HPS Kickstarter Review I: Breaking Down The Numbers

HPS Kickstarter Review I: Breaking Down The Numbers

As I write this very first sentence, it has been nine days since the High Plains Samurai Kickstarter campaign ended and the rush of victory has faded to an overall sense of accomplishment to an awareness that it’s time to start putting a finished game together. It’s more than, “Oh, now I can finish what I started.” That was the original intention. During the course of the Kickstarter, I started thinking of ways to improve what’s already been done, flesh out areas that may not be as clear as originally written, and reset a few switches to ensure a better game. While a vast majority of the previous content in the KS will remain, I’m treating this final version of the game as a new project based on a previous one rather than a continuation.

But before any of that can begin, the first step is to break down the numbers and see what we’re working with. Unlike the early stages of this project, there is a set budget in various departments to consider and that includes writing. Paying an editor means I have to keep the additional words added into this book within a certain amount. Because one of the big promises I made to my backers was transparency and because I’m a big believer in indie publishers showing off their numbers – no matter how big or how small – making this public gives others an idea of what to expect under similar circumstances. Plus dissecting data via a blog post really helps me break it down into concise thoughts and bullet points as I move forward. This will be part of a small series on the Kickstarter itself and what that translates into dollar wise. As the months go on, I will continue to post more updates and detailed numbers on this project.

A Slow and Steady Climb

HPS-Kickstarter_goalschecklist
The final goals checklist from the Kickstarter. 

Let’s start off with the main numbers in any Kickstarter: the total money raised and the number of backers who made it happen. High Plains Samurai raised $6,411 CDN with 273 backers in 31 days. Our goal was $3,000 CDN (something like $2,225 USD) and we hit 213% of our goal.

When I set the goal for $3,000 (after great deliberation), my true hope was to not crawl over a finish line. I wanted to at least get halfway between stretch goals or fall right underneath. When you just make it past the main goal or a stretch goal, you’re still working with the bare minimum you’re willing to accept to get something done. Sure, we weren’t about to produce Black Scorpion’s Revenge just yet, but this is about as high as amount as I planned to make the four core products now possible through this KS. If we had just raised a little over $7,000 to make BSR, it would have meant a leaner version of the product. Still very plausible, but it’s always nice to make a little more than you need to feel good about your work. This is borderline greed and I’m sure Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman will walk into my unusually darkened home one night to investigate this deadly sin but it’s the truth about crowdfunding. Your goals are the baseline version of your ideas and raising a little more in between gives you a buffer to account for unexpected hiccups and add on a little more than you needed to pull off your idea.

Reaching those goals though… man, they can be a nut buster. Below is the progression chart of this Kickstarter. It’s not necessarily indicative of other campaigns, but there are some popular trends among your average ones that don’t blow the walls off the gaming world. Beneath that, I’ve provided a table detailing exactly how much was raised each day and the orange rows indicate when the primary goal and $5,000 stretch goals were hit.

HPS-KS-Progression Chart

Day

Date

Money Raised

% of Goal

New Pledges

Adjustments

Cancelled Pledges

1

2017-05-30

$2,028

68%

90

2

0

2

2017-05-31

$884

97%

37

0

0

3

2017-06-01

$488

113%

20

2

1

4

2017-06-02

$330

124%

12

0

0

5

2017-06-03

$110

128%

6

0

0

6

2017-06-04

$122

132%

6

2

1

7

2017-06-05

$105

136%

6

1

2

8

2017-06-06

$207

142%

6

3

0

9

2017-06-07

$124

147%

5

1

3

10

2017-06-08

$44

148%

3

1

0

11

2017-06-09

$88

151%

4

2

0

12

2017-06-10

$49

153%

3

0

0

13

2017-06-11

$0

153%

0

0

0

14

2017-06-12

$9

153%

1

1

0

15

2017-06-13

-$1

153%

3

1

0

16

2017-06-14

-$26

152%

2

1

1

17

2017-06-15

$2

152%

3

2

2

18

2017-06-16

$36

155%

3

0

0

19

2017-06-17

$12

156%

1

0

0

20

2017-06-18

$0

156%

1

0

1

21

2017-06-19

$19

158%

3

0

4

22

2017-06-20

$19

158%

2

0

0

23

2017-06-21

$58

160%

3

0

3

24

2017-06-22

$58

166%

5

1

1

25

2017-06-23

$42

164%

3

1

3

26

2017-06-24

$44

166%

3

1

2

27

2017-06-25

$67

168%

5

1

3

28

2017-06-26

$209

175%

9

2

1

29

2017-06-27

$326

186%

19

1

3

30

2017-06-28

$477

202%

25

1

2

31

2017-06-29

$365

214%

20

2

4

TOTAL

6411

 

311

29

37

See that 17-day flatline? Damn thing crawled so slow there was a trail of slime on my screen. Undoubtedly this was the most stressful part of the campaign as it crawled along. While there’s no question the midpoint crawl of every crowdfunding campaign applies, there’s also something to say for the crowd’s overall opinion on the next stretch goal. In this particular case, I started to wonder by Day 10 if backer were not as interested in unlock a short story involving an upcoming villain. When I posted an additional stretch goal, the Atlas of the One Land, to also unlock at $5k and the crawl continued, those fears were pushed aside.

Here’s the same table rearranged by order of most money raised.

Day

Date

Money Raised

New Pledges

Adjustments

Cancelled Pledges

1

2017-05-30

$2,028

90

2

0

2

2017-05-31

$884

37

0

0

3

2017-06-01

$488

20

2

1

30

2017-06-28

$477

25

1

2

31

2017-06-29

$365

20

2

4

4

2017-06-02

$330

12

0

0

29

2017-06-27

$326

19

1

3

28

2017-06-26

$209

9

2

1

8

2017-06-06

$207

6

3

0

9

2017-06-07

$124

5

1

3

6

2017-06-04

$122

6

2

1

5

2017-06-03

$110

6

0

0

7

2017-06-05

$105

6

1

2

11

2017-06-09

$88

4

2

0

27

2017-06-25

$67

5

1

3

24

2017-06-22

$58

5

1

1

23

2017-06-21

$58

3

0

3

12

2017-06-10

$49

3

0

0

26

2017-06-24

$44

3

1

2

10

2017-06-08

$44

3

1

0

25

2017-06-23

$42

3

1

3

18

2017-06-16

$36

3

0

0

22

2017-06-20

$19

2

0

0

21

2017-06-19

$19

3

0

4

19

2017-06-17

$12

1

0

0

14

2017-06-12

$9

1

1

0

17

2017-06-15

$2

3

2

2

20

2017-06-18

$0

1

0

1

13

2017-06-11

$0

0

0

0

15

2017-06-13

-$1

3

1

0

16

2017-06-14

-$26

2

1

1

The first thing to point out is that the five busiest days are at the beginning and end of the campaign. Days 1-3 brought in the most money, followed by Days 30-31. The reverse side of that coin shows the least amount (and in some cases negative amounts) were brought in during the middle phase of the campaign. This is not new information to anyone who has run a Kickstarter before, but what was a discovery for me was watching the total drop during the middle phase of the campaign. Day 16 saw the bar drop by $26.

If the middle is so damaging, it’s made me wonder why run a 30+ day campaign to begin with? If crowdfunding’s reputation is to slow down to a dead crawl in the middle… take out the middle! This is something I’ll be playing with during my next KS. Try out a 20 day campaign, maybe even 15 days. There are a couple others who have done so, especially when they’re dealing with smaller amounts or niche products in a larger market (such as Goodman Games’ scratch-a-box character sheets).

What Did Everyone Buy?

Below is a table containing the various backer levels for HPS as well as my initial prediction on possible backers per level. When I say “stacked” on the Rewards column, it means the rewards for lower levels include those listed on the rows above too (in most cases).

Backer Level Rewards (stacked)

Projected Backers

Actual Backers

Money Raised per Level

After Backer Reward Costs

Raw Apprentice ($1) Access to the current draft (PDF)

20

8

$8.00

$8.00

Rogue Scholar ($7) Legend of the High Plains Samurai (PDF)

40

11

$77.00

$77.00

Noble Warrior ($12) High Plains Samurai core rulebook (PDF)

60

125

$1,500.00

$1,500.00

True Believer ($25) High Plains Samurai core rulebook (softcover)

50

74

$1,850.00

$1,480.00

Hardened Outsider ($50) High Plains Samurai core rulebook (hardcover)

30

47

$2,350.00

$1,645.00

Rogue Scholar ($100) 24” by 36” map of the One Land, signed book

20

6

$600.00

$360.00

No Rewards

0

2

$21.00

$21.00

Based on these initial numbers, after Kickstarter takes its cut of roughly 8%-9% for commission and credit card processing fees, and assuming ~2% of them won’t process due to overdue balances or whatnot, this means I can expect to have approximately ~$5,300 available to arrive in my account. Ah, but it gets a bit more complicated than that and I’ll get into that in the next installment of this mini-series.

When you offer both print and PDF backer levels, the general rule of thumb is to expect half of your backers to take PDF. HPS saw 46% of its backers go for PDFs only. 44% of backers went for a physical copy. This was the part that really boosted my confidence in this project. To me, buying a physical book means you not only like the concept, you want to have the opportunity to play it some day. Physical books, in this industry, are still a good indicator of actual play rather than purchasing a game for casual reading. It’s not indicative of actual sales once the final product is out in the world, more of a measure of positive interest in the game and it’s potential (pardon the pun) to reach a few tables.

PDF backers mean you basically get to “keep” 100% of their pledge. Creating a PDF is part of the production process and you skip the part where it goes to paper. Physical copies require a printer, shipper, and a few extra hands along the way. That dips into those pledges and that causes the overall funds applicable towards paying for editing, artwork, and more gets a little smaller. That’s where pre-campaign estimates really pay off. Because I have a few quotes on all the possible options available to me, I can expect roughly $1,500 will go towards backer rewards. This leaves me with $3,500 to finish the game. (All this remains guesswork. The next post will involve the actual numbers at hand once the money makes it into my account and I’ve received updated quotes from printers.)

That’s right. Of the $6,411 raised, I can expect only 54.5% of it to go towards making the game. And when you’ve already calculated that percentage long before you press the start button, you can set your pledge levels accordingly and still walk away with what you need to get the job done.

Below is a chart I’ve been plugging away on for months. It contains all the possible outcomes for this KS with the amounts expected for the actual money raised in red.

Funded Estimated Dropped Backers Assorted Fees (averaged to 14% of total funding, including BackerKit) Profit Estimated Development Costs (editing, artwork, layout) Remaining Funding After Development Costs Estimated Production Costs for Backer Rewards Remaining Funding After Backer Rewards
$3,000 $0.00 $420.00 $2,580.00 $1,250.00 $1,330.00 $500.00 $830.00
$4,000 $0.00 $560.00 $3,440.00 $1,250.00 $2,190.00 $1,000.00 $1,190.00
$5,000 $1,000.00 $700.00 $4,300.00 $2,250.00 $2,050.00 $1,250.00 $800.00
$6,000 $0.00 $840.00 $5,160.00 $2,900.00 $2,260.00 $1,500.00 $760.00
$6,411 $130.00 $900.00 $5,381.00 $3,500.00 $1,881.00 $1,500.00 $381.00
$7,000 $0.00 $980.00 $6,020.00 $3,500.00 $2,520.00 $1,750.00 $770.00
$8,000 $0.00 $1,120.00 $6,880.00 $4,000.00 $2,880.00 $2,000.00 $880.00
$9,000 $0.00 $1,260.00 $7,740.00 $4,500.00 $3,240.00 $2,250.00 $990.00
$10,000 $0.00 $1,400.00 $8,600.00 $5,000.00 $3,600.00 $2,500.00 $1,100.00
$11,000 $0.00 $1,540.00 $9,460.00 $5,000.00 $4,460.00 $2,750.00 $1,710.00
$12,500 $0.00 $1,750.00 $10,750.00 $7,500.00 $3,250.00 $3,000.00 $250.00
$13,000 $0.00 $1,820.00 $11,180.00 $7,500.00 $3,680.00 $3,250.00 $430.00
$14,000 $0.00 $1,960.00 $12,040.00 $7,500.00 $4,540.00 $3,500.00 $1,040.00
$15,000 $0.00 $2,100.00 $12,900.00 $7,500.00 $5,400.00 $3,750.00 $1,650.00
$16,000 $0.00 $2,240.00 $13,760.00 $7,500.00 $6,260.00 $4,000.00 $2,260.00
$17,000 $0.00 $2,380.00 $14,620.00 $7,500.00 $7,120.00 $4,250.00 $2,870.00
$18,000 $0.00 $2,520.00 $15,480.00 $10,000.00 $5,480.00 $4,500.00 $980.00

As you can see, I was prepared for this thing to go nuts! In hindsight, it was presumptuous to assume this thing would hit $18k, but not preparing for it and suddenly finding yourself in that predicament was not a situation I wanted to be in.

That last column is my safety net. It’s a bit smaller than I would have preferred but I do have the benefit of not worrying about shipping costs. That will be covered when I use BackerKit to collect the data and shipping fees from all backers early next year.

The Lost 37 Backers

Over the course of the KS, 37 backers changed their mind and cancelled their pledges. That’s 12% of the total backers ended up pulling their plugs. In a couple cases, within the same day they backed HPS. Now, a few here and there is manageable and doesn’t play with your ego too much. After a dozen, you start to wonder if there’s a trend here. After two dozen, you start to worry if this is more of a epidemic. Once you climb above that (and have days where there are more cancellations than backings), you really start to panic.

There are numerous reasons to account for this, the most common one being the simple fact they changed their mind on backing HPS and found another KS instead or they simply realized funds are too tight right now. Not a problem. There is also the fact that a free preview was made available to all backers and a portion of these 37 did not like what they read. So let’s assume that. Let’s say 20 of them read through the rules and hit the big red cancel button as a result of the game itself. That puts us at roughly 6% of readers not liking the rules that much. But we’re really dealing in paranoid abstraction at this point, so I’m going to run off a very simple concept that 10% of people who check out HPS will not like it based on these numbers. And by not like it, I mean they’d give it a 1-star rating on DriveThru in a heartbeat.

See? This is what losing backers does to the creator. It inserts doubt into their work and it’s a very large mental hurdle you have to overcome. There are two days where I lost more money than I raised and a couple more where we started off with a few new backers only to watch them drop back down as the day progressed. It fucks with your head and while dealing with the slow crawl of any KS’ midpoint is tough to emotionally manage, losing backers is far worse.

Because here’s where it really adds in: the money lost from those lost backers. For this, I’m only including those who cancelled outright and not those whose adjustments caused their pledges to go down. $835 was “lost” during this KS, which means I theoretically could have passed our $7,000 stretch goal and ended up with a total of $7,246. This is exactly what was going through my mind during these cancellations and it’s an extra reason why they hit so hard. The majority of them were for print copies, a neck-in-neck tie between softcover and hardcover backers.

Yet when it comes down to it, there are 273 qi warriors who I’m honoured to see as proud backers of this game and their enthusiasm quickly trumps any paranoia. And 273 is a far bigger number than 37. That means my job is two-fold: make those 273 backers proud and make the other 37 regret backing out on this project. Nyah!

Next: From Projections To Dollars

As I wrap up this post and get ready to dive into the next phase (which I gotta admit gave me great pleasure typing “Version 2.1”), the money has just arrived in my account. It’s time to start working with real money, real problems. Budgets, breakdowns, putting it all into something real and staying ready for unexpected. That’s what I’ll get into next time. Whenever that happens. Soon. Promise.


You can still see what’s on the HPS Kickstarter page here.
Learn more about High Plains Samurai from the Broken Ruler Games website.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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!

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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

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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

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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.

Levelling Up BRG

Levelling Up BRG

It is done.

Yesterday (even in the midst of some personal issues going on at home), I collected the last bit of information needed to make it official and completed the final stage for Broken Ruler Games’ business licence. And here it is.

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Yours truly at 5:30 this morning. Hence the dopey look and dim lighting. 

Now it’s time to get serious about having fun.

Funny side note. When we bought our house last year, there was some confusion as to the actual shape of our lot and zoning. Because the property was part of an old ski hill and was split into two, legal wrangling and back-and-forth re-zoning with the township added a small hiccup to the experience. Not a big deal, but it was something I wanted to ensure wouldn’t become an issue with BRG’s licence. You never know. It turns out not only was there no issue whatsoever but our property is already zoned to do so much more.

Our property is listed as Tourism Commercial and not only does that mean I can set up a home office for BRG, I can do so much more down the line if so inclined. I can set up an amusement park, a bed & breakfast, a golf course, public camping, hotel/motel, RV parking, even a tavern. There’s a huge list of options available. It turns out the neighbouring property was re-zoned to Residential Use and ours remains what it was as a public ski hill. While most of these are hilariously unattainable, the fact that I’m already set up (at no additional cost or paperwork) for so much more really does make the mind wander.

Like a kind of outdoor gaming convention with camping/RV parking.

But that’s neither here nor there. For now, I’m happier than a pig in shit to have this next step underway. I have to sit down with my accountant and go over the new software and common practises for business accounting this weekend (what goes where, what can be used as a business expense, writing off stuff, etc.). During the upcoming long weekend, I’ll be sitting down with High Plains Samurai‘s lead artist, Kieron O’Gorman (you’ve seen his work in Killshot) to go over artwork for the Kickstarter planned for March 2017. After that, looking at a small print run to provide locally and distribute through a company such as Indie Press Revolution. More to follow as that happens.