Every DM can share that moment from a TTRPG campaign where they've been forced to make up an NPC. Whether it's the party wanting to ask a Goblin about his home life leading to Boblin the Goblin, or an Aarakocra named Jarnathan, a DM can be witty… but doesn't always create fleshed-out characters. This exact issue is what Anansi's Tapestry of Lives and its collection of NPCs is attempting to solve.
Anansi's Tapestry of Lives has collected, organized, and given full life to 100+ characters. With each character, you're given information on which setting you'll find them in, a short biography and personality blurb, as well as what drives them as a person, and what character quirks they might have.
NPC That We Fill Our Worlds With
A briefly generated NPC on tables in official Dungeons & Dragons will get you to a workable NPC, but without DM intervention will seem flat on the page. The history and individual desires that are provided in Anansi's Tapestry of Lives work to create three-dimensional characters.
One of the best examples of one of these fully fleshed-out characters is Belram Wildboot, the dwarf blacksmith and baker who found a calling in caring for the street children. The DM not only has enough information to perform a gruff dwarf ready and willing to craft weapons for the party but can facilitate charming and unique moments.
Perhaps the youngest street child sleepily walks into the workroom asking for breakfast, or one of the children he cared for is all grown up and visiting - ready and able to provide relevant information to the party about their quest too?
For NPC who do have aspects of their jobs or passions that a player might interact with, such as a scholar who is versed in over three dozen languages or a shop clerk, Anansi's also provides examples of their wares. In a game where the DM will constantly be finding themselves in situations where they need to create or generate more I have to admit, the prospect of a drag-and-drop NPC is very enticing.
Continuing the trend of having thought of everything there are also a variety of enemies that can be found. These might be low-level enemies, lieutenants to big bads, or even the big bad themselves.
Each character that has been designed to be antagonistic to the party comes with an extra biography, loot that a player might want to obtain including brand new Magical Items, and a number of stat blocks.
When NPC Come To Blows
Finnean Drake, the once Holy Knight now cursed Vampire, is described as "fallen, but he is still bound by the precepts of knighthood." If you are to come to blows with him there is a stat block for Challenge Ratings 2, 5, and 9. As he grows more powerful he will gain powerful auras and learn more spells, but will also be deeper into his vampiric transformation making him more susceptible to running water or sunlight.
Anansi's Tapestry of Lives doesn't just bring options for the DM as there are also new subclass options for Bard, Fighter, Paladin, Sorcerer, and Wizard Classes. For the Bard, the College of Aerialism is an acrobatic bard who is able to use their body to perform, have increased dexterous movement, and have the ability to Enthrall and Inspire with their performances.
Each of these subclasses can be traced to a different NPC to help serve as inspiration for how a subclass can be played in a variety of ways. This Aerialism Bard is tied into the NPC Tiernan Dree, a performer/dancer/aerialist, who is also an ambulatory wheelchair user.
Part of the message for Anansi is to introduce real and three-dimensional NPC who haven't seen much representation across Dungeons & Dragons in the past.
Dree acts not only to create real awareness about those who might need a wheelchair "depending on the day" but also to show that someone in a similar situation has just as much right to be passionate about dance and other performances.
One interesting note about all of the NPCs that have been created for Anansi's Tapestry of Lives is the massive number of authors that have contributed their real experiences to the creation of NPCs. Some names D&D fans might recognize include Danyal Fryer, Jennifer Kretchmer, Jim Zub, and Johnny Stanton, to just name a few.
Something that I would have loved to have seen would be individual credit for guest authors for the NPC that they worked to build. For fans of these authors' works, or those interested in getting to know who might have created their favorite NPC in the book this would be a way to connect player and author.
Anansi's Tapestry of Lives Review - Final Thoughts
In Dungeons & Dragons where so much is released with the idea of giving Dungeon Masters more and more options, ideas, and tables to then go and create something concrete it's pretty nice to be handed a stack of NPC ready to be let loose into the world.
I can definitely see myself going to this book for when my players reach a new location and I need some people that they might encounter, or for a character fleshed out enough to have the information the party might need next.
For new DMs, this also can help reduce stress in populating a world with the added bonus of so many NPCs subverting expectations or providing a diverse view of characters to fill your world with.
Should I Buy Anansi's Tapestry of Lives?
Anansi's Tapestry of Lives is a book that you should definitely pick up if you enjoy playing but have a harder time crafting NPC that feels real in your world. It's also a great pick-up if you're interested in crafting a story with additional diversity or learning new ways to approach your own NPC generation.