First off, I wanted to say that the Convention seemed very well organized, and there were plenty of staff and volunteers on hand to help attendees of all ages and experiences get the most out of the event. The Press Liaison, Erica Gifford, did a tremendous job organizing PR activities, as well as providing interview opportunities with special guests and game company reps. And Origin’s sponsor, GAMA (The Game Manufacturing Association) chose an excellent venue for the event – the Greater Columbus Convention Center is a wonderful site, with a great floor plan, plenty of space , and wonderful amenities such as shops and a big food court, right on the premises.
Now as I mentioned in my previous blog, I spent most of Friday gaming – two full 4 hours sessions of D&D 4E in the RPGA Room – so I wanted to make sure that I hit the Exhibition Hall on Saturday morning before I headed back over to play in the DM’s Challenge: Zombie Apocolypse! (I’ll talk more on the 4E Gaming at Origins later in the blog.)
The Origins Exhibition Hall was a jam-packed extravaganza of games and gaming gear, whether your preference was board games, war games, miniatures, role-playing games or larping. Companies like Catalyst Games Labs, Mayfair Games, Flying Buffalo, Looney Labs, Reaper Minis and many others were in the house, as well as numerous gaming and hobby-shop retail booths. And in addition to the game dealers and manufacturers, there were plenty of vendors of gaming accessories which drew big crowds to their booths. I found myself, with many other gamers, drawn to check out the “set” pieces for dioramas and for making three-dimensional encounter maps – Egyptian style pillars, stone walls, and entire towers which could be bought and used on your gaming table! And if you like gaming tables, Geek Chic was there with their custom built ones, along with Edhellen Armory offering fantasy “boffer” weapons for larping, The Blonde Swan proffering Steam Punk garb, and a massive dice display by Chessex.
I’m still astounded how many different types of dice are out there! After all, who would want just dice made of cool sparkly plastic, when you can have dice made of solid steel, brass, or copper? And if metal is not good enough, you can get dice made from animal horn and bone, or gemstones like tiger’s eye, fluorite, jade and amethyst! I never would have predicted that, from the cheesy soft plastic polyhedral dice that came in my first AD&D boxed set, there would have spawned a whole thriving industry of custom-made dice crafted from exotic materials!
And if your taste lies in artwork, tee-shirts, and fantasy novelties, the Origins Exhibition Hall had that as well. Larry Elmore had a great setup with his famous artwork from Dragon Magazine and various book covers. And there were tons of tee-shirts from the humorously geeky to high fantasy. And of course, there were at least two weapons shops in evidence, selling daggers, knives, swords, and fantasy armors.
Of course there are always gamers taking their hobby to the next level, and coming in costume to conventions, and Origins Game Fair was no exception. Wandering through the Exhibition Hall amongst gamers in strange garb is par for the course, and there were some very successful costumes – as well as some not so successful. And speaking of fashion, when the heck did the utili-kilt become the vogue for our wargaming brethren? Aren’t baggy shorts good enough for gamers anymore?
As far as gaming experiences go (from a non-D&D 4E perspective), there were three names that kept coming up in conversations all around Origins Game Fair. First was Looney Labs, the makers of the Fluxx card games. The folks from Looney Labs had a big setup in the Exhibition Hall, plus had a very sizeable secondary gaming area in one of the nearby concourses. They sponsored many events for gamers of all ages, including junior gamers and younglings, and many attendees could be seen sporting badges won by participating in various Looney events.
The other big name dropped around the convention was MayfairGames. Mayfair had the largest booth space in the entire Exhibit Hall, and they were constantly running Settlers of Catan, Empire Builder and other games throughout the day. In addition, they had a Microsoft Surface demo for the Settlers of Catan, which really demonstrated what this amazing and versatile device can do for gaming. Like Looney Labs, Mayfair Games also had an entire concourse set up with tables to accommodate scores of demo games, with staff on hand to assist new gamers in learning all about the various board games offered by the Mayfair Games’ catalogue. It was also down in Concourse E, in the “Mayfair E-Pod”, that I had the pleasure of running into two old college gaming buddies who were working the convention on behalf of this board gaming powerhouse. My old friend, Nick Olah, a programmer for a large insurance company based in Columbus, was spending his hard-earned vacation time to be at the convention and volunteering to help promote and run Mayfair Games’ events. Despite working as many as 12 hours a day at Origins Game Fair, Nick said this was a great vacation for him, and that the Mayfair Games’ folks treat their volunteers really well, offering accommodations, dinners, and great discounts! I was glad to hear he was enjoying himself, and I would expect nothing less, considering that another old college game-pal, Alex Yeager, is an employee of Mayfair Games, and was there on behalf of the company as a spokesperson. I have to say it was great to see gaming aficionados like Nick and Alex making it in the gaming industry, doing what they love, and making sure convention attendees had a great time.
The final talk of the convention was the recently release Dresden Files Role-Playing Game by Evil Hat Productions. Based upon the Dresden File detective novels, and mixing a modern settings with sorceries and shady dealings with fantastical creatures, there was a lot of interest in this Role-Playing Game, with its revolutionary new combat and action system. I spoke with many gamers who enjoyed trying out the Dresden Files RPG at Origins this year, one of which was a fellow Michigander named David Gibb. I chanced to meet David in the food court between game sessions, and like yours truly, he admitted that this was his first Origins. David claimed he had been trying out a wide variety of games, including the new Dresden Files RPG, which he said was likely to be a game he would want to run for his gaming group in addition to their regularly scheduled D&D 4E sessions.
In addition to my old friends at the Mayfair Games exhibit, one of my regular D&D 4E players/playtesters came down for the day to hang out. My friend Brett doesn’t get much into playing games at conventions anymore as he used to in his college days, but mainly goes to conventions to shop, watch demos, and hang out at the auction in case some rare game comes to the block. Fortunately, Origins Game Fair offers a Spectator Day Pass, allowing an attendee to participate in nearly any event, seminar, or demo that does not require a ticket. Sadly, having just finished his teaching degree, he was unable to get a Educator’s Pass, which allows teachers, professors, and librarians to participate fully in all the Origins Game Fair events, but he admitted that there was always next year! At the end of the day, I asked him if the trip down was worth it, and he gave high praise to the Exhibition Hall, where he found some great stuff to buy for his wife and kids, as well as inflatable beach-ball sized polyhedral dice for use in his classroom. He also gave mad props to the Art Gallery, which he said was a “fantastic” display of works from both very talented amateurs and seasoned professional artists. He did admit he was somewhat disappointed with the Auction, sponsored by Toad & Troll, which started late and had very little worth considering. Toad & Troll Store . I asked Dave if there were other members of the Critical Hits team at Origins this year, but he sadly reported that most of them had to choose their conventions based upon schedules and a limited budget, and so chose to be attending GenCon. “The Game” joked that many gamers consider Origins the “Pepsi” of gaming conventions, but that he has been a long-time fan and still makes the trip from Maryland out to Columbus to attend.
But from all appearances, Origins Game Fair was going strong this year, and I had a chance meeting on the shuttle bus with a GAMA Board member, and got a chance to chat with him about how he thought this Origins stacked up to previous years. He said it was his impression that this year saw considerably less sales of the Week Passes sold, but a huge spike in Single Full-admission Daily Passes, which sort of balances each other out. My representative from the GAMA Board opined that it was a reflection of the recession and the economy, and folks just cannot take as much time off to attend a convention for an entire week, but still made it a priority to come out and game at least one or two days. I ventured to ask what he thought of Wizards of the Coast’s lack of representation at Origins, and he was quick to point out that while there may have been a bit of “political” issues in the past, there seems to be a return to more amicable terms. WotC provided a lot of 4E Gaming at Origins this year, and the GAMA Board has high hopes that they will return to Origins one day soon.
And while Wizards of the Coast may not have sent anyone from Seattle down to Columbus this past weekend, there were plenty of D&D Games offered for the enjoyment of 4E Players of all skill levels. There were nine RPGA events being run at this year’s Origins Game Fair, designed mainly for Heroic Tier Characters, but with a few events allowing Paragon Tier play. Of course, under the recent LFR rules, Players are allowed to “start” a Character at 1st, 4th, 7th or 11th Levels as needed for a particular adventure module.
Here is a listing of the RPGA Events that were running in three time slots each and every day – note that many if not all of these adventures are available through the RPGA network for download and play purposes:
- ADCP2-2 Heart of the Desert: Clash of the Titans (P1-P2) (30 seats)
- ADCP2-2 Heart of the Desert: Race Against Time (H1-H3) (30 seats)
- DRAG2-2 The Gathering Storm (15 seats)
- LURU2-2 Shadows of the Knights (18 seats)
- AGLA2-2 First Strike (18 seats)
- EAST2-2 Sibilant Whispers (18 seats)
- QUEST2-1 Stir Not The World’s End (24 seats)
- Classic Delve Ruins of Spectral Glade (15 seats)
- D&D Classics Ringing in the Deep (15 seats) – Origins Premiere
- Learn to Play D&D (5 seats)
As can be seen from the number of seats listed, the RPGA Staff were primed to handle a lot of D&D 4E Players throughout the entire weekend!
And in addition to the events listed above, there was a one-time slot Special Event – the DM’s Challenge: Zombie Apocolypse (48 seats)! This event took place on Saturday afternoon, and allowed Dungeon Masters to create an adventure for 4th Level Characters based upon a “zombie apocalypse” trope. The DMs would then be judged by the Players on a variety of criteria, such as Presentation and Fun Factor, with the winner by highest aggregate score receiving prizes! As Readers may recall, I participated in the DM’s Challenge: Underdark at PAX East, and so I was very excited to participate in this new challenge at Origins.
But before I delve into my own D&D play experience at Origins, I should mention the “big scoop” I discussed in my last blog. As I was interviewing Willy Burger, one of the RPGA Event Coordinators, I happened to overhear that Brian O’Halloran – AKA “Dante” from Kevin Smith’s Clerks and Clerks 2 movies – was going to be the “Special Guest Player” in a preview of the Dark Sun Worldwide Game Day adventure “The Lost Cistern of Aravek”! A special demo of the adventure would be run for Mr. O’Halloran and five other lucky D&D Players chosen at random, giving them the opportunity to play in a module which will not be seen until this coming August!
Sworn to secrecy, I promised Willy that I would not divulge the information until after the convention was over. But of course, I absolutely had to find and interview Brian to find out what he thought of the game experience. Fortuneately, I found Mr. O’Halloran in the Exhibition Hall, and he cheerfully consented to chatting with me for a few minutes about “The Lost Cistern of Aravek” and about gaming in general.
As it turns out, Brian is an avid gamer from way back, starting his experiences during D&D 2nd Edition era. He played in several different settings, including Dark Sun, and so was an old hand with the world of Athas. He had high praise for this new version of D&D, commenting that he felt 4E was much more accessible than previous versions, and many of the rules were now “streamlined” and easy to use – although he would not say which version of D&D he liked the best! As it turns out, Brian is actually a very “well-rounded” gamer, not only experienced with Dungeons & Dragons, but with the MERP System by I.C.E., Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu RPG, Hero Games’ Champions, and even Star Fleet Battles! When asked what he played during the “The Lost Cistern of Aravek”, he admitted that he played a female Halfling rogue, with a few unusual powers – but Brian admitted he was a little bummed that his Halfling was not as feral as he remembers them from the original Dark Sun Setting!
But as far as my own D&D Experience, I had the opportunity to play in three events at Origins Game Fair this year: D&D Classics Ringing in the Deeps, DRAG2-2 The Gathering Storm, and the DM’s Challenge: Zombie Apocolypse.
The first adventure, D&D Classics Ringing in the Deeps was premiered at Origins Game Fair, and features the Players portraying monsters in the Underdark trying to resolve a mysterious psychic ringing that is driving the Drow into a killing frenzy. This adventure session had somewhat of a rocky start, as I was seated for a game with DM Chris Bradshaw, but had to move to another table in order to fit in a duo of Players so they would not have to be split up. It was a bit disappointing as I had already started to get to know the other players at the table, as well as DM Chris, who was a vet recently returned from a 14 month deployment in Iraq. But as it turned out, moving was not a complete loss, as I would be placed with three gents from southern Ohio – Rob, Roger, and Gary – who were great fun to play with both in this session, but as it would turn out, in the DM’s Challenge: Zombie Apocolypse as well.
As I mentioned before, this adventure module revolved around a band of monsters searching the Underdark for the source of a strange ringing which caused the local Drow population to riot in genocidal rage. Our DM was Mary Alyce, a veteran D&D Dungeon Master since 1st Edition days, and she provided a number of nice play aides including minis, a battle mat, and cards for action points. Coming last to the table, I ended up playing a surly spriggan controller, amongst an adventuring group made up of a flighty harpy (Bernard), a dark one lurker (Roger), a megalomaniacal myconid (Rob), a barbarous quaggoth (Gary), and a taciturn troglodyte (Glen).
Regretfully, despite being surrounded by a fun group of Players doing their best to act suitably monstrous, I found the D&D Classics Ringing in the Deeps a terrible flop. The plotline was painfully linear, with at least two encounter mechanics so contrived it felt like I was not in control of my Character at all.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Spoiler Notice!
In one encounter, against a pack of intellect devourers, the monsters find a slippery goo all over the cave floor that when applied to the noggin protects the user against psychic attacks somewhat – but only for that encounter! And if the same gel is applied to a weapon, the slime acts inflicts added psychic damage – but again, only for that encounter! Apparently, the goo becomes useless outside the cave it was found in. Further along, the band of monster brothers are presented with a maze, leading to a room with three hearts in it and three trinkets. By some miraculous means, the monstrous Player-Characters discern that the hearts belong to a nightmare, vampire, and a some other monster I can’t remember (and frankly don’t want to), and that if the hearts are fed to the magical immortal minotaurs in the maze, it will make them weak enough to slay. And if that sounds gratingly contrived, then learning that the minotaur room has statues in it which act as turrets flinging magical effects like webs, acid, and blade barriers around the room, and somehow the monster Characters intuit this within moments of entering the room before the encounter start, well then you’re probably holding your head much like I wanted to during the session. To her credit, Mary Alyce tried to make the adventure as fun as possible, but you can’t make much of a purse from a pig’s ear like that adventure turned out to be.
The second adventure I played, DRAG2-2 The Gathering Storm, was set on the Dragon Coast of the Forgotten Realms, and tasked the low level adventurers to find out who was behind a recent spate of pirate attacks on local shipping, which left not only the ships lost with all hands, but the utter destruction of the cargo as well. In this adventure, I borrowed a Character from David Clawson, who was at Origins with his friends Jessica and David, whom was referred to as “Klinky”. Our DM was Mark Davis, who had been dungeon mastering at event for about a dozen years. I got the chance to play a really fun Human Psion-Wizard Hybrid, along with a Dwarf Paladin (David), a Human-Changeling Sorcerer (Jeff), a Half-Elf Ranger (Greg), a Drow Assassin (Jessica), and a Human Ardent (Klinky).
Sadly, much like the D&D Classics Ringing in the Deeps, despite having a great group of Player’s to game with, the actual adventure left me feeling less than satisfied.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Another Spoiler Notice!
The bulk of the adventure was spent in a series of role-playing investigations in an effort to get clues to find out the location of the pirate “suspect” in order to apprehend him. Trailing through a series of waterfront dives and inns, the Characters finally get a lead to the location of the “dread” Pirate Aryss, a tiefling with an eye for the ladies. Along the way, the adventurers are set upon by a pack of fanatical Tormite followers called the “Eye of Justice”, who badger the PCs into giving them the whereabouts of the pirate so they can go have themselves a vigilante style lynching.
Despite repeated rebuffs, and with no information given by the Player-Characters, the Tormite vigilantes somehow manage to get ahead of the heroes, and brutally ambush them in the wilderness on the way to find the pirate. I say brutally, because within the first melee round, a third of the party were reduced to sub-zero hit points, due to an excessively high calibration attack from ambushers spread all over the map. Whether this level of coordination, high damage, and concentrated fire-power was called upon by the adventure’s author, or was a DM’s choice, is unknown, but it was frustrating to watch one’s defender and striker drop like pole-axed cows in a stockyard. But the rest of us rallied and managed to defeat sufficient numbers of the foes in order to send the remaining Tormite forces running.
The adventure climaxed with the heroes finding the camp of the pirate, and realizing it was well secured and guarded by a viscous female half-orc and a retinue of cutthroats, it was decided that the Changeling would have to “take one for the team” and try and seduce the half-orc pirate. Things could have gone rapidly downhill from there, but the DM did a great job rolling with the punches, and with a bit of judicious skill use and a Changeling-turned-Half-Orc managed to get an audience with the mysterious pirate captain. The module ends rather anti-climactically though, as the heroes find out that this pirate had nothing to do with the attacks, and was little more than a red herring. Although deemed a “success”, the heroes end the adventure having done little except clear a pirate’s “good” name, but are no closer to realizing the true villain behind the murderous sea attacks.
Thankfully, the DM’s Challenge: Zombie Apocalypse was a welcome change over the two “official” RPGA modules, and DM Kerry Jordan created an excellent gaming experience for his Players.DM Kerry, a 23 year D&D veteran from Alabama, provided a total package with his adventure – pre-generated 4th Level Characters, full color maps, handouts illustrations, and miniatures for both Player-Characters and monsters. I was reunited with Roger, Rob, and Gary from the previous gaming session, and we had some really good synergy going as soon as we got our Characters selected. The adventuring party consisted of a Human Cleric of Pelor (Me), a Dwarf Paladin of Moradin (Roger), an Eladrin Swordmage (Rob), a Half-Orc Barabarian (Gary), and an Elf Seeker (Paul), and the adventure begins simply enough, with our band returning from a failed quest to find holy relics in a cave. But on our way down from the mountains, we stopped in a small copper-mining town to resupply, only to discover it had been overrun with the walking dead!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Another Spoiler Notice – Last One I Promise!
What made this adventure truly unique was finding out that our Channel Divinity and Undead Turning powers were ineffectual against these hideous undead creatures. Examination of the terrors after the first encounter revealed that they were more constructs than undead, with bizarre machines and gizmos crudely wrapped in the flesh of dead townspeople. Of course, this caused a minor crisis of faith in my own poor Perlorian Cleric, finding his powers useless against these non-undead things.And when we located the few survivors in the village chapel, discovered that the local priest and leader was also “losing his religion” from being unable to stop the “zombie” incursion. Restoring the local priest’s faith in himself and Pelor was an important mission to allow him to lead the remaining townsfolk out of the area while the heroes continued searching for the source of the evil. It made for a good skill challenge, which garnered not only a successful rescue of the few remaining survivors, but also a powerful holy relic to bolster the party against attacks of all kinds.
DM Kerry was charmingly sly about letting the Characters know too much before the final encounter against the evil “necromancer” responsible for creating this host of zombie-mechanical things. He dropped plenty of clues, from illustrations of strange gadgets to the odd behavior of the cyborgs, but only in the end was it revealed that the evil villainess was actually an android sent to recover a spaceship that had been lost – IN THE BARRIER PEAKS!
This zombie apocalypse adventure was a great homage to the famed Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, suggesting a very logical rescue mission by aliens who viewed the local population of the mountains not as allies, but as “raw materials” to be used to construct drones to complete the search-and-rescue operation. When the evil sorceress-android admits that she would only need a couple thousand more scouting drones to complete her mission, the heroes launch into action to eradicate her before she could destroy more villages in her monomaniacal quest.
I gave Kerry high marks for his work on his DM’s Challenge, and as you can see from the pictures, he did a great job preparing and delivering a fun gaming experience. From the reactions of the rest of the Players, I think our DM scored quite well in the rankings for DM Challenge: Zombie Apocalypse.
Despite a couple of lackluster events, I still had a great time at Origins Game Fair 2010, and would definitely recommend coming to next year’s event to any gamer willing to make the drive to Columbus. The convention was well-organized, had lots of games to play and plenty of game material to buy, and was just a darned good couple of days to get out and hang out with fellow gamers for a really great time!
So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!