Origins is a
national gaming convention that was started in 1975 by Avalon Hill, a company known for
making strategy board and role-playing games. Over the years, Origins has been hosted in
many major American cities, but in 1996, it found a permanent home in Columbus, Ohio.
Origins 2000, the 26th anniversary of the convention, was
held on July 13-16 at the Greater Columbus Convention Center to a record-breaking
attendance. Over 9,000 people attended the event, which according to Show Producer Susan
Scheid, was an increase of 25% in overall attendance.
This was my first visit to Origins since the con left Philadelphia
in 1995 and never came back. It was also my first gaming convention as a parent, with both
of my daughters in tow: Aylish, who has recently turned four, and Nolah, who is almost one
and a half.
The kids made their presence well known, especially in the Media
Room, where I met up with Ed Healy, Nick LaLone, and Clinton R. Nixon from the Gaming Outpost. Aylish and Nolah made such a
racket that Sandy Atunes, former head honco of RPGnet,
came over to our table to check for their press passes. Upon` discovering that they had
none, he proceeded to play peek-a-boo with them.
With that, we got our first taste of how family-friendly Origins
would be for us over the weekend. Everyone seemed glad (or at the very least, not annoyed)
to see that we brought our children, even when the kids were not at their best behavior.
At the Knights of the Dinner Table live reading, audience members smiled and chuckled when
Aylish asked (a little too loudly) why the people at the table were calling each other
"monkey-boy." In the exhibition hall, both of the kids were lavished with
attention by con-goers and exhibitors alike. Aylish even walked out with some free candy,
toys, and dice.
I found out a while later that this was more than just because I
have cute kids. Origins has a tradition of interest in the welfare of children. This year,
the convention took on the Buckhorn Children's Center of Ohio as their official charity.
The Buckhorn center is organized by the Presbyterian Child Welfare Agency of Buckhorn,
Kentucky, and is geared towards assisting 10 to 18-year old children who are victims of
abuse and have had great difficulty finding placement in a traditional facility. Buckhorn
focuses on children who have had 30 or more placement attempts, and assists them through
counseling and guidance, in order to help them return to a normal life.
A table for Buckhorn was set up just outside the exhibitor's hall,
and donation canisters were scattered around inside on dealer displays and demo tables.
Reverend Robert Undercuffler, the Vice-President of the BCF of Ohio, informed me after the
con that over $1000 was raised through the collection canisters, and that Origins had
donated $10,000 and a supply of board and card games.
Not being a gamer himself, Rev. Undercuffler was unable to tell me
what kinds of games were donated, so I talked to Tod Steward, WotC's PR Manager, and Shaw
Cote, WotC's Charity Liason, to find out more. Shaw informed me that around $675 worth of
games was donated, and that Wizards worked with the foundation to choose games that would
be sensitive to some of the harsh experiences that the children have faced. This included
ruling out games that were overly violent or graphic. Some of the titles selected were:
Chebache (Pardee Games)
Falling (Cheapass Games)
Elixir (Mayfair Games)
Aquarius, and Fluxx (Looney Labs)
Apples to Apples, and Shipwrecked (Out of the Box)
Myth Fortunes (Studio Foglio)
Pokemon and Sailor Moon stickers and tattoos (Art Box Entertainment)
Many varieties of dice (various contributors)
Stratego - Legends (Avalon Hill)
Battlecry (Avalon Hill)
Diplomacy (Avalon Hill)
Acquire (Avalon Hill)
What Where You Thinking? (Wizards)
Filthy Rich (Wizards)
Tod told me that Wizards chose Buckhorn for several reasons; for
one, it appeared to be the local children's charity that would benefit most from their
efforts. Also, Buckhorn has recently become established in the state of Ohio, so the
exposure would be a great help to the cause. And the social nature of games seemed to fit
perfectly with Buckhorn's agenda of helping troubled youths with their socialization
For more information on Buckhorn, you can write to: Buckhorn
Children's Foundation, 6172 Busch Blvd, Suite 3000, Columbus, OH 43229. You can reach
Reverend Robert Undercuffler directly at 614-785-0900, and you can visit the foundation's
website at www.buckhornchildren.com.
Shaw mentioned that Wizards may consider hosting Buckhorn again in
2001, depending on the amount of support the foundation will have attracted by that time.
If it appears that Buckhorn is getting good support by other corporate sponsors, then
Wizards may find another youth-based charity that could use the assistance.
Saturday was the most eventful day by far. I sat in on a discussion
hosted by Linda Ross-Mansfield, owner of Pendragon Games & Hobbies in Winnipeg, on the
problems that Canadian hobby retailers face. When Certificate Of Origin forms are not
included with shipments that are sent over the border, it usually results in increased
prices, as the retailer must pay customs duties. Filing the form, however, costs the
distributor nothing, so the retailer is the only party that comes up short. Likewise, a
product whose individual components are manufactured or processed in different countries
will often have its price driven up ridiculously.
On my way through the exhibition hall, I bumped into none other than
Jolly Blackburn, who recognized me instantly as "that little cueball freak who thinks
he looks like Bob." (see Coincidence
or Conspiracy?) Despite my attempts to convince him that I was, in fact, GAMA
Executive Director Mark Simmons, he dragged me bodily to the Kenzer booth, fitted me with
a pair of fairy wings, and proceeded to bludgeon me about the head and shoulders with a
severed arm. The arm, he informed me, once belonged to someone who had badmouthed Weird
We managed to squeeze ourselves into the Wizards demo area to play a
sample of the new Third Edition Dungeons & Dragons game, and gaze lustfully at the
display copy of the new Player's Handbook, which was encased in a box of (rumor had it)
bulletproof glass. Why anyone would want to shoot the book was lost to me, but I
could easily understand the need for keeping the book in place, since it would not be
released to the public for nearly four more weeks.
That night, I attended a seminar on Gaming and Education, held by
David Millians. David is a fellow CAR-PGa member and longtime online friend who uses RPGs
and CCGs in the classroom to teach history. He discussed the fate of the Games &
Education newsletter, which has been MIA for some time now, and brought us up to speed on
the current education project that GAMA will be sponsoring.
The archive of G&E newsletters, which were previously archived
on RPGnet, will now be hosted on GAMA's official website at www.gama.org. GAMA will also
be sponsoring a series of pamphlets describing the benefits of using games to teach, which
will be sent out to gaming stores all over the country. GAMA is also considering a guide
for teachers on using games in the classroom, which would provide information on which
games would be the best for teaching various subjects, and include reviews of games by
educators who have used them to teach.
During the seminar, word got out of a school program from the UK
RPGA (Role-Playing Games Association) that could be coming to the U.S. if all goes well.
In this program, students participated in a series of historical role-playing lessons, in
which they portrayed characters from the time period. Awards were handed out to students,
based on their performance and knowledge of the period, and the student that came out on
top won a computer package for the school. Over 560 schools competed in this program last
On Sunday, we took a personal day, and cruised the exhibitor's hall.
Paula and I got demos of some games, and even bought a few, including a nifty
pyramid-stacking game called Icehouse and a copy of "Kobolds Ate My Baby," a
small-press RPG which has been banned by the Cleveland School Board. I even found a
first-edition copy of "Blue Planet," which I've always wanted, for five measly
bucks. It was truly a good day, and a great con.
In retrospect, I have to make one observation on the attendance:
there seemed to be more females at this convention than any other I have attended in the
past. And not just wives and girlfriends-in-tow, either; I saw women role-playing, pushing
figures around hexmaps, pondering Magic cards, and blasting away in the computer bay.
Considering how male-dominated the hobby has been in its full life, this was a sign of
promise. While I have never attended Origins in Columbus before, I can't honestly say if
this was the norm for this region. But this, along with the record attendance for this
year, were both a welcome sight.
All in all, I'd have to say that Origins is a great place to take a
unless you've managed to tick Jolly Blackburn off
Definition Section for the Acronym-Impaired:
CAR-PGa - The Committee for the Advancement of
Role-Playing Games, a group that works toward the betterment of RPGs and strategy games
from all angles.
CCG - A collectible card game, such as Magic: The
Gathering or Pokemon.
GAMA - The Game Manufacturer's Association, an
organization that works towards improving the public image of gaming, and assists
retailers who sell games.
RPG - A role-playing game, such as Dungeons &
RPGA - The Role Playing Games Association, a
network organized by Wizards of the Coast, which assists gamers in locating other gamers
to play with, and sponsors tournament games at conventions.
WotC - Wizards of the Coast, a gaming company that
originally began with the card game Magic: The Gathering, they have grown
immensely, and have since purchased Andon Unlimited (organizer of conventions such as
Origins), TSR (publisher of Dungeons & Dragons), produced the Pokemon card
game, been purchased by Hasbro, and with the acquisition of recent deals to produce
games based on Star Wars, Star Trek, Dune, Harry Potter, and Major League Baseball, have
earned the right to print their own money. I hear tell that they will replace the pictures
of the presidents with Hurloon Minotaurs wearing powdered wigs.