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Masks Preview 1: Fantasy NPCs and Lots of Info about the Book

Gnome Stew’s second book for GMs, Masks: 1,000 Memorable NPCs for Any Roleplaying Game, is marching towards publication, and it’s time for our first preview!

Masks will be published by Engine Publishing [1], the company I started to produce our books, and we’re aiming for a summer release.

There are other books of NPCs out there, but none quite like Masks — it’s a unique product that we think has a place on every GM’s shelf.

Fantasy NPCs

Our first preview features 6 characters: Masks fantasy NPC preview PDF [2]!

This preview is a good representation of what the final book will include, as well as what it will look like. (It’s pre-final-proofreading, which is currently underway.)

The finished product will contain 334 fantasy NPCs, 333 sci-fi NPCs, and 333 modern NPCs, a chapter of GMing advice, multiple indexes, and an appendix. Within each genre, NPCs are further broken down into 83 villains, 83 allies, and 167 (168 for fantasy) “neutrals” — NPCs not necessarily opposed to or aligned with the PCs.

We designed these NPCs so that while they’re tied to their broad genres — so a fantasy NPC should work well in most fantasy games as-is — they’re also easy to adapt to other genres. Strip out the genre-specific elements, and you’re still left with Appearance, Roleplaying, Personality, Motivation, and, with a bit of tweaking, most of the Background section, too. Even if you only play one game, say D&D, you’ll be able to use the 650+ non-fantasy-specific NPCs, too.

What Is Masks?

Masks is a book of 1,000 system-neutral NPCs designed to be used three ways:

  1. At the table: Need an NPC on the fly? Masks gives you everything but the stats — just flip to any page (even outside your game’s genre), read some or all of an entry, and you’ll have enough information to portray a vivid, memorable NPC for your players. Unlike our first book, Eureka [3], Masks is designed to be used at the table — we want this to be a book you bring to every gaming session you run.
  2. During prep: Masks is also a prep book. Whether you’re starting up a new campaign, writing your own adventure, or just introducing a new character or two, Masks NPCs make great foundations for full fleshed-out characters. Treat what we provide as the skeleton of a complete NPC, add a few details and some stats, and you have your next sinister villain, loyal ally, or colorful side character.
  3. For inspiration: Every GM runs into “GM’s block” at some point, and you can use Masks to break through it, get out of a creative rut, or just as a source of ideas and inspiration. Flip to any page and you’ll find vibrant NPCs that offer lots of material for you to sink your imagination into.

The best way to see why Masks works for all three purposes is to check out the preview [2].

The template we used for each NPC is designed to give you a lot of information in very little space, and you can even skim an NPC, reading only one or two sections — just Roleplaying or Personality, let’s say — and have plenty to work with in terms of improvisation.

While Masks isn’t a sequel to Eureka, it’s a great companion book. You don’t need to own Eureka to enjoy Masks, but if you own both, you’ll have two major areas of GMing prep — adventure and character creation — covered.

We also used a lot of what worked in Eureka in Masks, like the in-depth indexes. Masks NPCs are indexed by name (in case you remember the name, but not the section), author (so if you like, say, John’s NPCs, you can find them all), and most importantly by Trait. Need a truly vile villain? Look up “abhorrent” and you’ll find a bevy of them. Want a funny NPC to introduce as comic relief? Try the “humorous” Trait.

What’s that Horizontal Line at the Bottom?

Eagle-eyed readers will notice a seemingly useless header running across the bottom of each page — but it’s not useless at all! It’s just not ready yet.

Once the book is completely laid out, that empty space will be filled with names: given names on the left-hand page, surnames/titles on the right-hand page. So in addition to containing 1,000 NPCs, Masks is also a resource for choosing a name on short notice. Give or take some oddballs, that ribbon will feature roughly 1,000 given names and 1,000 surnames spread throughout the book.


Got questions about Masks? With the first preview out, and the book nearing publication, we’re ready to answer them. There might be an odd detail or two that we still want to hold back, but by and large if you have a question, we’ll be able to answer it. Fire away!

8 Comments (Open | Close)

8 Comments To "Masks Preview 1: Fantasy NPCs and Lots of Info about the Book"

#1 Comment By RF On June 2, 2011 @ 6:03 am


I see the Traits listed, will that be like the Tags in “Eureka”? Also, will there be subgenres?

#2 Comment By Martin Ralya On June 2, 2011 @ 6:08 am

[4] – Yep, if you take a look at the preview you’ll see Traits at the end of each NPC entry; those are all indexed, and they’re a lot like Eureka’s Tags. The same designer, Matt Neagley, designed both Tags and Traits, and did the indexes for both books.

There are no sub-genres because NPCs are even easier to port between genres than plots (and plots are pretty easy!). Barring a few background elements, the core of every Masks NPC is genre-neutral — and even gender-neutral, in the majority of cases (IE, need a male NPC to be female? Poof, it’s done).

The more we thought about it, the more clear it became that sub-genres would just be clutter in Masks, rather than useful like they were in Eureka.

Good questions!

#3 Comment By hattymchappy On June 2, 2011 @ 3:25 pm

I like how each NPC practically comes with an adventure hook. You do not explicitly say them, but they’re there. Awesome!

#4 Comment By Martin Ralya On June 2, 2011 @ 7:33 pm

[5] – Word! That’s definitely by design. 🙂

The general rule was that every NPC background should cover 2 out of 3 of the NPC’s past, present, or future (and all 3 was just fine, too). Lots of juicy hooks emerge that way.

#5 Comment By Patrick Benson On June 2, 2011 @ 8:00 pm

[6] – This is awesome to see as one of the co-authors! To top it all off you picked one of my favorite NPCs that I wrote in the preview. I’m freaking psyched more than ever now to see this book in print!

#6 Comment By Martin Ralya On June 2, 2011 @ 8:06 pm

[7] – Amen to that, brother! There’s always a shift in the vibe when I first see laid-out pages — the book becomes real.

#7 Comment By beldar1215 On June 7, 2011 @ 8:34 pm

This looks excellent. Can’t wait to see it in print. I did notice one thing in the preview. This sentence seems to need correction:

Najir studies his quarry from for many days before striking.

Think maybe it should say “from afar…”


#8 Comment By Martin Ralya On June 9, 2011 @ 8:55 pm

[8] – Yep, that one got snagged in proofreading. Thanks for pointing it out, though — and I’m glad you like the look of the book!