SPRINGFIELD, Vt. – This weekend at Killington Grand Resort Hotel, hundreds of people will be sitting down at tables with stacks of cards, board games and strange-looking dice, and concentrating on their games into the dawn hours. The players will be imagining themselves in times and places from prehistory to a thousand years in the future, in roles from the mundane (eleventh century peasant) to the fantastic (space travelling mercenary). The tabletop game phenomenon has grown from Dungeons & Dragons – the obsession of a few geeky guys in high school – to a world-wide movement that runs from now-venerable D&D itself to fully-costumed enactments of role-playing games outdoors.
The theme of the Carnage Tabletop Game Convention, founded 21 years ago by a group of gamers in West Lebanon, this year is Science Fiction. The Steampunk Society will be providing non-table entertainment, including a Steampunk Fashion Show and Teapot Racing.
Sci-Fi from the past
The Eagle Times sat down with Robyn Priebe and Daniel Moran of the Steampunk Society of Vermont to find out exactly what is steampunk, and what is it doing here?
Steampunk, Moran explained, had its genesis in the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. “It's what the people of the time thought the future was going to look like. Steam powered, brass and steel gear-driven contraptions, you know, top hats and mechanical contraptions. In the 80s people started picking up that idea again.”
The term was invented by writer K.W. Jeter to describe a genre he and other authors had already embarked upon. Now there are steampunk movies – Wild Wild West, Stardust-- steampunk comics, steampunk bands and steampunk conventions. The Steampunk Society of Vermont is actively working to make Springfield the Steampunk Capital of Vermont, with an annual convention in the Hartness House that draws hundreds of people of all ages.
It's a culture and an aesthetic, said Priebe. “I like the melding of an old-school look with new function; for me the home décor and clothing is the piece I really like.”
“It's originally a literary term but now it's spilled over into music, home décor. You can steampunk anything,” said Priebe.
“I'm an artist and a builder,” said Moran. “Steampunk is a very DIY culture, full of makers and everything; most of the costumes and prop pieces are things people make at home,” said Moran. “Makerspaces offer steampunk nights, sometimes we have steampunk craft groups. It's very much a DIY thing, that's why I got into it. So I could build things and make things, and wear top hats.”
Moran works at the Salt Hill Pub in Newport, where one of the Carnage organizers knew he was on the board of the Steampunk Society.
“Most of the time these guys are sitting down at long tables, playing games, and not paying much attention to anything else,” said Moran. “So we're the between-game entertainment. We have a game room at our festival, too. Dark Mountain Games, which is our local game playing store in Springfield will come and set up a game room. There's a connection between these genres, the cosplay, role-playing, gaming kind of crowd. We're all kind of loosely tied together.”
The Steampunk Society of Vermont is actively working to make Springfield the state's Steampunk Capital. After several years of increasingly successful festivals, this year they took a hiatus and hired a festival coordinator for 2019. Springfield, they explain, with its old factory buildings, is a perfect place for steampunk to take off.
Their convention, as well as the events taking place at Carnage 21, are fundraisers for the society, which provides STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) scholarships for local students.
Turning the gears of economic revival
They're inspired by Oamaru, New Zealand, a small, out-of-the-way town surrounded by farmland that was struggling along in the service economy until it decided to embrace steampunk. When the Lord of The Rings film franchise donated a shipping container of artwork and statues to the town, Oamaru mounted an exhibition. Local farmers and tinkerers were intrigued by the weird inventions, many made from discarded machine parts, and started creating their own.
Now the steampunk capital of the world, Oamaru boasts public monuments with steampunk creations, and ordinary folks stroll down the street in Victorian dress, tipping their bowlers and straw boaters to tourists. Oamaru is credited with inventing teapot racing, in which a teapot somehow coupled with a remote control vehicle must traverse an obstacle course.
For Carnage 21, the Steampunk Society is sponsoring a teapot race.
“It's almost like a game too, so it made sense to bring it to a gaming convention. Ideally it's a teapot, but it doesn't have to be,” said Priebe.
Priebe and Moran have each brought teapot racers, which they admit they haven't tested much. The object is fun and the art of making the teapot racer – not speed or agility.“You try not to break stuff,” said Moran.
Neither teapot racer, while elegant, looks particularly roadworthy. “It's all kind of a clumsy, fumbly kind of creation,” said Moran. “You ask, 'Why would anybody even do that?' That's the whole point.”