Origins 2010 – Chaos Incarnate!

Maybe so many years of really, really great years at Origins set the bar too high. Maybe the staff and software changes at GAMA came too late to be truly integrated into convention management. Maybe the stars were just wrong. Whatever the reason, Origins 2010 was plagued with numerous drawbacks and pitfalls. On the whole, the people made for a positive experience, but I was left wondering if we’ll return next year.

Tuesday

Tuesday was a mad, hectic rush for last-minute preparation. Bill came out and we stayed up too late, but somehow everything got done. Not much different than any other convention.

Wednesday

Wednesday is the day to drive, and drive we did. Bruce, Michele, Bill, Kat and I all piled into Bruce’s minivan and set out away from the rising sun. We made good time, reached Columbus by 4:00pm, and soon learned of the chaos that awaited us.

In the events book, none of Kat’s events listed a GM name or a location. None of the seminars listed a location. None of the events listed a game system. Evidently, this lack of location had been caught shortly before the convention started, but the revised information was not disseminated to anyone we were able to speak to. We spoke to people at GM/event HQ, at RPG HQ, at Customer Service, and we continually got variations of “I don’t know. The person who would know is around here somewhere, but I don’t know where.” This was the beginning of frustration incarnate.

Because of these scheduling issues, ALL of Kat’s games had no players. With no game system listed, people who wanted to try out With Great Power… or Serial Homicide Unit couldn’t know that the events were in those game systems. With no GM name listed, players who had played in Kat’s games previously could not know that she was running them, and that they’d be fun no matter the game system. It was very, very rough on her to sit at empty table after empty table.

A note to myself for future big cons (like Origins and GenCon) that have a long a storied history of screwing up event registration. It consists mostly of breaking their registration rules, because they don’t follow the rules themselves.

  • Include the name of the game system in the event title. Even if the instructions say not to.
  • Include the name of the game system in the event description. Even if the instructions say not to.
  • Include the GM’s name in the event description. Even if … etc., etc.
  • Publicize your events yourself as much as possible. Include a fallback location where interested players who follow you online can meet up with you if the convention staff screws up. I’ll need to set up Twitter for this.

Okay. Vented about that enough, I think.

Even though Kat’s Wednesday night event folded with no players, I had five great players for Mouse Guard. I ran “The Pirates of Rustleaf” which is a cool introductory adventure where the players get to fight red-furred mouse pirates. The players had various levels of familiarity with the comic and the game, but they all knew what they were doing by the end, and we had a great time. I believe I got asked “Are you the same Michael Miller that wrote With Great Power…” which is always surprising and gratifying.

Thursday

Thursday morning I ran the classic With Great Power… scenario “A League of Their Own,” where the heroes have no hero licence, and need to earn one. I had five enthusiastic players, and we had a great time. I haven’t actually GMed WGP in close to two years, and it was enlightening to see it from such a distance. I can see what really works and makes the game sing, and what simply pushes my buttons, but confuses and distracts most people. All that stuff will go into the revision.

Thursday afternoon was supposed to be Kat’s LARP, but after that disappointing lack of turnout (we had one player), I spent the rest of the time trying to find out where Luke and Jared’s seminars were supposed to be. Again, the same worthless wall of ignorance, with only one volunteer taking any initiative to say “I don’t know where it’s supposed to be, but I know that this room isn’t used, so I’ll do everything I can to direct people in here.” Thanks to Luke & Jared’s mastery of Twitter, the seminars were fairly well attended, and went well. Afterward, I chatted w/ Luke, Thor, and Dro, then Kat and I retired early.

Friday

Eight o’clock Friday morning found me running Mouse Guard again. This time, the scenario was “The Spring Thaw,” which is essentially “Deliver the Mail” from the rulebook with a few Miller-ian twists. Again, a varied group of experience with the rules and setting material. It’s always fun when I’m explaining things and someone says “can I FoRK in my wise?” because I know exactly where their experience comes from. A great experience.

Friday afternoon was (finally) lunch at the North Market! Then some shopping, which was curtailed because I had run out of people to buy gifts for (had trouble finding anything I wanted for myself), and mostly because my foot hurt like the Dickens. (Did I mention that my first gout flareup in over 2 years started on the Monday before Origins? Fun.) I rested for a few hours, and then went to dinner w/ my roommates.

After dinner, Michele, Bill, Joanna, Philip and I played in a pickup session of the With Great Power game Kat was scheduled to run that morning. It’s a fantasy comic book scenario called “Dragon-napped” where no one is quite who they seem to be. We had a lot of fun, but with an 8:00AM game on the schedule, I had to hit the hay before the game was over. Good, juicy, melodramatic stuff, though.

Saturday

My last Mouse Guard game was another rousing rendition of “The Pirates of Rustleaf.” Another fun time, but I think I’ve made the scenario too morally ambiguous, as the session descended into discussion of “what should we do about this.” I wasn’t on the ball enough to force them into a duel of wits at the table, which would have solved it, but that felt more like a BW solution rather than a MG one.

Got to do some shopping with Kat that afternoon, and then sat in for Luke and Jared’s “Game Design is Mind Control” seminar, which was good and thought provoking (and well attended! 35 people). I got to watch the group play Action Castle! and observed the interesting social dynamics that develop. Luke and I then did our “Self Publishing Crash Course” seminar where we barrage the audience with nearly two decades of game publishing experience in less than two hours.

After that, a quiet dinner with Kat, and then we got to observe a Luke, Dro, Thor, and Kira playing Danger Patrol. It’s a fairly loose game with lots of cool-stuff-generation baked right in. Still some rough spots, though. It was fun to watch the guys plays and taunt each other. Dro is exceeding dangerous with his love beam.

Sunday

Packing, shopping, chatting, and driving. And driving. But we made it home and on the whole, it was a good con. There were just a whole lot of bumps along the way. Will we return next year? Only time will tell.

Origins 2009–Low-key and loving it!

It’s about an hour and half since we arrived home from Origins 2009. I sit here with more caffiene than blood in my veins and try to unwind enough to go to bed. It was a great con. Attendance looked light, but the folks that were there had a good time. Here’s my high points of the show:

Tuesday
A rush to pack and an error made months ago with the rental car was a bit of a scare, but by the time Bill arrived, everything was A-OK. Got to bed late, but raring to go in the morning.

Wednesday
The Drive. Michele was battling a cold, so we took plenty of rest stops. I didn’t mind because we had no booth obligations and therefore no deadline. We left at a sane 7 AM and arrived about 4 PM, which allowed us to eat at the fabulous North Market. My pad thai was hotter than I could stomach, but that proved beneficial later on. We got checked in, taught Michele how to play Euchre, and got some sleep.

Thursday
Both Kat and I wisely scheduled our Thursday games to begin at noon, so that we would avoid the early-morning lull that sometimes occurs when there’s a hiccup in the registration system. This time, there was no hiccup to worry about, but there was also a noticeable shortage of attendees. Even with a huge swath of the breezeway missing due to renovation, the place didn’t feel crowded enough. I think I got a picture of the crowd present at the opening of the exhibit hall, and it wasn’t nearly as large as it’s been in the past.

Anyway, I kicked the day off w/ dropping off 5 copies of SHU with the ever-gracious and ever-upbeat Andy Kitkowski. He and his boothmates allowed me to grab a bit of space in his booth to make SHU available for sale. It was greatly appreciated.

At noon, Kat ran a new WGP… scenario, and I ran Ganakagok. I had 2 players: Cary and Amber. Thinking that 2 characters would be too few in the reaction rounds, I also made a character myself. In the end, it added nothing to the game, and I wouldn’t do it again. The game was good (as always), and I even found a few ways to improve the text that I had overlooked while editing.

After dinner, I hung out a bit w/ Luke, Thor, Jared, and Jamey. We caught up on RL stuff. I got to see the tail end of Jamey’s satirical Nicotine Girls hack. Plus, we playtested … Yonder Knights! I never would have imagined playing that in my wildest dreams! The game doesn’t really work, but there was much discussion and diagnosis of exactly WHY it doesn’t work, which was really super helpful.

Friday
Friday started w/ both Kat and I having 10AM games. Hers was, of course, some incredible, amazing WGP… and mine was SHU. I had two great players: Todd and Lisa. We stopped a serial killer whose profile was that he was hunting down children’s entertainers. As often happens, the kinda silly profile did not impede the drama and tragedy of the inevitable deaths. I can’t think of a game that I enjoy more consistently than Serial Homicide Unit.

After the SHU game, I checked out the maiden voyage of Luke and Jared’s new seminar: Practical Game Design. It was a clear and informative roadmap to take someone from the Three Questions to being able to judge whether dice or cards will do the job their game needs done. It gave me much food for thought, particularly in light of the previous night’s unfun playtest.

One of the great disappointments of this year’s construction was the closing of the kitchen in the Krema Nut Company store. NO PEANUT BUTTER MILKSHAKES! However, Thor’s clever cell phone knew of the company’s headquarters store 2 miles away. Being New Yorkers, they were going to hoof it. But with my power of Rental Car, I got us to the peanut-flavored heaven and back again in air-conditioned comfort!

Friday evening saw a nice dinner w/ Kat, Bill, and Michele, and then chatting till midnight w/ the NYC crew.

Saturday
Saturday was supposed to be my busiest day. I was scheduled to run SHU from 10AM to 2PM, and help Luke run a seminar from 1PM (fun scheduling error!) to 3PM, and then run Ganakagok from 8PM to midnight. Unfortunately, I had no players for SHU, which gave me far too much time to shop. I looked at every booth and still had time to spare before the panel.

The self publishing panel is, as Luke likes to call it, a firehose of information. We ran right up to the full 2 hour mark, barely stopping for questions and could have kept going. It’s a thrill to give that panel.

Afterwards, Luke was running a demo of Mouse Guard for a reviewer named Ben and his girlfriend Danielle. I sat in to bring the group up to three, and got to deliver the killing blow to a vicious milk snake that wanted to devour us all!

A surprising one-on-one dinner w/ Kat followed, which allowed for a nice de-stressing to occur.

After that, it was back to frozen lands of Ganakagok, where 6 players showed and we made a great myth about the splintering of the island and its fertile ground floating into the sunlit worlds.

Sunday
Today started with some great news: Mouse Guard won the Origins Award for Best RPG! Congrats to Luke and the Burning Crew for another game well-designed (and one I can actually play this time!)

Then there was just last minute shopping, lunch, The Drive, and now this. An excellent weekend in an excellent city at an excellent con. You can’t ask for more than that.