Tring is one of those little market towns you see on a map – one of hundreds across England – that might never attract a visit in its own right. A funny name, an old church, a bit of twentieth-century expansion, a victorian satellite railway hamlet with a hotel two miles down the road, a nearby canal.
Steam Highwayman country.
But Tring also hosts the annual Gamesfest, attracting hobbyists and role-players from London and the Home Counties. And this year, the Steam Highwayman made an appearance too.
It was a very pleasant day, introducing hardened DnDers to a solo, steampunk roleplaying experience, spending time with some faithful backers, including Colin Oaten, SH2 Backer 12, who lost himself in the proofing version of SH2 for over an hour, preying on the locobuses near Woodcote and failing to smooth-talk his way into Wallingford. I also met – in the flesh – several members of the gamebook community, including Sam Iacob, author of the Sword of the Bastard Elf and Scott Lloyd of Gamebooks himself.
But perhaps the highlight of the day was when two boys, Sam and his friend Shaun, aged 10 and 13 respectively, wandered in with their step-dad in the misguided hope of finding some X-Box gaming. Initial disappointment gave way to the enchantment of first-time gamebook experiences. In they dived, rolling to fight their duels, snatching coins from pleading nobility, upgrading their velosteam. I guided them in to begin with and them left them playing. After forty minutes, Sam looked up. “Can we buy this?” he asked.
It wasn’t the sale that excited me as much as knowing I’d passed something on. Passing the book over in a bag, I asked them how they’d be spending the rest of the day. “Reading this,” they both answered.
Where will it lead? Will they get bored, tired of the mental energy it requires to imagine and read, leaving the book closed in a pile before the week is out? Or will they press on, pursuing and adventure and gaining an education in choice-based fiction in the process? Will I hear from you again, Sam and Shaun?
And that wasn’t all. I also had an unexpected visitor – a distant cousin – another Nou(t)ch who had hunted me down and dropped in to introduce himself, handing me a scroll of part of our family tree just like a quest-giving shady figure in Pirates! Gold.
I’m finalising my other events coming up – it looks like it should be December when I’ll next have the chance to lay out my wares – and busy with Write Your Own Adventure, but I’ll be back in Tring, for sure.