Review: “Masks: 1,000 NPCs for Any Roleplaying Game”

The guys over at Gnome Stew came out of the gate strong with their first publication Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots to Inspire Game Masters last year, presenting plenty of snippets designed to jump-start the process of adventure creation, with multiple genres available to fit any game setting.

It should be no surprise then that their sophomore publication not only holds up to the high standards of content, design, and variety, but in some ways surpasses. Masks: 1,000 NPCs for Any Roleplaying Game is what it says: 1,000 NPCs ready to be dropped into any game. While they don’t have any stats (like Eureka, the book is systemless), you’ll find each NPC has a full name, a brieft summary, a quote from the character, appearance, roleplaying advice, a description of personality, motivations, background, and a set of traits (that are shared across multiple entries.)

A full example of one of the 1,000 entries follows:

Professor Hilda von Tegelmanner
Double-Crossing Ghost
“Und so you see, the spirits they remain here, ja? Und they have something they must do, but that something might haf already been done, ja? So they are stuck in this loop of how-you-say, something-doing, ja?”
Appearance: Frumpy and plain-looking, she wears sensible but out-of-date clothes.
Roleplaying: Professor von Tegelmanner speaks in a strong accent, and tends towards long-winded lectures on tangential subjects.
Personality: Although very gregarious, she’s also quite nerdy and academic.
Motivation: She is bound to hire and betray adventurers.
Background: Hilda was a professor of the supernatural, specializing in hauntings and ghosts. Having grown bored simply theorizing on her subject of interest, she sought an avenue to its practical application. She settled on hiring adventuring parties from a nearby tavern to guide and protect her as she visited various purportedly haunted sites. She grew too bold after a number of successful trips, however, and acquired the services of con artists. They abandoned her deep within a haunted cave, taking her money and heading off to their next job. Hilda knew enough about hauntings to arrange her own afterlife as a ghost who would take vengeance on her betrayers. But after doing so, she herself was trapped in the cycle of betrayal and revenge, and has hired an endless stream of adventuring parties over the years only to bring them to their doom deep in the haunted cave. She is completely unaware of her metaphysical state.
Traits: (KS) Academic, eccentric, scholar

The book is divided into three genres that cover most RPG settings: fantasy, sci-fi, and modern, with each one further subdivided into villains, allies, and neutrals. Many of them are also adaptable across the different genres, or cross genres already like the germanic ghost listed above. The traits also cut across genres, so that if you need an academic, you’ll find a variety in each genre.

Along the bottom, you’ll also find a list of names, so flipping to any random page will give you a name for when you need it.

Now, the basic uses are pretty obvious. If you need a pre-made character to populate your adventure, whether it be an innkeeper, an employer, or an adversary, you can flip open the book and go to the appropriate section and find something that suits your fancy, with plenty of indexes to track down what you need. With this book, there’s literally a thousand characters at your fingertips to use for planning or if the PCs meet someone you didn’t plan (which as we know, is pretty likely.)

However, the unexpected value of Masks is that each NPC is packed with adventure ideas and plot twists. In this way, it supplements and in some ways exceeds Eureka in the raw amount of GM fuel it provides. Just looking at Professor von Tegelmanner gives me the impetus for an entire adventure, or a perfect supplement to take an ordinary plot (rescue someone) and use one of the Masks NPCs to add an extra level (their partron is a ghost who betrays adventurers) and you’ve added another dimension. You could probably even use the book to grab a few of the NPCs listed and use them to power an entire, interesting character-filled adventure with criss-crossing motives and nuanced quirks.

What I’m saying is that GMs out here need this book. You may be fine coming up with awesome NPCs on your own and don’t think you need something like this, and what I’m telling you is that this book is more than just a thousand characters, it’s a million stories.

Masks: 1,000 NPCs for Any Roleplaying Game opens for pre-order today. A review PDF was provided by the publisher for this review.

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, their three dogs, and two cats.

Comments

  1. Professor Hilda von Tegelmanner.

    Cute shout out.

    Personality: Although very gregarious, she’s also quite nerdy and academic.
    Motivation: She is bound to hire and betray adventurers.
    Background: Hilda was a professor of the supernatural, specializing in hauntings and ghosts.

    Very clever.

  2. Did I mention that there’s plenty of easter eggs and clever references in there too? 🙂

  3. I’m going to have to check out Gnome Stew, now.

  4. Thank you for reviewing Masks, Dave!

    Yours is a unique take on the book, and on top of being very glad you enjoyed it, I loved your focus on the stories that can be drawn from and around Masks NPCs.

  5. Kurt Schneider says:

    Dave – Thanks for the great review, and for using my dear departed Hilda as an example. (The (KS) in the tag list are my initials.)

    Roger3 – Thanks for the compliment, and for catching the old-school reference. As Dave mentioned, there are a number of Easter eggs and references in the book, all wildly different because 10 authors contributed to it.

    Kurt “Telas” Schneider

Trackbacks

  1. […] all GMs, regardless of experience level, would do well to pay attention to. Their books (Eureka and Masks) are just one expression of their utility to […]

  2. […] Roleplaying Game knocks another one out of the park for the gnomes at Gnome Stew, as evidenced by Dave Chalker’s review at Critical Hits. I have a review copy here that I’m dying to dive into but haven’t had a chance […]