Book Review: NPCs by Drew Hayes
Genre: Roleplaying, Gaming, Adventure, Fantasy
Publisher: Self-Published (April 2014)
Wendy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
I’ve never played a tabletop roleplaying game, though I’ve been thinking about it lately. One more thing to check off to achieve my official geekdom badge. I do know enough about this gaming concept to easily wander into this book, though it might be just a little too niche for someone completely ignorant of the medium. Still, Hayes does a reasonable job of explaining some of the logistics without bogging down the story with over exposition.
One thing you would need to know is that NPC is the “acronym” for “non-player characters.” These are all the characters within a game that interact with, but are not controlled by players. Often these characters have very specific roles, such as bartender, mayor, etc.
When a group of four players critically fail a trip to the bar, four NPCs discover that they can’t just rid the bodies of gold and dump the bodies in the woods. These adventures have some connection to a brutal king who, upon discovery of their death, might just burn the NPCs’ village down. Despite never having left their village before, the four NPCs take up the adventurers’ quest, and learn a little something about themselves and each other along the way.
From here, the story is quaint, though not particularly enlightening. There are a few amusing or poignant moments where the NPCs discover that there’s more to adventuring that just following what seems to be the “rules” of the game. For example, the NPC whose life has been little more than waiting to be kidnapped so that adventures can rescue her over and over again, finds that she’s got some rage issues that need to be worked out, while the seemingly two dimensional gnome minion who actually has brains, as well as a heart of gold.
There’s a lot of action, which Hayes does a good job of portraying in a way that doesn’t simply sound like he’s rattling off spells and abilities from a list. And the characters certainly did grow on me. I had assumed this to be a kind of “toys come alive while you’re not looking, hilarity ensues” sort of scenario, but for one thing, the NPCs, while they know they are not adventurers, don’t quite realize that there’s a whole other world out there. And their goal, as the story progresses, isn’t simply to become real adventurers. Hayes gives them very real and relatable purpose and backstory, and changes point of view between them to tell their stories.
Much of the comic relief comes in the form of the players themselves, whose actions are occasionally interjected into the story. This could easily have gotten tedious, as they weren’t particularly interesting — in fact, they were realistically annoying at times — but thankfully, they didn’t factor in much beyond serving as plot devices to help advance the NPCs.
This was a quick, fun read that any gamer and maybe even someone with a passing fancy in gaming can enjoy. I’ve certainly thought about what the NPCs I’ve played with in video games have gotten up to when I’m not looking. This book gives me an interesting new perspective.