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.


Game Review Round Robin #1: Hollyworld

Game Review Round Robin #1: Hollyworld

What is this strange feeling? It’s something I haven’t felt in close to 11 months, as if a major project has been lifted off my shoulders and there’s suddenly time to do things other than think about one project.

Someone hug me, I’m scared.

So to slowly wean myself off the game design drug, perhaps now would be a good time to get into the Game Review Round Robin. What is GRRR? Oh crap, hold on, it’s been so long I have to look it up. Oh yeah, it’s an initiative within the Indie+ Discussion Community on Google+ to help other game designers get some much needed feedback and public attention to their upcoming projects. Basically like an addiction support group for other tabletop designers who may also yearn for the day when they can finally take time to remember the sky is blue, water is wet and they only have a few days until a new idea eats away at their sanity.

Speaking of eating away at one’s sanity… Hollyworld! by Adam Ultraberg. Imagine a game based on The Player where people with ego issues work behind the scenes and in front of the camera to make the next great motion picture. It’s my first entry out of five total mini-reviews and while I’m very intrigued by the entire concept of it, fairness dictates an ignorance to the overall mechanics of Hollyworld! and the Apocalypse World engine powering it. I know the basics from an elevator pitch aspect of the rules, but there’s no way in h-e-double-hockey-sticks I could run it with that information.

The copy of Hollyworld! I read is a very basic premise, more of a revision draft showcasing what makes this rendition stand out from the original source material and while I’m not entirely sure how all of it comes into play there’s great reason to find it an intriguing concept of play. Maybe it’s tugging on the aspiring filmmaker in me, but something about developing your movie by simultaneously portraying the politics behind the scenes sounds like it can have a major impact on the movie itself.

Many of the alterations in Hollyworld! help facilitate this storyline, particularly how harm is changed to stress. All types of people involved in moviemaking suffer stress and it can catch up to them for devastating results, including ones that can end your career. It’s an interesting twist on hit points but as “career points.” More stress can mean you start acting irrationally (something like Christian Bale’s infamous tirade on the set of Terminator 4: What The Fuck Was That?) and need to take time off to rest and let the press forget the unfortunate incident or the studio gives you the boot and your career is washed up.

The stats reflect the nature of this particular personality type seeking fame and fortune under the stars: Real, Fake, Endurance, Connected and Notoriety. And the moves appear to be less about your intent behind the action as they are about the overall goal of the attempt, which is something I’ve heard is a problem with some new AW players. There’s also the roles, ranging from Mr. Manager (an agent who can pass on their +Fake to a client) to the Talent (with an option to use the family acting name to turn a 6- to a 7-9 and still gain experience) to the Sentinel (like a union rep, who can create three rules for members of their organization to follow in exchange for benefits/protection) helping to flesh out this world of phonies. Holden Caufield would have a field day with this game.

The version provided to me is definitely a work in progress and I’m curious to see what the final result looks like… unless some jack-assed producer blows the budget on high priced hookers and blow. Then we’ll just have to wait until someone brushes the dust off the script like Terry Gilliam’s long gestating Don Quixote movie. Until that movie poster goes up at your local online gaming store, keep your eyes open for Hollyworld!


Reviewing Hope Inhumanity

Reviewing Hope Inhumanity

I’d like to start off this particular post with a little local pride. While I don’t exactly live in Ottawa anymore, I’m part of what’s geographically known as the Ottawa Valley, so it still counts. Within our region of the world, we have an impressive collection of tabletop game designers I wish I discovered much sooner than I did, but there’s nothing to change the flow of time. Or maybe there is… or was. Either way, this can easily get out of hand. Needless to say, I know them now and one of them has notched a rather nice accomplishment to his credit. Let’s all mentally clap our hands together for Jason Pitre and his ENnies Judges Spotlight award for Posthuman Pathways, which he’ll be receiving at GenCon at the end of the month. 

Now, to the task at hand. But it’s related, so not like I’ve really strayed off course because this game I’m about to review for you is from another Ottawa designer named Derek Gour. Late last year, his card game, Hope Inhumanity, came into my radar before I had a chance to meet Derek and before I knew he was a giant’s stone throw away from me. The premise of his game is simple, yet impressively complex: you and your fellow players are a ragtag band of survivors who have barely coped with a nameless apocalypse and must make the journey cross country to find new shelter. The game itself does not invoke roleplaying, but there’s nothing to stop you should you wish to go in that direction because what Hope Inhumanity does is create random hardships for randomly created characters with established deep connections. It takes what is truly horrific about popular post-apocalypse stories like Walking Dead and gives it the edge many people can miss: the humanity of the main characters against the horrors of depravity and destruction.

A sample of Hope Inhumanity’s cards, as shown on its DriveThruRPG page.

Your characters are created by drawing 3 Trait cards, providing you with personality quirks and benefits that could pull your ass out of the fire or deflect harm in someone else’s direction. The key to playing Hope Inhumanity is that while your Humanity is the key to your survival, that doesn’t mean everyone will do until others as they would do unto you. Each character is connected with one other character based on a random draw from the Relationship deck and assigned to the player on your left, all of whom create a form of dependency/camaraderie that can also work against connections with other characters. From there, players take turns across five rounds drawing Scene cards to discover what fateful events must be confronted along the way. These Scene cards are broken down into terrains (a handy tool if your group is looking to tell a story to go with your game, as was the case with our group): Coastal, Mountainous, Urban, Wilderness, and Any Terrain. Each one presents its own trials and tribulations and helps to craft the tale of your intrepid, beleaguered band. Some of these encounters can be avoided, some must be confronted, but all of them are designed to challenge morality and how well a scene plays out can determine if your group receives an Asset card to aid you (or the group) along the way.

What I loved about playing this game when I gave it a shot at CanGames (and picked up a copy, I might add too) were the multiple times when at least half of the group were morally unsure about the choice laid out before them. There’s only one stat to this game, Humanity, and it’s measured in five 6-sided dice when you begin your journey. Whenever an event is going down, anyone who wants to deal with it chooses how much of their Humanity they’re willing to risk and the direness of the situation determines how many successes the group needs (ranging from 1 to 5, with a success counting as any dice rolling a 4, 5, or 6). Success provides a reward, failure dishes out punishment (sometimes in the form of damage, to which you can only suffer it twice before dying, or hunger, which also works on a three-strikes-and-your-out policy), even refusing to participate can lead to the occasional boon or bane. Sometimes it pays to stay out of trouble, other times it can make things worse for you… but you keep your Humanity for later.

This game is really sharp and I had a blast playing it with complete strangers, so I could only imagine how much fun it would be with friends. The mechanics works hand-in-hand with the concept and creates a truly visceral experience without the need for complex rules or heavy-handed efforts to engage the players. And there’s no telling what can happen. In our first attempt, we were all killed by Dawn of the Dead-style marauders who took over a shopping mall… on the second turn. (We set a very undesired record, apparently.) For the second try, my character and my son died on the second-to-last turn before the rest of the group made it to safety because of our bond as father and son. You could literally devise an entire episodic series around the events drawn from a game of Hope Inhumanity and that’s what I love about this game.

Seriously, check it out for yourself. If you’re one of those types who like to see a review summed up with a star count, I’m going with 4 out of 5 stars for Hope Inhumanity. You can buy a POD copy from all DriveThruRPG sites and I know that Derek is working on an expansion right now, so stay frosty for that.

You can discover more local creators like Derek and Jason through our informal G+ community, the Ottawa Tabletop Game Designers. Or Tabletop North, as I’m thinking of calling it.