High Programmer > Alan De Smet > Games > Role-Playing Games > Gaming Conventions > Trip Reports > Origins 2004 Trip Report

Origins 2004 Trip Report

(I'll be adding photos and clearing up minor details ASAP.)

Got anything to add? Comments here!

Sancho Games was invited to Origins to run Live Role-Playing Chess. They had seen the game at Gen Con and thought we might make a good addition to their 30th anniversary events. We agreed to run 12 games of LRPC, each running about two hours. Four of us attended: Aaron, Brian, Michael, and myself.

The Kit

Specifically for Origins we improved, expanded, and generally cleaned up our kit. The board itself consists of sixty-four particle board squares, each twenty inches on a side. They've served us well for the last eight or so years. We got some free paint from a paint recycling center and repainted them. The dark squares are a very dark green. The light squares are a light grey. They looked really sharp with the fresh paint job. The biggest down side is that the squares are heavy, forming a roughly twenty inch cube when stacked up for transport. Giant chess board from above

A new addition was rubbery shelf liner. One of the down sides of our boards is that they can slip underfoot. We purchased about 50 feet of shelf liner, hot glued them into long strips, then used this strips under the boards. This added a bit of time to set up, but did cut down on slippage.

Each piece gets one or more props for the game. The warriors (rooks) used to get cardboard shields that we glued aluminum foil to. This year we made up some shields that look like vinyl sofa cushions, cream for the light side, dark brown for the dark side . Thieves (knights) got the same as last year, white sheets for the light side, black fitted sheets for the dark side. Priests (bishops) got floral tea cozies to use as bishop's mitres. White floral for light, purple floral for dark. This year we also gave them a small binder/prayer books to hold their spells in. The mages (queens) got spellbooks again, but we also gave them hats. Dark got a cheap costume witches hat upon which Kathleen added mystical symbols. The light mage got a tall pointy hat made out of a white fabric with blue stars printed on it. Finally, the monarchs (kings) got their traditional Burger King crowns?

A new addition this year were neck pouches to hold character sheets and blood (poker chips). These simplified set up and gave players a place to hold stuff. Thanks to Eva, Katie, and my mom for putting those together. Thanks to my mom for the sofa cushion inspired shields as well.

Most of the kit fit into an old blue chest my parents didn't want any more. Brian worked out a way to fit the chest, the boards, and the shields onto a cart he owned, then bungie corded it all down.

Tuesday, June 22nd

Planning ahead, I took Tuesday off to prepare. Unsurprisingly instead of preparing I relaxed. So when I started packing that evening, it went fairly late into the night. That I'd been afflicted with some sort of cold wasn't helping. I got to bed sometime around 2 or 3 in the morning the next day.

Wednesday, June 23rd

Road Trip

Four geeks in a car

Road trip day. It's a long trip from Madison, Wisconsin to Columbus, Ohio. Add in a few rest stops and meals and it's about 10 hours.

Now, this wouldn't have been a big deal, except that during some scheduling shuffles Origins had asked us to run a game Wednesday night. We had to be there and ready to run at 8:00pm. Add a little bit of time to handle check in and set up and we needed to be on the road at 8:00am. Which meant I needed to be out of my house by 7:30 and up at 6:30. I don't believe in 6:30 on normal days, let alone when I've stayed up late packing.

My parents generously loaned us their van, which we really needed for all of the LRPC gear, our own packing, and ourselves.

People who have been up late packing get a little loopy in the morning, leading to some odd statements.

"Yoo-Hoo ages like a fine wine." (Michael, 9:00am)

"What am I supposed to take a picture of? His dick?" (Michael, 10:25am, on Brian's suggestion that he take a picture if Aaron pees out the window.)

"I've got a water pitcher in one hand. How do I remove four wine glasses?" (Brian, on changes to waitstaff policy at one of his jobs) "Crotch them." (Alan) (11:15am)

Strange conversation and discussion about the upcoming games aside, the trip was long and boring. I get motion sick if I read in the car (but not planes, oddly enough), so there wasn't much to do. We did learn that, in addition to being flat and boring, Indiana has some amusing billboards, including this gem seen at 3:15 in the afternoon:

Avoid Hell
Trust in Jesus
Paid for by Jack Reynolds
Billboard advertising vasectomy reversal

Throughout the day we listened to music and stand-up courtesy of Brian's MP3 player (an Archos Jukebox running the most excellent Rockbox). Highlights include listening to about an hour of Eddie Izzard's stand-up.

En route, we realized that we weren't entirely sure which hotel Origins was putting us up in. Some of us were sure that the email had said Hyatt Regency. (I'd even confirmed the Hyatt reservation the day before.) Others were sure that it was the Crowne Plaza. A few phone calls quickly revealed that we actually had rooms at both places. It wasn't clear if this was a mistake, or we were really given one room per two people. We decided to check into the nicer one first. Notably, the Crowne had free wireless internet in the lobby.

Upon arrival we drove around the block a bit before finally figuring out how to get into the Crowne's entryway. We checked in without incident, dropped off our bags, then headed over to the convention center. This proved non-trivial. While the Crowne Plaza was just across the street, the route over the skyway doubled back and forth. The convention center itself is a terribly designed maze with various second story parts not being connected. We arrived at Origins proper around 6:30.

We ran into problems trying to check in. The people involved didn't have badges for us. The Origins staffer who had arranged our event was missing in action. (In fact, whenever we mentioned to just about any staffer that we were looking for him, the staffer would reply, "Yeah, I'm looking for him too.") On the up side, which things seemed confused every single staff member we spoke to was extremely helpful. Gen Con is more professionally run, but you're dealing with a bureaucracy. At Origins things are a bit more chaotic, but individual staff are eager to help and apparently have enough authority to fix stuff.

Game One

(8:00pm, GM: Aaron)

So, while staff helpfully chased around and sorted out our badge situation, we began setting up the game. Our evening games were placed around the corner from registration, just about in the center of the convention. This proved to be an ideal location, we started drawing attention relatively quickly. We had our first problems with people stepping on our board. The paint picks up scuff marks easily, so we ask people to remove their shoes to play. Unfortunately our position in the hallway encouraged people to walk over our board on their way by. Unfortunately the board picked up a few marks.

We really needed at least a few chairs to stand on (so the game masters could see what was going on) and a table to arrange stuff on. The Origins staff again was extremely helpful in getting that sorted out.

Once we were set up, we quickly gathered the required number of people with only a little wandering up and down the halls shouting for players. Just as we were about to start, Brian returned with our badges. They had quickly printed them out, so we had goofy badges (mine claimed that I was a GameMaster from Alabama. Aaron's claimed that he was a Volunteer working for TalonSoft.), but they worked. Oddly enough, the database did include Aaron's registrations for previous years (the database included Gen Con data), but not for Brian, Michael, or myself.

This was our first experience running a two hour game. Previously we had taken the default game length of four hours. In four hours we could fit about three games. Our rough hope had been to run two games in two hours. This proved overly optimistic. It turns out that a game takes about an hour and a half. Still everyone had fun, we more than filled the game, and we were the first game most attendees played at the convention.

We packed up. We'd been promised secure space to store our kit over night. We were allowed to stick our cart into a coat room that the convention was using for storage.

We learned that the double booked rooms was a mistake. The Regency room was canceled.

Tired from the long trip and the game, we headed back to the hotel, checked some mail, then headed back to our room to crash. There, while flipping through the convention guide we stumbled across the unexpected. A small company premiering a wrestling card game had brought professional wrestler Buff Bagwell to publicize their game. And it seemed that he was going to be playing in our game the next afternoon.

This wasn't entirely a surprise. We had asked Origins if any of their guests might be interested in playing to add a little something special to our game. We had been told that it was possible, but that they wouldn't likely know much in advance. So, apparently we did have a special guest. We scrambled to find out who Buff was. He has been in the WCW and the WWF/NWO, but wasn't currently in either group.

Thursday, June 24th

The first day of the convention proper. We grabbed breakfast at the convention center's food court. The food was convention center quality, but I respected the selection.

Aaron and I got the group Exhibitors ribbons so we could enter the exhibit hall early. This would be necessary to get our game set up on time for Friday and Saturday. Immediately it allowed us to get in to the exhibitors room and talk to the company that had invited Buff. Fortunately Buff's handler was there talking with them, so we sorted out what was going on. Buff wasn't a gamer, but he was open minded. He was expecting to be there for the whole two hours of both games was was scheduled to be at. (This was good news, we had actually expected any special guests to be whisked in and out.)

Game Two: Buff the Stuff

(2:00pm, GM: Brian)

There was time for a bit of exhibit hall crawling, then we got about setting up for game two at 2:00pm. We had some problems getting access to the storage room (no one was around), but eventually did.

We were in the "Auxiliary Stage", an empty floor space in the back left corner of the exhibit hall. This time we had nice pole dividers to keep people out during set up. A bit before the game Buff and his handler showed up, we talked briefly. The convention book suggested that Buff was going to play King, so we gave him the Dark Monarch's position. Buff was a nice guy, eager to participate. He hung around while we set up and looked for players.

As game time approached we continued to ancient LRPC tradition and took to wandering around, shouting at whoever would listen. "We're playing Live Role-Playing Chess! Now-ish! Back left corner of the exhibit hall! Come play! You're at Origins! You're gamers! Come play a game! Come play our game! It's fun! It's loud and annoying, like me!" Since we were in the exhibit hall, we did most of our yelling in there, which got more than a few strange looks from various exhibitors. Without too much work we collected a necessary number of players at got under way.

The chairs in the exhibit hall were far cheaper than the ones outside. We weren't comfortable standing on them. So we stood on our blue chest.

The game went well. Buff immediately understood the concept of introducing your character, as he pointed out, "it's like a wrestling persona." The highlight of Buff's presence in the game was definitely his introduction as King Buff, honed from years of professional wrestling work. The game itself didn't jive with Buff quite as well. LRPC is, at it's core, a gamers game. It's needlessly complicated and goofy. Buff played well, but this clearly wasn't the sort of thing he was familiar with. Still, when the game finished he was excited about being back the next morning.

Game Three

(4:00pm, GM: Aaron) Giant chess board covered with dead pieces

The game finished about fifteen minutes to four, giving us not much time to reset everything. We fumbled around a bit, but were ready roughly on time. Another walk to scare up players and we were on. The game went pretty well.

At Gen Con we've had players return year after year. At this point we had started getting our first repeat players. Our players are usually a mix of older gamers and kids. This was no exception. We had repeat players from every category. Several asked if we would return the next year.

The only down side of this particular game is that we lost a bag. Two of the younger player's characters had died fairly early. They had wandered off, apparently with two of our bags. Another player found and returned one of the bags, but the other was never seem. Unfortunate. We took care to explain that when people left that we needed our kit back and didn't have any further problems.

We packed up and stored our stuff. The fellow running the art show / auction generously offered to let us store our stuff in there. We got a quick dinner at the food court, then headed back to set up for the last game of the day.

Game Four

(7:00pm, GM: Michael?)

Being an evening game, the 8:00pm game was back in the hallway. Again, no problem collecting players. The game ran smoothly.

We're right next to the Looney Labs' demo room. They grumbled a bit about cutting off traffic, but there really wasn't much behind us and we really needed the space. The one thing of note behind us was the Steve Jackson Games MIB room. They weren't bothered by us at all.

At this point all four of us had been present for every game. It was decided that we really only needed three people to keep the game moving smoothly. We'd been hoping to only need one or two people, but having two people on the floor to help with things really kept the game moving at a good clip. LRPC is 90% about keeping things going quickly and convincing the players that they are having a good time. Much like a RenFaire show.

We packed up, stowed out kit in the art show again, and crashed for the evening.

Friday, June 25th

Game Five: Buff is Back!

(10:00am, GM: Alan)

Our second game with Buff, this time with me running it. My first game as GM in some time. Filling the game took some work and we got started a bit late, but we did okay.

To try and find a better fit for Buff, we asked him to handle drawing chits for initiative. This seemed to work okay. One humorous moment was Buff calling for the "Dark Mage's Chief." The chit says Thief, not Chief, but the font is a bit arty and the T does look like a C. Four geeks and Buff Bagwell

At the end of the game we thanked Buff for participating. He kindly posed for a picture with us and signed one of our board sections.

By the end of the game my voice started getting a bit rough. We shout a lot in LRPC. We shout to attract players. We shout to lead players in cheers and chants. We shout to let players know what is going on. Running a handful of games at Gen Con this isn't a problem. But we were running twelve games.

Game Six

(noon, GM: Aaron)

Another back to back game. No real problem collecting players, nothing of note. Storage at the art show again.

Now at this point I had some real free time and began crawling the hall. We hadn't really had time to plan for the convention, not that it probably mattered given our dense LRPC schedule. As a result I didn't have any plans to play games. I did enjoy crawling the exhibit hall.

Dinner: The Japanese Steakhouse

We head out to eat and relax. Across the street is the imaginatively named " The Japanese Steakhouse." We headed over well before dinner, so we were seated quickly (with another set of gamers, since they want to fill hibachi tables). All they do is hibachi, and it rocks. On three sides of the table are seats for guests. The fourth provides access to a huge skillet surface that a chef uses to cook in front of you. Part of the cooking process is the show of dexterity and they whip through the process. First nice touch: hot, slightly moist towels to freshen up with before dinner. That really helped perk me up. Then dinner. The fillet mignon was most excellent. The only down side, I think the table work is better at Ginza of Tokyo (I'm particularly fond of the volcano made out onion slices).

Game Seven

(7:00pm, GM: Michael)

This was my first game off, so I wandered around. I tried to locate a game to play, but didn't have much luck. Dancing stormtrooper

Meanwhile, LRPC had some special guests, Stormtroopers! Somehow a group of Stormtroopers (and a Boba Fett) were enticed to play in costume. I don't know much else about the game, but I understand it was a blast. Michael was ecstatic that they danced for him.

Somewhere around this point players figured out the first potent spell combination: Zombie and Fervor. Zombie returns a dead character to unlife. Zombies cannot be killed in combat, so other pieces run away when they encounter it. Fervor stops other pieces from running away. The combination is certain death for most pieces. Given a steady stream of returning players, we saw this combination once or twice each game from this point. A few games later people began countering it with various anti-magical spells.

We learned from Origins staff that they were running out of generic tickets (they were metal token this year). It seems that they had hoped that large groups would turn in tokens every day, but they hadn't been happening. We turned in what we had at that point. We had about 100 tokens, valued at about $150. It's the first time it dawned on me how much money we were making for Origins. Not epic amounts, but over the course of the weekend we pulled in more than $576 in tickets.

A Demo: Battlestations

After helping pack up, we headed back. En route I saw Battlestations being demoed and was invited in. I'd seen the game earlier in the exhibit hall and wanted to try it. I'd missed an earlier demo.

The big picture is that Battlestations takes place on two maps. On the space map your ship moves around and battles other ships. You then have smaller maps for your ships. Men move around the ship, try to man controls and run around to fix broken things. The idea is cool, one of your officers might race back to try and bring a gun back online while the navigator turns for a better shot while several marines try to protect both the navigator and the officer from a boarding party. It's pricey ($50 if I remember correctly), but you get bunches of people markers, ship segments, maps, and more.

Unfortunately the game wasn't quite what I wanted. It moves slowly, largely because individual characters are fairly complicated. Because of the complexity each player only runs one or two characters. You won't realistically be seeing six ship combat, since a typical ship needs a minimum crew of four, so you'll need at least 12 players. The game appears focused around scenarios. These scenarios really require a referee to run. Instead of being a game about high speed combat and confused action, it plays like HeroQuest, with a focus on individual characters.

Falling asleep, I ducked out of the game (which had several spectators, one jumped in), and slept.

Saturday, June 26th

Game Eight: The One Bad Game

(10:00am, GM: Michael)

Fortunately, I got to miss this game as well. Unfortunately, this was The One Bad Game. The previous morning we had problems getting players. Today was worse. There are several problems. First, gamers aren't usually morning people, morning games always have problems getting players. Second, the exhibit hall opened at 10:00am. When the doors open it takes time for people to trickle to the back (where we were). Worse, the people who actually show up at 10:00am usually have specific goals for the exhibit hall; usually purchasing limited edition stuff. So, there ended up being only 8 players. The players ended up playing one side, Aaron and Brian played mutant super pieces on the other side. Very unfortunate. This seemed to especially drag on Michael, he was understandably frustrated.

Several lessons are learned and reinforced here: Being in the back of anything (the exhibit hall here, the gaming area at Gen Con) is bad for a game like ours. Morning games are a bad idea for a game like ours.

Meanwhile, I slept in late, then crawled the hall.

Game Nine

(noon GM: Brian)

I'm back for another game. Now that gamers are waking up and getting to the back of the exhibit hall. Without too much work we scare up a game. It goes well. Afterward we pack up and stow our stuff in the art show again.

We're warned that the next day we'll be sharing the space with Giant Attack!. The plan is that they'll set up the game in the evening. We'll set up our board on top of theirs, play, then leave tomorrow.

Somewhere around this game players figured out another dangerous spell combination: Dimension Walk and Cataclysm. Dimension Walk lets the mage teleport, Cataclysm explodes the mage, killing almost every piece nearby. One of these games featured a vicious high school girl killing five or six light pieces in just this game.

Dinner: BD's Mongolian Barbeque

Sign: bd's mongolian barbeque

It's been too long since we've had a Mongolian barbeque in Madison. Having had BD's Mongolian Barbeque recommended, Aaron, Brian, and I head out. Again, it's early, so we're seated quickly, but the place is already hopping. The selection of meat, veggies, noodles, and sauces to select is great. You get a bowl, fill it with food, then take it up to the giant, flat, circular metal grill. A set of cooks are moving around the grill with long metal poles. They take the food, plop it down, and cook it while moving around. BD's was all you can eat, so we tried a bunch of stuff. It's loud, but cool, the food is good and the price is about what you would expect ($13 for dinner).

Game Ten

(7:00pm, GM: Alan)

Last game of the day. It goes well.

Somewhere prior to this point, we visited Rook. They sell metal cases for trading card games and generously provide nice bags for free at Gen Con and Origins. At some point we decided that some of their black hats labeled "Rook" would be great for our warrior pieces. Brian asked them about it. They knew who we were, after all, I'd been shouting about our game all convention. They asked if we wanted them for prizes, Brian explained that they were props to be reused. He was immediately handed five hats (four for the game, one for Brian himself. For the remaining games, we added "We love Rook Storage Systems" to the list of things we made the players shout. (LRPC is all about the shouting.)

Sunday, June 27th

We pack up, check out, and check out bags with the hotel. Off to the convention for the last day.

Game Eleven

(11:00am, GM: Michael?)

Second to last game, and a final surprise. It seems that when Giant Attack! was scheduled, they were relying on the schedule printed in the tables in the convention guide and computer system. Unfortunately those entries were wrong. The correct times (listed in the special events section of the guide) were 11-1 and 1-3. They though we were running 10-noon and noon-2. Giant Attack! started at 2. We had a problem.

There was enough space that we were able to set up next to Attack!. If necessary, we'd run simultaneously.

The game went well. We had lots of repeat players, filling the game was no problem.

Game Twelve

(1:00pm, GM: Aaron)

Worrying about sharing the space with Attack!, we get a surprise. The main stage is no longer in use; we can use the space. We do the fastest tear down and set up ever. Giant chess board covered with dead pieces

We've been telling players all weekend that this is our "championship" game, so the game fills quickly, almost entirely with repeat players.

Brian let the players pick the gamemaster. Michael wasn't an option as he was pooped. The players first picked Brian (probably because he was already shouting at them), but when he pointed out that Aaron designed the game, they chose Aaron.

To provide a "fair" way to assign character, Aaron runs a quick impromptu trivia contest based on facts about us. Since almost no one knows about us, it's pretty random and works fine. One question of note, Brian informs the players that two of the four of us are engaged (not to each other!). Not mentioned is that the two women are typically known as Kat and Katie. Later in the game while chatting with two goth high school girls (who played four or five games), we learn that they go by the names Kat and Katie. Surreal.

Anyway, with all of the repeat players, the game extremely brutal, with Cataclysms quickly killing many. The game ran about an hour, one of our shortest, but everyone seemed to enjoy it. Oddly, one kid who had played several times before faced a tough opponent. When informed that his opponent has several spells to enhance her in combat, he began crying. It was a bit odd, since the kid had died in every game before that. After a brief moment of people trying to cheer him up (including his mom, who was nearby) and a healthy offering of candy, he finished up the combat, and happily died just like the previous few times. Kids are odd.

At the end of the game my voice was badly shot. I was very hoarse. I sounded a bit like Buff Bagwell. Brian and Aaron suggested that I sound like some actor whose name I can't remember.

All in all things went very well. At least a few players played at least seven games. A half dozen or so played more than games games.

Heading Out

Immediately after the game we packed up. Brian sorted out our tickets, filled out the forms, then tried to turn it in. Again minor problems. Since we were only sort of an event, no one quite knew what to do with them. He eventually found Mark, the person who arranged our events, and dropped it off. Mark congratulated us on good games and thanked us for coming.

We grabbed our kit and headed back to the hotel to leave. Unfortunately one of the three elevators we needed to take was broken (did I mention it's an idiotically designed convention center)? Michael and Aaron ended up lugging the cart (probably 150 pounds) down the stairs.

Back at the hotel we ran into problems. Brian went to get the car. He came back twenty minutes later without a car. First, the exit gate was broken and the gate attendant didn't have the ability to override it. (Apparently customer service isn't job number one.) So Brian waited for a tech to show up and fix it. He then tried to pay for the parking. It seems that we've racked up a $50 parking fee (expected), and that they don't take credit cards (not expected). Brian didn't have the cash. Being in a bad mood, Brian decided to "lose" the parking stub and pay the lost stub fee ($25). He quickly filled out of the "I lost my parking stub" form with fictitious information and we hit the road.

Somewhere en route we hit a Bob Evans restaurant. It was vaguely Denny's-esque restaurant. We ate vaguely Denny's-esque food. We tried some sort of corn-bread-loaf thing.

Brian's jukebox was put onto "shuffle everything" mode. With 15 or so gigs of music, it proved to be amusing eclectic. Chicago Skyway Toll Bridge sign

We drove through some nasty smelling industrial town on the way back. We took the Illinois Skyway where we drove past another industrial town. There were many flaming smokestacks.

Near the end of the trip we hit a gas station and grabbed some quick food. A random discussion about the merits and flaws of gas station hot dogs led to the last quote I noted down, "I have many powers. They are not, however, tube-steak based." (Aaron, 10:00pm)

We got back to Madison around 1:00am, I got home around 1:30am.

Random Notes

We had lots of repeat players. Exhibitors seemed amused with us, once they got used to me wandering the hall shouting every morning. Many Origins staff thanked us for running the games. A number of players hoped we would return next year.

Michael's photo gallery from the show.

John Kovalic's Origins write up.

Greg Costikyan's Origins write up. Sadly, I didn't realize that the Play With a Creator games were often only partially full. I wanted to play more games, but didn't have time to find them. Worse the PWAC games had a big warning in the book "No Generics Accepted". I didn't have time to get in the event registration line, so I assumed I could never get in. Darn, I would have really dug playing some of those games.

Got anything to add? Comments here!

2004-07-26: Edits courtesy of suggestions by Brian and Ben Davenport. Added photos, some courtesy of Michael's gallery.