Memorable NPCs

NPC portraits

NPC portraits

I think the best way to do it is to have lots of very broad brush npcs, which get painted with finer strokes as the players get to know them.

So an npc might be

Bonce Slopford, Baker, bald/sweaty, nasal voice.

That’s a memorable character in 7 words. If he never plays a part in the story – win! If he does play a part in the story, say by baking silver pennies into tiny buns then using them as sling-stones to defeat the Werewolf of Vampiretown – win win! Go Bonce you sweaty legend!

One trouble with a huge long backstory is that unless you’re a master actor it’s just not going to come across except as (tedious) guarded ambiguity. And if you are a master actor, then you can convey the impression of a huge backstory with an inflection or an expression.

Another one is that you’re closing off elements of the future story based on what you’ve already decided for the character.

I know that making characters is an entertaining game in its own right, but even if that’s the way you roll I’d strongly recommend slapping a seven word description on top of that once you’re done, because that’s who your characters are going to meet.

How to handle research


Skip the boring, 3 hour long library sequence.

Instead just hand wave it away and say that it happened. Don’t specify exactly WHAT gear the party acquires based on the outcome of the research, just say that they acquired it already.

Cut to the actual encounter. At pivotal moments, have a flashback to the actual research time. Have the scholars make their rolls on the spot. The outcome of their roll (success OR failure) dictates waht the player characters pull to defeat the challenge.


The PCs have tracked the monster to its lair. They wish to set up an ambush using their newly acquired monster hunting gear. Flashback! Corbin rolls. Failure. Oh well, he thinks that making a ring of salt will defeat the monster! Cut back to the present. The party readies handfulls of salt packets.

The Vampire appears! Flashback. Miter’s character rolls History. Success! Fire will do the trick. Cut back to the present: all of the party’s weapons have the flammable quality.

The actual flashbacks don’t all have to be on the spot if it doesn’t make sense. If the monster of the week has a weakness to FIRETRUCKS, the party will obviously not pull one out of nowhere. Well, they COULD, that would be HILARIOUS: “suddenly, there’s a loud honking sound before the wall bursts in and a firetruck smashes into the monster! Everyone cheers!”


This is the first article in a series about my nostalgia. Keeping it and capturing it for posterity.

I was born and raised in the 1980s. Like many kids of that era, I became obsessed with a few cartoons which were not much more than glorified toy commercials. The broad reach of their marketing touched our lives in countless ways: cereal, happy meals, beach blankets, big wheels and of course action figures. But we weren’t cynical about it: we loved it and gobbled it up with joy.

One of these venues that filled my young brain with feverish glee was He-Man (and the Masters of the Universe).

Man that cartoon was the greatest. I could have watched that show forever, much to the dismay of my parents. In retrospect those animated sound bytes were pretty terrible. At the time, though, this opening was the most goddamn epic thing ever:

I think that this was due to a few things: it was simplistic, powerful, catchy and fun. Animation every so often used this awesome glow effect that looked so neat: something which is sadly no longer used despite the age of digital supremacy.

Kid me with Heman sword & shield

I was a huge fan. I mean, look at the picture of me above. This kid was an avid fan in a matter-of-fact way, like enjoying Orange Crush and BBQ hot dogs  on a hot summer evening.

Kid me on horseback with Heman sword & shield

The cartoon was great: I admired He-Man, I laughed at Orko, and booed Skeletor and his goons and I had an innocent crush on the Sorceress (the kind of crush a 6 year old can have without really knowing it).


Somehow my parents were able to buy me a ton of the toys despite financial duress. I still have no idea how they afforded all that plastic crap. Castle Grayskull was the pivotal center piece, however, and my mom always finds a chance to recount the story of its acquisition:

During the Christmas Season of 1984, Joel, his new baby sister and Mommy went to visit with Santa. We waited over an hour in line.  Joel was very shy so when we got to Santa, he shoved me with all his strength toward Santa and shouted “Remember!!!  Castle Greyskull!!!”  I was furious!

I waited over an hour holding  a three year old’s hand and carrying a four month old in a snuggly for him to refuse to talk to the jolly old fellow and shove me practically into Santa’s lap to act on his behalf  en proxy!

Joel is still alive today – angels must be watching over him!


I had so many of those toys but the most memorable ones were:


Stinkor. He smelled like… Like… Well it was hard to describe. Kind of like mothballs crossed with insect repellant. Funny enough, he was a cool looking villain.


Mosquitor. He was actually one of Hordak’s goons. He had a long mosquito like head and his chest had a transparent section through which you could see oozing blood if you pressed the button on his back. At the time, vampires scared the crap out of me. So much that this action figure was always kind of weird and dangerous to my mind. I’ll do a post on vampires later.


Battle Damage He-Man. He had a shiny metal breastplate with a cool spinning symbol in the middle which revealed scarring and damage if you whacked it. I had a side obsession with knights at that time, so this figure stood out to me as well.

Tongue Lasher and King Hiss. I’m lumping these two together because they are kind of a lead-up to my next post. These guys were Serpent Men, which were a Thing for a while. I was never sure if they worked for Skeletor or if they were their own thing. Regardless they were so awesome to me. I was really into dinosaurs and all things reptilian as well.


Tongue Lasher had these weird frog hands and a long plastic tongue that you could lengthen with a wheel in his back.


King Hiss, was a hideous snake monster in disguise. You could remove his body to reveal his true form. So cool and freaky.

My sister Amy and I used to make up such epic stories with all of these guys. We used to also cross over with all of her She-Ra figures too, but honestly the only interesting one was Cat-Ra because, well, villains are always more interesting than the good guys.

Especially when they had black hair and claws. Go figure.

So yeah! My next post will be about Masters of the Universe: the live action movie. Stay tuned! Please comment on your own memories of He-Man or She-Ra!