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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Published on 12/04/2014 Written by 2 comments

You Can Never Have Too Many Campaign Ideas

I am somehow at a time in my life where I'm running, or playing,  all the games. So, now I get to bore everyone with all the weird ideas I have for campaigns. Here goes...

Mythical/Heroic Ireland
System: D&D
There is a lot of fodder for a good campaign in the myth cycles of Ireland. Giants, wizards, kings with silver arms, gods from weird magic islands, who fly around in spaceships, and of course, a huge bucket full of fey folk, curses, geas, and all the other wacky Celtic shit you can think up.

Renaissance Call of Cthulhu
System:  Call of Cthulhu, or Harnmaster with insanity rules.
Kind of a wacky Leonardo Da Vinci investigates fucked up horror stuff in the Italian city states vibe.  Most likely a bunch of  church corruption and conspiracies, secret cultists, and all the usual good ol' Cthulhu stuff, mingled with a bit of X Files monster of the week.

Apocalyptic Nazi's in space
System: d6, or BRP
Nazi's destroyed the world and moved to space, because of reasons. Now the only hope is a few ragged ass rebels to destroy this evil empire... wait, I think this has been done before.

This one is way overdone, and mostly stupid. But, who doesn't like killing nazi's, and getting to do it in spaceships is even more awesome. A one shot for sure.

Illuminatus Conspiracies 
System: Maybe a hacked version of Paranoia
Wilson and Shea's opus is filled with so much mind fuckable goodness, that it's hard to know where to start. With every conspiracy ever available to mess with, I think a giant random table, 2 hits of acid, and some fine hashish, are the best ways to proceed.

This would be a one shot, and everyone would die, go insane, or kill each other by the end.

A somewhat realistic low magic dark/dung ages type campaign
System: Harnmaster
Everything starts bad, and just gets worse, and right when you thought there was light in the distance, it just turns out to be bandits come to rob you. Kind of an embrace the darkness, anti-heroism kind of thing.

Anyway, those are just a few ideas, you got any I can steal.
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Published on 12/01/2014 Written by 4 comments

Can You Tell If People Are Having Fun Over The Internet?

As I posted about here, I had been toying with GMing a new game.  Well it has come to fruition.  My group has started a PBEM (play by e-mail) game, set in the world of Robin Hobb's Farseer books.
We've only been going for about 2 weeks now, which isn't very long in PBEM time, but I'm already having doubts.  The problem is, I can't tell if my players are having any fun.

The start of an adventure is always tedious.  Players aren't sure who the other PC's are, or where they are supposed to fit in.  As GM, I never know how much infomation to give.  So far my adventure is pretty open.  The King has given the party a task, but how they go about it, and what they discover along the way is up to them.  I do have a general story in mind, but if they take a left turn, I'm happy to adjust and improvise.  And as a PBEM, that's much easier for me as I have time to think about any changes.
Where I think I might be going wrong is that I haven't explained any of the mechanics of the game.  In a PBEM, I do all the dice rolling anyway so I'm not sure how much the players need to know.  I don't want to bog the game down with players starting to ask "Can I reach him?" "How much damage can I do with my longbow of shattering screams?".  I want the players to help me tell the story and act in character. 

Do you need to see this to have fun?

The thing I think I do need to explain, and am probably going to post for the group soon, is the basics of combat (especially as the potential for violence in imminent in the game right now).  Having been the player much more often than the GM, I always like to know how likely it is that my character will die.  Does 1 hit fell me? Or can I take a pounding and just shake it off?
This is all I can picture any time "Niles the Muckraker" speaks

I do have to say, the one thing I'm very impressed with is how dedicated one of the players is to his character choices.  He rolled a 3 intelligence.  I'll adnit if that were me, I would have just re-rolled.  But to his credit, he stuck with it, and is quite entertainingly playing the village idiot.

So tell me: How much would you want to know the mechanics of an RPG?  Would you be happy just contributing to the story, or would you lose interest if you didn't know how things were working?
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