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.



Rollin’ Bones at Breakout

Rollin’ Bones at Breakout

297513138_origYou thought I was done talking about BreakoutCon 2017? Foolish mortals, we’ve only just begun because now it’s time to talk about the main reason for going: running my games!

Come on, Broken Ruler Games at Breakout. It’s a match made in heaven. And oh was it ever.

I ran four games in total: two playtests of High Plains Samurai, one for Ironbound, and one trip down memory lane as I ran some Killshot for the first time in a couple years. Let’s review them one-by-one-by-one-by-one, shall we?

High Plains Samurai


Oooh, baby. I ran two playtests of High Plains Samurai this weekend, one on Friday night and the second the next morning. To give you the perfect indication of how well it went on Friday night, I was running off nothing more than adrenaline and childish glee. Saturday’s game went so well my brain forgot it was suffering from a migraine.

To be specific, “playtests” might not apply because there weren’t any mechanics or discussions, roses & thorns kind of stuff, afterwards… we were too busy trying to cram in as much mayhem and over-the-top action before time was up. Yet the mere fact that everyone caught onto the mechanics and latched onto the premise with so much vigour and insanity was enough to tell me what I needed to hear this weekend. This game works. Fuck me, does it work.

The main concern I’ve had with HPS compared to ScreenPlay (and it’s various offshoots, including Ironbound, also played this weekend) is building potentials, a term for using the breadth of your character’s description to determine the dice you roll. Each character is assigned a number of potentials with a maximum dice value, Defence value, and the number of details you can apply to your description. If you incorporate the maximum number of details into your description as allowed by your chosen potential, then you roll the max dice value. Come up short in your details and the dice value drops. Basically, the more, the merrier. It was something that didn’t test well during ScreenPlay because it felt too cumbersome to suit that particular style of play, but it worked out well for HPS. All ten of my players embraced it, even if there were times when they found themselves short; they either added on another to build it to the max or agreed to a lower dice value. What hasn’t happened yet (and to my recollection remains that way in the soon-t0-release recordings for Comic Strip AP podcast) is a group using various martial arts flourishes and stunts as details to max out their potential. This is something I have to work on building into the game through sample plays.

The best way to demonstrate how well these games went is to provide you with but a handful of moments from both games.

  • A barbarian from Khar’tep wielded a two-handed longsword that suddenly turned into a chainsaw sword, then it was a flaming sword, only to attempt spraying ice before a complication kinda broke it.
  • Another barbarian (played by The Veil‘s Fraser Simons) fought off a young woman with flowing red hair that could extend out to 15 ft. and grapple her enemies. Oh, and this was after he landed on the back of the train’s dining car, causing it to heave upwards and come crashing down on one of the train’s guards.
  • A samurai from Monsoon used his super speed to zip his way through the Caravan, slicing and dicing as he went, appearing as nothing more than a metallic line weaving through the parade of Mad Max-style vehicles tailing the train.
  • Rather than use an innate qi power, a Raw Apprentice engineer from Rust had instead crafted a glove that was the source of his ability to manipulate metal.
  • As the Salvation (aka “the train”) went off a cliff with most of our intrepid heroes still on board, it launched a series of countermeasure harpoons to hook onto both sides of a massive chasm and hold it suspended 500 ft. in the air.

There were even other designers and attendees who asked me about HPS over the weekend, which was… whoa! While I’m a little taken aback by the lack of playtest surveys to date, the word is definitely starting to spread and that’s a huge start going into May’s Kickstarter. Needless to say, I’m very happy with how everything turned out this past weekend.

As a bonus, I got to not only finally meet the last third of the Accidental Survivors podcast, Rob, but run the game for Rob and Chris. DVD bonus feature: Chris played in a very early concept of the system a couple years ago and that one bombed, so it was rewarding for him to finally see how it was fixed and held up nicely to what may have been an equal amount of insanity. Based on the feedback HPS received that night, this game is Accidental Survivor approved. (It has to be, seeing as the first third of the show, Fraser, is actually part of the Development Team.)

Ironbound (or How I Had To X-Card A 14-Year Old Kid)

IronboundCover_web_April2016A lighter game of the ScreenPlay system took place Saturday afternoon and also featured Accidental Chris. Honestly, he was the only one who signed up, so it looked like I was going to have to tweak a story about five intrepid magick hunters into a solo story. When two last minute sign-ups joined us, I was still in a tweaking mood. Yeah, yeah, we could hunt the same witch as before, but I was in the mood to mix it up for my own sake.

Very easy to do with this group. One player (note to self: start paying attention and remembering names of all your players) established a motivation to find his ex-lover who turned out to be a witch/warlock. A-ha! Seeing as I brought a printed copy of the Ironbound supplement, The Blessed and the Damned, there were a couple extra baddies to throw their way and so I mixed up the afternoon killing spree to a hunt for the Raven Queen, a polymorphing witch who shared a mountain with two other magick users. If time permitted, we’d perform a triple bypass on magick users. We definitely did not have enough time.

Even with the lighter rules and focused setting, this game still got crazy and was loads of fun. Not High Plains Samurai crazy, but in its own way. Running all these games has really provided me with a better concept on how to approach ScreenPlay con games and I’ll be applying those lessons to the next draft of the HPS playtest (hopefully later this month, once I get caught up on other matters).

Oh, you want to hear about how I used the X-Card. I, the GM. First off, let me tell you about how important the X-Card is to Breakout organizers. When you first arrive to receive your badges and other particulars, you have to explain to either Rob, Rachelle, or Kate (aka the Three Organizateers) how it works. No explain-y good, no GM-y for you. I then make a point of telling my players to hold it up and wave it like a flag if they feel it necessary simply because I might get caught up in the game or whatever I’m describing to notice. And boy oh boy did I end up waving that thing around like we were surrendering to the British.

We had a young lad in our game and I’m going to say he was 14. He did great, very imaginative, and took to the concept of the Arcanist (the true authority on magick countermeasures) like gravy to turkey. When the Raven Queen was thoroughly giving the Ironbound a right thrashing, this kid asked to look at the printed copy of the game and caught something on the cover. Take a look at the bottom right, the text box next to that figure casting magick.


This kid took that idea and decided to only way to defeat the Raven Queen was to fall into a crack in the floor she had opened, land inside a vat of blood (his call), and drink it all “to gain all the magick in the world.” Cool! And then he pushed that envelope with his next description. “I rise up through the crack, hovering. I’m naked and completely covered in blood.

Naked? 14 years old?!! While the other Writers were waving their hands and asking, “Why do you have to be naked?” I grabbed that X-Card and called for a rewrite. “I don’t think we’re allowed to be in the room when you say the word naked,” I told him. “Let’s keep you covered in blood, but you’re wearing pants.” We actually laughed about it because it was a case of this kid getting really caught up in the moment and even after he apologized profusely for going too far, all was forgiven when he told me the idea came from the cover. All good and it definitely made for a memorable moment at the whole convention. Now I have a story to tell on how important the X-Card is to everyone at the table, including the GM.


KillShot-Logo_v1There’s something refreshing about starting off a con wild and zany then finishing it off with gritty and grounded. The last game I ran on Saturday (and at Breakout in general) was my pride and joy, Killshot. Yep, assassinations on a Saturday night. This game only featured the two players who signed up very early on in pre-registration and that was another relief. To be honest, Killshot works better with a small number of players and seeing as we were playing “Retribution,” the quick-start job, it was a nice fit.

It’s also a huge kick when you have a player who is sweet and incredibly personable in person suddenly say things like, “I’ll just walk up to the guy and beat the shit out of him, if I have to.” Awesome! It was a nice relaxing game, but also one where I discovered just because you create a game doesn’t mean you can recall the rules after a long absence. Not that anything went wrong, but I definitely needed to refresh myself with Killshot a little more the next time I decide to run it.

This was a nice… dare I say, pleasant… game of Killshot to wind out the marathon GMing session. I definitely pushed myself that day and battled through a nasty migraine, sure, yet this was another accomplishment I wasn’t sure was possible. Now I know that when I’m having a great time at a con, I can rock the day as a GM. Two thumbs up and a pat on my own back were definitely in order.

On The Next Instalment of Breakout 2017…

Yeah, this series is taking a bit longer than expected but my goal is to wrap it up this week. My next post may not sound exciting at first because… well, I didn’t play or run a damn thing. I hung out with people all day. But who I got to hang out with was definitely what made Breakout such a huge success. Plus I sold physical copies to a store! That’s next time.


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.