Just got back from Origins, and we had a blast! This was mine and my husband’s first year attending Origins; however, being a veteran of many other cons, I’ve noticed there is always something we “wished we’d known before” to keep in mind for next time. So in light of that, I thought I’d fill you in on a few things we’re keeping in mind for next year, should you ever want to attend Origins yourself.
1) Think carefully about your bag. Okay, so you’d think I’d have this one down by now. My husband and I attend at least 2 cons every year (sometimes more), and there is always swag to collect, purchases to be made, and necessities to carry along (see “What to Pack in Your Bag”). But this was our first time attending a specifically gaming convention, so I figured I would (of course) bring my gaming bag. I have a bag I use for no other purpose than gaming, and it regularly stores the binder that holds all my character sheets as well as my box of minis and dice.
Good idea in theory, but there were two major problems with this:
First: The bag is not nearly large enough to carry everything I needed in it. It had barely enough room to carry things to Origins, much less room for anything I acquired at Origins.
Second: My gaming bag is a messenger bag, which might have the benefit of looking all chic and everything while I’m wearing it (it has a beautiful embroidery of a tribal tattoo-looking dragon on it), but it was hell to carry all day. With a messenger bag, all the weight bears down on one shoulder, and when you’ve got a particularly heavy bag to carry (which it was), you are going to have one incredibly sore shoulder at the end of the day.
So . . . My ideal choice of bag is a backpack. It may look a little lamer, but the pros far outweigh the cons. A good size backpack will carry a LOT of stuff. I packed way more in there on day two then my messenger bag held on day one, and there was still plenty of room for more stuff. And, best of all, a backpack evenly distributes all the weight across both shoulders, making your load much easier to carry for hours on end.
2) Wear comfortable shoes and clothing. I realize this probably sounds like common sense, but it does bear saying. Expect at any con you attend to spend long periods of time on your feet. Even if you’re regularly attending panels and gaming sessions, you will want to walk the show floor and could very well spend a lot of time doing that. You are also very likely going to need to walk long distances to get to where you need to go. Depending on the size of the convention (and convention center) you might have to walk quite a ways to get from one event to another.
Also, consider your clothing choices. You’ll definitely want to choose something you’ll feel comfortable sitting and walking around in all day. But another thing to consider is layers. Depending on the room you’re in at any given moment, you could be dripping sweat or shivering with goosebumps. (Both of these happened to me in the span of one afternoon.) So no matter what time of year it might be (Origins takes place in the summer), make sure to wear a light layer (a t-shirt, for example) and bring along extra layers (i. e. a hoodie or sweatshirt) for those extra air-conditioned rooms.
3) Make sure to get a schedule in advance. You might be pleasantly surprised by what’s on there, and you want to make sure to plan your day around everything you want to see and do. Being a teacher-by-day and writer-by-night (in other words, a nerd all day long 🙂 ), I really love to attend panels – especially ones where I get to learn something. Before attending Origins for the first time this year, I had no idea they had so many panels on writing. Not only does Origins regularly have a “library” they fill with real working authors, those authors also do a number of panels throughout the weekend on every topic you can imagine having to do with writing in the speculative fiction genres (sci-fi, fantasy, and horror). And I ended up attending no less than seven of them. I walked away from the weekend with a notebook full of tips and ideas for the stories I’m currently working on.
The thing is, though, if I’d known this about Origins in advance, I probably would have attended even more panels. The con actually begins on Wednesday and runs through Sunday. Because of his work schedule, my husband and I ended up attending from Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon, but had I known about everything I could have attended, I probably would have gone without him from the start of the con on Wednesday. (As an educator, I get a discounted pass good through all five days.)
(By the way, Origins also has panels on all kinds of other things as well – everything from costuming to history lectures to cooking lessons. So don’t forget to take a look at the “seminars” section in the schedule book.)
You also want to make sure you get the chance to plan out your day(s), so you can maximize all the fun. Sometimes getting to do and see everything you want to involves some puzzle mastery. (And also a really good understanding of yourself and what you need in order to have a good time.)
I, for example, on a first run through the events catalog got really excited about all the panels and was quickly highlighting something to do every hour of every day. No joke. (There were also many hours in the day I wanted to do multiple things at once – I really needed Hermione’s time-turner . . .) But despite my over-rampant enthusiasm, I know about myself that if I schedule something for every hour of every day, I will get both really tired and really burnt out. As much as I am a nut job for learning everything I can about everything (I really do think Hermione Granger is my alter-ego), I also can only absorb so much information in so long a period of time before my brain just shuts down. So I knew I’d want some downtime to just walk around the show floor and give my brain a break. I also knew that since I was attending a gaming convention, after all, that I’d want some time to actually play.
So, I made sure to allow time for these things in my schedule. Ultimately, I ended up playing in two five-hour Pathfinder Society scenarios – one on Friday night and one on Sunday afternoon. And this ended up working out beautifully, because these games didn’t really conflict with anything. “Technically,” the show ended at 9pm on Friday and 4pm on Sunday, and the games ran from 7pm-midnight on Friday and 1pm-6:30pm on Sunday. So both times, I got to game “after hours” (the closest thing to a time-turner!). I also got to attend seven writing panels and get several hours in between them to walk the floor. (And buy stuff!!!)
Finally, it turns out that the time to walk the floor was a double blessing, because it not only gave my brain a precious few minutes off, but I also got to talk one-on-one with all the authors, which was a really nice experience. (All of the Origins authors were so nice and personable and genuinely interested in helping aspiring writers. It was overall a really great experience.)
4) On a similar note: Make sure you register in advance. Buy your tickets in advance AND register for events & games in advance. Although I did my registering on-site, I got lucky that none of my events were sold-out when I registered. But events do sell out, so you want to make sure you can get into what you want. Also, nobody likes standing in lines. And on many an occasion those lines were excessively long (winding-around-like-a-snake-and-out-the-door-for-miles long) Avoid the lines. Register in advance.
5) If you’re going to volunteer, think carefully about your time. This one comes from hubby: he volunteered to GM some Pathfinder games at the con in exchange for free admission. This is a lovely perk (he also got some GM bonuses), but because of how he scheduled his games, he only got to actually play in one game. The Origins minimum requirement for volunteer GMs is four games, so on Friday, he GMed two games (back-to-back: he did one game at 1pm and another at 7pm), plus one game on Saturday and one game on Sunday. We needed to leave early on Saturday for another (personal) event, so at five-hours per scenario, it didn’t leave him much time for playing in a game.
So, my advice to you would be this: volunteering is awesome. You get to participate behind the scenes with something you love, you get to be a part of something bigger than just you, you get to be part of the mechanism that facilitates all the joy for others, and you also can get some really nice perks – like free admission and sometimes some awesome swag. But do think really carefully about how much of yourself you really want to give, because ultimately it is all about having fun, and you want to make sure you have as much fun as you can by actually getting to enjoy the convention.
Now, that doesn’t mean don’t volunteer. It just means think about what it might mean for you. Hubby’s final conclusion after the experience was this: He would absolutely do it again (he does actually enjoy GMing, after all), but he would schedule it very differently the next time, and would never again do two games back-to-back on the same day (that was 10 hours of straight GMing).
I’m sure a lot of the above tips could easily be applied to just about any sci-fi & fantasy convention, so I hope they are helpful to you whether you decide to give Origins a try or any other con.
And for those of you who are con veterans – what tips of your own might you add to this list? Let us know by replying in the comments section below!