The family and I are back from Columbus and the Origins Game Fair (external link), five days of all kinds of gaming in the heart of Ohio, running from June 24th through the 28th. What follows is my official Escapist Origins Report.

Because we geeks like to enumerate these things: This was our eighth Origins, our sixth with kids in tow, and our fifth in a row (my partner Paula and I attended in 1991 in Baltimore, and 1995 in Philadelphia before the convention settled in Columbus, and again with our very young daughters in 2000.)

Right before the convention I announced to Escapist readers that I would be sending updates to Twitter while I was at the con. The followers on the Escapist Twitter account (external link) nearly tripled in a matter of days - it was pretty exciting to see so many people interested in what I was going to be doing there.

It was SO exciting, in fact, that I completely forgot to take my cell phone out of my favorite pair of jeans when I washed them the day before the con, which completely ruined it, and my ability to send Tweets all weekend. (This is but a glimpse of how I manage to sabotage my own plans almost every day of my life.) My apologies if anyone was realy looking forward to those updates, and I promise to be more careful next year.

As I posted on the main blog before we left, my daughters and I painted the windows of our minivan with Liquid Chalk - "Origins Game Fair 2009" on both sides, and "Gamers On Board" along with the web address on the back. This brought us a bunch of honking and waving on the trip to the con, and even a little bit of the same on the way home. (This is definitely something that we're going to make a regular tradition.)

I ran eight events this year - two more than I did last year. I added a game for grown-ups and ran a session of Fuzzy Heroes as an 'official' event (rather than just running it in my free time for anyone who shows up). When I registered these events back in January, I had considered dropping the seat count from 6 to 5, but in retrospect, I'm glad I didn't - all but two seats were sold before the con had even started, and those last two were snapped up by my friend Sean right after I checked!

(I should make a special note that Morgan, one of the parents from last year's con, brought another of his daughters to this year's Origins, and they signed up for SIX of my games. So if you had a problem getting tickets for any of my games, you can blame them!)

After the con started, word was getting around of some organizational problems, and I did notice a couple minor bugs with my events that were easily corrected:

- My Fuzzy Heroes event, which I requested to run in the Kid's Room, was instead scheduled on a table in the wargame room, which probably wouldn't have been too popular with the wargamers OR the con staff when kids started crawling all over the tables to move their stuffed animals around. When I tried to convince the volunteer at Events HQ that I wanted to have it moved, she kept passing me off onto someone else who never seemed to be there. When the time came for the event, I put a sign up directing people to the Kid's Room (complete with map), another volunteer stopped in to tell me "When you move an event like this, please let us know."

- My games usually sell out, but there IS a limit - When I checked my events to see how many were full, the volunteer told me that my Mazes & Minotaurs game still had 20 seats left. Somehow, the event was posted for 25 players, instead of 6. This was easily corrected before it became a problem, but for anyone running events in the future, it's a good lesson - check your events early to make sure this doesn't happen to you!

To be perfectly fair, these were relatively minor problems, one which involved a stubborn volunteer, and another which was a simple data entry error, so I'm not too disappointed about them.


THE GAMES

This year, I ran my usual games of Toon, Faery's Tale and Fuzzy Heroes:

I stuck with running two games of Toon, since I didn't have a problem filling them both last year. The Toon - Supertoon! game never got far from the driveway - literally. When the members of L.U.N.C.H. (the League of United Noble Crimefighting Heroes) got the signal that bankrobbers were plying their craft in the First National Bank of Stalwart City, they headed to the L.U.N.C.H. Mobile - and got into an argument over who would drive! In the ensuing chaos, Atomic Punk grew to supersize and just walked to the bank, Amoeboy and Ultrapig ended up in outer space, Octogenarian broke his mechanized superwalker, Captain Cheese managed to launch a few cheese balls at the bad guys, and Mr. Cuddle-Wuddle decided to give up on the team and roam the earth (sort of like Caine on Kung Fu).

I ran the other game of Toon as a Totally Random Adventure - not only was the scenario generated by the players rolling on the Random Adventure Generator tables in the Tooniversal Toon Guide, but the characters were also chosen at random from all four of the core Toon books. Aliens from the planet Ugfwiz were invading Bike Wars Anytown, and it was up to the six randomly chosen characters to save the day! Sadly, the game was so chaotic that I can barely recall many details, but I do remember the characters discovering that the aliens were allergic to toothpaste (but not squid paste). Oh, and one of the characters kept attempting (and failing) to Change Shape into a cheetah, but ended up changing into various types of cheesy snack foods instead (including, at one point, a cheetah made of cheese).

(I'd like to note that this was the second year in a row that Steve Jackson Games (external link) offered prizes for my Toon games - and this year, they sent one of their Men In Black to personally deliver the prizes and thank me for running their games!)

Faery's Tale is always a big hit whenever I run it (and my friend Lauryn and her mom always seem to show up, too!). This year, the faeries were sent to explore a strange and ugly faerie ring in Brightwood that led them to a strange and ugly mortal realm, one with giant, gray towers and big machines that belched nasty smoke and with hardly any grass or flowers or trees anywhere. There they met a sewer troll who just wanted to be left alone, but reluctantly agreed to help them find the other fairy who had travelled to this realm and never returned. Together they fought off nasty rats and made their way into one of the ugly gray towers to a door named "4C," where they found the fairy trapped in a birdcage and rescued him - but never actually figured out how to get back home! (Maybe next year?)

The Fuzzy Heroes game ran very smoothly, despite the room change. For those who aren't aware, this is an introductory wargame for kids that uses stuffed animals and other toys as miniatures. Players create stats for the toys, such as speed and attack strength, based on the size, color, and features of the toy. Most of my players brought stuffed animals of their own to play with, and we spent the first half hour or so writing up their stat cards. I had six players teamed up against me and my three big baddies (two dragons and a giant centipede), who had captured Santa in an effort to ruin Christmas (in late June, no less). To keep the game short and player interest up, I used side-based initiative, rather than rolling it for each individual player, and I added some special items (file cards with descriptions on them) to the playing area for the players to pick up - a candy bar (restores Energy Points), a squeaky hammer (adds an Energy Die to one attack), and so on.

The first attack of the game significantly trashed my chances of winning when one of the kids sent his fuzzy in to assault one of my dragons (the tougher of the two, in fact), and used his one-shot Frenzy ability to double his attack and damage dice. He scored just enough hits to knock her out, and I was left to fight the rest of them off with two baddies instead of three. I managed to send a couple of them to slumberland, but in the end, the kids knocked out my other two baddies and saved both Santa and Christmas.


The four new games I added to the mix were Tooth & Claw, Mazes & Minotaurs, Monsters and Other Childish Things, and Cartoon Action Hour:

Tooth & Claw went amazingly well. Players took on the roles of dinosaurs in a tribe that had been hit hard by a sudden and severe drought, and needed to travel across the plains and into the mountains where the fabled Skysphere was said to be - a strange relic that brings rain wherever it goes. The characters braved all sorts of hazards, from poisonous plants to nasty carnivores to lava floes, found the Skysphere, and brought it home to save their clan. (And not once did I hear anyone complain about not getting to be a velociraptor or a T-rex, as I had fully expected...)

In Mazes & Minotaurs, (the Harryhausen-inspired Greek myth RPG), the characters were travelling to Argos by longboat when the ship was suddenly attacked by fishmen. The party's lyrist did an excellent job placating some of the them with her Song of Calming, and the sorceror of the party confused some others enough to make them attack each other - but it still didn't prevent the ship from being destroyed by the remaining hordes. When the entire party came to on an uncharted island infested with monsters, they found themselves helping the inhabitants remove an ancient curse on the island. But in the end, the day was most definitely NOT saved!

Monsters and Other Childish Things was my last event on the last day of the con. It's a charming RPG based around kids and their pet monsters that only they (and other kids) can see. I've been wanting to run something sort of spooky, so I did this one as a sort of ghost story.

The players seemed to enjoy it, even if it was a little simple, but I would have been happier if they'd had more opportunities to get their monsters involved. If I run it again next year - and there's a good chance I will - I'll have to work on improving that.

I ran Cartoon Action Hour: Second Season on Friday evening as a game for grownups - but not as an 'adult' game per se. Last year, a parent of one of my players suggested I run something for the grownups, and I took his advice. But, it looks like I may be getting typecast - the organizers put the game in the Kid's Room, possibly because of my history of running games for kids. This may be why three ticket holders were no-shows, as they may have thought that it was an event especially for kids. Luckily my partner Paula and friends Dru and Sean were there with tokens to fill the seats.

Cartoon Action Hour is an RPG about the great action cartoons of the 80s - GI Joe, He-Man, Transformers, and the like, and it is designed to simulate any one of these types of genres. Naturally, I figured the way to have the most fun would be to throw everything into the mix, so I handed out characters from a bunch of different genres - Dirk Virile (a barbarian from a strange fantasy/tech world), Melvin Doolittle (a geeky teen trapped in a fantasy world due to a malfunctioning videogame), Delta Magnus X (a transforming robot originally designed to destroy humans, but rebelling against her programming), Jaguara (a princess from a planet of catpeople), Sgt. Schrapnel (a tough-as-nails army seargent), and Mr. T.

Yes, you heard me. Mr. T. You got somethin' in your ears, fool?

The six of them awoke in stasis chambers in a wrecked spaceship, and instantly set about collecting clues as to how they got there and why they had been captured. After fighting some cyber-enhanced T-Rexes and getting the ship off of the ground, Melvin unlocked an AI in the ship's computer - a captured holographic rock star named Amethyst who explained their fate - they were captured by the evil Baron Waste in an attempt to take over all of the realms for himself!

My favorite parts were Dirk's soliloquies, the jokes in binary that Melvin and Delta Magnus would make with each other, and pretty much everything that Mr. T did.

We roleplayed the commercial breaks by letting a player improv a commercial for their toy line once each half hour (as well as rolling for bonuses on the nifty commercial break tables supplied in the rules). At the end, we roleplayed one of the moral segments that you would often see at the end of cartoons (especially GI Joe), and it was so funny that I can barely remember it because I nearly blacked out from laughing. It was easily the best convention game I've ever run, and definitely in the top 5 games I've run in my 25+ years as a gamemaster.

(Special thanks to Cynthia Celeste Miller, author of CAH:SS, for sending me an updated version of the rules.)


OTHER COOL STUFF THAT HAPPENED

It wasn't all about the games I ran (just most of it). I got to meet a few people I haven't met before (at least in person, anyway):

- Andy Kitkowski, who was promoting Maid: The Role Playing Game (external link), an anime-styled humor game in which maids get into all sorts of trouble.

- Dave Mattingly, the vice president of the Christian Gamers' Guild (external link) and a heckofa nice guy.

- Lou Zocchi, one of our Great Gaming Elders, who was currently promoting his latest die - the Amazing D-Total, a 24-sided die with multiple numbers and symbols on each face, which can be used to replace every die in your dice bag (and even a few that he hasn't invented yet). I was tempted to get one, but the price tag was a bit steep for my budget. (Though if someone can come up with a method to simulate a set of FUDGE dice with it, I may change my mind...)

Other cool things that happened that I can't forget to mention:

- There was a set of Virtual World pods in the hallway running some virtual Battletech games. I got to play against my friends Dru and Sean, and had my butt handed to me.

- My friend Brad made me an actual dice clock with actual dice, inspired by my not-actual dice clock (external link) (which you can still purchase at the Escapist store, by the way...)

- The Red Cross was present in the Exhibit Hall on Saturday, collecting blood donations from gamers (as they have in previous years), but I didn't get a chance to interview any of them to see how well donations were going, or if they've had any problems with vampire raids. I've really got to remember to set aside some time for that next year.


And that's about it - another great Origins! Thanks to all of the parents and players who made my games awesome, the Origins volunteers, and our friends in Ohio! See you in 2010!