Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Day in the Nerdery: Power-Armor-Shattering Pelvic Thrusts

A Day in the Nerdery: Being a nerd is fun. There's a peculiar level of joy that can only be enjoyed by someone who knows how to properly visualize 'power-armor-shattering pelvic thrusts', 'brace-for-impact bathroom breaks', or 'thing-foot'. I'm here to share that joy, whether you like it or not.

This is a childish bit of whimsy from years ago. Pardon my nostalgia.

I used to be a big Games Workshop fan. I may be a jaded iconoclast of the company now, but when I first heard as a seventh grader about their store's grand opening near my home, I was immediately struck. My friend, Chris, had wandered into their outlet in the local mall, and his reports were intoxicatingly imaginative and strange sounding:

"They have this game, it's called like Sword 5,000 or something, where you have armies of models fight each other. There are these guys in big suits of armor--but not like knights' armor. It's like high-tech armor."

"Like Starship Troopers?"

"I dunno, I haven't read that yet. But it's like Aliens, except the armor doesn't have gaps."

"Like Exo-squad?"

"Maybe. But they're fighting these space pirate elves in purple, spiky armor, and they're in these buildings that have been destroyed somehow. You move your guys 6 inches, and then you roll dice to shoot at the enemy."

"Sounds awesome."

"It is awesome, but you don't even know. When you get close, your guys can charge into melee..."

And so it went, until I harangued my mom into driving me there the next day. I played a demo game of Warhammer 40,000 and didn't leave the store until I'd plunked $80 down on a boxed starter set, paint kit, and hobby supplies. Within hours, I was thick into laying a foundation in a hobby of poring over rules and charting the perfect force composition, nicking my fingers with craft knives, and eyes watering at the near-sighted strain of late night painting sessions. Two years later, I had three armies of miniatures, each numbering at least 50 models about the size of a fat thumb. And kind of a fourth army, too.

See, within a couple of weeks of that first purchase in the hobby, I became an insufferable proselyte for my nerdy addiction. I went to school with my rulebook, and spent passing periods, lunch time, and study hall either outlining my future unit purchases or showing off the fantastic illustrations to my friends. In a middle school of maybe sixty kids, it's accurate to say that I was known as "Ben the Wargame Kid" by the second Friday.

Surprisingly and despite my best exertions, Chris never got bit by the bug he gave me. He never picked up any models or books or got any deeper into 40K than a couple of shallow games we played with that starter boxed set. But oh, did we play those starting forces to death. No 30 models in all the hobby were as thoroughly used and abused as those 10 Space Marines and 20 Dark Eldar (space elves) with which my hobby began. And I did manage to recruit one of my friends. My buddy Tyler latched onto the game in much the same way I did, marveling and pondering over the huge swathes of arcane fiction in the rulebook, enjoying the endless plotting involved in devising a potential army's makeup, and the painting.

No, not the painting. Tyler hated the painting. Assembling his models was good fun for him--a much more utilitarian and rewarding hobby than the four or five unfinished military models he had at the time. But painting was a gross requirement to expect from Tyler. His first army was the Space Marines' Blood Angels chapter, and his preferred method of detailing them was upending the Emperor's Finest one at a time and dunking them into a paint pot of blood red paint. It looked awful--as anyone familiar with paint, models, or even nail polish could guess. I begged him to let me paint his army, and being the good, lazy friend that he was, Tyler let me. Making his force my kinda-fourth-army.

"'s accurate to say that I was known as 'Ben the Wargame Kid' by the second Friday."

Those first years were great for us and our hobby. We made monthly purchasing trips to the local Games Workshop, and once our armies were ready we went to the mall every Thursday after school to play 40K against other kids. Of course, this is when GW's fanbase and target demographic was a lot older than it is today, so by other kids I mean 3 high schoolers and a dozen overweight bearded guys. I loved it.

But we ended up playing a lot more at Tyler's house, confiscating his family's large dining room table for games once or twice a week. At that point, Tyler had a plus-sized Blood Angels force with a passable paintjob commissioned from me, and I was fielding an army of fancy-pants Eldar against him. Tyler's army revolved around two tanks, some heavy support, and a cheesy overpowered guy in gold plate named Lord Dante. Now, Dante isn't a specific model--he's the El Guapo* of Warhammer 40,000 3rd Edition. Dante is that guy or effect or level in every hobby that makes nerds gush with ire and overused jargon. When you walk in on a bunch of kids arguing over Pokemon, getting way too worked up over the ultimate evolution of the best undefeatable Pokemon, they're arguing over Lord Dante. When D&D nerds talk about that old school dungeon from the 80s that was insanely cheap and impossible to beat--they played Dante. Dante is the unfair cheap-ass bogeyman of nerd hobbies. My Dante just so happened to be the actual Lord Dante.

A single miniature only slightly bigger than any other infantry model, Lord Dante would lead Tyler's forces into the thick of my superbly painted sissies and have his way with them wielding a master-crafted power axe (sci-fi turkey cutter) and a inferno pistol that makes every raygun in everything else look like a hair dryer by comparison. And he had a jetpack. Now, Tyler didn't always win. In fact, I'd say I won more often than not, but Lord Dante always defied me. Either I'd have to redirect my entire army of proudly garish Eldar to focus their puny might against him to bring him down, or even in the face of my victory he'd survive--an immortal atom left in the wake of his force's slaughter. My answer to Lord Dante was Baharroth--a brightly painted Eldar with a peacock helmet, Swooping Hawk wings, and basically half as good at everything as Lord Dante. Baharroth got it rough from Lord Dante almost every time Tyler and I played. And I got trash-talked a lot because of it.

"Dante is that guy or effect or level in every hobby that makes nerds gush with ire and overused jargon."

Oh, the trash-talk. As a pair of nerdy junior high boys with no aspirations for girlfriends at the time, we took trash-talk to a new degree of obscurity. Sometimes the trash-talk was just stage-whispered proto-swears and crude gestures, but for most of it we really elevated our banter to match our nerdy pursuits. At school we'd randomly throw insults at each other about how the other one would doubtless fall beneath our mighty tank treads and cry for mercy (Tyler's trash talk), or how the other guy would get turtled over onto his armored back and drowned in the blood of his own fellows (my trash talk). Or it'd be as simple as saying that the other kid couldn't know the right answer in history class because he couldn't roll a 3+ on four dice to save his command squad. In the middle of class.

Yes yes, it is good we weren't angling for girlfriends at that phase of our lives.

But one particular night, when Tyler and I were bargaining over territorial rights over his dining room table, there was a moment of absolute epiphany. Lord Dante and a couple of over-powered minions had cleft their way deep into my Eldar formation's glass flank. Desperate to humiliate the shining compensator, I dropped Baharroth and ten of his Swooping Hawk meat-shields bodyguards subordinates directly on top of the assaulting marines. It was a bloody mistake. Dante and his wingmen turned and let into my fiery-painted turkeys like they'd just gotten back from a day-long hike. A turn later, and the fracas had dissolved down to Dante and Baharroth. It was a familiar scenario that always ended with the Phoenix Lord of the Swooping Hawks spread-eagled and whimpering at Dante's feet. Only this time, Baharroth's rolls were teasing me:

6. Roll again to keep striking until I miss. 6. 6. 6!

I did a pissy-giddy dance, pat-pat-pat in place, clapping like an idiot as I racked up a respectable final blow against Dante before he'd inevitably counter-attack and blood eagle me. All Tyler had to do was make a couple of armor saves.

1. I giggle. 1. A gasp and with my hands primed and held in upraised fists. 1!

"Bam! Lord Dante goes down to the queen of the sugar-plum Eldar!" I shout and throw down an epically-scaled series of table-shaking pelvic thrusts. "Do you feel that?! Those are the power-armor-shattering pelvic thrusts of Baharroth ruling Lord Dante's dead body!" I crowed as I pronounced the ultimate trash-talk of our gaming lives.

Funny enough, Tyler's dining room table was like a six-foot-long four-inch-thick oak monstrosity, and I bruised the heck out of my hip mimicking Baharroth's victory corpse-hump. So the power-armor-shattering pelvic thrusts also happened to be pelvis-shattering pelvic thrusts.

Now, the Eldar and Blood Angels are sold--eBayed off to pay bills and free up shelf space long left untended. But those memories will never fade. The nostalgia is eternal, and only highlighted by the contrasting ire I now feel for Games Workshop and what has become of Warhammer 40,000. And always, always there is the eternal joke of the power-armor-shattering pelvic thrusts.

I hope you've enjoyed this unannounced detour down my memory lane. If not, mental bleach is available for a small secondhand premium. You can have it as soon as I wash away the rest of Disney's Star Wars dance-off from my mind...

Ha. Now you need a double dose of mental bleach. That'll be two premium fees.

"Bam! Lord Dante goes down to the queen of the sugar-plum Eldar!"

*Three Amigos reference, folks.

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