Seriously… STOP TAKING ALL MY MONEY! (Except I’ll puchase a few of these and one of those… and a set of that.)
DM: “You approach Torhalin and inform him that–“
Ranger: “Wait, who’s Torhalin again?”
Rogue: “I thought he was the guy we killed last session.”
Paladin: “No, that was the other dwarf… the one we used the Jar-Jar mini for…”
Ranger: “Oh yeah, I hated that guy. So who’s this guy?”
More likely than not, if you’re playing a tabletop RPG campaign, you have a few non-player characters (NPCs) that show up regularly. It could be the innkeeper who offers free room and board based on some favor the adventurers have done for her… along with juicy gossip full of quest hooks. It could be the kindly noble who needs heroes willing to stand up to insurmountable odds in order to save his town. Maybe it’s a favorite villain whose presence sends your players into a frothing rage. (Using a Jar-Jar mini helps with this.)
In any event, a name and brief description only gets you so far. Using an accent or particular speech pattern might make the NPC more memorable, but you still can only hope you are making an impression on your players.
A picture is still worth a thousand words.
And a deck of pictures is apparently worth about ten bucks.
The Friends and Foes deck comes with 54 full-color face cards, each with a space for notes on the back to aid with keeping track of just who the heck Torhalin is in your campaign. When you introduce an important NPC, you give your players an immediate image of what he or she looks like along with your description and roleplaying. Each time they encounter that character, they get the visual reminder that says “This is who you’re talking to, remember?”
On top of having a visual cue, the deck of various pictures might inspire new ideas for characters, situations, interactions, or encounters… maybe even key campaign arcs.
Of course, the downside is that you only have so many cards, and the variety means you only have so many of particular types of NPCs. It might seem strange if all the bad guys start to look just like the first villains the heroes encounter.
But the decks are a great start… IF you want to spend ten dollars.
There are cheaper ways, of course.
If you have any artistic talent (or if one of your players does, and is willing to volunteer the effort), you can make your own cards, tailored specifically to the needs of your campaign.
You know what you want the diabolical politician and her powerful magician advisor to look like.
You have an idea of how the ancient ghost in the ruined city will appear.
What about the crafty assassin your party has chased throughout the realm?
Show the players exactly what you want them to see. (Try to have better handwriting than I did, though.)
This also works great for scripted events. You have the chance to show rather than tell.
Poor Archmage Danethral…
At some point he was doomed to get twisted inside out by one of the villains. I did my best to describe this, and a few of my players at least said, “Ew, that sucks.” Then I showed them the card,
and I got more than one cringe or grimace. Win!
Ok, so you’re not an artist. (I barely qualify as one anyway, so don’t feel bad. Paizo’s not banging down my door asking me to draw stuff for them.) What are you supposed to do?
Though stick figures might be good for comic relief, that’s not a sustainable option. Likewise, if your “art” becomes a distraction, it will take the players out of the game to try to figure out if that’s a picture of the troll or the damsel in distress. No bueno.
Oh hai Google Images.
If you use a computer as a DM screen, or even if you just load some pictures to your iPhone or cell, you can easily show your players a decent representation of what their characters are looking at. Load a few key NPC pics, and you can easily remind them of who they’re interacting with, while paying nothing but a few minutes’ of image search in the process.
And of course, your rulebooks probably have a few pictures in them as well. Flip to a page if you have a hardcopy, or bring up an image if it’s a softcopy, and there you go. Obviously, that’s less than desirable, but it’s better than nothing.
And if all that fails, and your players stilldon’t remember your villain, break out the Jar-Jar miniature. They may not know who it is or why they’re out to kill him, but they will unleash all manner of fury in their effort to destroy him… especially if he says, “Meesa gon’ die!”