Steven S. Long is a writer, game designer, and all 'round great guy. According to the secret files of the KGB, he once singlehandedly defeated the Kremlin's plot to attack America with laser-powered Godzillas.

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Goodbye, John

I got some sad news earlier this week. My friend John Lees died unexpectedly early Tuesday morning at his home in Michigan.

Most of you out there didn’t know John, but if you’ve bought a Hero Games book published in the past six or seven years there’s a good chance you’re familiar with his work. John did the cartography — the maps, in other words — in all of our books for many years. And he did a damn good job of it, too. You can see his maps in such books as Masterminds And Madmen, Thrilling Locations, The Book Of The Destroyer, Thrilling Hero Adventures, Champions Beyond, Tuala Morn, The Ultimate Base, The Atlantean Age, and many other excellent gaming supplements. His maps were detailed yet easy to use, full of great ideas for scenarios and adventures, and just plain creative. As we’d go back and forth on what a map should include, he often came up with ideas that made whatever book I was writing even better.

He was a consummate professional, always finishing his work well ahead of deadline and making suggested changes and corrections right away. And the funny thing about it was that he wasn’t a full-time professional cartographer or artist. He was a college political science professor. He liked to draw maps in his spare time, for fun. It was how he relaxed.

Unfortunately, in this modern day where big companies can easily produce glitzy color maps, John was never recognized for his work the way I believe he should have been. It didn’t get nominated for (much less win) awards, even though I think his maps were in many cases better and more usable than ones that did. But he at least got the satisfaction of pleasing thousands of gamers with his work, and I know that was immensely satisfying to him.

I love all of his work, but I think my favorite is the Skyfortress Cumulus, the gargantuan zeppelin headquarters of the Skymaster in Masterminds And Madmen. John mapped out all five decks of this enormous, aircraft-carrying airship, right down to things like showing where the water storage and recycling took place and each individual crewman’s cabin. As a joke he included a room labeled only “SLP.” That stood for “Skymaster’s Love Pad,” and after that he often included an “LP” squirrelled away on other maps to continue the gag.

I’m sorry he and I won’t have the chance to work on some of the big projects we’d fondly discussed over the years. One was a massive post-apocalyptic arcology that had been damaged by natural disasters. When the Player Characters awakened in their sleep-pods they’d discover that most of the plants, animals, and other resources meant to help them were ruined — or worse, had mutated into dangerous life-forms. Another was to re-do my classic “Harpcor Towers” adventure (from the original Dark Champions) and map out an entire 40-story skyscraper, from the lowest in-ground parking deck level to the helipad on the roof. For now I’m just going to shelve those ideas, because I can’t imagine working on them with anyone else.

Goodbye, John. I hope wherever you are now you have all your mapping tools with you so you can keep enjoying the hobby you’re so skilled at.

Reader Comments (4)

Rest in Peace, John. I never met the man, but I worked with him on the Lucha Libre Hero book. He was good to work with, as you said. On-time, and happy to make suggestions and changes.

October 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterteh bunneh

I knew John for some years and had the privilege of working with him on several projects. He was a kind, generous, and talented man. I am sad that we will never complete our projects together and sadder still to lose a good friend.

October 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKit Kindred

If you knew John's sense of humor you could find tons of Easter Eggs, including a planet named after my family, including an island chain named after my dog Spike. My favorite was him hiding "Jenny's Number" (867-5309) into a cave painting.

October 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDavid McCreless

Thank you Steven, I know from my discussions with John he really enjoyed working with you on these projects.

John, You will be missed my friend.

October 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRich Parsons

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