Origins 2011

The boundary between early and mid- summer for me is marked by the Origins Games Fair, which generally falls on the last weekend of June. With the except of last year I’ve been to the convention since 2000, as well as a couple times before that.

The types of games Origins is about are generally of the table-top variety: board games, card games, pencil-and-paper role-playing games, and war games. There’s also an art show and some movies. I go almost exclusively for the RPGs, both for playing and purchasing – though I’ve bought a board game or two there. This year was no exception.


The basic format is a vendor hall where the various companies show off their products. In addition to games themselves (both new and used), one can find movies, period and fantasy wear, weapons (real and padded), t-shirts, software and various other creative and silly paraphernalia that can somehow be construed as related to gaming, fantasy and/or science fiction.


To wander around the fair and play games you need to purchase a pass. Passes can be valid for the whole fair, just one day, or in between. If you just want to browse and not play events, you can get a very cheap day pass.


The one thing I did different this year was that I did not pre-register for any specific events. Instead I only bought generic tokens, which can be used to ‘buy’ a seat at a game assuming there is space available. I did this because this was the debut year of Indie Games on Demand at Origins. (GoD has taken place at the other big U.S. game fair, GenCon, for a couple years now I gather.)


Basically, the various independent RPG enthusiasts arranged to have several tables in one of the rooms in the convention center, and to run or facilitate whatever games they felt comfortable with and that people wanted to play. Overall the event was a great success: we had at least 3 games running in each of the four slots, including the two morning slots that started at 9am. And this was with hit not having been widely publicized and having been organized only two weeks ahead of the fair.


I played in all four slots and was fortunate to have been able to play a different game each time. I played, in order Apocalypse World; Fiasco; Do: the Pilgrims of the Flying Temple; and 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars.


One of the hallmarks of the indie RPG gaming movement is novel and highly focused mechanics tuned to the game and setting and designed to drive a specific type of play. All of these games are great examples of this.


In Apocalypse World, a game of over the top action with a spike of sexiness in a post-apocalyptic word, the mechanics drive the players toward exactly the sort of action and “t&a” you would expect from watching many post-apocalyptic movies (think Mad Max or Book of Eli).


Fiasco is best described as “Cohen Brothers movies the RPG” – it describes itself as “the game of power ambitions and poor impulse control” and it is. In addition to playing it in one of the regular GoD slots, it played a pick-up game of it on Sunday. Both games were great and crazy. The game mechanics are very light and entirely geared toward telling the story, not conflict resolution. It’s also GM-less, which is nice perk. In a nutshell, each scene is set either by the player whose turn it is, or the other players. Players play either their main characters or secondary characters as needed. After the scene is played out, the ‘side’ (meaning the player whose turn it is or the other players) who didn’t set the scene gets to pick if the scene was over all good or bad for the player. This earns them a black or white die. Those accumulate and are rolled at the end to help determine each players’ character’s fate.


Do is a game about martial arts initiates of the so-called Flying Temple (named thusly because the monks and initiates all can fly) who are being sent out into the worlds (yes, plural, it’s a multiverse) to help right wrongs and decide if they wish to continue the monastic life and become full monks. The mechanics are somewhat similar to Fiasco‘s and drive the characters into troublesome situations. Though where Fiasco is definitely of a dark comedy tone, Do is definitely more in the slapstick realm.


Finally, we have 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars. For a movie reference, think Starship Troopers. It’s an almost utopian world, but there are critters out there that threaten humanity and it’s the 16th brigade of the 3rd army’s job to eradicate it. And when it says eradicate, it means literally, and without negotiation or any of that silliness. (So there is a decidedly xenophobic current within the utopian Earth the soldiers have left behind.) It’s a very deadly game that rewards characters for the most kills so as to encourage, as the game’s name contains, carnage.


I thoroughly enjoyed each GoD I played, to the credit of the game masters/facilitators, my fellow players, and the creators of the games. Many thank yous to all of you!


The other notable thing about Origins 2011 is that I participated in my first LARP. LARP stands for Live-Action Role-Player; meaning that instead of sitting around a table, the players get up and act out their role-play. Unlike most LARPS did not use a formal set of rules, and we didn’t have to dress up or bite each other on the neck. Kind of LARP-lite, I suppose. It was a first LARP for a few other players as well. Again, I had a great time, though I was a bit hesitant and my character got outed as a Russian spy about mid-way through.


The plot of the LARP revolved around an UFO group’s leader alleged meeting with extraterrestrials, to which he had invited a number of his group members, skeptics and, as it turned out, his crass neighbor. Each character had at least two motivations/goals, one of which was secret (and generally tied to a somewhat different persona than the façade they wore at the event).


I bought the books for Fiasco and 3:16. Do is not out yet (though has met its funding goal on KickStarter several times over and should be available soon). Apocalypse World is so indie it’s only available online, so, I’ll be ordering it shortly.


In addition to the games I played, I also bought Microscope, a world-building game with role-playing used to drill into whatever aspects of the history that the group finds interesting, and Montsegur 1244, a game that explores faith and belief in the context of the surrender of the Cathars at the seige of Montsegur in 1244 and the subsequent choice of a couple hundred of them to chose to be burnt at the stake rather than convert to Christianity.


It was a great time, and it was great to reconnect with various friends I’ve made at Origins over the years. I look forward to many returns!

  • As an RPG newbie, I find the Cathars history fascinating and I’m curious to see it in action role playing.

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