I’m always looking for tools to make my games run better. I’m still a fledgling GM and somehow my gaming group never wants me to run the games I like, so I’m mostly gaming online. I’ve only run 10 or so games, but I want to get better.
Having compelling NPCs is always nice to have. For me, there is the danger of falling back to clichés or boring NPCs on the fly. I’m more of an improv GM and hate heavy prep, but that also means I don’t have a whole cast of interesting characters available. But we all know that great NPCs/antagonists can really drive a story. So does 3 Line NPCs help?
What do you need to know?
3 Line NPCs (3LN) is a product by Johnn Four who runs the free roleplayingtips.com-newsletter. This is a really great resource and if you’re interested in how to enhance your games, you should sign up.
The book is a result of a community effort. Johnn created a method for detailing NPCs (the 3 Line NPC method, duh!) and collected entries by newsletter subscribers.
The book contains two main parts: the first deals with the method and other techniques on how to make NPCs better, the second has 450 entries for NPCs.
The PDF is available at Onebookshelf for USD $7.00 (approx. 6,30 €) at a discounted price.
I originally bought the PDF when it was released via another channel but Johnn also provided me with a free OBS-download coupon for reviewing purposes.
The 3 Line NPC method and other tips
The first part of this work contains general advice on NPCs. First, there are some tips about how to utilize your NPCs, how to role-play them and how to create stat blocks on the fly. I like this, there are very neat ideas and good tips.
Then, the meat of the show: How to Make NPCs Fast With the 3 Line NPC Method. Johnn’s idea is golden if you like a simple and quick technique with a bullet-point style. That means that the NPCs are not very detailed, but you get nice snippets which you can easily look up in play. The suggested approach generally comes without stat blocks but if you want to make an important NPC, nobody is hindering you from adding stats. Generally, the technique is very good for “extras”: the whole lot of characters that NPCs encounter that add life to your game but are not the main focal point of your adventure.
The first line contains what the players can see (appearance and what they do at the moment), the second line is about what to portray (job, profession, personality) and the third line is to progress the story (plot hooks etc.).
I like how this method is short but also contains something that drives the story. This might be especially useful for sandbox-style-gaming. You need to give the players some way to acquire a quest or find out rumors but don’t want to introduce John the tavern barkeep for the 100th time?
This is not the end of the tips section, there are some more articles on how to get the most out of this method and also some idea on how to tie in Fate’s aspect system. Furthermore, the book contains 7 tables to come up with ideas: secrets, side plots, goals & motives, more verbose traits, fears, and occupations. Also included is a link container with links to several name generators.
Overall, I rate this section a 5/5. The tips are good, the method itself is very useful and the tables are a nice addon so you don’t need to dig around the internet.
This is the cumulative list of 450 entries by the contributors. The most important thing: these are NPCs for a fantasy game world, assuming something like a D&D or Pathfinder fantasy setting. Some entries also have stat blocks like [LE Female Erinyes Rogue 4], containing an alignment, a class/occupation, and a level.
The quality of the entries and also the style varies due to different contributors. Some entries are short bullet-points and some are more verbose, even containing a line of conversation. I would have liked a more consistent style but that’s what you get when run a community contest.
There are definitely some interesting NPCs here and a lot you can mine for your (fantasy) campaign. You could just pick some for the next town the player characters visit and use them as-is or adjust them slightly. I can imagine choosing some of these when the players take an unexpected turn and you need to come up with something FAST.
Some of the NPCs are just for color and perhaps not that useful. For example, the human woodcarver whose hook is that he has a phobia of ducks. Others could kick off a whole adventure, for instance, the dwarf hermit who wants to open a gate to the “Other Side”.
It’s a pity that these example NPCs are for fantasy only. It would have been nice to have some submissions for sci-fi and modern generic.
For me, this is a 3.5-4/5 because it’s a good resource but only for fantasy and the quality of the entries vary.
The PDF has 199 pages (including cover, legalese and table of contents). The PDF is bookmarked, the TOC is hyperlinked and web link are also clickable.
The product contains no art except the cover and is lay outed sparsely. But everything is good to read and the PDF also works well on a tablet.
A word about the competition
You can buy Masks: 1.000 Memorable NPCs for Any Roleplaying Game as a PDF for USD $16.95 (approx. 15,26 €). This product is a more professionally made resource from Engine Publishing, the guys behind the website Gnomestew.
The book comes with more detailed entries and is also divided into different sections for fantasy, sci-fi and modern, further distinguishing between neutrals, villains, and allies.
I find this product very useful for more important NPCs because the entries contain more information and more backstories and motivations. If you want to prep an adventure centered around NPCs, for example with Sly Flourish’s Lazy DM Method, this is pretty nice. However, for quickly looking up an NPC I found this a bit too “complete”. Of course, you can ignore stuff but because of all the prose this is a hefty tome as a paperback. For me, the 3LN is the faster way to staff my extras.
While the (cheaper) 3LN doesn’t replace Masks it is a useful addition and definitely a nice toolkit for a GM despite the fact that the example NPCs are not universally usable.
- a great & universal method of creating broad-strokes NPCs, not so much for detailed antagonists etc.
- good tips for using and incorporating NPCs into your game
- useful tables and generators
- pre-made 450 NPCs for fantasy (not other genres) which vary in quality
- NPCs are not sorted in any way (villains, allies or something like that)
- especially useful for vanilla fantasy sandboxes D&D-style
- a 60-day-money-back promise by the author!
- only available as PDF, no print version
- good value for this price, makes prep easier and adds flavor to your game
[4 of 5 Stars!]