This is an article nominally about my trip to Stockport to attend Corehammer Fest 2016 in October. If you can’t be bothered reading the whole thing, it was a great time and you should go to the next one if you can. If you can be bothered slogging through my ramblings, hopefully you come to the same conclusion.
“Come to the fucking North”
This was the response I got when I floated the idea that I’d be over to London in early 2015. Not exactly the warm welcome I was hoping. You see, for Americans, the UK wargaming scene is often seen as a sort pilgrimage to be made. The motherland where the hobby in a modern sense was launched, where the biggest and most influential companies are based, and where every field and lane probably has dead soldiers from some medieval armor wearing era buried beneath. But on this trip in 2015, I saw none of that. I did manage to meet up with one very special Stevie Boxall, who took a couple Californians to a British Mexican restaurant and a walking tour of brutalist London architecture, cheers. But that was the start, when I returned for work almost a year later I finally made it out of London and to the wonders of GW and Wargames Foundry (covered in a previous DungeonPunx Podcast, you should listen, but probably won’t) and was shown an incredibly warm welcome by a bunch of good dudes. That experience planted a brain worm that burrowed deep, and ensured I’d be coming back again, and would make gaming a priority when I did. So, when the dates came out for the October 2016 event, I said fuck it and plotted a way to make it happen.
What did I get myself into?
I awoke on Mark Boardman’s couch in Swinton on an October morning in 2016 after sleeping for the first time in about 36 hours. A giant Labrador was nosing my face (shout out Archie) and then unashamedly trying to steal my spot on the couch by planting his ass on any available space. Got up, packed up my miniatures, the pile of contraband video games I’d be distributing and the most American shirt I could find and away we went. Arrived at Element Games / Northwest Gaming Center with half the DungeonPunx crew of Mark & Connor Boardman as well as the Iron Pharaoh Tom “not his real name” Apollyon.
Now this is where the social nerves would normally hit me. That voice that says you shouldn’t have come, you don’t know anyone, those you do know probably are sick of you. See, I’ve turned up to a whole lot of events, especially wargaming and roleplaying events, and been hit by the very low lows of the hobby. I tend to build things up in my mind, placing more and more emphasis on how much I’m going to enjoy something, planning, anticipating etc… and that can very much lead to disappointment. I have an active imagination. If I sign up for a tourney in two months, I’m spending the time in-between imagining what I’ll play, how the games will go, what the interactions or arguments could be and inventing entire fictions that play out over mundane events. Even with all that, real life finds ways to sidestep these plans and day dreams, and quickly disappoint. This happens when my expectations are intentionally kept sane as well. Sometimes, events are just festering swamps of human horribleness, and attempts to avoid them are useless as you just sink deeper into the mire.
My first convention as a little kid involved not being allowed to play 75% of the games and then some adult blaming me for stealing his $20 in the middle of a D&D game. He actually called hotel security on a 12 year old. While they questioned me, this peach of a human being found his missing money in his hidden trench coat pocket. He never did apologize. My first big out of town wargaming con involved a 40k tourney and rampant cheating from my first round opponent that we didn’t realize until after the game was over. This dude legit cheated his ass off just to beat a 13 yr old. Again, quality folks.
And these were not just isolated childhood incidents either. Social gatherings, especially ones in such a niche subculture can go very wrong very quickly, and sometimes just don’t seem worth the bother. I get the social wobbles, I get them bad. This is the fear that strikes me before anything I’ve committed to doing, it is the anti-social gamers curse. The thing I love, that I enjoy so much, requires people, and so much of the time, people are shit. Playing Dungeons and Dragons alone is hard, you need other people. Being anti-social for me is not about hating everyone though, or never wanting to be around folks, it is instead the brutal math of social engagement. Is the “thing/people” I’ll be engaging with worth all of the downsides that could come with it, especially when watching movies on my couch has none of them? I assume for a lot of folks, going out feels something like this, “I get to do A, B, C and D” while for those socially awkward and anti-social among us it looks more like “I have to put up with A, try and avoid B, not lose my shit over C and I might finally get to do D which is the only reason I put on pants today.”
Luckily, I was in a position that barred any form of social wobble, I was in a foreign country, being driven to the event with no real modes of transportation for myself, and had talked a fair amount of shit about smashing Stevie at a fad wargame of choice. I couldn’t back out now even if I’d wanted to (which I didn’t in this case to be honest). And this one, this event, on the other side of the world, with a bunch of sketchy reprobates in Stockport, was an incredibly good time. I genuinely mean that. Every kind of game was being played by a whole plethora of folks and it was a beautiful sight. Warhammer 40k, 30k, Age of Sigmar, Infinity, FrostGrave, Dungeons and Dragons, Saga and Wild in the Streets were all in action at the same time. I got in a quick and violent game of Wild in the Streets thanks to Stevie and Pete Falkous, got smashed in Saga by Jon and his zombies and then kept my American passport by mauling Boxhall at the same game. A number of folks barely played anything and just lounged around the hall ripping on folks and enjoying the scene. Everyone just got along, enjoyed the time we had, made me feel incredibly welcome for the most part and combined to create a truly special enclave in the sometimes swampy wargaming scene.
I’d like to pause for a moment to recognize the uniqueness of this. At a time when I’m actively shrinking my acceptable local wargaming community, primarily due to the U.S. election exposing the casual racists, sexists and homophobes I just won’t waste my time rolling dice with, this was a sanctuary of sanity in toy soldiers. My time in Stockport was a legit highlight of my trip, a trip that included the internationally known tourist locations of London, Rome and Florence. My biggest disappointment is that I’m thousands of miles away and will take some incredible luck to be able to attend another one.
So I guess that is the point of this, the reason for blathering on with this narrative. If you can get out to an event with these folks, do it. Don’t worry if you don’t know anyone, you’ll be welcome. I know a lot of people came out in small groups or had existing connections, but others just showed up solo, and it looked like they had a damn good time anyways. It felt like that platonic ideal of a tight knit group that also welcomed weirdo outsiders into the fold (as long as said weirdo outsiders don’t behave like a bag of dicks). Games were played, awards handed out, and everyone slowly filtered out in that awkward leaving dance of a scene that doesn’t actually want to disperse. Curry was devoured and I sort of learned the difference between a big shop and a little shop which has nothing to do with the size of the store. Overall, 10/10, would visit again. Those of you lucky enough to live on the same fucking island, get off your ass and go to the next one. Roll dice, talk shit and enjoy these things while they exist because you’ll miss them when they’re gone.
Obligatory Shout Out Section:
Chris Kaye, who sadly couldn’t make it deserves credit for doing all sorts of behind the scenes work and not even getting to enjoy the day. Good dude that one. Shout out to Kevin Windsor for making the trek solo and just rolling dice and pushing figures in whatever game was available on the day. Shout out to the Boardman’s for being a wonderful host family on my foreign wargamer exchange program. Shout out to Nate for letting us loaf around his kitchen and record my sleep deprived ramblings (seriously loved it). Ager for the double decker. Tom for keeping me awake in the back seat. Horus Heresy crew for starting me on another fucking wargaming fad. OxC for the shirts. Annie for upselling me more female miniatures when I really just wanted a capybara. Sav for the food. Gaz for not being nearly as scary as his social media profile. Joe for being scarier. Duggan wins best dressed.
Random other shots: