The right NPC (Non-Player Character) can be a godsend to a Game Master. Not only can a memorable NPC inspire your characters, but they can provide plenty of plot hooks themselves if done properly.
Many GMs (yours truly included) run short on prep time for all facets of their game, be it maps, background fluff, or yes, writing up key NPCs. Enter the Complete Characters line, from Jason Richards Publishing. Jason, a published RPG author who also writes his own blog, has created a line of system-generic NPCs for easy use in multiple RPG genres.
I've previously covered Jason's current giveaway of the first few entries in this series, which should be enough to give you an idea of the quality of writing you're getting. This isn't someone putting together a slapdash product to make a quick buck; it's a well-considered product with actual thought put into it.
To do a quick mini-review of one of the titles, I thought I'd take a look at the most recent in the series, #7, Sir Aric Devilkin. To start, Richards fleshes out characters with 5 "S's": Setting, Strengths, Setbacks, Skills, and Special. Setting deals with the sorts of settings the character might fit into, with suggestions for alternate setting placement as well. Sir Aric, as an Evil Knight, is well-placed for fantasy campaigns which feature the supernatural. Strengths describe a character's potential advanages over other characters. Sir Aric has Protectors, is Noble-born, and is quite Intimidating as part of his Strengths. Alas, Sir Aric also has the Setbacks of being Compulsive, a bit Obsessed, and the Stigma of his chosen path. Aric has notable Skills in Horsemanship in Command, but what really set him apart is under his Special Abilities; as the alleged son of a demon, he has numerous fell powers ascribed to him, to include Curses and Plagues.
Also included is a nicely-written character bio, which describes a bit of the character's background, and is generally open enough to fit into most suitable campaigns. The product finishes up with Tweaks, which can change the NPC's powers or personality in new and interesting ways; Twists, which are ways to adjust the character to introduce new plot hooks or devices, or to work them into the story; and Extras, which can outline another minor character, offer additional hooks, background info, etc. For Sir Aric, we are presented with Extras regarding just what this evil knight might be searching for.
Complete Characters #7 does what it sets out to do in 4 pages, and the layout is pleasing and clean. The single piece of art in the product, a portrait of the NPC himself, is ably provided by Joseph Scott Lawn. Unlike many products in this price range, I have no quarrel or concern with the layout or art for Complete Characters.
Right now, the other Complete Characters are on sale for 99 cents (from $1.49), which seems like a fair price. I'll leave it to the reader to take the initiative to check out the Complete Characters line for yourself, but in my opinion, it's another welcome tool for the hurried, harried GM.