions are representative, there are 20 or so NPCs in this book that I have to have in my games – probably as many as my PCs can cope with remembering anyway, with a month between sessions – and several hundred in the "pretty cool" bracket. With those kind of numbers, I can live with the occasional one that doesn’t tickle my fancy.
There are four indices, allowing the GM to select NPCs by traits, name, author or groups.
The traits index is probably the most useful for selecting an NPC, but the names one I expect to be most useful in play – once I have noted down, for example, "Guard Captain is Erika Snodgrass, but male" I can look up Erika’s stats whenever the PCs encounter the guard captain, at least until the NPC sticks in my memory.
The groups index is interesting, because I can select (for example) Elite Thieves or Assassination Team and find a group of half a dozen NPCs who collectively would form that group. This is a nice way of setting up (say) rival adventuring parties.
This is a larger book than its companion, and more focussed at the print market – the PDF has no printer-friendly option, for example.
Like it’s companion, it isn’t going to replace my own stuff, but it takes up residence on my GM’s Shelf of Wonders, where I shall dip into it for occasional inspiration.