LEEDS STEAMPUNK MARKET 7th/8th December 2019

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Simonpaulburley

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LEEDS STEAMPUNK MARKET 7th/8th December 2019

As you know, over the past couple of years I’ve started to fill in my slate of convention-going by going to non-Gaming geek/nerd events. I offer to run short demonstration TTRPG scenarios to introduce people to this wonderful hobby

Some of my best and worst experiences have been at Steampunk conventions. Best because Steampunks are remarkably splendid people. It’s something they pride themselves on. Also, many Steampunks put a lot of effort into creating a Steampunk “persona” - which is not dissimilar to creating a TTRPG character. Worst because the events are rammed with things for them to do and many people simply don’t have time to sit down for a game.

And I’ve come to love the two worlds I run Steampunk games in. My own alt-Victorian British Commonwealth setting and Martin Pickett’s Victorian Colony of Mars.

A few weeks ago I was sent an email by the Organisers of the Leeds Steampunk market. I’d written to them previously offering games but their events had never matched a gap in my diary. This time, however, it slotted neatly into the pre-Christmas convention drought. (There’s never anything between Dragonmeet and the New Year.)

It wasn't addressed to me personally but was a general mailing. Rather than feeling slighted this actually pleased me. It meant that Steampunk organisers are now proactively thinking about offering games at their events. AND that they have a list of people to approach to offer them. Looks like we're going mainstream. (Steam-stream?)

For some reason the event wasn't actually in Leeds but had been moved to Castleford, a place I was completely unfamiliar with. I found cheap accommodation and booked a train. Luckily I could travel up Saturday morning and save paying for Friday night lodgings.

The event was a two day one but had nothing happening in the evening. As usual when this happens I looked around for a venue to offer a game in the evening if I could find players, but nothing leapt out at me. I did have one pub recommended to me, so I kept it in my back pocket just in case.

I did some minor promotion through the event's FaceBook page but - to be honest - most of my focus was on Dragonmeet and I didn't do as much as I usually do.

So I got up early Saturday morning and set off. Because I just can't trust the buses early Saturday morning in Birmingham, I got a taxi into the city. This got me to New Street station early enough to catch an earlier train. However, after I'd boarded, I checked my new route only to find it included a 46 minute walk between stations in Wakefield! I quickly got off and waited for my pre-arranged train.

Everything was fine until we got to Sheffield where I was due to change trains. Then -as it so often does - the UK train system imploded. For the longest time there were no trains out of Sheffield and - when there were - none seemed to go to Castleford. Luckily I was looked after by a very helpful young man won told me - eventually - to just get onto a train to Barnsley and to get off there to look for a connection to Castleford. After this safari around the North of England, I was over an hour and half late getting to the event.

But, and I can't stress this enough, because I'm a professional and build in buffer time I was still there before the event opened.

The venue was an old water mill. The biggest stone ground mill in the world? It's on a weir and the view out of the windows are stunning. It's been partially refurbished as a multi-use venue and is full of amazing spaces with oak beams, girders and many huge iron features. The games room was on the top floor but there was a lift. It was large, light and airy. A perfect place to play. I found most of the tables were already taken over by a young couple offering board games. I'd worked with them before at the Fantasticon SciFi convention.

There was also a table in the room reserved for the "Coffee Jousting". I was aware that many Steampunk Events had "Tea Duelling" but this was first experience of this version. Apparently Tea Duelling has evolved and there is now a National Governing body which only register victories from officially affiliated events. Hence this iteration, whose rules were totally totally different but just as complicated and were informed by the same ethos.

We waited. And waited. I'm used to things being slow at Steampunk events. In fact my morning spiel normally tells people to look around and come back to play a game when they want to rest their feet because we have the chairs!

However, this was even slower than usual. The event opened at 11:00 am but it was 11:48 before the first people even found the room and they didn't stay very long. We were on the top floor, it turned out, at the top of a secondary staircase. In fact when I popped out for a drink and something to eat (the Mill has an exceptional tea shop - and bar - attached to it) I couldn't find my way back our room. The door to our staircase was very obscure.

Eventually a family of three - mum, dad and son - accompanied by the son's friend, sat down to play. The dad was a TTRPG referee in his own right and I was mainly interested in showing his wife what the hobby was all about. We were joined by the son of one of the traders and I ran a game of the "The Occidental Express".

This is one of those scenarios which started off as a title suggested by someone on an online forum which is rapidly developing a life of its own. Five huge Steam-liners joined together to make a single huge ocean train. What could possible go wrong?

Luckily the game was a hoot - literally. (I wasn't expecting the extremely vicious Owl that popped in to guest star.) The kids seemed more interested in robbing the casino than solving the mystery. The dad - who was like a hyperactive kid himself - went full noir private eye. Whilst the mum sighed, rolled her eyes, and did all the sensible stuff. The game coincided with the coffee jousting and may have been so loud that it interfered with that. But I didn't really care, I was having so much fun.

But that was literally the only game I ran all day. The board games seemed to get very little interest as well. Whilst tweeting about it, I was invited to an event in Leeds the following day and began to make arrangements to jump ship.

However, at the end of the day, and unprompted, the organisers moved us to a room on the main staircase lower down where we'd get more passing trade. So I decided to give the event another chance on Sunday.

Though I remembered to pack my Top Hat away, I forgot about the waistcoat and bow tie. So I checked into my accommodation (a "salt of the earth" type pub) and walked the streets of Castleford to an nearby ("salt of the earth") Fish Restaurant still wearing them! I must have looked a real sight!

Sunday morning was a revelation. The sub £30 room came with included continental breakfast - hot being a bit extra. I was considering buying the hot breakfast to fill up but the morning staff at the pub made the cold offering as good as anything you'd find in a four star hotel. The fruits looked individually polished. I filled my boots and was VERY happy.

The Sunday room was smaller but busier. We got more passing trade. There was a close-up magician who was so good he made my brain hurt. I had to tell him to go away. What he was doing was literally impossible.

I ran three games of The Black Hack. Most of my clientele were children accompanied by a smaller number of adults. Some stayed on for more than one game. It was lucky I've now got three totally different demonstration scenarios. My favourite punter was a granny who was looking for a game to play with her grand-children at Christmas. Though I was able to show her the principles of TTRPGs, I wasn't able to recommend an out-of-the-box game which would do the job in the same way that Monopoly used to. I need to do some research there.

At the end of the day, I checked the trains and the system had imploded again. I set off a bit early on a wing and a prayer - heading in the wrong direction - via Leeds and managed to connect with a delayed train home. In fact I ended up getting home earlier than I'd planned.

This event was an end of the year poser for me. Going to conventions costs money, time and effort. I need to look at the costs and benefits. I ended up with four one hour games over a weekend, which I'd call a net loss. Sometimes - like when I ran games at The Town That Never Was Steampunk event - I'd call it a Loss Leader, making contacts and preparing the ground for a more successful year next year. However, before I do a Steampunk MARKET again (as opposed to a Convention) I think I'd have to insist on having a highly visible place near the front of the event.

I'd always recommend visiting a Steampunk event. They are lovely welcoming places full of splendid people. What ComiCons should be but too often aren't. But they aren't all set up to make the best use of somebody like me.

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