Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Breakout 2018 Convention Debrief (Part One)

It's been a while since I've written in these pages regularly, but every once in a while you just have to gush a bit about something awesome. In this case, it's our second trip to Breakout, a gaming convention in Toronto.

We had a really great time with our first visit to Breakout, where we got to play great games with wonderful designers and enthusiastic players, so our expectations were high going into this year's con. Megan said she was trying not to get her hopes too high, in case it wasn't quite as good, but we were both delighted to find that this year's convention was better than ever. Two of the organizers warmly welcomed us with a hug in the first few minutes we were there, taking in the swanky new digs in the Sheraton Toronto. That kind of warm atmosphere was what we loved about Breakout 2017, and this year's model was the same thing in a bigger space.

Breakout does a great job of creating an atmosphere that is both welcoming and safe for players and GMs. Their policies for appropriate behaviour are clear and well thought-out, and there are people willing to offer support to anyone who needs it. Every table has an X-Card, and every GM I played with talked about it beforehand.

This year we had scheduled our weekend a little loosely, so that we could enjoy some time with friends and also not wear ourselves out. That strategy kind of fell apart by the end of the first day, but we didn't regret it.

Friday afternoon, we kicked off the con with a Fate game GMed by Ryan Macklin, a gaming luminary I've admired for many years, and it was a real thrill to play at his table. Ryan ran a Fate game with zero prep, and after we'd had a few minutes to talk to him, he turned the players loose to create a setting for us to play in. We chose a steampunk Mars, teetering on the edge of revolution to overthrow its Earthly colonial overlords (leaning toward the "punk" part of steampunk). We had a lot of fun with that, and Ryan both kept the action moving and shared a lot of expertise about running Fate generally. It turns out that we run games that are fairly similar -- I have been running a fairly loosey-goosey version of Fate for years, and frankly I have always worried that I was doing it wrong, but if it's good enough for Ryan it's good enough for me.

You can find Ryan's many excellent games here.

After that, we went out for a delicious dinner with our friends Liz and Matt (who had played Fate with us that afternoon). We went to a restaurant named the Queen Mother that had me expecting pub fare, but actually served amazing southeast Asian fare. I had a very tasty pad thai and a couple of beers, and Megan had chicken in a yummy peanut sauce over coconut rice. After dinner, she and Liz headed off to spend a little more time together while Matt and I returned to the con. I had intended to just spend the evening relaxing, but on a whim I decided to see what games were running that evening. I had the time, and who knows - you never know what great game or new friend you might discover. Boy, am I glad that I did.

Something we'd wanted to do at this year's Breakout was try our hand at LARP, something I've often thought would teach us a lot of new things we could use at the HTHD table. We ended up not signing up for anything because they were conflicting with other things, but I discovered that Friday evening Moyra Turkington was running a game, and lucky me, there was still an open spot. I signed up immediately, happy to get the spot but also knowing that it was going to be heavy material and new territory.

Moyra's game ROSENSTRASSE ended up being the best of the con for me, and that's saying something -- all the games were terrific, but this was next level. The game is about several families in Berlin from the years 1933-1943, each family having a Jewish man and an Aryan woman. As time unfolds and the Nazis tighten their grip, the families must endure awful pain and sacrifice, culminating in the Rosenstrasse protest when the women of Berlin rise up to demand their husbands' release. The game plays out in a series of intimate, difficult two-person scenes, prompted by a facilitator with a deck of cards (Moyra herself in this case, with Brand Robins helping out in a number of scenes). As the game moves into its second and third acts, the facilitator starts several scenes by presenting a particular player with a "Complicity card", which forces that player to make a heartbreaking choice for someone else's character. After we saw the first cards passed out, we all dreaded them, and it was certainly a gut punch when I had to make the choice myself.

It was a powerful and moving experience that I won't ever forget. Moyra made us all feel safe and supported throughout the game session, preparing us with a workshop beforehand and giving us a debriefing afterward, with breaks and checks to make sure everyone was okay as the game unfolded. I went up to bed at midnight spent, but exhilarated. I told Megan "You have to try this."

ROSENSTRASSE is still in development, and I think it's going to be Kickstarted sometime in the near future, but you can find Moyra's WARBIRDS anthology of LARP games about women in WW2 here.

To be continued....

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