UNE - The Universal NPC Emulator
Matthew Vasey (artist)
Conjecture Games (publisher)
I bought this for my ongoing research on solo play tools. It's PWYW at RPGnow.com.
This is a pretty straightforward book, so let me just list the pros and cons, as I see them.
This book has great tables. I think they are a bit too fussy at times, but they generate really clear NPCs for player interaction. These are some of the best tables I've seen for making the "inner" NPC (see the first 'Con' below).
The tables are really pretty universal. I think you would rarely hit an odd NPC for about any of the traditional RPG settings (fantasy, sf, crime, supers, etc.).
The NPC generator focus on the inner NPC - their skill set, motivation, mood & bearing, etc. Any physical traits are inferred. For instance, if you have a "destitute" NPC, the GM could easily add details to show that. But the tables don't help you.
Like CRGE (same author), this book is over-written! (That's my opinion; you may like the more thoughtful/academic approach.) Here's an example of the author trying to say that if you roll a trait for NPC that doesn't fit, even if you interpret it broadly, then ditch it.
The Rule of Negative Inference
Some terms will have to be thrown out. The conflict between the preconceptions or
other rolled terms will be too great to utilize them in such a way that the fun of the game continues.
It is always better to keep moving forward than to spend a gross amount of time trying to reconcile some terms. However, it is beneficial to ask when paring down terms “why does this term not work?” This will not only strengthen your NPC concept, but it may also provide more depth to the preconceptions and terms that are left on the table.
UNE was designed to have most characteristics be as complementary as possible. Coming upon a hermit that has lived in the swamp for thirty years, and then rolling “drifter” may cause a few problems. The idea is to use the rolled terms as a broadly interpreted overlay to color the pre- conceived NPC. The “drifter” swamp hermit could be one who lives in a houseboat floating around the swamp. If “drifter” just doesn’t feel right then reinforce the fact that the hermit is a permanent denizen of the swamp, and move along.
I think the author is confused as to whether he is writing a term paper or a manual to be used at the table. I can't fault the grammar or the ideas; the writing is solid. For my money, however, I would prefer that the text deliver information simply and clearly; not in an academic style.