Friday, May 27, 2011

Warhammer 40,000

I really didn't need a new hobby. I really do collect enough things: superhero and Godzilla toys, Star Trek books, Star Wars books and comics, etc. And my computer is loaded with wallpapers, icons, and sound clips from more geeky franchises than is healthy.

Swords, battle axes, and hand cannons: it's The Future!

For the past six months or so, Bryce, the coworker who built my current computer has been trying to get me interested in the sci-fi tabletop game Warhammer 40,000 (a.k.a., 40K). Bryce has been playing the game for years, but has had a hard time finding someone else to play with. Last year he started very subtly by dropping hints about working on a "special Christmas present". Then, knowing that I'm an inveterate sci-fi fan, he started discussing the backstory of the game and of the various armies. This culminated in him lending me the specialized rulebook for the "Black Templars" Space Marine chapter. Along with descriptions of various playing pieces, the rulebook was filled with an elaborate history of the Black Templars. Finally, I agreed to play the game.

A Black Templar
[Model by Games Workshop]
40K originally started as an ornate tabletop strategy game in which players build and paint their own figures and assemble customized armies. The game doesn't have any sort of board; any tabletop will do. Movement and weapons range are limited only by distance, making the use of a tape measure necessary. Characters, vehicles, and weapons have certain point values that indicate accuracy and power, close-in fighting ability, armor strength, etc. The figures are all highly customizable by the player, meaning that no two armies will be exactly the same. During the game, players maneuver their armies into position. Once close enough to begin combat, dice are rolled repeatedly to determine whether one figure is able to shoot another, whether that hit actually damages the target figure, and whether or not the targeted figure is protected by its armor. The figures' point values are used to weight the results obtained with the dice (a relatively high Ballistics Skill value of four, for example, means that a roll of only three or higher on a six-sided die is needed to hit the target). This is a basic description of long-distance fighting; there are other rules for close-in fighting.

Yes, he's carrying a chainsaw that's used as a sword

Originally, I wasn't interested in playing the game. Despite the fact that I've been an irredeemable nerd for as long as I can remember, I've never been interested in complicated strategy games like 40K. I had never even played a role-playing game (RPG) until grad school when a fellow graduate student convinced me to participate in a Star Wars RPG (the three or four times we played were actually pretty fun). So, as I was driving to Bryce's house last Saturday, I was trying to come up with a good way to say that I didn't think that the game was for me, although 40K's backstory was interesting to me as a sci-fi fan and that I might read some of the 40K novels. When I arrived, he had prepared a small army of Raven Guard Space Marines and another of the Tau (an alien race). He patiently walked me through the rules and explained the tactics. Because of how he arranged the armies (and due to a few tactical "errors" on his part), I absolutely clobbered him. Before I left, he showed me the hundreds of game figures he's built over the years and generously gave me an unpainted Black Templar army.

Dreadnoughts are operated by severely wounded
Space Marines and serve as their life support system

Now I'm cursing my Bryce's name for introducing me to Warhammer 40,000. Not only did I enjoy the game, but I discovered on Saturday that 40K seemed to be designed for me. I loved building model airplanes when I was young; now I look forward to building and painting Warhammer 40,000 armies. And the way that the game replicates real aspects of combat strategy is very appealing since I've long been a military history enthusiast. Finally, the 40K universe seems to be aimed at a subset of geeks of which I am a part; it has a dystopian future in which humanity views its own technology with superstitious reverence and awe (similar to Asimov's Foundation series), a pseudo-medieval human society that has revived the Gothic style and which even outfits its elite warriors in suits of armor that resemble the most ornate varieties produced during the Dark Ages (despite their ancient appearance, the suits are actually power armor similar to that found in military sci-fi stories like Heinlein's Starship Troopers), an elaborate backstory that is on par with the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Space Marines who have a Klingon-like zeal for war and honor, a variety of alien and corrupted human adversaries, and even a host of demonic creatures inhabiting 40K's equivalent of hyperspace that would seem familiar to any fan of the early sci-fi horror of H.P. Lovecraft.

A Space Marine army and an Ork army
[Models by Games Workshop]

I really didn't mean to end up with a new obsession. But Bryce was really persuasive and the product he was pushing was very appealing...

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