This Week In Kickstarter Prep (Part 2: It Pays To Start Early)

This Week In Kickstarter Prep (Part 2: It Pays To Start Early)

You know those times when you’re frantically running around to try and finish something upcoming and it feels like you’re not even close to meeting your deadline. Then something happens and you have to come to a dead stop, only to realize you’re actually right on pace or ahead of schedule. Yeah, that happened this past week and that’s a damn good thing because the thing that made me stop to learn this was having my Mac suffer a significant technical issue. Since I was working on updating the text and layout for the Kickstarter draft of HPS, a short burst of panic soon became a long, slow breath of fresh air.

If there’s a theme to this update, it’s progress against adversity. Failing forward, if I can use a gaming term. Not everything can work out, especially when it comes to prepping a marketing campaign for anything. Your time is always restricted by the deadline and sometimes, just like in game design, you have to kill your darlings in order to hit that deadline. It doesn’t make it less of a campaign, just one that won’t having synchronized mermaids in an underwater musical number. Sigh.

For this second update on the Kickstarter prep for High Plains Samurai, it’s all about the layout, video editing, and a little Ballad in the works. There’s been some work on the KS page itself but I’ll get into that once there’s something locked and ready to preview.

HPS: The Kickstarter: The Video

Being a film school dropout and needing to put together a crowdfunding video can only spell trouble. Any chance a film school dropout has to pick up the camera and start shooting something – ANYTHING! – they’re going to try and rewrite history. And for a short while, that looked like it was going to happen and I totally blame (and thank) Kieron O’Gorman for almost making it happen.

When you’re promoting an action game, you need to provide a sense of action. And when you have a lot of martial arts/wire-fu combat in your game, you need to show that too. And an eclectic cast of character? Duh, ya gotta have that too. To help pull this off, there was a group of local cosplayers who were more than happy to step in and appear as extras. We had a location, I had a crew of volunteers, I had an idea. Unfortunately, due to a combination of late planning and Ottawa Comic Con (meaning there is no such thing as a cosplayer not standing on that convention floor that weekend), it was not to be. Not to say it will never happen, just not in time to meet the deadline for launching this Kickstarter.

What I’ve started on now is something that will really play up on the marketing campaign as well as tease things about the game. That’s all I’m going to say for the moment. The rest would spoil the fun.

Updating the Kickstarter Draft

I read my games to my son at bedtime. Yes, including Killshot. I read High Plains Samurai to him and made some notes for the exclusive backers only copy available to everyone when they back the project. It went into layout so everyone could see what the game will look like when it’s ready. That layout is 96% done. And yeah, computer issues. A PDF is only a few minor alterations and an export away from completion but the has now been moved to the final weekend before launch date. The video (and the page itself) need to be submitted by Thursday, May 28th. The PDF can wait.

There are some differences and additions between this draft and the Rehearsal Edition (which has now come to a close). The biggest one involves motivations, now divided into three types to help players establish some baseline connections between characters as well as the story. Plus some little tweaks here and there. While this version does not indicate the entire game (the whole version of the Kickstarter is to determine exactly how in-depth this game will get), it will provide everyone with a clear vision for what High Plains Samurai will be all about.

Ballad of a High Plains Samurai

Last week, my good friend and fellow game designer, Fraser Ronald, announced he had written four chapters of an origin story for one of the One Land’s central villains, Black Scorpion. This story will be posted during the course of the Kickstarter to help showcase this complex and vital character as being more than just a cold-blooded killer. It’s also a teaser for the first stretch goal, because Fraser will finish her story if I can raise at least $5k. Everything accounting for her time with the monks of Heaven’s Peak, how she learned to control her qi power, fall in love, and settle into a peaceful life before the warlords and their combined military might brought back the Black Scorpion.

Fraser’s submitted these first four chapters and my editor, Vincent Harper, is doing his thang. I’ll be releasing one chapter every Thursday during the Kickstarter on the BRG site.

Keep On Keepin’ On…

Right, time to get back to it. Tonight, I’m being interviewed by Jason Cordova from The Gauntlet podcast and after that I’m taking a breather from some prep work as it’s Cangames weekend. Seeing as I’m on the committee and there’s always a buttload of work to do for any con during the final days, that mistress definitely requires some time. If you’re an Ottawantonian, hope to see you there. Otherwise, until next time…

This Week In Kickstarter Prep (Part 1)

This Week In Kickstarter Prep (Part 1)

The countdown is on! On my fridge, there’s a little reminder every morning and right now it’s telling me there’s only 25 days exist before this sucker goes live and High Plains Samurai‘s Kickstarter is in full swing. There’s still a fair amount to get ready and seeing as this is getting my marketing engine all fired up (it is one half of what I do for a living, after all), I thought it appropriate (nay, required!) to post weekly updates on how the KS prep is going and what you can expect when the project launches.

To bullet point what I’ll cover this week…

  • There’s the Kickstarter page itself
  • Revising and updating what was the Rehearsal Edition into the Kickstarter Draft of the game
  • Making HPS feel more inclusive and open
  • Changes to the KS video

The Kickstarter Page

Truthfully, I started working on the KS page over a month ago and now it’s about locking down the information and presenting it the best way possible to sell the game. Feel free to have a look and comment, if you like. Thanks to a couple members of the IGDN (of which I’m a proud member), the text is tighter and better organized than before (information that will be copied over to the BRG website when finalized). Plus I’ve been playing around with some of the banner designs and this page is really starting to pop.

The Kickstarter Draft

Everyone who backs the KS will receive access to High Plains Samurai‘s Kickstarter Draft. Very much like the Rehearsal Edition but with some revisions made over the course of playtesting these past few months (and some others mentioned below). There will also be an open preview (you don’t have to back the KS to download it) available for anyone curious about the game to get a look at the first chapter, discover more of what it’s all about, and get an idea of how it will look when done. After making some text revisions and a few minor corrections, I’ll be working on the layout this weekend.

Making HPS Inclusive

Two factors into why this is coming up. One, I had a very interesting and enlightening discussion with Kate Bullock recently in my quest to understand others and the issues they face in the RPG community. The second is that going on Misdirected Mark has truly made me realize just how many people have a chance to discover HPS now.

What I mean by this is that HPS, as it reads now, is very dude heavy. While there’s nothing in the mechanics that favours any one gender, the setting itself is very dude heavy and it’s something Fraser Ronald, who is authoring a short story on the origins of Black Scorpion, mentioned this week. He added more female characters to his story because the setting material felt a bit sparse on gender diversity. And he’s right. So I wanted to demonstrate a shift in that part of the game because I want this to be a game for anyone who loves action films, not just people like me. That’s why Black Scorpion is now a woman. And when the time comes and her qi power is revealed, this change will make the character deeper and more profound, not just “a guy who can really kick ass.” Editorially speaking, this is a minor change in text but I feel a significant shift in how the game looks its characters (particularly the major supporting characters who will help highlight the various KS updates planned throughout June).

The Kickstarter Video

Due to scheduling issues and a sudden realization that filming the KS video as originally planned could actually push back the launch date to May 31st (or later), we’ve had to scrap our original video and I’m now working on something else. Anyone who knows me and has watched the previous KS videos for Killshot and Killshot: Reloaded will know that I’m not one for simply sitting at my desk and talking to the camera directly. No way. The original video was going to involve a cast of Ottawa-area cosplayers dressed as assorted characters who could easily be from the One Land but May is a busy month for everyone. With the Ottawa Comic Con next weekend and Cangames the next (and I’m on the committee, so that weekend is definitely claimed on my calendar), May 27th was the earliest date we could shoot. When I noticed the button on the top right of the KS setup page said projects were approved in 3 business days, a hard decision had to be made.

Not to say this particular video will never come to be. Just not for the Kickstarter. So stay tuned.

My Door Is Always Slightly Ajar…

That’s this week’s update. If you have any questions, comments, or observations about any of this stuff, comment below. You can imagine I’m running full steam ahead on this project and I’m psyched for everyone to finally have a chance to show their support and get the ball rolling on something that’s been four years in the making. It’s gonna be sweet and I can’t wait to experience this process with everyone.

Nathan: A 200 Word RPG Submission

Nathan: A 200 Word RPG Submission

The 2017 finalists for the #200WordRPG contest were announced today and out of the 700+ entries submitted this year… mine was not one of them. Considering it was my first attempt at a 200 word RPG (and how tricky it’s always been to keep high school essays at the word count limit), I’m quite proud and pleased to have crossed this one off my list. Plus, I’m quite happy with what this game could become that I’m considering a “full version” of it in the near future. Whenever that can happen.

For now, I’d like to share it with you. Have a read, maybe even try it out one dark and stormy night. The game is called “Nathan” and involves a group of friends arriving at a cabin in the woods only to find a note on the door with only the name “Nathan” on it. Oh, and the note is stuck to the door with a hunting knife. It’s a survival horror/slasher style game that uses a 3-minute sandglass/hourglass/egg timer to determine turn duration. Enjoy!


Four friends arrive at a cabin. A hunting knife hangs from the door with a note and a name written in blood.


Someone plays Nathan; all others are friends.

Each friend offers a theory for the note. Write each theory on an index card; one card has already been marked “TRUE” on the back. All Nathan’s friends will know the truth.

Turn over a 3-minute hourglass. Everyone will describe their character as the killer picks them off one-by-one. Before the sand runs out, a player must reveal a scary moment and choose a playing card.

Black = false alarm

Red = danger!

When a friend receives their third red card, they die. Dead friends can now play the killer and place red cards on characters.

Start the next player’s turn by flipping the hourglass as is.

When only Nathan remains, every black card becomes a wound to the killer. When the killer receives 3 black cards, the killer is dead. Nathan dies when he receives his fifth red card.

If any player fails to complete their description before the hourglass runs out, their character is instantly killed and the hourglass restarts at full.

30 Days and Counting…

30 Days and Counting…

Today is May 1st.

Time to start the countdown.

High Plains Samurai‘s Kickstarter launches May 30th.

(Warning: This post assume you know what I’m talking about when I mention High Plains Samurai. If not, you need to go here.)

I’ve been aiming for a May release over the past couple months after making the decision to give myself a couple more months to get all the ducks in a row and I’m very glad I did. There’s still a lot of work ahead to get this sumbitch ready but the KS is going to be that much more solid as a result. Not just because I’ve been able to improve the game, locking down the target and stretch goals, establishing a video that will be more than just face time with the camera asking for money (like there’s going to be a cast for this video, folks), even how the campaign will function and how rewards will be handed out have all made the extra time worth it. Strategically, this KS will be off to a stronger start than if it had launched in March.

Unless the news/teaser deserves to go straight to the BRG website, I’m going to use my blog to share updates on what you can expect on the HPS KS over the next 30 days. And I’m gonna start with two things. The first is the swanky new main graphic for the KS page because that’s the stage locked down this past weekend: graphics.


Yes, yes, very nice. What I’m really psyched to share with everyone is the swanky launch party event. It’s going to be broadcast live on Twitch and can then be downloaded for anyone to learn as much as they want about Samurai. Plus there will be a lengthy discussion on narrative combat, the techniques and best practises for using descriptive elements to create an intense and exciting fight scene in your RPGs. Oh, and it will be on the Misdirected Mark podcast on launch night. Featuring yours truly as the night’s co-host.


Allow me to repeat that. I’m going to co-host Misdirected Mark with the crew on May 30th starting at 8:45pm EST (7:45 the Queen’s time). To rephrase that in ultimate geek out fashion, I’m going to co-host my favourite podcast to talk about my game and any topic of my choice. They’ve basically done the equivalent of asking a Star Trek fan to write the next movie. It’s been close to a week since the date was confirmed and I’ve been jumping up and down with excitement. Hope you can join us to hear me make a complete ass out of myself… and have fun doing so.

If you’ve never heard of MMP before, apologies made be submitted after you learn about them here.

Get ready, kids. These next few weeks are going to be awesome.

The Lazy Man’s Guide To Sunday At Breakout

The Lazy Man’s Guide To Sunday At Breakout

And so here we come to it. The final day of BreakoutCon in Toronto. If this is your first discovery of my ongoing coverage of this awesome con, welcome and also where the fuck have you been? You can read Part 1 and Part 2 by clicking them links.

Today’s instalment does not involve running any games, playing any games, or even rolling dice, filling out character sheets… I don’t even think I opened a book on Sunday. Yet this final day became my favourite and it’s going to be a tradition I will keep up for any con I attend in the future (or at least whenever possible). Because I did jack shit on Sunday. I hung out with people. People I knew before Breakout and people I now know because of Breakout.

To be honest, this was my personal goal in attending. I’ve heard so many stories and connections established by fellow Ottawanians and podcast co-hosts, Jason Pitre (Spark) and Mark Richardson (Headspace), as they name drop infamous figures in the industry. “I remember Ken Hite once told me this joke…” “So I’m talking with John Wick and he’s showing me these early concept maps for 7th Sea…” Etcetera. If you’re picking up a jealousy in these words, then I wrote that correctly. Yeah, jealous. I wanted to meet other designers and publishers, talk shop, and otherwise get the opportunity to spend an entire day talking with people who shared the same passion and obsessive need to create games as myself.

And I was not disappointed.

Todd No Function Good No Coffee

Originally, I was scheduled to play Swords Without Master with its creator, Epidiah Ravichol, but he had to cancel due to an illness and wasn’t interested in starting the ultimate LARP of Pandemic. Rather than jump onto another game, I decided to take it easy and see what happens. So while I did miss out on meeting Epi and trying out Swords, the rest of the day made up for it.

Not to say this wasn’t a casual day of fucking off and drinking at the bar. In fact, now that I recall, I think I had one beer the entire weekend (and zero alcohol of any other kind). Huh. But anyways, Sunday morning was original intended to be a sleep-in day with the option to sign for a couple of last minute games in the afternoon. Instead, I found out about a free continental breakfast for the other con guests and so I dragged my sorry ass out of bed for that. Seems the ass dragging was very apparent when I showed up in the room because half of the folks in there immediately said, “Uh-oh!” and pointed to the coffee setup.

Being as chatty as I am not without a couple cups in me, it took a while to join in any conversations. Until Hamish Cameron (The Sprawl) and Dana Kubilus (CyberKittens) said hello from the other table and I snapped to attention. We shot the shit, they seemed to share my appreciation for letting the caffeine work its magic, and it was nice. I’ve heard a lot about both games and it’s always nice to have faces and pleasant experiences to go with titles. We were later joined by one of my numerous OGP co-hosts, Joshua Kitz (Simple Superheroes), and tried to figure out just what the hell people from Ottawa are called. The day was off to an excellent start and while our time was brief, it was nice to meet them and find other people to discuss matters like sleeping on a dead man’s mattress. (Yeah, you had to be there.)

Once everyone had to move on and start their games, I had enjoyed the idea of just hanging out with these designers so much that I moved straight into the lounge (see this series’ first post for that setup) and simply made myself available. Even to the point of applying Jason Morningstar’s open chair approach: you simply try to make sure there’s always a chair pushed away from the table to entice and encourage others to sit with you. Damn effective and highly recommended.

Look, Ma, I’m Mingling!

There are three purposes to this post. First, to serve as a permanent record of the experience once my mind eventually turns to poo. (P.S. If you are Future Me reading this and you’re not aware of the fact that you have memory problems, this is your moment of truth. If none of this sounds familiar, it’s official. You got your memory from your mother’s side of the family.) Second, to help showcase the impressive talent this con was able to collect in its second year. Third, to brag. Hey, when I stop to think about how long it’s taken me to get to a point where I’m an invited guest at a con I’ve never been to before, I think I get to earn a little bragging rights. Hmm, I wonder if this means I have to drop out of The Imposters project now. What do you think, Josh?

To keep things simple (or as simple as can in the third “chapter” of a blog post), I had the pleasure of sharing a table with these new comrades-in-arms. Due to the public nature of a creator’s work and the fact that they have either publicly stated they would be at Breakout or were publicly listed on the con’s Guest page, I’m only listing some of the people I got to hang with on Sunday. Those excluded have not been forgotten (unless it’s Future Me now and in which case you’ve likely gone the way of my car keys).

  • Chris Challice (Vanagard)
  • Fraser Simons (The Veil)
  • Jason Pitre (Sig, Posthuman Pathways)
  • Mark Richardson (Headspace) and his family
  • Fraser Ronald (who is currently kickstarting Sword’s Edge… ahem)
  • Chris Sniezak and Bob Emerson of the Misdirected Mark Podcast (and friends)
  • Andrew Medeiros (Urban Shadows, The Watch, and 72.3% of all PbtA games on the market)
  • Derek Gour (creator of possibly one of my favourite card games, Hope Inhumanity)
  • Corey Reid (Dino-Pirates of Ninja Island)
  • Joshua Kitz (Simple Superheroes)

Despite the awesomeness and inclusion of everything else at Breakout, this is what made it special for me. This is what I like doing and it was so great to sit around and talk shop with other people who felt like they had hacked their way into this event and some who are already legendary figures in the industry (and especially turned out to be really easy going and approachable). This is the day that made the whole weekend worth it.

Now you’ll notice a serious lack of women’s names in the list above and that’s not because there were none there. There were none who approached the table I was sitting at and joined in. Check out the Guest list for Breakout, they were there. Was it because there was a table full of dudes and they didn’t feel like joining in despite my efforts to keep an open table? Perhaps. So I’m going to say this now and mark it as a goal for next year: I want to meet with a more diverse crowd of designers. Right now I’m in this small, immediate bubble and I want it to get bigger. Consider yourself warned, RPG designers of alternate genders and backgrounds. I’m coming to get you.

Um, in the whole, “Wow, it’d really be great to meet you and talk about design” kinda way. Sheesh, seems the awkward teenager never truly goes away, does it?

In Stores Now

One more thing before I go and prepare to wrap up this trilogy. I sold book to a physical retail store! Thanks to Fraser Ronald for literally tracking me down and dragging me into the room to meet with 401 Games in Toronto because now they have four physical copies of ScreenPlay on their shelves. Virtual too. Oops, wait, now it’s three copies. This was another added benefit and one I did not expect so preparations are already underway to ensure I can deal with retailers again at the drop of a hat.

Time To Wrap It Up…

After nearly 5000 words and three individual posts, I think it’s safe to say my experience at Breakout was a rousing success and all I’ve heard from anyone there during and post-con was praise and full-on joy. It was also really nice to have a con with these kinds of meetups without crossing the border. Plus, after sales at both the Breakout Indie Store and 401 Games, the entire weekend only cost me $160. Kind of a no-brainer that I’ll be back again and again. And again and again. And I recommend you do so too.

I want to give my immense thanks to Kate, Rachelle, Rob, and all the volunteers there for doing a fantastic job. It’s really helped set the bar for what I want to help accomplish with Cangames (taking place in Ottawa this May long weekend – plug!) and what I will expect from any con in the future. If there was one quick and easy way to define my time at Breakout (really, after 5000 words?), it would be “a definitive moment in my career.” After this weekend, I don’t feel like a hack hoping my work would be noticed. I know feel like a hack who stands a chance at being noticed.

Baby steps, people. Confidence doesn’t just fall out of the sky.


I Went To Breakout And All I Have To Show For It Was A Fucking Awesome Time

I Went To Breakout And All I Have To Show For It Was A Fucking Awesome Time

297513138_origHey, what can I say? I wanted a headline that was catchy and bang on accurate.

This past weekend was a 3-day extravaganza known as BreakoutCon in Toronto and I’m proud to say I was there for all three days. Proud and so happy to have gone for so many reasons, excited that I had an opportunity to meet so many great designers, playtest High Plains Samurai, run some of my older games (including Killshot, which hasn’t been done for maybe two years), and otherwise hang out with some great friends both new and original. In fact, you should know it was an amazing experience I have to share in great detail because I’m posting something on the blog. You know that only happens when a G+ post simply won’t cut it.

As much as I could ramble on in so many ways about the entire experience, it might be easier on all of us if I simply post a single aspect of the experience one day at a time. But I want to make something perfectly clear to give everyone a heads up on the overall theme of these posts. BreakoutCon was awesome and I will be back! It’s also a highly recommended con to attend if Toronto in March is in your radar. Seriously. Consider it.

Let’s break this down, shall we? Troy, drop a beat.

A Quest To Break Barriers As Well As Breakout

I went to Breakout for three reasons. One, it was a chance to playtest HPS and network with other industry professionals without crossing the border. Two, it came highly recommended from my fellow Ottawa Game Publishers hosts, especially Fraser Ronald. Third, I was an invited guest. That means regardless of how far down the totem pole I was from the other guests, I was on that pole. (I know that doesn’t sound right in some ways, but let’s just stick with it and move on, shall we?)

Buuuuuuut… it’s in Toronto. And we chose to drive. Oh yeah, I’ve never really tested myself in a con situation for three straight days, let alone run games all day with the likely scenario of doing so with only a few hours sleep. As excited as I was to attend, there were some legit hurdles to overcome. Driving on the busiest highway in the North America in Canada’s largest city, not fuzzing out in the middle of the con (or a game, for that matter), and generally not freaking out at the con. Add to that leaving my wife behind with a toddler for a whole weekend. This was huge because I wasn’t comfortable leaving for an entire weekend plus change. It was a bit presumptuous. When I happened to mention Breakout to the missus, her immediate response was, “You should go. It’s obviously important to you and something you have to do. Besides, it’s your birthday that weekend. Go kick some ass.” You’re right, she’s awesome.

At that time, I was knee deep getting High Plains Samurai ready for playtest and had targeted March as a launch date for the Kickstarter (or at least that was the plan at the time). Using Breakout as the launchpad would be ideal and a valid excuse for me to go. Plus I could (hopefully) sell enough games to cover enough costs to make it worthwhile and split the rest with anyone else going. There were less and less cons in the way (save for the big ones above). Yet the pros were enough for me to say, “Fuck you, cons!” Besides, there’s no suspense here, I went. Obviously, duh-doy!

Yep, that’s Highway 401 alright.

The driving issue was really the most pressing. There’s a lot of cars going really fast in the 401 and while my PTSD behind the wheel is mostly under control, it had never been put to the test. So I did the responsible thing and made sure everyone else in the car knew what was going on and that I would need to drive and it would need to be my Jeep. It was a control thing. But if it became too much, someone else would have to take over. Someone would have to navigate and be on the ball with that GPS. I would swear at drivers, never get aggressive, but something sudden and unexpected at high speeds could be a problem. I could physically react and avoid the problem, it was a matter of how I would react mentally. Despite all that, it felt time to handle them and cross that barrier.

This became more of an issue since the chimney fire a couple months ago. Since then, I wouldn’t say I’ve been having flashbacks or anything (there’s still no memory to flash back to) but fire is suddenly a serious concern. I haven’t been sleeping as well knowing the wood stove has a fire going and have been literally pacing when we start a fire for the first time each day. But I drove. Both ways. No issues. The Holiday Inn at Yorkdale that hosted Breakout is literally right off the highway and within five minutes of getting off the highway, we’re in the parking lot. Lickety split, quick as shit. Now that it’s done and over, I have no more excuses about driving anywhere. Other than simply not wanting to, but that’s healthy.

Oh, yeah. That’s right. There was one other personal/mental health issue I was trying to conquer but kinda ended up going about it a stalker-y way, looking back at it. Note to self: walking around with a subtitle on your name badge that reads, “I accept all hugs” is quite possibly super creepy. But I was. Why? Because my parents never hugged me enough as a child. No, I’m serious. I’ve become very aware of my sensitivity to physical contact, particularly with hugs. That’s why I cry (or at least tear up) very easily when someone hugs me. Hugs aren’t allergies, so my thought was the best way to get rid of that kind of reaction was through exposure. More hugs = less tears, right? At least one of the con organizers and Mama Bear to the Toronto gaming community, Kate Bullock, got it and made sure I didn’t leave TO without one. Or two. (To see Kate in action is to truly think of her as the woman who practically raised all the kids in her neighbourhood – kind and firm. She welcomed you with open arms and she only needed one or two firm words to get you to stop when you broke one of her rules.)

Sleeping Arrangements

A promotional photo for the Holiday Inn at Yorkdale, home of BreakoutCon 2017.

The whole con is located at the Holiday Inn at Yorkdale. By the way, remind me later on to tell you about the problem with trying to feed yourself in Yorkdale area later on. They actually made a movie about our story, you may have seen it. Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle. Not this post, but another one will share that story. For now, the hotel.

Having a convention inside the hotel while staying at said hotel is so ideal, I cannot imagine any other way of doing it. You never have to leave the building for anything. Except food. There’s a restaurant, a coffee shop, and a small convenience store inside, but don’t count on the restaurant being timely with food or drinks. Especially not food. Kid you not, I had to wait close to an hour for fish and chips on Friday evening. Going out for grub gets only marginally easier, as you’ll find out in a future post.

The hotel itself was quite decent and the rates we paid as convention attendees were very reasonable, all things considering. As someone who works at a hotel/ski resort, I can tell you some of the small perks found at this Holiday Inn (including auto checkout) make a big difference. There were other perks (not big, but perks nonetheless) gained by signing up for their rewards membership, not even as a long-standing member or anything. Sleeping wise (yes, there was some sleeping), two-thirds of us slept well with myself and Fraser in the Not So Much side and Eric from Cangames in the Yes, Just Fine side. While I have yet to total up my expenses for the weekend at the time of this writing, I figure all told it cost me $200 for the weekend split mostly three ways (including gas, but not including food). And that’s not including book sales. Oh, yes, Breakout sells your books for you when you’re an industry guest. Another topic for an upcoming post.

Overall, I was quite happy with our accommodations and even the restaurant ended up working out as a central hub for others I did know at the con (including Jason Pitre, Mark Richardson, Joshua Kitz, and a couple others) and those I would come to meet and chat over the coming three days. Shall I name drop? Fuck yeah, because it was awesome to meet all of them. Fraser Simons (my Sunday afternoon compadre), Chris Sniezak and Bob Everson from the Misdirected Mark podcast (big fan!), Andrew Medeiros (he seemed to be recognized by a few people there), Chris Chalice, Derek Gour, plus others who do not publish their name for a living. When you end up spending that many hours hanging out between games, having to wait for drinks doesn’t seem that bad.

Tempting Fate in the Sunken Empire

Sunken Empire by Emily Griggs

Ok, ok, let’s at least address one game. When it came down to it, I really only played one game. To be honest, I actually only played one game and I’m very happy it was Emily Griggs’ Sunken Empire. I’ve read Fate Core and never had a chance to play so when this one popped up for Friday afternoon and happened to also be run by a fellow Ottawantonianite (see what I mean, Hamish, we can’t make up our minds on what to call ourselves), I jumped at it. Emily and I have only met briefly when we shared a panel at Capital Gaming Expo one year but I’m also a fan of her Game Chef designs (especially Rest, now available on DriveThruRPG – you go ahead and buy it, I’ll wait here). She did not disappoint. With three inexperienced Fate players in her group (this guy included), she made it easy to handle the learning curve and deal with the adventure rather than the mechanics.

Sunken Empire (also on DriveThru) is a steampunk Victorian-inspired setting where we mucked up the planet much sooner than the course currently set for Mother Earth and humans became forced to live underwater. Aside from giving me a chance to speak only in a really thick Cockney accent with gibberish words that sounded British, love, the way she addressed the treasure hunt itself as a character in the game is quite clever. Yes. Quite. The hunt has values exactly like a character and you basically cause stress and complications to the hunt at the end of each scene by choosing which action/roll lead to the scene’s success more than any others. The moment’s leading character makes that same roll again versus the treasure hunt to determine what, if any, stress the hunt will take. Basically, when the hunt can no longer hide its secrets because you’ve picked away at it long enough, the sunken treasure is found. It’s a nifty approach and worked very well for this game. A fun game that now makes me an experienced Fate player. Another box checked!

On The Next Episode: 24 Hours of GMing

From two playtests of High Plains Samurai to a journey back to where it all began (the second time… or maybe the third when you think about it… unless we count that time… never mind, it’s been two years since I ran Killshot and that’s what else I ran), I’ll delve into the insanity at the tables for the second chapter of this trilogy.

Fight! Tony Jaa To The Rescue Again

Fight! Tony Jaa To The Rescue Again

Last weekend, we finally wrapped up our long-overdue mini-campaign of High Plains Samurai. And when I say long-overdue, I mean a game that’s required almost four years to complete. From its initial inception using Killshot‘s mechanics to the inspiration for ScreenPlay mixed in with the assorted delays of real life and numerous revisions, our tale came to an end with Grandfather of Hunan’s reign coming to an explosive end. Great times and while I’m happy to know we finally made it to the end, I’m also finding myself wondering if this game is performing exactly as I had hoped.

So I went back to my inspiration for damn near every major design of the past few years: Ong Bak 2. Despite others opinions on this movie compared to other Tony Jaa films, this one has some of the most dynamic fight scenes captured on film and I’ll defend it like Jim McClure with Legend of the Five Rings – vigorously and passionately. These fight scenes were fundamental to ScreenPlay/High Plains Samurai‘s mechanics and whenever I wasn’t sure if I was on the right track, it was simply a matter of slipping in the DVD and skipping to all the ass-kicking scenes.

Honestly, the mechanics themselves – descriptions, outcomes, Stamina, all that, is functional. But something’s off. What happens at the table is not exactly what you see in the movies and that’s what I want with HPS. So I choose one scene in particular and started tearing it apart looking for where I’ve gone wrong or what needs to be tweaked to fit this style. Let’s watch, shall we?

The rest of this post is going to direct the mechanics behind ScreenPlay/High Plains Samurai to see what works 100%, what’s running shy of the goal, and what’s way the fuck off. Crack your knuckles and get ready because this post took a couple days to put together. It’s that thorough.

What I’ve provided below is not the only way this scene could play out using ScreenPlay/High Plains Samurai, but it’s the one that pops into my head as I watch. This scene features four characters: Jaa (played by Tony Jaa) as the lead, two Elite Warriors, built as Director-controlled supporting characters, and a few Masked Warriors built as extras. Character stats (as I imagine them) are provided below. Seeing as there’s no end to the number of challenges possible from earlier scenes, I’m not going to have a starting number and will simple spend them as if the Director has enough to go around.

ongbak2posterCast of Characters

Before getting into the fight, we have to know who we’re dealing with. For simplicity’s sake, I’m simply going to refer to Tony Jaa by his stage name and not his character’s name in the movie (mainly because I always mix it up with his name in The Protector… or some other movie of his). This is how I would build these characters in the scene and I’m not going to bother with the Mysterious Warrior because he is nothing more than background material and motivation for Jaa to punch and kick his way through this scene. I’m also going to avoid bumping Jaa up to more than 15 Stamina as the vast majority of characters played with ScreenPlay/High Plains Samurai to date have been at this “level.”


Lead Character
  Master of All the Deadly Arts (d8/5/3)
Leader of Bandits (d6/3/2)
Angry Like the Hulk (d6/3/2)
  Trained by the Best Warriors (+1 steps)
Elbows and Kneecaps of Steel (+1 damage)
Awareness (+1 steps)

Tattoo Face & Masked Warrior 

Supporting Characters
Needs No Weapon (d8/5/3)
Fears No One (d6/3/2)
Martial Arts Training (+1 damage)
Element of Surprise (+1 steps)
Stamina 7 each

Anonymous Goons

Extras x3
Trained to Fight (d6/3/2)
Weapons (+1 steps)
Stamina 3 each

Ready, Set… Fight!

Below is a turn-by-turn description of the fight scene broken down into segments of the above fight scene. I’m not going to bother with a list of possible dice rolls because this is a backwards build. There are a couple times where I use absolutes (the highest value on a die roll) based on the impact of a given attack in the scene, but that’s about it.

0:01 to 0:08 (The Opening Shot)

While only two minutes in length and part of a much larger climax, this fight scene is exactly that – a scene. And this is the opening shot. Jaa spots his enemy on a rooftop, baiting him with nothing more than his stance. As he leaps closer and closer to this figure, Jaa is suddenly confronted by a trio of Anonymous Goons. While extras can be handled as a group, it’s not mandatory and if you really want to give someone like Jaa a run for their money, you treat each Anonymous Goons as their own character with individual descriptions and complication rolls. Catching Jaa off-guard, the Director finished the opening shot with the first Anonymous Goon moving in with a swipe of his weapon, missing and being pushed back by Jaa as the others enter the fray. Combat begins!

0:09 to 0:13 (The Second Anonymous Goon Attacks)

The Director spends 1 challenge to allow one of the Anonymous Goons to start the scene with a description: a volley of strikes quickly blocked by Jaa’s rapid fire blocks. The Goon’s description provide a series of attempts (each one its own detail) that is blocked by Jaa before the roll is attempted and becomes ineffective. Once again, Jaa gets to choose a complication for the second Anonymous Goon and goes with damage, pushing him back against the nearby rock to knock him right out.

0:15 to 0:21 (Now It’s The First Goon’s Turn)

Weilding a pair of katar, the first Goon steps in swinging with deadly 360 degree swipes at Jaa’s jugular. Rather than waiting for the resulting die roll, Jaa spends 1 Stamina and interrupts at the last minute with a complication roll of his own. It’s effective and he uses the Goon’s own katar to slit his throat (a damage complication), killing him.

0:22 to 0:24 (And Then There Was Three…)

Even with the first Goon dead, control still remains up to the Director and he plays up the third extra in play with a set of metal claws for weapons. When the dice hit the table, Jaa once again provides a high enough Difficulty to make the complication roll ineffective and instead places a Grappled restriction complication on him.

0:25 to 0:28 (Jaa Takes On The Claws)

There are no more extras in play in this scene and so it’s now Jaa’s turn. Using his Master of All the Deadly Arts potential, he begins to bat this extra around like a toy with each detail adding on an extra flourish to demonstrate how he keeps his opponent’s deadly weapons at a safe distance. For the key detail, Jaa attempts to break the Goon’s arm… and the roll is ineffective. Instead, the Anonymous Goon gets to place a complication on Jaa and it’s Pinned With My Claws (a restriction).

The first round is now over.

0:29 to 0:36 (Jaa Finishes the Third Goon Off)

As he was the last character to act in the previous round, Jaa gets to choose who starts the next one and he selects himself. Good thing, because after using 1 Stamina to remove the Pinned With My Claws complication with a single detail, he still has 2 remaining to describe how one claw is tossed aside like paper before rolling to deal the killing blow to this extra: a damage complication digging the Masked Warrior’s remaining claw into his own throat, dropping him to 0 Stamina. The Director even adds in a little touch of the flying claw blocked by the observing Mysterious Warrior from the opening shot.

0:37 to 0:50 (Enter the Masked Warrior)

Leaping into the fray is the Masked Warrior and now that Jaa’s done for the round, all he can do is defend. A rush of punches and kicks from this combatant sporting spikes on his palms forces Jaa to step back more and more until they approach a raised platform and that’s where the Masked Warrior uses his key detail to make an effective complication roll. The complication? Tag Team, a penalty complication created as the Masked Warrior spends 1 Stamina to inflict a -1 step penalty on Jaa.

0:51 to 0:57 (Tattoo Face Steps In)

Tattoo Face makes his move and begins to assault Jaa with a few knees and elbows, easily blocked. Attempting a complication roll doesn’t work, but Tattoo Face rolls an even number and decides to have nothing happen. That’s what you get when you roll evens on an ineffective complication roll, but now Jaa is surrounded. The Director has no plans for the Mysterious Warrior to do anything (yet) and so the second round ends.

0:58 to 1:09 (Keeping Them At Bay)

Looking to use up Jaa’s turn at the start of the third round, the Director chooses our lone hero. Jaa spends 1 Stamina to remove the penalty with a the first detail, followed by a series of distracting attacks towards one opponent while actually directing it towards the other to keep either from pressing their advantage. It all culminates on the key detail: leaping off Tattoo Face to deliver a kick to Masked Warrior’s face. The dice drop and Jaa rolls an even number, only to have it dropped to an odd number when his target spends 1 Stamina. The Masked Warrior gets to choose the complication and turns what would have been damage to Knocked Down (a restriction complication).

1:10 to 1:15 (While The Masked Warrior Is Down)

The Director’s two supporting characters are the only ones available in the round starts by saving the Masked Warrior’s Stamina as is, removing the Knocked Down complication with a full description. That leaves Tattoo Face to offer a barrage of upper body blows, none of them capable of breaching Jaa’s blocks. When the dice hit the table, the tables have in fact turned and Jaa gets to place a complication on his opponent’s ineffective complication and so he goes with Stepping Stool to force him down onto his knees to perfect the next attack as the third round comes to an end.

1:16 to 1:22 (Slow Motion Knee to the Face)

Let’s say the Director planned to start the fourth round with Masked Warrior, but Jaa won’t let that happen. Instead, he spends 1 Stamina to interrupt and with the Stepping Stone complication keeping Tattoo Face on all fours, he is described leaping off that one’s back and connecting his battle-hardened knee straight to the Masked Warrior’s face. And the dice like it, rolling an absolute on a d10 against a Difficulty of 7 for 3 damage.

1:23 to 1:37 (A Weakened Masked Warrior Steps Up and Goes Back Down)

At this point, Jaa is down to 10 Stamina and risks starting the next scene with less than his maximum of 15 at the next scene and there’s still half an army to go. The Masked Warrior is down to 2 Stamina, but Tattoo Face still has a healthy 6 Stamina remaining. He needs to conserve his strength as much as possible. As the Masked Warrior takes a turn and lashes out with an almost never-ending parade of strikes, Jaa’s impressive Difficulty of 7 against his opponent’s d8 makes it too hard. Hoping the volley itself will wear our hero down, it only ends up ineffective and Jaa gets to place a complication on him: Back You Get! forces him to fall back once more as Tattoo Face’s turn is next.

1:38 to 1:42 (Tattoo Face Doesn’t Fare Any Better)

Spending 1 Stamina to ditch the Stepping Stool complication, the next one steps up to try and bring Jaa down, he does not better than his ally. Offering up a slew of blows, the complication roll nets the same result as the first’s, so Jaa gives him the exact same complication and knocks him to the ground. The fourth round is over.

1:43 to 2:05 (Tag Team!)

Flanked by his opponents, Jaa must now find a way to bounce back and forth between them so they cannot gang up on him. Rather than a turn-by-turn breakdown, this sequence can basically work as three rounds mixing up damage (particularly if Jaa rolls an absolute) and applying complications like Pushed Back or anything else requiring his enemies to remove before they can approach him for their next strike. Already running low on Stamina, the Masked Warrior cannot afford to spend any more to remove complications quickly and must spend turns each round to get back up again. This allows Jaa to focus his actual turns on the healthier Tattoo Face and using the other’s ineffective rolls to push him back and hold him off. For now.

2:06 to 2:12 (Time to End This!)

Either by waiting for his turn or using 1 Stamina to interrupt, Jaa makes an effective complication roll against both opponents (even with a -1 step penalty for doing so). He rolls an absolute of 8 against their Difficulties of 5. No one can shift that down and Jas is going to beat the shit out of them with it. On Tattoo Face, he places a choke hold. This is nothing more than a minor detail to explain how Jaa will handle them one by one. The first feels the full wrath of Jaa’s fury with damage that drops him down to 0 Stamina. Hence the slow motion effect as a kick to the face sends the Masked Warrior falling out of frame, defeated.

2:13 to 2:16 (One More Left)

At this point, Tattoo Face has only 4 Stamina remaining compared to Jaa’s 10 Stamina. He goes to make a move with a simple, single detail of a kick to the jaw and the dice are still not in his favour. Jaa responds by placing his choice of complications, Stunned, as he delivers a knee to the face.

2:17 to 2:23 (The Finishing Move)

The final round begins and ends with Jaa spending 1 last Stamina to interrupt and ensure he can strike before Tattoo Face can get up – and it’s another absolute with the d10. Against the Stunned opponent’s Difficulty of 3 (as the Director finds it hard for a martial artist to apply a martial arts-based potential when someone is Stunned), that’s 7 damage! More enough to finish him off, and so Jaa provides the means by which Tattoo Face leaves the scene: he lifts his opponent into the air by only a foot and launches both elbows into his chest, sending him flying back ten feet through a nearby ladder.

The scene concludes and Jaa will gain 4 Stamina back to start the next scene with 14 Stamina (9 + half of the current total = 14).


Breaking It All Down

Number of Rounds = 8
Amount of Stamina Jaa Lost = 6
Number of Complications Against Jaa = 2
Number of Complications Against Enemies (not including damage) = 9

What Worked?

While I may have fudged a few dice roll here and there, all of this played out as if it was a real session of High Plains Samurai. At no point and time did I feel the need to bend either the events of the actual fight scene or the rules to make it work. Would an actual game work out the same? Can a single lead character with 15 Stamina hold his own against five opponents totally 23 Stamina? In my experience, yes, it can totally happen.

What Didn’t Work?

If you do a direct comparison of blows in the movie compared to actual dice rolls, they don’t quite match up. Using ScreenPlay directly as written, many of these attacks are extra details thrown in as flourishes to make the fight far more dynamic than the dice roll. Now here’s the big thing: no one plays that way. It’s something they have to be taught. For example, many of these flourishes involve accepting your opponent will block most of them and it’s only the key details – or the key attack, if you will – that stands a shot of breaking through and getting something done. But the rest of it assumes a good defence from your opponent. No one who’s played High Plains Samurai to date has done so; their enemies will always get smacked around until the dice say otherwise.

That’s something I want to fix. Not with mechanics or a reward for “playing nice with your enemies,” but through guidelines and recommendations on how to play. A sidebar. But really it comes down to how everyone wants their own version of the fight to play out. It’s actually something to demonstrate in the outcome because while the outcome is supposed to indicate the end result of a description, there’s nothing stopping anyone from going into how a character reacts during the description and then what happens after the complication is applied.

In Conclusion…

Fuck me, this works! This experiment’s taken me three days to write and while it’s cost me precious time working on my other projects, the relief I’m feeling right now makes the effort totally worth it. Does this mean this example automatically equals perfection in every possible movie fight scene? Not necessarily… but I’m game to try another experiment. What do you think? Any other fight scenes out there you’d recommend? If you do, comment below or share it on Twitter with the hashtag #HPSfightscene and I’ll choose another one to test against the High Plains Samurai mechanics.