Origins – The Newbie Report

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Avery’s #Origins2017 Newbie Experience ~

Avery Abernethy, 20 June 2017

My Origins knowledge goes back to playing Avalon Hill wargames in the 60s and 70s and their sponsorship of Origins in the distant past. Many grogs attend annually. I looked at the event list for the last two years before making the plunge. I went for the first time last week driving ten and a half hours from Alabama to Columbus, Ohio.

After this article was submitted, Origins released attendance numbers, and there were over 17000 unique attendees.

Origins is huge. There are more than six and a half thousand scheduled events spread over five days. I spent hours figuring out what I wanted to play when the program was released this Spring. I purchased event tickets for many Call of Cthulhu RPG events. About half of the program is tabletop events. Second in number are RPGs with many D&D, Shadow Run, Pathfinder, and Call of Cthulhu events. But less common games such as Paranoia, Chill, Trail of Cthulhu and many others have at least a couple of games being run. There are also many card deck games and even multiple LARPS (Live Action Roll Playing). There are also a number of miniatures games.

Some events have been going on for years such as the Settlers of Catan US Championship. The Puffing Billy train events stretch back at least 30 years. It is every easy to get involved in a tiny part of Origins and only see other parts as you walk by. I played Cthulhu all week along with a little Pathfinder Card game. Even with five days it was impossible to play every Cthulhu event.

Although Origins started as a wargame conference, there are relatively few wargame events. GrogHeads has not cornered this market, but they are a substantial presence.

There is a huge dealer’s room that ran Thursday – Sunday. It was dominated by the big board game publishers, dice makers and board game products. The collectible card games such as Pokémon and YuGiOh had a large dealer presence. Smaller publishers were also well represented. There were artists stuffed in the back, a few clothing dealers, and a scattering of other dealers. There were two dealers carrying a large variety of old and new wargames and a Strategy and Tactics booth (ed note – that’s Decision Games). Oddly, there were almost no Pathfinder products for sale.

Photo courtesy of Origins Game Fair

Games were being played everywhere all of the time. But there were clear distinctions on who ran the games. Many games were run by the publisher of the game. Some such as Mayfair, Catan and Wizkids, had very large spaces with both short demos and games for experienced players. Others dealers were launching a game and were running demos at their booth. Some companies had entire tournaments with large cash prizes ranging up to $1,500.

Large programming blocks were run by gaming societies. I played seven, four hour scenarios run by different members of Rogue Cthulhu. Those seven games were perhaps a third of Rogue Cthulhu’s schedule at Origins. Other noteworthy gaming societies were GrogHeads, Rogue Judges who run a variety of tabletop games, and the Ohio Pathfinder Society for card and RPG versions of that game.

I did not get the claustrophobic feeling at Origins that I’ve experienced at DragonCon and that many complain about for GenCon.

Although Origins is huge, there was lots of space to spread out. The only real “crowds” were the line at registration and around some of the dealers occasionally. Many quiet areas were available if you wished to get away from folks. There were many places you could play a pick-up game. I did not get the claustrophobic feeling at Origins that I’ve experienced at DragonCon and that many complain about for GenCon.

This was a very family friendly convention. There were many events for kids and babysitting for the tiny tykes. I saw no marginally obscene “stripper costume” common at Comic Cons and DragonCon. People watched their language, even at the Cthulhu events which are definitely R-rated. The harassment policy is not psycho politically correct where individuals are “judged guilty unless proven innocent” seen at some cons, but Origins policy had teeth to hit bad actors. I saw no disruptive behavior. My only painful moment was walking by the “bards” ensconced in a busy walkway singing folk “music.” Most attendees are adult males. There were quite a few married couples and kids from babies to teenagers.

On-site registration was amazing. I scanned my emailed bar code and all of my event tickets printed out. I picked up my program guide and board room ribbon with the whole process taking maybe fifteen minutes including “waiting in line time.” There were a lot of food options in the convention area and in the surrounding neighborhood. Surprisingly, the food was not overpriced for convention fare. There was plenty of parking if you were driving into the convention area every day as I did. There are multiple large hotels with walkways to the convention area or a short walk away. I stayed at the airport so my nights were quiet. The worst drive in took twenty minutes one morning.

I have a couple of suggestions to maximize your fun from personal experience and from asking questions about Origins experiences from thirty-plus Origins veterans. Wear comfortable shoes. Have clothes for hot rooms (every year but this year) and bring a jacket the first day if it is cold (every day this year). If you play RPGs, bring a notepad and pens.

Games run by societies such as Rogue Judges, Rogue Cthulhu, and GrogHeads are much more likely to provide a good game experience (including having the GM show). Games run by independents are much more hit or miss. If there is an event you would really like to play, buy a ticket in advance when registration for events goes live. Don’t worry about filling up every gaming slot because there are a lot of demos, free gaming areas, and pick-up games.

If you like games of any type, there will be a lot of fun options at Origins. It is really big, but not crowded and claustrophobic like other big cons. People are friendly. Attendees also bathed, even the Grogs. I had a great time and hope to attend next year. It was well worth coming to Columbus from Alabama.

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