Masks: 1000 Memorable NPCs
Publisher: Engine Publishing
Authors: John Arcadian, Patrick Benson, Walt Ciechanowski, Don Mappin, Scott Martin, Matthew Neagley, Martin Ralya, Kurt “Telas”Â Schneider, Troy Taylor, Phil Vecchione
Page Count: 338
Release Date: 07/24/2011
Cost: $16.95 for PDF, $34.95 Print + PDF Bundle
Get It Here: For PDF only, DriveThruRPG For Print+PDF Bundle, Engine Publishing
When a book is aimed 100% at gamemasters, there is only one thing I am really looking for: utility. Time I spend searching through a book is time that I am not running my game. The first thing I look for in a book for GMs is an index. Masks: 1000 Memorable NPCs has 4 indexes. The PDF has bookmarks to each and every entry, and the text is liberally linked with hypertext. In the future, I will be judging PDF implementation based off the standards of Masks.
As a product of the Gnome Stew crew, I expected the GM advice to be top notch. I was not disappointed. The first chapter takes great pains to explain the process by which the NPCs were created, what each trait assigned to the NPCs means, and how to insert these characters into a game. That the last entry in the first chapter is an entreaty to use these NPCs as if they were your own is indicative of the spirit this book was written under. This is not just a reference, this is a flexible tool.
The NPCs are broken down by genre and alignment. There are 334 Fantasy, 333 Sci-Fi, and 333 Modern NPCs. Within these genres, the characters are further divided into Allies (25%), Villains (25%), and Neutrals (50%). All of these divisions are ultimately up to the GM’s discretion. For a cyberpunk campaign, characters from the modern and sci-fi chapters are almost equally useful. For a Shadowrun campaign, all three genres are fair game. I even found that most of the hackers could be converted to wizards, and vice versa, with a little imagination.
Utility being my touchstone, I was quite taken with the structure of Masks. Each of the 1000 NPCs is described in a terse quarter page. These descriptions are carefully laid out to explain the motivations, appearance, and behavior of each NPC. Every character has stories to tell, and some have whole campaigns worth of tales. There are occasional portraits of characters, which are thoughtfully labeled. Honestly, the descriptions of each character are clear enough that the portraits are almost unnecessary. The bottom of each page has six names, first names on the even pages and surnames on the odd ones. By flipping through the pages randomly and rolling a d6, it is easy to create names for characters.
More than anything, though, I love the indexes. Index One breaks the NPCs down by Traits. There are 47 Traits and each character has 3. This makes it easy to find a Child or a Merchant in seconds. Index Two breaks the characters down by name. Index Three breaks up the characters by author. There are 10 different authors, so this index is useful if you find yourself liking one particular writer’s style. Index Four is the one I found the most useful. By breaking the NPCs down by Group, it is easy to fill out a Thieves Guild or a Police Department without much work. Need an Acting Troupe? Here are 10 potential members!
In the end, Masks promises 1000 memorable NPCs and it delivers them. Moreover, Masks delivers these NPCs in a clear, concise, well-organized manner that makes it a must have tool for GMs. Without reservation, I can see any GM, no matter what their system of choice is, getting plenty of use out of Masks.