Are you a GM with so much time on your hands that you have detailed stat blocks and descriptions for every conceivable non-player character (NPC) that your players might encounter or are you a practical GM looking for opportunities to save some time? If you are in the first camp, you probably don't have time to be reading this review. If you aren't that crazy, The Compleat Shemp might be for you.
The Compleat Shemp is one of my favorite types of gaming materials; it isn't tied to any specific system, genre, or setting. I can use it with Risus, and you can use it with your favorite system. The Compleat Shemp does not judge. It provides you with a philosophy for managing NPCs and only once even mentions dice (complete with a table to roll them against).
Shemping, as a concept, is a Hollywood term. At its most basic level, Shemping represents shortcuts and tricks directors have used to re-use actors for various purposes in the move. The full story is included in the document and is worth the read (it is related to the Three Stooges if you hadn't figured that out by the term).
The Compleat Shemp has two stated goals: "looking at supporting characters for tabletop roleplaying games from a cinematic point of view, and filling the roles of supporting characters quickly and easily."
A movie's supporting characters come in many types: background characters, bit players, and supporting characters. It is sort of a scale of importance. As you can imagine, background characters are just there to make a scene feel real; bit players might interact with the stars of the show; while supporting characters might be on par with the stars and interact with them, they still take a back seat in this story.
The Compleat Shemp takes these Hollywood tropes and applies them to your roleplaying game. It expands upon these tropes and adds in defining functions that Shemps play in their scenes, and provides advice for just how detailed you need to make your notes for a given NPC. There are also notes for ways of recasting old Shemps in a new light. With minimal effort, you can reuse a Shemp and your players will never notice.
My personal favorite section of the document is regarding building character dossiers for your Shemps. This is a direct and meaningful method that works well for keeping track of your Shemps and what roles they have played in your campaign.
If you are interested in handling all of the NPCs in your campaign with minimal work, The Compleat Shemp might be for you. It more than adequetly meets its stated goals and leaves you wanting to implement it's ideas. You get a 25 page primer on methods that worked well for the author and could easily be applied to your game as well. The text is entertaining with anecdotes and tips sprinkled throughout. The document is laid out in a pretty typical 2-column format with minimal art work. It won't kill your printer if you are of the print-and-read club. The Compleat Shemp is well worth the minimal asking price.
Full Disclosure: while I have never met Berin Kinsman in person, I have considered him a friend for quite some time. I was happy to be asked to review The Compleat Shemp. I endeavored to provide an accurate and fair review of the project.
[4 of 5 Stars!]