The family and I - my partner Paula and our two daughers, Aylish and Nolah - were fortunate enough to take a last-minute trip to the 2011 Origins Game Fair. Financial difficulties had prevented us from attending last year after a five-year streak, and for most of the previous months it looked like we wouldn't be able to attend this year, either. But thanks to some good friends in the area that provided us with a place to stay, we were able to attend the last three days of the con.
For those who have never been, the Origins Game Fair is the second largest game convention in the country, after Gen Con. It's a five-day event held in the Columbus Convention Center in downtown Columbus Ohio, and has attracted over 10,000 attendees in recent years.
Usually, I run several RPG sessions (and at least one Fuzzy Heroes event), and volunteer for a few hours at the Kids Track to help offset the cost of my admission badge, but because of our last-minute arrangements, I wasn't able to swing it. Thankfully, the folks at Origins were generous enough to give me a press badge after I told them about the site and explained its long history of advocacy for roleplaying games.
I did get the opportunity to run two RPGs while I was there - not scheduled events, of course, as those have to be registered by the end of March, but I was able to get in touch with two of the families that I have run games for in the past, and made plans to meet up with them. For the Hazels (Morgan, Jeanette, Alyssa, and Carys) I ran something I've been wanting to run for a long time now - a Ghostbusters / Men In Black crossover adventure.
(For future reference - if you can avoid it, don't attempt to run RPGs in the Open Gaming Area, which is a massive room filled with other people playing boardgames, card games, and generally being loud and boisterous. I nearly lost my voice from one three-hour session, and that doesn't usually happen to me until I've run three or four games in a smaller, quieter room. The same thing happened to my friend Jason, who had to cancel some of his RPG sessions for the same reason. If you can, grab an open table at RPG HQ, or find somewhere else that won't interfere with anyone else's fun.)
For my friend Lauren and her mom and brother, I ran a Faery's Tale adventure on Sunday morning at RPG HQ. The area was smaller and quieter, and my voice held out much better. Lauren has played in every Faery's Tale game that I have run at Origins to date, and I was very happy we were able to get together for a pickup game. We had a great time, but unfortunately, it may have been the last time we get to play together, for reasons that I'll cover at the end of the report.
Since we missed the 2010 show, I didn't get to see the new Kid's Track room, which I was told had been moved downstairs and into a much bigger room - one of the ballrooms, in fact. It was a vast improvement over the old kids program. With the additional room, they were able to create areas for different activities - watching videos, playing with a huge pile of LEGO, making crafts, boffer fighting, and playing dozens of games. There was even a giant pile of cardboard boxes in the far corner of the room for kids to play with, and several science learning stations provided by the local Center for Science and Industry.
The RPG HQ area was quite busy every time I passed through, and the open RPG tables were frequently full of gamers. The Onsite Registration book was filled with RPG events that I was very sorry that I missed. In particular:
Spongebob Cthulhu: Come join Spongebob and gang as they investigate things man and sponges weren't meant to know as the Cthulhu collides with Spongebob!
The Maltese Fhtagn: What's with the black "bird" statue, pal? Hard boiled Mythos action in the 1930a. Bring your heater and a deck of Luckies, you savvy?
Whose Game Is It Anyways: Come watch Gnome Stew GM John Arcadian run a game with no prep. You provide the building blocks, he crafts the story on the fly.
Hellboy Versus the Hamburgler - The Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense has detected a shift in the world's fast food empires and they have sent in Hellboy to investigate.
...to name just a few. In all, I estimated nearly 800 RPG events listed for Origins, taking up over 35 of the event guide's pages, with the first events starting at the very beginning of the con (Wednesday at 8:00am) and the last event starting as the rest of the con was wrapping everything up (Sunday at 4:00pm). It was good to see a solid representation of roleplaying games.
LARP was well represented too, with about 200 events running through all five days of the convention - though it should be noted that their definition of LARP seems to cast a very wide net. Morton's List events were listed in this section (possibly because they may not fit in any others), as did sessions of the Werewolf mystery game and Amtgard sessions (which are all boffer combat, with no roleplaying at all).
I did see a good representation of RPGs in the dealer room - the Savage Worlds and Indie Press Revolution folks were there in force, and I saw a table set up for Free RPG Day. Kenzer & Company were there as well, displaying a teaser copy of their new Hacklopedia of Beasts (which looks incredible, by the way). The Arcanis RPG from Paradigm Concepts seemed to be generating a lot of buzz - I didn't get to try it myself, but I always seemed to be around people who were demoing it or talking about it.
I missed seeing Titan Games and their massive display of very reasonably priced RPG books in the dealer room - but Chimera Games had a good-sized booth that almost made up for it, which included an impressive collection of classic Star Wars D6 rulebooks and supplements.
One area of the convention that I always seem to overlook - and I mention this in case others do the same - are the seminars. I didn't get to attend any this year, but looking back through the event book, I can see a bunch that I'm sorry that I missed, and many that would be benefical to anyone involved in running, playing, and/or writing RPGs, or RPG advocacy:
Game Design is Mind Control (hosted by Luke Crane and Jared Sorensen)
Fundamentals of Setting Design (a discussion with Kenneth Hite)
The Rules of Writing
Christianity and Gaming
Roleplaying Games Build Better Writers
Breaking into RPG Writing
Games for the Classroom
The Mad Taxonomy of Roleplaying Game Design
The Ups and Downs of the Publishing Industry
Game Design for Teachers
Most Origins attendees got a surprise on Saturday, when the convention center hosted the Ohio Democratic Party State Dinner, with vice president Joe Biden in attendance. The results were about what you'd expect. Police cars and news trucks arrived first, making most congoers assume that something had gone wrong (or that someone panicked when they saw a convention center full of barbarian princesses and zombie hunters). Then the Secret Service arrived, setting up portable metal detectors and (from what I heard, anyway) shutting down all Wi-Fi communication in the area.
I didn't get to see much of this firsthand (it was going on during my Ghostbusters/Men in Black game), but as I understand it, the Secret Service got very itchy about some of the cosplayers, especially the ones in any sort of military gear. But I didn't hear about any confrontations or arrests, so I assume that's a good thing.
While I'm spreading unfounded rumors, there was at least one comment on Twitter that a congoer took the opportunity to ask Joe Biden if he wanted to play some D&D, and he refused. Which is a shame. Al Gore might have taken him up on it (he did, after all, join a pickup game with Gary Gygax in that one episode of Futurama…).
Unfortunately, it looks like the fair will become less family-friendly in the following years, due to an upcoming change of schedule. The dates for 2012 and 2013 puts the fair at the end of May/beginning of June, when most kids and teenagers are still in school, and won't be able to travel. This also hurts some board and card game companies such as Looney Labs, which employ lots of educators to demo their games and man their booths. And I suspect the Teacher's Hall Pass program may suffer from this change as well.
Origins management claims the change will lower boarding and travel costs, which means companies will be able to bring more product and staff to run more events. They're also hoping to maintain the time gap between Origins and Gen Con, which will be making a move in upcoming years. It's not difficult to imagine how hard it must be to manage an event of this size, making it affordable for as many participants as possible, in an economy that isn't helping out at all.
I've heard comments from some gamers that they'll be glad to see fewer kids at the convention, but I feel such attitudes are very shortsighted. I know it has become a cliché over the years, but young people really are the future of our hobby. Origins has been a family friendly convention for some time now, and I have long applauded their efforts to keep it that way. This move, however, will unfortunately make it less so.
You can view my Origins 2011 Photo Album here