Origins 2014 Wrapup Part 1

Origins 2014 has come to an end, and a great time was had by (mostly) all. Here is part one of my show wrapup thoughts.

IMG_20140611_091313

The Games

Origins is all about games, and I’ll have detailed thoughts about the things that I played in my next post. In general, however, gaming at Origins is thriving. The Pathfinder and Shadowrun rooms, driven by organized play, were booming. The Indie RPGs on Demand room was also hopping the whole time, and the cavernous D&D room was better-attended than it looked. As usual there were a large number of Call of Cthulhu events. Even oddball games like Traveller and Rolemaster were sellouts. Massive tournaments dominated the board gaming area, and deck-building card games like Ascension and Dominion were very prominent.

IMG_20140612_134812

I’ll have a separate post up about the events I myself participated in.

The Exhibit Hall

The dealers’ room this year was a paradise for boardgamers. So much so that some prominent publishers like Mayfair and Asmodee got their own sales areas — but in the Board Gaming hall.

IMG_20140612_134143

The dealers’ room was not so strong for RPG players and wargamers of either the hex-and-counter or miniatures variety. Many major players, including WotC, Paizo, Games Workshop and GMT did not exhibit, but the Steve Jackson James/Atlas/Chaosium booth had a big presence, and they were dealing both Paizo product and Numenera. Kenzer also exhibited, and there were both sellers of indie RPGs and a number of smaller publishers on hand. The big booths selling old and out of print RPGs and wargames were entirely gone. Columbia Games and Decision Games were there to represent old school wargaming.

As Origins evolves, the number of dealers selling cosplay and LARP stuff continues to increase.

Organization

As in previous years, show management was very disorganized. Lines were long and slow for those unfortunate enough to try to get in on Saturday morning, the events book suffered from many, many misprints and many events had to be moved at the last minute, with no notices posted. Thankfully, random people on hand were generally happy to point you in the right direction. Events were frequently listed in the book at the wrong times or with the wrong prices, so folks kept showing up early or with the wrong number of generic tokens in their pockets.

IMG_20140611_094920

Origins is changing — not necessarily for the worse, but it is changing in directions away from where GAMA’s expertise lies. Wherever that is. Every year, for example, there are more and more cosplayers, and GAMA has no idea how to deal with or appeal to them.

The Origins Awards, which should logically be the gaming hobby’s equivalent to the Oscars, were again bungled. Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop, which is both a great and entertaining show and is driving large numbers of people into boardgames, won a well-deserved award, but when folks started congratulating Wil on Twitter, it turned out that nobody had told him he was even nominated. This kind of incompetence would be laughable but something like it seems to happen almost every year, and for every step forward there seem to be two steps back.

What GAMA needs to do is hire a professional event management firm to run the show for them. They did so before, and in comparison the convention was very well-run in those years, but politics of the anti-WotC variety caused GAMA to end their arrangement with Andon.

Now, I’ve seen worse, at both Origins and Gen Con. It was better than some years, and no issue was so devastating as to completely torpedo the whole show. But it was very sloppy in a number of places, and the Origins Award thing is just a goddamn embarrassment.

The Food

There are many, many worthwhile places to eat around the convention center. My schedule was so compact, however, that I didn’t have the opportunity to go anywhere but the Hyatt’s food court, where the grub is merely serviceable but very cheap by con food standards, with a sole jaunt to North market on Friday, where I had some excellent curry followed by ice cream. Alas that I did not make it to Barley’s or the Flatiron, my two favorite places to eat in the area.

Overall

GAMA’s blundering aside, in general I had a great time. I did not get to spend as much time playing or attending as I would have liked, but that’s par for the course for folks with adult responsibilities.

Origins has historically been and remains a great show to attend to play actual games. Get gamers together and the magic happens, despite whatever mistakes the convention organizers made.

Lessons for Next Year

Every year I find some things that I would have done differently, and that list reflects changes in the hobby, changes in the show and changes in personal circumstances. But here’s what I’d like to do differently next year:

  • Budget more money for the convention. This year I bought very little aside from dice, but my food budget could have been bigger.
  • Play more Pathfinder. I’ll have more to say about this in the next post, but I found the Pathfinder Society stuff to be very enjoyable. But I still want to do other games as well, so…
  • Budget more time for the convention. This means taking two days off from work, which I have not done for the last few years. This would give me, minimally, a full day to play games on Thursday as well as the opportunity to get in on stuff on Wednesday as well. There were things I wanted to do but couldn’t because I had to go to work on Thursday night.
  • Maybe run a game or two. It occurred to me that I have never done so at Origins. There are all kinds of available avenues for this, but stuff for Indie Games on Demand would be a possibility, or I may try to do Rolemaster or Traveller or something else similarly underserved. It would be nice if my RPG was finished by then, but that’s very unlikely to happen by next year.
  • Have a better way to do online blogging from the show. Partly this is a function of time, but there were also equipment and battery issues, and I didn’t do as much reporting from the show as I would have liked.

My Origins Event Schedule

Origins 2014 has begun, and today I picked up my badge and signed up for as many events as I could fit into my schedule (below.) I will be reporting on each event as the con proceeds, in addition to tweeting under the #OriginsGameFair hashtag, plus as much else as I can get in.

IMG_20140611_094920

Thursday

  • 2 PM – 6 PM: Full Thrust (Miniatures)
  • 6 PM – 10 PM: 13th Age

Friday

  • 8 AM – 12 PM: D&D BECMI, B4 The Lost City
  • 1 PM – 5 PM: D&D Next, Legacy of the Crystal Shard
  • 7 PM-8 PM: Artemis Spaceship Brudge Simulator
  • 8 PM – Midnight: D&D BECMI, X2 Castle Amber

Saturday

  • 8 AM – 1 PM: Pathfinder, Destiny of the Sands, Part 1
  • 1 PM – 6 PM: Pathfinder, Destiny of the Sands, Part 2
  • 7 PM – Midnight: Pathfinder, Library of the Lion

IMG_20140611_091313

Sunday’s up in the air, as the 8-hour marathon Pathfinder game I’d planned to be in was sold out.

Origins 2014

The Origins Game Fair, one of the country’s largest hobby game conventions, takes place in Columbus, Ohio each summer. It starts this Wednesday. It’s a great show and I have fun every year. I’ve only missed two shows since 1995, one due to scheduling issues and the other due to a health problem which is thankfully cleared up now.

As in previous years I will be posting on social media about the show while it’s happening and I’ll have blog posts regarding it as time permits – hopefully each day, but when it’s over if nothing else. I plan to take as many photos as my batteries allow. Unlike previous years my intention this year is to game my ass off. We’ll see what I can get into on Wednesday, but I have a full slate of games planned, with alternates in case any of my first choices are filled. I will be hitting D&D and Pathfinder hard, filling in the gaps with goodies from Indie Games on Demand. I may also try that Artemis thing if I get the opportunity. I even have a miniatures game on my alternates list.

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Reviewed

Almost as old as roleplaying games are boardgames that try to simulate them. Back in the day we had TSR’s Dungeon, and later came games like Talisman, HeroQuest and Descent. In principle, such games try to provide some elements of the RPG experience without the prep, bookeeping or scheduling concerns, becuase they can be played in a single session.

Roleplaying games today are a bit different than they were back in the days of yore, however. And there’s been a lot of analysis over the past decade or so that tried to isloate what the components of RPG play are and how to enhance them. This has spawned many novel RPG designs, but few boardgame emulations of the subject have tried to break the genre loose from the dungeon. The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game (hereafter PFACG) does that. It’s a card game that plays like a board game that plays like an RPG. Specifically like a Pathfinder Adventure Path. It’s also a cooperative game; the players try to beat the game itself rather than each other.

pathfinderPathfinder, for those who don’t know, is an iteration of the D&D Edition 3.x rules, produced and adopted by Paizo Publishing after D&D 4th Edition caused an exodus of players who preferred the previous version of the rules. It’s been wildly successful and routinely outsells D&D proper, depite the latter’s far wider name recognition amongst the general public. The Adventure Card Game is a spinoff that incorporates elements of the deck-building games that are currently popular. Note that while there are expansions for the PFACG, it is NOT a “collectable card game” in the style of Magic: The Gathering. Aside from a couple of promo cards, what comes in the kits is what’s in the game, and there’s no random packs or anything like that.

The Base Set comes with a lot of pretty cards, a basic set of dice, the rulebook and a nice card organizer tray that seats inside the box. This tray, or something very like it, is almost neccessary for play of the game, becuase on many occasions you’ll need to pick random cards of one type or another from the box, and you’ll want those oprganized into cvatgeories and ready to go. Some kinds of discards also go back in the box, while others go into your dicard pile or to the bottom of your draw deck.

One starts playing the PFACG by picking a character (one of the Pathfinder iconic characters, of which seven come in the Base Set,) who gets a starting deck that you can design yourself from the cards in the box. This deck represents both your abilites and your life points, and is subject to a number of restriction on what can go into it and what can’t. You can also just use some preconstructed decks that are provided in the rulebook, although in my opinion these are not that great but easily improved upon.

You also pick a scenario card. This can be a standalone scenario or part of a larger “adventure” consisting of several scenarios intended to be played in order. Two such adventures are provided with the Base Set: Perils of the Lost Coast, which consists of three different scenarios, and Burnt Offerings, which contains five scenarios and is the first part of the Rise of the Runelords Adventure path, a series of six linked adventures. The other five parts are found in expansion decks for the game.

Each play session is a single scenario and can be played in roughly 30-60 minutes, or maybe a bit longer the first couple of times. When the scenarios are linked into a campaign the characters can grow over time and between adventures, gradually improving and exanding their decks and gaining new abilities. While the PFACG is fun played just as a one-shot, it’s in the campaign mode that it really shines.

Aside from the character decks, each scenario will have a number of locations, as given on the scenario card. How many locations you use depends on the number of characters playing. Each location gets a deck of its own, constructed randomly using the rules in the book from the card categories listed on the location card.

Characters, alone or together, explore these locations by drawing cards from their decks, encountering challenges like monsters, traps and parleys and possibly accruing treasures like better gear and abilities. You win the game by defeating the scenario’s end boss,— but the boss can escape to another location that hasn’t been cleared out unless you cut off his escape route, which means you’ll need to find where’s he’s gone to challenge him again.

The game works on a timer; you start with a deck of thirty Blessing cards and each player turns one face up at the start of the turn, so you have thirty player turns in which to complete the adventure. If the Blessings deck runs out or all the characters die, the players lose. Various card effects can add to the Blessings deck or take away from it.

The Base Set contains enough stuff for four people to play; not just the character cards but gear, spell cards and such that are needed to flesh out the decks. The optional Character Add-On Deck contains enough cards to add two more players and provides four additional characters to play (the Barbarian, Druid, Monk and Paladin.)

The game is probably at its best with four players, but can be played solo with one character or several. And it can be fairly challenging; my first game saw my Fighter Valeros face-planting in his first location. Not all of the characters are well-suited to playing solo with a single character; the Rogue is the preferred class for this, but it looks to me like the Ranger would be pretty good as well.

My own imperfect understanding of the rules at the time didn’t help, either. The rulebook is not lengthy but a lot of details are on the cards themselves, as is common in card games these days. On the whole it’s fairly intricate, but not impenetrably so, even for kids. It’s probably about as complex as the rules in the Pathfinder Beginner’s Box. But there’s no simplified version of the game to start out with, or a gradual learning curve. You’re all in until you figure everything out, and there are a number of layers of rules that you could potentially forget, like the sepacial rules for the scenario or location, from the those cards, or the special rules for your character.

On the whole, though, the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is a great deal of fun, and not a bad substitute if you have the RPG itch but can’t get players together for a campaign or if nobody wants to GM. In the same amount of time it takes for one typical 4-hour session of D&D or Pathfinder you could get through an entire Adventure, store the built decks in the box, and pick up where you left off at a later time with the next adventure in the Path. Because the Adventure is randomized and there are different ways to build the character descks, replayability is high even using the same two adventures that come in the box.

Some vague guidelines are given in the rulebook for developing your own characters and Adventures, but no rigorous rules; it’ll take some expereince to get the balance and feel right, and there is support from online communities for doing this kind of modding.

At $60 for the Base Set and $20 each for the Character Add-On and additional Adventure decks, plus additional accessories if you want them, the buy-in price is fairly high… but as I mentioned above, you can get a pretty good amount of play even just out of the Base Set, you can play it even solitaire, and it’s entertainment dollars well-spent, in my opinion.

The final installment for the first PFACG campaign is due out in June. The next product will be a whole new Base Set and campaign based on the pirate-themed Skull & Shackles Adventure Path. If you’re going all-in on the game I do recommend adding some extra dice to your set. It’s likely that a lot of potential players will have those laying around anyway. And if you’re also into Pathfinder or another fantasy tabletop RPG that likes playing with minitaures, you might think about picking up the Pathfinder Pawns NPC Codex Box, which contains 300+ heavy cardstock standups that include the eleven iconic characters from Pathfinder, the same ones used in the card game. Using the standup Pawns is more fun and tactile than using the token cards that come with the Base Set and Add-On Deck.

Before the Empire

My extant version of the Arashálinu Enáthaga began with the first Emperor and only briefly mentioned Alénach, who had arisen as the leader of the White Alliance before the Empire’s founding. Nevertheless the early history of the Dhéruhir is fairly well-detailed in my archives, with an account of the migrations of the then-nomadic Laghá into the region, their assimilation of the Vádzh already living their, and the development of city-states and in time a loose alliance to ward off incursions by still-barbaric tribes dwelling to the west.

It seems to me that the chroniclers would not have started their account cold, as it were, especially given that the dynastic history was begun a century or two after the Founding, and was likely intended to be a history of the Empire to that point. So I’ve written a prologue along with additional Editor’s Notes which I may well expand at a later time.


Long years before the Empire the Laghá came to the lands of the Dhéruhir from the west and brought with them the faith of Kórbrak. They settled among the lands of the Vádzh, and soon they were one people. They grew millet and wheat after the manner of the Vádzh, and their numbers swelled, and soon they built cities where all manner of tradesfolk might gather behind high walls in safety. Yet to the west there were still the unlettered tribes of the Laghá who were called the Rekóna, with whom they warred. The great chief Hásteka led the western clans against all the cities, and Verékha and Henésta fell to them. So the Lords of the cities made the league which is called the White Alliance, and defeated the western tribes on the banks of the Menúr. Yet Hásteka fled and lived many years yet, often raiding in force though he feared to come once more against the whole army of the Alliance with his sworn tribes, so the Alliance endured for three generations.

In the last of these arose Alénach, a man of Dravá, and he became most prominent among the Lords of the cities, and the other Lords were coerced to do his bidding, lest all fall to the Rekóna, among whom yet another chief had arisen who thought to weld all the tribes into a great horde. It was Alénach who led the armies of the Alliance against the tribes, and in a campaign of six years subdued them and forced them to submit to the will of Dravá, yet not to the Alliance. After this none could gainsay him, and he set about gathering all powers to himself in Dravá, which had grown to be largest and mightiest of the cities of the Dhéruhir.

Editor’s Notes

There are reasons to think that the transition between the loose mutual defense league called the White Alliance (for so it seems in the fragmentary records available) was not so abrupt as the tale in the Arashálinu Enáthaga would seem to imply. But records of that time are extremely scarce and have often been subject to revisionism and reinterpretation over the centuries, and a full account of the theories of historians of that age is beyond the scope of this work.

What can be known is that the people of the cities of the Dhéruhir (the claw-shaped peninsula that juts out from the eastern Surathan coast into the Luésh Alén (the “Green Waters” in Draványa, called the Sea of Doorways by many other peoples living on its shores,) were literate from at least BF 200, and possibly earlier. It is thought that the migrating Laghá and the indigenous Vádzh formed a unique cultural union to which the Laghá brought a warrior ethos and cultural pride and the Vádzh instilled agriculture, literacy and many other endowments of civilization.

D&D5 For Free

And then there arose an interesting development regarding the D&D5E Starter Set and its suitability as a stand-alone game system for long-term play. There is, as always, good news and bad news.

It’s always my habit to drop the bad news first, so here goes. At this point the Starter Set appears to be what it says on the tin: levels 1-5 and a canned adventure or two (Mearls says “campaign.”) Very similar to the kind of introductory sets we’ve seen since the cancellation of the BECMI line. It doesn’t sound like the kind of thing that can keep people playing for all that long, although the components might well be useful later on.

The good news, though, is a biggie, spilled by Mike Mearls early this morning. Alongside the 5E rollout we’re going to see a product called Basic Dungeons & Dragons, which will be distributed as a free PDF. It will contain the four core classes of Cleric, Fighter, Rogue and Wizard, and will include the Halfling, Elf, Dwarf and Human races. And levels 1-20. Mike compared it to the Rules Cyclopedia, with the three D&D5 core books being the equivalent of AD&D.

As new “storylines” (which I read as “modules”) are released, there will be PDFs of any extra material not already in basic D&D but needed to run the adventure, also for free. So the guts of D&D will be available entirely for free in a presumably accessible and newbie-ready format, along with at least some de facto supplimentary material as time goes on.

Another implication is also that 5E adventures in general will be more or less fully BD&D compatible, eliminating any need for a separate line of support products (although it’s kind of getting that anyway.)

This is the kind of introductory version of the game that I was talking about the other day. We’ll see how lean it is when it releases, but it sounds very promising, and as a number of the retro-clones show, you can fit a lot of game into a relatively low page count. As Mearls says, it could provide “a lifetime of gaming.”

The fact that it’s free is important but the whole thing sings to me of a bravura marketing move. It should drive sales of both the supplementary products and the core books. If compatibility with pre-4E editions is high enough (and I think it will be, by and large) it will drive sales of legacy PDF material through D&DClassics.com. The price of zero dollars combined with D&D’s brand recognition will lower the entry barrier to the whole hobby. And it will be an attractive option for those of us who want to play D&D and prefer that it be the current, supported version, but who would rather use a rule set simpler than the whole 5E enchilada, or say 3.5 or Pathfinder. If it’s good enough and clean enough it might even win over some of the asthmatic old geezers of the OSR.

D&D is sort of free already, of course. The 3.x SRD is still out there, not to mention the Pathfinder version. That particular Efreet is out of its bottle and can’t be put back in. But 3.x is a pretty damned complex game, and the SRD is not at all a rookie-friendly delivery system for it.

Now, there are still questions. Will Basic D&D release at the same time as the Starter Set, as Mike’s post seems to me to imply? Will there be a print edition of any kind? How will the licensing conditions for BD&D differ from those of balls-out 5E, if at all? Will there even be licensing, or will WotC contract out design work like they’re doing with the initial range of adventures? Of such questions are future blog posts made.