Review of Masks: 1000 Memorable NPCs by Engine Publishing
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  1. #1

    Defender (Lvl 8)

    Neuroglyph's Avatar

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    Oct 2009

    Review of Masks: 1000 Memorable NPCs by Engine Publishing

    Last year, a new role-playing game supplement was released, which offered a helping hand to game masters. It was published by the authors at Gnome Stew, Eureka! offered 501 adventure plots for all genres of games and usable with almost any game system. By the way, you can check out all the detail about Eureka! in this review for all the details about the supplement in this review.

    This year, the Gnome Stew folks have come out with a new, generic, role-playing supplement, offering a massive selection of non-players characters usable with any genre and for almost any game system with Masks: 1000 Memorable NPCs for Any Role-Playing Game!

    Masks: 1000 Memorable NPCs for Any Role-Playing Game

    • Authors: John Arcadian, Patrick Benson, Walt Ciechanowski, Don Mappin, Scott Martin, Matthew Neagley, Martin Ralya, Kurt “Telas” Schneider, Troy Taylor, Phil Vecchione
    • Editors: Dan Von Holten, Sara DeNunzio, Brian Nowak, Martin Ralya
    • Illustrators: Christopher Reach (cover), Avery Liell-Kok, Andrew McIntosh, Matt Morrow, Christopher Reach, Peter Szmer (interior)
    • Publisher: Engine Publishing
    • Year: 2011
    • Media: Book + PDF (338 pages)
    • Cost: $39.95 (pre-order available from

    Masks is a role-playing game supplement containing 1000 Non-Player Characters which can be used in any game system, and from Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and Modern genres. The supplement also contains details on how to use, how to modify, and how to portray NPCs in a role-playing game.

    Production Quality

    While I did not have a hard-copy of the book for this review, the PDF has some really excellent production values. The writing is sharp and descriptive, and the content is presented in a logical and insightful format which makes it excellent for both advanced as well as beginning game masters. The PDF comes with a full selection of bookmarks in addition to the table of contents, which make navigation through the material a fairly easy affair.

    The artwork in Masks is average to very good, with quite a few unique pieces of black-and-white illustrations to enhance the reading experience. Obviously, with 1000 NPCs, only a small fraction of the entries have illustrations, but there are some decent ones scattered throughout the book.

    The Contents

    Masks turned out to be a pretty complete package, and is considerably more than just a handy book of NPCs – although admittedly, that is the main thrust of this supplement’s content. The book is divided into five chapters: an introductory chapter, three chapters of NPCs (Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and Modern), and an entire chapter devoted to indexes.

    The book opens with an introduction by Martin Ralya about how to use the contents and a bit of background as to the design philosophy of the various NPC entries. As previously mentioned, Masks is designed to be game-system neutral, and the NPCs are designed with this in mind.

    Chapter 1 of Masks contains a lot of useful information on role-playing NPCs effectively. Much of this advice is probably “old hat” for experienced game masters, but has some excellent insights for beginning and developing game masters. The chapter also has explanations of the NPC entries, and how to understand them. Masks does not include any “crunch”, but is long on “fluff”, and the entries include the NPCs name, a capsule description which is a short blurb about the character such as “Evil Alchemist,” “Vengeful Starship Designer,” or “Obsessive-Compulsive Priest.”, a quote the NPC uses, the NPC’s appearance, roleplaying tips, personality, motivation, background, and traits.

    There is tons of handy information for GMs, such as adapting and re-skinning NPCs for a variety of situations. In fact, all the NPCs are detailed as human, being the “generic” race true to all game systems. On a certain level, it was a little disappointing, in that the NPCs lack the attention to detail that making them a particular race for a particular setting, but being a generic product, it does offer game masters a more comprehensive product usable with all the RPG systems they play, so it feels like a pretty good trade off.

    That is not to suggest that the NPCs lack level of detail – far from it in fact. While the NPCs are not exactingly tailored to a particular setting or game system, the authors have found several ways to “flesh out” the NPCs and make ready-to-use with minimal changes by a game master. The trait system developed by the authors gives keywords about their overall description (e.g. abhorrent, eccentric, mysterious), organizations they might be members of (e.g. academic, military, religious), and the skill set which an NPC will be able to access to aid the party or defend itself (e.g. crafter, magical, scientist). And there are another 83 keywords to define the personality of an NPC (e.g. Calculating, Idealistic, Ruthless), so that a game master can quickly jump into the persona of a non-player character, even if they are doing nothing more than opening the book at random during a game.

    The central three chapters of Masks focuses on 1000 NPCs designed for Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and Modern gaming genres, and is really a fantastic array of personalities. Each chapter of NPCs is divided into three types – Villains, Neutrals, and Allies – providing a game master with a plenty of personas for any campaign. In addition to the NPCs, the bottom margin of each page also has a list of random names to help GMs when they need to re-skin the entries and recreate an NPC.

    Here’s one example of a Villain NPC enty from the Fantasy genre chapter:

    High Priest Cyron
    Unholy Priest
    The gods demand your penance. I give you a path to achieve it. Come with me, either as part of my crew or as part of the vessel itself.
    Appearance: His black velvet cloak covers his brilliant crimson robes. His profile is angelic, but his eyes are cold and distant.
    Roleplaying: Cyron listens to his surroundings with his eyes closed, as if he were meditating. When he addresses someone, he will turn towards the sound of that person’s voice, open his eyes calmly, and will proceed to speak softly and gently of the horrible fates awaiting all sinners.
    Personality: He is a sociopath. Guilt and remorse are unknown to him. He will kill without hesitation and believes that all of his actions are divine providence; he can do no wrong.
    Motivation: Cyron’s ship is his only concern, and its crew is composed only of souls loyal to Cyron. The ship itself is built from the corpses of his victims, bound and shaped by dark magicks. Like all ships, though, it requires regular maintenance.
    Background: As a young man, he was a sailor who was shipwrecked upon a rocky and desolate island. For days, he languished under the hot sun with no fresh water. Feeling his life and his mind slipping away, he offered his soul to any god that would save him. At that moment his ghastly ship rose from the sea, shattering his psyche and beginning his journey.
    Traits: (PB) Abhorrent, beautiful, pilot, religious
    And here’s another example, a Neutral NPC from the Modern genre chapter:
    Garrett “Underscore” Hendrickson
    Geeky Anarchist
    I’m going to drop a logic bomb behind their firewall just for the lulz. Frack that!
    Appearance: A thin, pale young man in his mid-twenties, he wears a tan polo shirt and black jeans. His high-top sneakers’ laces are undone and he carries a backpack that strains under the weight of its contents. His dark hair has small flakes in it and he smells like he could use a bath. He deftly walks around obstacles while furiously typing into his phone.
    Roleplaying: He’s shy and unaccustomed to conversation, although anything to do with computers or roleplaying games gets his interest immediately. He multitasks and will carry on a conversation while texting on his phone simultaneously.
    Personality: A geek’s geek, Garrett prefers to be called by his handle, “Underscore.” He has no interest in dealing with other people unless it’s online, where he feels comfortable. He’s a storehouse of useless geek trivia and can recite lines from all his favorite episodes of “Battlestar Galactica.”
    Motivation: He wants to prove his skill by completing more and more difficult hacks.
    Background: Garrett is a computer science major, but in his spare time, he’s an accomplished hacker with some notoriety. He could teach at the university he’s so far ahead. Garrett’s social outlets are small and geeky, such as his weekly D&D group. His custom laptop has a large bumper sticker on it, “I break for 32HD Red Dragons!”
    Traits: (DM) Academic, humorous, notorious, stealthy
    As you can see, the NPC entries are ready to play, and can be added to a campaign with ease. And as a DM, one of the big selling points of this book is that it is much more than just a just a book of NPCs. Another big selling point for me is that many of these NPC entries make great adventure hooks. As the example entry demonstrates, a whole adventure or even mini-campaign could be created around just one dynamic NPC such as High Priest Cyron. A nice bonus to make Masks an even more valuable resource for any game master.

    The final chapter of Masks provides a compilation of Indexes to make it easy to find the right NPC for the job. The indexes are very comprehensive, and allow a game master to find an NPC by name, trait, and group they might belong. There is even an index of NPCs organized by the author at Gnome Stew which designed it. Frankly, if as a game master you cannot find an NPC to fit the gaming situation, you haven’t looked hard enough in this book!

    Overall Score: 4.0 out of 5.0

    Final Thoughts

    I have to say that I am really impressed with Masks: 1000 Memorable NPCs for Any Role-Playing Game, and it is a tremendous supplement, one that any game master should consider adding to their library. The writing is solid, imaginative, and provides a worthwhile resource to make role-playing games more detailed, easier to run, and a heck of a lot more fun. Admittedly, Masks is not an inexpensive supplement, however, the hard-bound does come with a bonus PDF version of the book, and given the massive amount of content, is well worth consideration by any game master for any role-playing game system.

    So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!

    Editor’s Note: This Reviewer received a complimentary copy of the product in PDF format from which the review was written.

    Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)

    • Presentation: 3.75
    • - Design: 4.5
    • - Illustrations: 3
    • Content: 4.75
    • - Crunch: NA
    • - Fluff: 4.75
    • Value: 3.5
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  2. #2

    Thaumaturgist (Lvl 9)

    jdrakeh's Avatar

    Join Date
    Aug 2003
    Colorado Springs
    That looks like an awesome book. It seems that the best stuff always comes out when I'm short on cash, unfortunately.

  3. #3

    Orcus on an Off-Day (Lvl 22)

    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    London England
    It looks interesting; I was all set to buy it, but when I clicked on the link the pricing was about twice what I expected. At that pricing I wouldn't buy a pdf, and I'd really have to be able to leaf through a hardcopy to decide if it was worth investing in what is after all a sourcebook of ideas, ideas that would need to be developed & statted by me.

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