Between the books in this series (Spells, Swords, & Stealth), the Caverns and Creatures series by Robert Bevan, and the Authors and Dragons podcast, I’ve learned everything I know about the D&D universe (and the similar but legally distinct worlds portrayed in these novels). 🙂
I mostly became aware of the works of Drew Hayes after listening to the Authors and Dragons podcast. At the time I was only familiar with works by Robert Bevan and Rob Kroese, but since then I’ve expanded my reading list to include most of the other authors involved in the podcast.
As it happens I’ve read both NPCs and book 2 – Split the Party – shortly after book 2 came out (about 12 months ago). I’m re-reading them now because Mister Hayes has recently released book 3 – Going Rouge – and I wanted to re-familiarize myself with the universe. It also gives me a good opportunity to expand the book review section of my site.
So what is NPCs all about? As always, let’s check out the blurb before I get into what I think about it.
What happens when the haggling is done and the shops are closed? When the quest has been given, the steeds saddled, and the adventurers are off to their next encounter? They keep the world running, the food cooked, and the horses shoed, yet what adventurer has ever spared a thought or concern for the Non-Player Characters?
In the town of Maplebark, four such NPCs settle in for a night of actively ignoring the adventurers drinking in the tavern when things go quickly and fatally awry. Once the dust settles, these four find themselves faced with an impossible choice: pretend to be adventurers undertaking a task of near-certain death or see their town and loved ones destroyed. Armed only with salvaged equipment, second-hand knowledge, and a secret that could get them killed, it will take all manner of miracles if they hope to pull off their charade.
And even if they succeed, the deadliest part of their journey may well be what awaits them at its end.
The book opens in the normal (our) universe where five guys are playing a game of “Spells, Swords, & Stealth” (basically D&D but without risk of copyright infringement 🙂 ). Their Game Master, a particularly anal type is trying for more realism in their game, and abruptly kills them all thanks to something dumb they did hours earlier.
We then switch to the world inside the game where the characters the guys had been interacting with (the Non-Player Characters, or NPCs) are standing around looking at the dead adventurers. After they find out the adventurers had been summoned by the mad king of the realm, and knowing the king would likely lay waste to the entire village in revenge, the poor saps assume the adventurers identities and go forth into the world.
They divvy up the roles as they think best (e.g. Half-Orc is the barbarian, etc) but in their travels they discover they may have been a bit hasty in this respect. It was good to see stereotypes being broken.
Later, they’re given their royal mission to retrieve an artefact of immense power. As the plot slowly unwinds, you get an idea of what effect the artefact is having on the SS&S world, to the bafflement of the players in the real world. I don’t want to say too much more because I don’t want to spoil any of the plot. Suffice it to say though even as someone who has never played a tabletop RPG it’s a highly enjoyable read filled with loveable characters.
Mister Hayes does a great job of injecting the details you need to know to understand the basics of a diced-based decision game without making it sound like an info dump, for example explaining the effect of triple-thrown “1” by alternating between the real universe and the cavern the character is exploring.
A fun, humorous fantasy epic with hopefully many more books to come.