Dramatis Personae: Campaign Ready NPC's
Dramatis Personae: Campaign Ready NPC's Playtest Review by Joe G Kushner on 22/02/02
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 3 (Average)
Dramatis Pesonae is a little on the pricy side but showcases a wide vareity of encounters for both the mundane chores and the exotic ones that NPCs need to fufill.
Product: Dramatis Personae: Campaign Ready NPC's
Company/Publisher: Archangel Studios
Line: D20 Fantasy
Page count: 40
Year published: 2001
Comp copy?: no
Playtest Review by Joe G Kushner on 22/02/02
Genre tags: Fantasy
So youíre getting ready to start a campaign and need some NPCs for the usual business. Ally with the players, act as mentors to the players, or just finish them off once and for all. Even with some of the ease in which character creation happens in 3rd edition, crafting NPCs is a time consuming, and sometimes thankless chore. Thatís where books like Dramtis Personae come in.
The table of contents breaks the characters up by level. Characters range from Turigar, a 4th level fighter to Mistress Kano, an 11th level fighter. Thereís a nice range of characters in the middle, most of a single class, but a few with multiple classes. In addition, there are numerous non-humans to add a little twist to things. Because there are several non-humans, some of the levels may deceive GMs not looking carefully at the challenge ratings (CR) of the encounters. For example, Moraga, a medusa who is a 7th rogue, is listed as a CR of 14, twice her level.
The character sheet is a little difficult to follow at first with stats on the far upper left corner, the name centered by the stats, the class and level below the stats, a nickname below the proper name, and the character stats below that information in black boxes with white text. After a couple of characters though, the reader should quickly get used to it. The nicknames are useful as an additional way to classify the character, or simply make the characters sound more impressive.
For example, Turigar, the first character presented, is labeled as the Orc Hammer because of his intense hatred for orcs. Sir Logan, a paladin of noble heart and great strength, is the Loyal Servant of the Purifying Flame.
Each character has a description section where the characters physical traits and equipment are listed, followed by background and combat notes. Each character has an accompanying illustration. In most cases, it looks like certain characters were favored by the author as they receive a great deal more detail in history and details than other chracters.
There is a good mix of the standard and exotic in terms of DM friendliness. Many GMs are familiar with the drow and so the character Sinrik, while an impressive sorcerer in her own right, wonít be anything too special, but Nobody, the Relentless Death is a Mantoid, an insect man who not only has levels in rogue, but also assassin. Two of the NPCs, a monk and a fighter (ronin) can even be used in a campaign with an Asian flavor.
In addition to the NPCs, there are separate sections for the crunchy bits associated with the characters. This includes several new magic items, feats, and spells. Unlike some start up d20 companies, the means to make the items are included here, as well as the market price. The items include weapons like the Bow of Sundering, to the Kabuto of Ravaging, a helmet that allows the user the whirlwind attack feat. There is also a minor artifact, and two major artifacts, one of the latter capable of being used to forge several adventures.
There are some nice touches in this book. First off, several of the characters have allies or henchmen given abbreviated statistics and history. This makes the characters easier to use as it assumes that they are no functioning in a void and if these characters wind up missing or murdered, that consequences may have to be faced. Cryus Knowles, a half elf priests has three followers who are often in his company, while the necromancer Ulfennesh has several skulls with varied history that can add depth and detail to any campaign. In addition, several characters in the book know of, or at least are aware of each other. This makes the product a little easier to use as the GM can use one NPC that may not fit into the current campaign to suggest another one that does.
In most instances, the background details are vague enough so that the character can be inserted into any campaign or place without a great deal of conversion work by the GM. For example, Selran, Master of the Luminescent Arts, is a rather standard illusionist adventurer who can join the party as extra firepower, while Whisper is a rogue who may join the party as extra firepower, but provide the GM with opportunities to generate a little more mishap than the party expected.
The book is a little unusual in itís layout. Unlike most game books where the text is broken up into two columns with art taking up a quarter of a page, this book is broken up into two sections, a header where the d20 stats are, and a massive column that wraps around the illustration. Sometimes the text size and layout is different from character to character so if you have two characters with different amounts of text on the page it looks a little sloppy. Art is fairly solid for most of the product, but there are a couple of entries that couldíve been edited out to insure a higher level of quality in the book. While there is a page of advertising, the company uses the interior rear cover for it so no loss there.
There are some questions that come to mind when looking over Dramatis Personae though. For example, while itís nice that there are many exotic races and encounters presented in the book, are the CRís right? Now donít get me wrong, even the official Challenge Ratings often seem off, but some of those found in this book could book the playerís in danger if they wound up on the wrong side of an NPC. Of course, the opposite is also true, where a CR looks to be a little high. Prior to use, the GM should play test characters like Slayne, Moondrop and Moraga.
The book is a little short on pages. In an era where numerous d20 companies are selling 40-48 page books for $9.95, Dramatis Personae comes up a little pricey. In addition, one must wonder if Archangel Studios understands how the OGL works. By declaring the whole book OGL, I believe that the art and character names become OGL. Still, the book has some solid illustrations, some great crunchy bits both in OGL use, NPCís, magic items, feats, and spells, and depending on the GM, can be used several times as players gain levels. If Enemies and Allies from Wizards of the Coast, and Villains from Bastion Press leave you hungry for more encounters with the most dangerous monsters out there (i.e. other characters), then Dramatis Personae is for you.