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Review: Game Master's Book of Non-Player Characters, By Jeff Ashworth.

Great NPCs are one of the most important things for making your Dungeons and Dragons world come to life! It's worth taking a bit of time, then, to make them interesting and loveable characters (or those characters you just love to hate!). But what if you don't have loads of prep time? Well, that's where a few well chosen resources can make a massive difference!

*N.B. The Amazon links on this page (marked by an *) are affiliate links. This doesn't cost you any extra, but I make a small commission from any sales - which helps support the site :)

I am a big fan of Jeff Ashworth's work. I've got three of his Game Master's books, and in time will be reviewing all of them. Here we're gonna have a look at his book of Non-Player Characters(*), to see what you can expect from it, and whether it's worth adding to your collection of DM tools.

Overall impressions

First of all, aesthetically, this book just looks great. The production quality is really high, and the dimensions are the same as the usual Wizards of the Coast books - so it will fit in nicely on your shelf next to the Monster Manual(*) or DM Guide(*), or whatever other resources you already own.

Inside, the design is simple and elegant - and the occasional pen and ink illustrations by John Stanko and Jasmine Kalle really help to bring these NPCs to life. And at a RRP of $23.99 (roughly £20/€20), it's also significantly cheaper than most of the official D&D books.

How it's arranged

The book starts off with about 40 pages devoted to three one-shot adventures, before delving into the various NPCs (that there are more than 500 of, over roughly 200 pages). These characters are organised by the places where you might expect to find them - with sections for big cities, small towns, rural outskirts and outposts, and caves, caverns and tunnels. The NPCs for each of these locations are then further categorised into groups of Common Folk, Nobles & Leaders, Lawkeepers & Lawbreakers, Oddballs & Outsiders, and Random NPCs. At the end of the book, there's also a sidequest generator, followed by an index of the Random Character Generators throughout the book.

The One-shots

Full disclosure: I've not actually ran or played through any of these one-shots, as I usually prefer to write my own. That said, having read through them, they seem comprehensive, varied and interesting. One is for a party at levels 1-5, and two are for levels 6-10. That said, you'd be able to make a few tweaks to any of them to make them easier or harder as necessary, to fit in with your party.

The NPCs for the adventures all come from the NPC section later in the book - so there is plenty of information about their backgrounds that you can read in order to make the adventures as engaging as possible. There's also information about their wants and needs to give a bit more character depth, as well as their basic stat blocks.

It's difficult to gauge the play-time of each of these one-shots (as that will depend a lot on your party, their play styles, and how much they like to roleplay etc). That said, they're pretty comprehensive (each runs roughly between 12-15 pages) so I would estimate a 3hour+ run time for them. There is some degree of flexibility for increasing play-time if necessary (the first one-shot for example involves a tavern scene, and has suggestions for tavern games if necessary). And if you need to reduce play-time, then you can always reduce the difficulty of combat encounters/ railroad your players a bit more to keep them on track.

The NPCs

Let's face it, the NPCs are what you're buying this book for - and they definitely deliver. There are hundreds of different characters: some fully fleshed out with extensive backstories, descriptions of what they look like, full stat blocks and accompanying art work. Some contain only a sentence or two outlining the character to get your imagination flowing. Indeed, in several places throughout the book, there are NPC generator tables, with brief descriptions of dozens of NPCs that you can include in your campaigns.

Whether it's one of the major NPCs with lots of space devoted to them, or one of the smaller ones from the character generators, the majority of the book's NPCs include sections for the character's wants and needs, a secret or obstacle they have, and whatever they are carrying. Some will also have additional sections for things your players may notice about them, depending on how well they do on a perception roll. In my view, all this adds to your options as GM to bring your NPCs to life and have them fit convincingly into your world.

Now, as with so much of D&D (or indeed any other roleplaying game), these characters can be changed up however you see fit. Don't like the name? Change it! Think they're not strong enough? Give them a better weapon or a cool ability! Really like this Prince NPC and his pet ferret, but have no need for royalty in your campaign? Then make him a sea-captain or a member of the Town Guard or the local Mayor instead. Use what you like, change what you don't - it's that simple.

With so much to work with, though, whether you choose to use these characters completely as is, or whether you want to change them up in any way - you've literally got enough material to keep your campaigns stocked with interesting characters for years and years to come!

The Sidequest and Character generators

At the end of the book there's a sidequest generator, with a few rollable tables, adding up to 80 sidequest ideas in general. These are short, with just a sentence or two to outline each sidequest, and they're customisable for you to decide which NPCs are going to be involved in them. There's certainly enough there though, for you to come up with plenty of fun sidequests for your players.

There's also a reference table for all the Random Character Generator pages throughout the book, which just make things a little easier to find in a pinch.

Final Thoughts:

My overall opinion? I love the Gamemaster's Book of Non-Player Characters(*). Probably because I love NPCs, and think they're one of the best (and also one of the easiest) ways to make your campaign truly memorable! If your prep time is limited, or you don't have loads of ideas for your own NPCs, then Jeff Ashworth and his team have done a great job with this book - and for not too much money, it can give you years worth of inspiration for your own campaigns.


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