The family and I are leaving in a few hours to visit with friends over New Year’s Eve and Day, but I still have a few Christmas goodies to share with you – so I guess I’ll have to cram them all into one final post.

First up is Book of Beasts: War on Yuletide from Jon Brazer Enterprises. This is a short bestiary of very silly Pathfinder compatible holiday themed monsters. You get the Aberrant Fruitcake, Clockwork Nutcracker, Gingerbread Golem, Eggnog Pudding, Dreidel Swarm, and four others in this collection.

As silly as they are, each entry is given a bit of background info that is well written, and will make it a bit easier for you to find a place for these creatures in your campaign. Just be sure to expect some eye-rolling from your players once they figure out what they’re fighting next. Get your copy at RPGNow.

 

 

Next is another freebie from Spectrum Games – this time in the superhero vein. Christmas Comes But Once A Year is a mini-supplement for the Capes, Cowls and Villains Foul RPG, detailing Holly Daye, a supervillain who wants to take Christmas into her own hands. Driven by her superpower – a radar ability that can tell her who is naughty and who is nice – Holly has been known to steal presents and replace them with coal, destroy Christmas displays, and has a distinct hatred for anyone trying to impersonate the One True Santa!

This mini-supplement is mostly character lore, so it would be very easy to convert Holly to any superhero RPG that you prefer. Get your free copy at RPGNow.

 

 

 

 

Finally, there’s Winter’s Majesty, a collection of evocative background music for your winter-themed RPGs. The music here is clear and shining, hopeful and spooky, all at once. Most of the material is original, with two exceptions – “Scarborough Fair” and “We Three Kings,” and the majority of the music is instrumental, making it a good fit for non-obtrusive background music. (The DTRPG copy protection appears after a delay at the end of every track, so you may want to have a hand on the “Next” button to prevent it from breaking the mood).

Get your copy of Winter’s Majesty at RPGNow.

And that does it for this year’s 1d12 Days of Christmas! I hope everyone has been enjoying the holiday season, and I wish us all a prosperous and adventure-filled 2013!

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It should be pretty obvious by now that I am a big sucker for any product that helps inspire creativity and improvisation, and generally makes the GM’s job easier – and I’ve been lucky enough to happen upon many in recent years.

Masks: 1,000 Memorable NPCs for Any Roleplaying Game could be a candidate for one of the best GM tools ever, at least in my book. It is a 300+ page collection of NPC personality sketches that is not just a list of characters, but a collection of tools to adapt them to your own campaign and use them to the best advantage. It’s not only a book of NPCs, it is a book on how to NPC.

The entire first chapter is devoted to GMing advice – making NPCs memorable, “re-skinning” NPCs from one genre to use them in another, polarizing elements of the character to make them unique – and most importantly, how to not overdo it (these are supporting characters after all, and should never steal the show from the real protagonists).  The lists of traits and “invisible keywords” at the end of this chapter, and the explanation of how they were used, will prime any imaginative GM to immediately begin customizing these NPCs before they even get to them.

After that comes the parade of NPCs, divided into three genre categories (fantasy, modern, and sci-fi), each of which are divided into sub-categories (villains, neutrals, and allies). Each NPC is fleshed out in an array of descriptors – Name, Capsule Description, Quote, Appearance, Roleplaying, Personality, Motivation, Background, and Traits. The descriptions are very concise, to keep the most important and functional elements of the character in the foreground. Many of the NPCs could easily be adapted to other genres with a bit of fiddling and tweaking (and advice for this is supplied in Chapter One).

If all of this wasn’t enough, the book contains a “name ribbon” running through it – a one-line list of names running along the bottom of most of the pages that a GM can quickly reference if a character name is needed on the fly.

While looking through this massive collection of character backgrounds, I found an additional use for it, as I caught myself coming up with story ideas to draw them into. I’m even tempted to challenge myself and choose some at random (they’re all numbered) and try to write a plot around them!

As a side note – I was pleased to discover that it was inspired by one of my favorite Dragon magazine articles of all time – “The 7 Sentence NPC,” by C.M. Cline. It appeared in the August 1992 issue, and I’ve kept a photocopy of it in my RPG binder for many, many years now.

I really can’t recommended this collection enough for any serious GM’s reference library. If I had to come up with a negative about Masks, it would be this – it’s entirely too big to fit into my RPG binder. I’m probably going to have to invest in a good tablet PC that can display PDFs.

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I worry for whatever is on the other end of that rope...

What’s this? Another holiday random encounter? As you pull a card from the Deck of Many Things, you encounter…

More Krampus! This time he comes to you in the form of a free 3-page PDF from Nevermet Press, a system-neutral holiday NPC for you to download, convert to your favorite system, and let loose on your campaign!

Have your PCs been naughty? Then it might be time for them to get a lesson from our favorite Alpine Christmas Demon! Download Krampus – a system neutral holiday NPC here!

The Everyone Everywhere List by Erik James Olsrud is low on frills and high on utility – it’s a list of names from several cultures – from African, American, and Arabic to Turkish, Vietnamese, and Viking – to help with naming your next PC, a pivotal NPC, or just when you need a quick name for a bystander, but don’t want to name them “Bob” or “Mary” again.

There’s a special section for pulp/noir names and modern American first names and surnames, plus a list of town and city names for when you need to quickly get out of Dodge, and need to know the name of the next town over.

There isn’t a specific section for fantasy names, but just browsing through the whole PDF will net you several will little effort.

All name lists are numbered so you can roll randomly if you wish. The entire document is 31 pages, so a printed copy will fit easily in your gaming binder for quick reference – and at $3.99, the price is certainly right.

There’s a book I’ve been working on that I keep tucked into the backpack that I carry with me where ever I go. It’s not something I’m writing myself – I’m more of the editor/compiler of it.

It’s one of those paper folders with bendy metal tabs in the spine to hold three-hole punched pages into place, and it’s full of various things that I have printed out or photocopied that I find helpful in brainstorming RPG ideas. Whenever I have a bit of free time (and don’t have a anything else to read at the moment), I pull it out and read something at random out of it.

Here is a list of what I keep in that book:

  • The Big List of RPG Plots by S. John Ross – A list of 30+ basic plots that you can use as springboards for an adventure. Includes tips on how to use them creatively – combine two, reverse the roles, etc.  This is great for those times when you have to come up with something fast, but it’s also good for laying down the basic foundation of your plot.
  • Yes, But… Part One and Yes, But… The Scenario (from “See Page XX”) by Robin Laws -Two great columns on how to answer player requests with “Yes, but…” instead of “No.”  In the second column, Laws suggests running a full-freeform game in which the PCs ask you questions that are all answered with “Yes, but…” (To get these two, you’ll have to purchase a PDF of the first 24 installments of this column, but there is a lot more good advice to be found among them, and the price is right.)
  • How to Play Role-Playing Games and How to Run Role-Playing Games by Greg Stolze – Two free PDF pamphlets by one of my favorite RPG designers. Both of these cover the basics of the hobby, but I always find myself reading them to remind myself what those basics are. “How to Play…” is also handy for giving to anyone who would like to understand the hobby (when you’re too pressed for time to explain it yourself).
  • Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering by Robin Laws – Tons of incredible GM advice packed into 33 pages – focus, mood, story structure, improvisation, and a lot more. It’s hard to crack this open to a random page and not get something from it that you’ll want to try in your next session. (Thankfully, Steve Jackson Games made this one available as a PDF – the original print run sold out quickly, and dead tree versions are going for ludicrous prices on eBay!)
  • The Seven Sentence NPC (from the August 1992 Dragon Magazine) by C.M. Cline – This one will be a little tougher to get than the others, unless you have access to back issues of Dragon or the CD-ROM archive of the first 250 issues that came out a while ago.  The basic idea is simple, however: when creating NPCs for your campaign, describe them in seven sentences, based on seven character qualities. The article gives specific qualities, but you could certainly come up with seven of your own, that would custom suit your campaign.
  • The Adventure Funnel by Dr Rotwang! – This was one of his posts from his blog I Waste the Buddha With My Crossbow on how to brainstorm the basic elements of a story on the fly. I liked it so much that I use it almost every time I’m coming up with a plot – but I usually need to remind myself how to do it.
  • A Quick Primer to Old School Gaming by Matthew J. Finch – A brief manifesto on the old school style of roleplaying. Debates on old- versus new-school roleplaying have been running rather hot lately, and I’m not interested in getting into any of them.  I can appreciate and enjoy both forms. What this doc does is to examine the freeform style of old-school play, and shows how creative and intuitive it can be.

And that’s my RPG inspiration book… for now, anyway. There is still room for more pages, and I’m always open to suggestions.  Have any? Leave them in comments!