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.
For a while, I’ve wondered why no one has tackled this very topic. So when I was brought on to proofread Hayes’s latest project, I was beyond excited to discover he’d ventured into the “gamer lit” world. And what a unique presentation he’s brought to the table! (Pun intended.)
NPCs starts with what feels like a very traditional, high fantasy world. Except that we quickly find out it’s an RPG, as in a table-top role-playing game set in our modern world. But what happens when the players return to their normal lives? Does the RPG world just disappear, everything in it paused until the gamers return? That’s the very question this book attempts to answer.
And, according to Hayes, that answer is a resounding “no!” The majority of the story is told through the various perspectives of four individuals–NPCs (non-player characters) who simply happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. When the “adventurers” drop dead in the local tavern (a by-product of the gamers behind them finding something else to do), these four non-adventurous types decide to step into their shoes in the hopes of preventing the town’s destruction. The ensuing adventure is at once witty and touching, and watching each character develop was perhaps one of my favorite aspects.
I also completely appreciated how Hayes chose to mock the conventional stereotypes of RPG character roles. I won’t spoil it, because I believe that discovery is integral to enjoying the story, but I really loved that the roles the characters assume they’ll play are not necessarily the ones they end up in.
Overall, this is an incredibly fun story. Told with Hayes’s signature blend of tongue-in-cheek sarcasm, it will appeal to anyone who is a fan of RPG games, whether digital or table-top. Coming from a background in video game art and design, I fully appreciated the brilliant way Hayes described game mechanics from the POV of characters who had no concept of things like spawn points and game physics.
But while the gamer in me applauded the technical aspects, the reader in me was fully satisfied with story at large. I sincerely hope there is a sequel, and will be first in line to read it if there is.