After 10 months of development and hundreds of hours of work by a team of 22 people on three continents, I’m pleased to announce that Gnome Stew’s second book, Masks: 1,000 Memorable NPCs for Any Roleplaying Game, is now available for preorder!

If you’d like to learn more about this monster tome (a 336-page hardcover!), check out reviews and previews, and get the details on shipping dates and so forth, read on!

What’s Masks All About?

Playing a character is like putting on a mask: Slip on a mask, and you become someone else.

This book presents 1,000 “masks” – non-player characters that are fun to play, and that your players will never forget. Featuring a foreword by gaming industry legend Wolfgang Baur, Masks is the ultimate NPC resource.

Think of your favorite character from a game, book, or movie. What makes them memorable? It’s not their Strength score, or how many hit points they have – it’s who they are as a person: what they look like, how they act, their personality, and what drives them.

Using a simple but powerful template that features Appearance, Roleplaying, Personality, Motivation, Background, and Traits, Masks provides the core elements of a thousand great characters. Masks NPCs are designed to be used on the fly, no prep required – but with enough depth to be used when planning adventures, as well.

What’s Included When You Preorder?

When you preorder Masks for $39.95, you’ll get immediate access to the PDF edition of Masks, a $19.95 value, which will let you start using the book right away — weeks before it actually ships or is available anywhere else.

You’ll also be getting the hardcover edition, a gorgeous beast of a book that’s only available directly from Engine Publishing and at GenCon 2011 (retailers will be carrying the softcover edition).

We’re also offering a special package deal: 20% off when you buy both Masks and our first book, Eureka — a $14.95 savings. If you already own Eureka, it makes a great gift for a fellow GM!

See What Reviewers are Saying About Masks

Just got done looking at a preview of @gnomestew’s new book, Masks, filled with cool NPCs for any game or genre. Looks great!” — Game designer Monte Cook (via Twitter)

We believe in Masks and we want you to be able to try before you buy, so we sent out advance copies to reviewers:

  • Critical Hits review — “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.
  • Fantasy Hrvatska review (also available in Croatian) — “The authors of Masks definitely exceeded the expectations set by their previous offering, Eureka. The greatest strength of this book, however, is the simplicity of its use and effectiveness in the situation which is needed the most by any GM – when there’s no or little time for prep.
  • Stargazer’s World review — “A lot of the NPCs can also be used as inspiration for a whole adventure. Especially some of the villains are extremely cool. I can’t wait to put some of those to good use. Masks is definitely a book that should not be missing from any GM’s bookshelf!
  • RPG Blog II review — “If Eureka was Engine Publishing’s rookie entry in the field of GM’s aid supplements, Masks: 1,000 Memorable NPCs is where they show what they’ve learned. It would be a disservice to simply call this a big book of Non-Player Characters. Masks is a system-neutral, well-organized treasury of memorable, easy-to-use NPCs that will add to any Game Master’s arsenal.

Many thanks to Critical Hits, Fantasy Hrvatska, RPG Blog II, and Stargazer’s World for reviewing Masks!

Check Out Previews

For a look inside the book, you can download our free 17-page PDF excerpt, which includes 18 ready-to-use NPCs (6 each from fantasy, sci-fi, and modern), plus samples from the GMing chapter and indexes.

We’ve also run some preview articles on the Stew, and while the actual PDF samples are all collected in the link above, there’s some good discussion about other aspects of the book in the articles themselves:

Preorder Dates, Shipping, and GenCon

The preorder period for Masks will run from today through July 29, 2011. When you place your order, you’ll receive a download link for the PDF edition — which is included for free — right away, and you’ll be able to start using Masks weeks before it’s widely available. Books will begin shipping on August 1, 2011.

Because this is a big, heavy book, we’re offering three shipping options for preorders:

  • USPS Priority Mail (U.S.), a good balance of speed and price
  • USPS Media Mail (U.S.), cheap but slow
  • USPS First-Class International (outside the U.S.), a good balance of speed and price

If you want to have a print copy of Masks at GenCon, you have two options: buy it from our fulfillment partner, Studio 2 Publishing, at the con (booth #320); or send me an email so we can chat about it. If you’re planning to wait to pick up a copy at GenCon, I recommend getting to the booth early — Studio 2 sold out of our first book, Eureka, at GenCon 2010.

Why We Think Masks is Awesome

Like our first book, Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots to Inspire Game Masters, Masks isn’t the kind of gaming book most companies are publishing these days. There are two main reasons for that.

Firstly, it’s big, which means we could likely make more money splitting it into thirds and selling it as three separate books — but we don’t want to, because we believe that this is the ultimate NPC resource, and shrinking it would mean losing some of what makes it special. It’s a big book because we want you to be able to use it for the rest of your GMing career, and that’s not hyperbole.

And second, it’s system-neutral, which isn’t a popular route with most publishers. Why? Because conventional wisdom says that system-neutral books don’t sell well. We disagreed in 2010, when we published Eureka (which sold over 1,300 copies in its first year), and we disagree now — we think this is the future of gaming, not a charming throwback to the past.

At the end of the day, we sweated over our keyboards and gave up sleep and sanity to produce Masks because it’s a book we wished already existed, but it didn’t — and because we thought you, as fellow GMs, would be just as excited about using it as we are. It’s truly a labor of love, as I think all good gaming books should be.

Many thanks to the entire creative team behind Masks, and to everyone who has supported Gnome Stew, Engine Publishing, and Eureka. Masks would have been impossible to pull off without all of you — thank you!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll consider heading on over and preordering the book!