Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Ongoing Fuckery: The Origins Story

I just got back from Origins Game Fair on Sunday. It was a good time - I got to hang out with folks I don't see often (disclaimer: if we talked this weekend and I don't mention you here, I'm sorry), I ran a couple of games, I played in a few as well, and I came home with a respectable pile of games.

That said, when folks asked me during the con how it was going, I would reply "fine, despite Origins' best efforts." Origins, it seems, doesn't really much care about RPGs, especially if they're not run by clubs. In years past, it was common to see individual GMs running their favorite games, or mashups or hacks thereof - hell, last year, Teagan and I played in a Thundarr the Barbarian hack of Barbarians of Lemuria. I've seen people running obscure games like It Came from the Late, Late, Late Show and Street-Fighter at Origins over the years, but this year, RPGs were mostly run by clubs or companies: Lots of Shadowrun, lots of Pathfinder and various other D&D-related things, and a few offerings from Rogue Cthulhu. And Games on Demand, of course, but we'll get to that.

Why the lack of individual GMs? I assume some of it is just dwindling membership; while my contacts at Origins tell me attendance was slightly up this year, the place still felt pretty empty in comparison to previous years. Also, I think the tide of interest at Origins is moving towards board games (which Origins certainly does a lot to encourage). A lot of the folks who are interested in playing new or unique games, rather than the traditional standbys I mentioned above, hit up Games on Demand - if you want new or indie games, or, like anything involving Fate, that's where you go. I wound up in and out of that room a lot over the weekend, and it was usually full or full-ish (though I had this nagging feeling that I was seeing the same people playing all the time, so I don't know what that means).

Then there's the fact that we (the IGDN) submitted a whole bunch of events that Origins just...didn't include in their online reg system like they said they would. They claimed that they ran out of space, but that was blatantly false; the events that got added back in (too late to be useful; I'll get to that) were scheduled for the Harrison-Hayes-etc room block on the 1st floor of the Hyatt, and those rooms were consistently empty or nearly so. The whole situation smacks less of "we didn't have room" and more of "we don't actually give a single fuck."

On the "too late to be useful" subject: Origins claimed (falsely) that they would include our events in their online reg system, and then did not bother to inform us that they hadn't until the system went live. Because Origins outsources their (shitty) reg system, they couldn't make alterations to it, meaning our events went into the onsite book, but (get this) even onsite, people couldn't register for them! That means that the two intrepid souls who showed up for my Friday Chill game had to pay with generics; Origins could not sell them tickets for an event in their book because they don't have access to their own system.

IGDN will be back at Origins next year, but one of the things we're discussing is how much effort we really want to put into this con, since they seem wholly uninterested in meeting us halfway or, indeed, living up to agreements they've made with us. Which is sad, because I remember Origins of years past, when it was a big, national convention for business and gaming, not a medium-sized, regional con with delusions of grandeur.

Anyway, with all of that in mind, here's my Origins 2016 report, which, again, was very positive, despite the aforementioned fuckery.

Wednesday: The Day of Sweat

Wednesday we loaded up the van and drove to Columbus, so not much to report, there. We set up the booth, which always results in exhaustion and copious perspiration, followed by dinner (this time at Bare Burger, which I highly recommend). 

Ripe with potential! And...just ripe in general. 
Can we talk about this forklift having a goddamn harpoon on it?
After dinner, I returned to the convention center to stand in line and get my daughter's badge and my second badge. Why second badge? Well. 

I have an exhibitor's badge, which I need, because I run the IGDN booth. However, I'm also at this gaming convention to play games, which Origins apparently feels is some kind of wacky-ass happenstance, because their (shitty) badge reg system is set up so that if you have an exhibitor's badge, you can't buy event tickets. So I had to buy a badge (which fortunately I get at a discount because I'm a teacher; in previous years I've argued with them until they refunded it, but it's such a hassle that this year I said fuck it) so I could get event tickets so I could play games. I'm actually something of a chump, because I could just buy a bunch of generics and play at Games on Demand, which is where the games I like are anyway, but that didn't occur to me until later. 

Anyway, the first time I looked at the line, it was immense, because an extra 2000 people showed up on Wednesday (perhaps because of a Magic tournament). They had it sorted by the time I got back from dinner, though, and actually getting my badges was the most painless it's been in years (probably because I was asking the bare minimum of Origins). 

You maybe can't tell but that line is hella huge.

Games: None.

Thursday: The Day of Booth

Thursday I spent most of the day in the IGDN booth, sellin' books. Michelle was with me for a lot of it. 

The booth, and Michelle in her Dracula shirt.
The hordes.

I had a Chill game scheduled, but due to Origins' scheduling shenanigans, I had no players and it didn't happen. So I went back up to the booth for a while, wandered around for a bit, and just generally tried to be useful. 

Teagan came and found us during the day, too, before zipping off to play Big Eyes, Small Mouth, which she really enjoyed (we didn't play in any games together this con, which was a little sad because I like playing with her, but it was cool that she was playing new stuff on her own). She was dressed as a water spirit, too, which is fun. 

A water spirit.
We went to dinner at Kooma, which was lovely, and talked about games and so forth. 

Games: None.
Awesome People: See above, plus +Derrick Kapchinsky+Andy Hopp, and probably others I'm forgetting. 

Friday: The Day of Games, Finally

Friday we actually got to play some stuff. Holy cats. First off, we had to get Teagan up and out the door because she was running Cat at Games on Demand. Once again, the fact that Origins hemmed and hawed and ultimately tried to say that minors couldn't run games (wtf) worked against us; the "Kids' Games on Demand" idea didn't get publicized and she wound up running for adults. That said, she said it went well (if quickly) and she had fun being a GM.

Behold her commanding presence.

Meanwhile, Michelle and I had signed up to play Baker Street. Now, we'd backed this game on Kickstarter and Michelle's actually in the book as a hack driver (it was a birthday present), but we kept missing out on being able to play it at GenCon, so it was nice to finally get to experience it. 

Shy GM aside.
The scenario involved a dead child supposedly killed by the nanny - a vampire! Ha. We were investigators, here. The system for figuring out clues is done in rounds, where first you find evidence, then you narrow leads, and finally you figure out what the truth is. I'd run this game, I think; it's an interesting take on a Holmes-style mystery and (as you probably know) I love investigative games. 

My one complaint about the game (and it's minor): You ever have a guy at your table who gets a dumb idea into his head and just will not let it go, even if it's actively derailing things and is objectively a stupid thing to do? The conflict here centered in part on a poisoned dart, and one guy at the table got the idea into his head that he was going to lick it. Now, we'd already suspected it was poisoned, but this guy persisted and the GM wound up making another player roll against him to get the damn arrow away from him before he licked it. I dunno, I think there's a time for the GM to say "this is dumb, you know it's dumb, let's move on." Like I said, though, that was minor. My grade: A. 

Right, so, following Baker Street I had a Chill game to run. I was expecting not to run it, because, well, see above. But because I'd worked the booth the day before, I'd had time to tell folks about the game, and yep, a couple of awesome people showed up to play. 

I wound up running Big Sky (which will be written up for the site this month or next), because the other scenario I had prepared (Black Diamond) really isn't suitable for just two players. The game went well - they wound up bugging out and calling in more help rather than confronting the main menace, because they didn't wish to be eaten by a werewolf, which is reasonable. 

So then dinner, and then I had an off-the-books game to run: Promethean: The Created 2nd Edition+Meredith Anne had asked me to run it, in what's become an Origins tradition of "find an awesome person and run a game for them" (last year it was +Monica Valentinelli). So we found a room downstairs and got into it...only to discover that the room was going to be used for the Kobolds At My Baby Midnight Massacre. (ALL HAIL KING TORG!)

This does not make for a quiet room.
So we moved to a different room, and played through the game. It was a lot of fun - the players very easily dropped into their characters but also the notion that their characters had some history together; probably helped that the players knew each other. More to the point, the game played really well, which is gratifying to me as the developer. 

And then I forgot to take a group picture. Balls. Ah, well. 

Games: Baker Street, Chill, Promethean
Awesome People: Michelle, Ryan, Meredith, +Scott Holden, Nathan

Saturday: The Day of Even More Games

Saturday I was barely in the booth at all (Friday I was there a little, but I didn't mention it because it wasn't really relevant). But Saturday, man, lots of games. I got up early to go and play The One Ring

Now, I'm gonna lose a lot of you here, but I don't like Tolkein's writing. I find it overwrought and boring and hard to read. I started reading Fellowship before the movie came out, figuring it would be useful to know the story to better appreciate the cinematic version, but I got as far as Tom Bombadil and went "wtf even is this" and stopped. But with that said, I really love the movies. I'd just rather spend four hours watching all of it than 80 zillion hours reading it and getting a shitload of unnecessary backstory. 

So imagine my delight when the GM for this game quietly confessed to basically what I just said, including getting up to Bombadil frolicking through the woods before stopping. Also, the game was set in Rohan (we were riders thereof), and we had to do some diplomacy and matchmaking to prevent civil war among the horse-lords. My character was very much a straight-up warrior, but I managed to get some good use out of Awe and Song, too, so I felt useful even when we weren't stabbing people (stabbing was pretty minimal, actually). I wound up buying the game, and I think if Michelle wanted to pick up her "family politics" game The One Ring would be a decent set-up for it. My grade: A

Family trees are an essential part of the process.
From there, I had a brief break and we were going to go to North Market, but then a giant rainbow blocked our path. 

Pride was this weekend, and I knew that, but it meant that getting across the street to the Market required more finagling than we had time for, so we ate at the food court in and admired people in rainbow garb instead. And then off to the next game!

Turns out the next game was an alpha playtest of Pillar of Fire, a new game by +Cam Banks and run (in this case) by +Renee Knipe

The game was described as "Exalted in space," but I didn't feel like it played much like Exalted, which is a good thing (I love Exalted, but the system is not for the impatient). Pillar of Fire plays more like a stripped-down WoD game - it's a dice pool, sure, but actions are based on ability and intent, and non-successful dice pump up your other abilities. For example, the character I played could manipulate gravity, but had to roll a few 6s on dice to "prime the pump," so to speak, and get access to his more impressive powers. 

If you think about it, this is a change from games where you start out with your pool of points full and then spend them throughout the game - here, you start empty, have to build up your pool, so you're full by the time things are coming to a head. I didn't realize until now just how much I like that idea. 

Anyway, the game is intriguing and I very much want to see it from the GM's side. This particular session was fun - two conflicting invasive beings (an AI gone rogue and a malignant fungus monster), and we wound up dealing more with the AI and just nuking the fungus from orbit, which is the only way to be sure. Apart from one player with a habit of interrupting people (which he stopped when I called him on, in fairness) it was a really fun table, too. My grade: A

That put us up to dinner time, and so we (me, Michelle, and Teagan) walked down the street to the Happy Greek to get flaming cheese and then to Jeni's for delicious ice cream. All was well until Michelle walked through a crowd of smokers on her way back, triggering her bronchitis that she's been fighting for weeks and making her struggle all the way back to the hotel, and then putting her on bedrest for the rest of the night. Fuck smokers. Smoking is gross. If you have to do it, do it somewhere private, like the bottom of a well. 

Anyway, so Michelle was toast, and Teagan went off to play Are You a Werewolf, so I went up to Games on Demand because they'd emailed earlier and said they might need GMs. Turns out they needed players, and I'm there for that! I wound up playing Iron Edda with +Tracy Barnett

For Goldheim!

Now, I'd backed this game on Kickstarter but then kind of missed it, because I somehow didn't ever realized it was Fate-based. But man, it's pretty badass. It combines Fate Core and FAE, which at first made me think "...why?", but it made perfect sense in context - Fate Core for the characters, FAE for the giants, which need to work on a different scale. Also, there's a really fun "create your stronghold" system, and I love collaborative world-building, so that was awesome. I wound up playing a seer and teacher of the jarl's rowdy children, and giving a dwarf-piloted destroyed mech a serious case of head-ravens. My grade: A+. I fully intend to run this for some of my players at some point. 

Then, sleep. 

Games: The One Ring, Pillar of Fire, Iron Edda
Awesome folks: Everyone mentioned above plus +Hamish Cameron and probably other folks whose names I don't know, +Joel Sparks+Steve Wallace 

Sunday: The Final Hours 

Traditionally, I run Clay-o-Rama on Sunday morning...but you know how that worked out. This added in the bonus of the dudes in the main gaming hall not even knowing where the table was that I was supposed to use, but I eventually found it with literally no help from them. I sat there for a little while and then said "fuck this" and went shopping with Teagan and Michelle. 

Ain't this the saddest damn thing?
So we wandered the dealer's hall and bought things. Teagan got some dice earrings and some art for her wall, and of course I bought games because I somehow don't have enough

Not sure what Teagan's friend is dressed as today.
I did, however, find a game that looked interesting at first blush, but then I read the back. 

Anyone care to guess how to make me quickly put a book down and wash my hands?
Also did some time in the booth, after shopping, and chatted with +Matthew Karafa and some of his buds. Sunday is the day for people to drop by and chat, too, so we saw +Jaym Gates and lots of other folks I'm forgetting. 

Not sure what Matt's looking at here, but it concerns me.
So then it was time to break things down, and we got the booth struck and the van loaded in slightly over an hour, which is reasonable, and home we went!


Guys, I really love Origins, and I'm coming back, whether it's as a rep for IGDN or just on my own. But I would really love for Origins to bounce back, to absorb the spillover from GenCon (which is getting far too big), and for GAMA to pay attention to some of the other facets of the hobby they're ignoring. Here's hoping!