Published on 3/29/2015 Written by 7 comments

Steal this New Map

After watching these videos , I started playing around and drawing up some topographical maps in photoshop. They aren't my typical style, but I think my first effort turned out pretty decent.

So, here you go. Key up this map and use it for your game. The only thing I ask is that if you post it on your blog/Twitter/Google+/Facebook that you link back to here, or my Twitter, my Google+, or my Facebook page. Have fun.


The picture is quite large, so don't forget to zoom in to see the details.
Several people have inquired whether they could my maps in their commercial (for profit) projects. The answer is: No, you cannot use these maps for any commercial project. Read the creative commons copyright below.

But, if you are a DIY RPG person, with little to no money, and really want to use one of the maps for something that you're working on, that might earn you a bit of money, let me know. We can talk, and if I like your thing, I will most likely let you use my maps for free.

  Creative Commons License This work by John Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada License
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Published on 1/30/2015 Written by 2 comments

Time Keeps On Slippin' Slippin' Slippin'...

Anyone who is a regular reader of this blog (there are at least 2 or 3 of you, right??) will notice a distinct lack of posts over the last 3 months or so.  If I were getting paid for this, I'm sure I would have been fired by now.  Between the holidays, work, and some other hobbies, I haven't had time to write.  In fact I haven't even had time to play any games.  So this brings up the point of this post: How do you find time to play?

A couple of posts ago I talked about my new PBEM game.  It fell apart soon after that post.  I take a
huge part of the blame for it, as I  tried to build intrigue and world events before I built any reason for the players to care for their characters.  I also didn't introduce the combat mechanics soon enough, so I think the players weren't sure how to react to events as they didn't know how easily they could die.  Beyond these issues though, was also just a lack of time on everyone's part.  At first everyone posted a response once a day, or occasionally within 48 hours.  By the time I gave up, I was getting one or two responses a week.  I may try again with a simplified introduction in a little while.
In my board-game group things have fallen apart as well.  Other than the wedding I posted about here, there has only been 1 or 2 get togethers of that group, and I missed them due to work.  Actually, thinking about it, work has been the reason I've missed a lot of social engagements lately.  I'm at work right now, typing up this post... (don't tell da boss!).

Even my online RPG dates have fallen by the wayside.  To paraphrase quote another of our players / GM's:

How it feels trying to organize
a game night.
"I want to play a game but honestly I don't even have the time to organize it. If someone else can herd people to a time and place, then I will do my best to be there. ... If we don't have a regular schedule, someone needs to be the cheerleader to organize the game. ... I don't know if I have the drive to overcome the inertia to say 'so when are we playing?' every two or three weeks. Please, someone else take over that responsibility."

As much as we all want to play, none of us has stepped up to organize it yet, and I think it's because we're all just as busy. 

So here's the question of the day: How do YOU make time for gaming?  Do you have a regularly scheduled session? Is there a single person who is the driving force?  Do you cut something else out of your life to fit it in?

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Published on 1/09/2015 Written by 2 comments

Touching Can Also Be Funny.

Hmmm, that title doesn't quite sound right.  Oh well.
     Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the wedding of Alex and Emily, two of the people in my current table top gaming group.  They play with us a lot less often than I'd like, but that's only because they currently live in the UK and can only play when they come back to Canada for a visit. Ironically, the first visit back from England that we played at, they introduced us to Great Fire of London:1666.  At the wedding, another from our group, the brilliant Kathryn K gave one of the most impressive wedding speeches I've ever heard.  Here it is in all of its unabashed glory:

Kathryn and the Astronaut
"Friends and family, 3 years ago I met Alex and Emily working at St. Michael's College School and it was the greatest things about working there.... that and meeting Chris Hadfield, that was pretty great- Alex and Emily are a very close second to Chris Hadfield.
            They've asked me to say something today and I'm honoured to do so but I think is a real roll of the dice, they're playing with fire asking me to do this, but Alex and Emily have always enjoyed playing games and make a great team.
      Im so pleased youve decided to play The Game of Life together, I know it will only be one of many games you will play. Alex you have a Monopoly over Emilys heart, as Emily, you rule Dominion over his. Marriage is a Risk: Keeping your partner happy can be a delicate Operation, but it is also a Candy Land of opportunity. Don't let any of the Ghost Stories people tell about marriage scare you,  although marriage does take work. You must learn to say youre Sorry when you get into Trouble, let nothing become Taboo and love each others little Qwirkles. Stepping through the Portal into married life, it brings with it a kind of Evolution. From this point onward you will share everything. What is mine will be yours, and what is yours will be Mine. Craft your relationship so that none may shake it, and when you have no Clue what to do, Diplomacy will be the answer. Let commitment, compassion and a sense of adventure be your Ticket to Ride wherever life may take you.
Photo by Jennifer Xu Photography
            You will not be alone in this- We are all here for you.   To all those here today. This is a moment of Magic. The Gathering of this group of family and friends has the power to do wonderful things. This is a Smash Up of so many different ideals and experiences that together we have everything it takes to support Alex and Emily on their Journey. We must offer no Resistance, but instead give our unwavering support for their goals, and Guess Who is going to be there on the darker days when a Gloom falls. And if they should decide to add their own little Munchkin to the world, it will be welcome into the hearts of everyone present here today. Wherever you two find yourself in this Small WorldPuerto Rico, Waterdeep or in grand Citadels, you will always have friends near.
            Alex and Emily have custom made each other's rings, may they be a Talisman of their love for each other. May each one of us Scrabble to be the first by their side in times of need and celebration. And may I be only one of many to tell you both how happy am I for you, how much I love you both and what a wonderful team you make... Settlers of Catan."
Alex & Emily. Photo by Jennifer Xu Photography

As you can guess, we were all in stitches by the end of this.  So this post is dedicated to Alex and Emily, and brought to you by the letter K.
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Published on 12/17/2014 Written by 0 comments

Review: Silent Night, Darkest Night

"You know Dasher, and Dancer, and Prancer and Vixen. The other reindeer from that song have all been eaten, by Rudolph. This monstrous reindeer was made fun of when he was growing up, but then he kept growing, dwarfing the other reindeer by the time he was an adolescent. Their jibes about his size finally got to him, and he lashed out, killing at least three other reindeer before Santa was able to chase him away using his Christmas magic. Now Rudolph plots revenge against Santa, the elves, and the other reindeer, and he has been studying dark magics which make him more powerful than any reindeer before him. His nose now glows not with Christmas magic, but with seething hatred, and its red color is the product of the fresh blood which covers Rudolph’s face after feeding on the flesh of the living, which he must do every few hours in order to power his profane magic."
- From Silent Night, Darkest Night

In honour of the Holiday Season (the "Christmas" Season, for you non-PC types out there), I thought I should pick-up and discuss something appropriately festive. Normally I hate writing reviews, but this particular item caught my eye and I really wanted to check it out and share it with you. Not to mention all proceeds go to RPG Creators Relief Fund, so I get to cover my holiday-charity-guilt at the same time as coming up with some content. It's a win-win.

Fat Goblin Games' Silent Night, Darkest Night is my favourite type of book - one in which I can't tell if the creators are being serious or not. It's a short (28-pages including covers, intro, table of content, OGL, etc - so about 22 pages of actual content), mini-campaign guide to the denizens and locales of the "North Pole." It's the kind of thing I would slap together as a half-assed blog post for a joke, but the FGG guys put it together in a beautiful package with lovely illustrations and a nice layout (the holly/bloody parchment motif on each page is particularly choice).

It's designed for the Pathfinder system, but that means it's easily adaptable to any d20-based system. The stat blocks are standard and well laid out, and very visually similar to the stat blocks from D&D 4E. (I'm not super familiar with Pathfinder - is that a Pathfinder thing or unique to Fat Goblin Games?)

Anyway, the antognists are (mostly) all familiar, such as Abominable Snowmen, Cobbler Elves, Emperor Penguins(!), and Silver Bells (which are 7-foot tall violent metal flowers). There's also a tattooed sylphan gunslinger Mrs. Claus and Rudolph the Bloodthirty Megatherium, as well as the obligatory visit from Krampus.  Oh, and Santa Claus is a goat. (Apparently this is a thing)

There's also a couple of very nice North Pole maps, some arctic exploration equipment and a handful of appropriately themed magic items. While not particularly exciting in effect, just saying your character is wearing a Cloak of the Yeti and wielding a Mammoth Lance is pretty badass.

The best part, as I eluded to, is that everything is presented completely straight and serious. Even Jolakuttar the Festive Cat, who sneaks into villages to devour misbehaved children. You could play this material completely absurb and silly, or go balls to the wall creepy and dark in the other direction (because seriously, a 200-pound tabby that eats kids who don't make their beds is fucked up). Personally I would aim somewhere in the middle, skewing toward the absurd and occasionally swinging back to the dark just to keep people on their toes. But that's just me.

All in all, the folks at FGG put some love and care into a great little source book, especially one that is available for practically nothing (it's Pay-What-You-Want at RPGNow.com) - though again, anything you do pay goes directly to a good cause. Do yourself a favour and pick one up this Holiday Season. You might even bump yourself up a couple of spots on the Nice List.

I don't know if I'm going to have time to run a game over the holidays, but if I do I will definitely find some way to jam this material into it. Even if it's my dark modern zombie survival game.

And with that, Happy Holidays, everyone! Stay safe and enjoy your eggnog.
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Published on 12/05/2014 Written by 5 comments

How to Run a Long-Term Zombie Apocalypse Game

In the past few weeks I've written a bunch about zombie apocalypse games (I blame it on The Walking Dead). I've also been running my regular group through bi-weekly "zombie grinder" sessions, which is basically DCC Funnel adventures but set in a modern zombie apocalypse. It's a hilarious good time but not a basis for a long-term campaign, so I've been trying to come up with some ways to stretch it out and get some more mileage out of a pretty simple premise.

I realized that zombie apocalypse scenarios, as depicted in movies, books and games, can be broken down into three distinct stages (there may be more, but three works well for my purposes). Each stage comes with its own story possibilities and game mechanics, which will hopefully revitalize the players help the game go longer.

Tell me what you think:


Civilization is crumbling. Humankind has been struck by a terrible plague that is killing people by the millions and causing them to rise from the dead as mindless cannibals. Those that survived the initial infection are now fighting those monsters, as well as other survivors, in a desperate attempt to find food, weapons and shelter. Few will make it far.

This is the phase of the game that follows the "Funnel-Grinder" system. Each player gets 4 characters, and PC mortality is high. Characters die quickly, and only the strongest and/or luckiest survive. The randomness and chaos is the fun and joy at this stage, as a single failed save or attack roll could spell the end of any PC at a moment's notice.

The key is that (hopefully) those few who survive this stage will be extra-tough and ready, with developed personalities and back-stories leading into...


Civilization is gone. A handful of people and small communities still exist, but they are few and far between, and hopelessly outnumbered by the listless dead. Those that survive at the toughest of the tough - the brave, the cunning, the quick and the merciless. Finding food and shelter continues to be a daily struggle, but those who live in this world are used to it and know how to handle themselves, whatever the heartless land throws at them.

My favourite zombie-related art of all time, and I don't even know if the dude with the deep fryer on his head is actually a zombie or not. And I don't care. From Kreg Mosier's "The Dead."

This is the stage where the player characters become heroes (or villains). They reach level 1 and continue to advance, developing new skills and abilities to make them a threat to the living dead. They can compete against cutthroat bandits and looters that roam the countryside - or maybe they become those very villains.

Relationships are important at this stage. Other people keep you sane and help you to remember your humanity. Losing people (or refusing to seek them out) turns you into a unfeeling shadow of a human being. These mechanics will borrow shamelessly from Kreg Mosier's excellent game "The Dead." Death will still be a real and constant threat, but it shouldn't be as severe as stage one. They characters are able to withstand a few bumps and bruises now, and are more capable of handling tougher opponents. Because of this, hopefully those deaths that do occur will have more meaning.

Of course, growing stronger will draw attention to the player characters, eventually bringing us to...


I admit, this part of the game was entirely inspired by Sarah Northway's great game "Rebuild."

It's like SimCity, but with zombies. You have no idea how many hours I've wasted on this game.

Humanity has reached a point where it can start clawing its way back from the brink. Survivor camps turn into small towns, and eventually stronger fortifications with farmland, homes, schools, churches. The dead (and bandits) are still out there, but a few strong, capable leaders can build new safe havens, and protect the last vestiges of humanity against the encroaching darkness.

At this point, the player characters now have people relying on them to keep them safe. They have to decide how to protect their town, who to trust, how to balance their resources between fortifying, patrolling, scavenging, farming.  When it's time to go scout areas for supplies or build defensive bunkers or clear out bandit camps, the players can take over new bands of 0-level survivors, or resolve the scene with a few quick rolls. Either way, it is their choices that will now determine the lives of dozens, maybe hundreds of other people. It's a different sort of resource management and almost a whole new game.


The three levels are not completely linear. Maybe some folks like the idea of running a town and jump right to the Rebuild phase. Some people may detest that idea and don't bother with it at all. You can step backward, too. If someone loses all their Leveled characters in the Survivor phase, it's recommended they grab 4 new 0-levels and grind out a new "Survivor." Perhaps during the Rebuild phase, the players decide to take out their "good" characters on a particularly-tough mission, which would basically be stepping back to Stage 2.

Or maybe, during the Rebuild stage, shit really hits the fan and the players are FORCED back into Stage 2 (or lower)...

Anyway, these are my ideas for stretching out a zombie apocalypse game. It will still never have the long-term, endless potential of something like Dungeons & Dragons, but it could work for much longer than a one-off lark on a Friday night.

I plan on running one last "grinder" game this weekend, and I hope a handful of playable characters will survive that can go on to phase 2 and become even more memorable. Will we still be playing this game and these characters 5 years from now? I seriously fucking doubt it, but at least now we have the option to do so...

So what do you think? Does this game have legs?

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