Armagideon Time

My purchase of the second edition Warhammer 40k box set in the autumn of 1993 was followed by the acquisition of the Dark Millennium supplement (containing shit that should’ve been in the core game), various “army books” containing unit lists and force composition rules, and a staggering array of figures and vehicles purchases through Games Workshop’s mail order service. By the time the summer of 1994 rolled around, the only thing I was lacking for some cosmic carnage on a table top scale was a regular roster of opponents.

The indulgent affection I harbor for the various Warhammer franchises has never extended to the motley assortment of misanthropes who collectively constitute its fanbase. That’s typical of my relationship with fandom in general, but it’s been most acutely experiences in this particular circle. Aside from the extreme social anxiety of playing neckbeard roulette with a pick-up group of pungently scented strangers, there’s the fact each 40k player has their own interpretation of the (frequently opaque) rules. There’s a sad truth in Pal Mike‘s (or was it Pal Dorian‘s) old joke that battles in 40k were resolved by whoever shouted loudest across the gaming table.

It has led to a situation where I avoid discussing the game with friends who do (or did) play it, because of the uncomfortable sensation of speaking a common language separated by radically different sets of house rules — especially so when the other person is a devoted meta-baron who focuses on exploiting every loophole, while I prefered to play to the strengths and weaknesses of my chosen faction and let the dice fall where they may.

Lacking anyone to play against, I concentrated on fine-tuning and customizing my miniature hordes and related accoutrements in private. I sifted through battle reports in White Dwarfs in search of useful strategies. I drafted sample army rosters at various point levels drawn from my pools of available figures. I experimented with paint schemes and model conversion to give my forces a unique visual edge.

The most significant event on that front was the discovery, during a walk from the bus stop with Maura, that a framing place in Medford Square had dumped a massive stack of foamcore and heavy cardstock sheeting on the curb for the garbage truck to collect. The material was the much touted medium for constructing 40k battlefield scenery, but the art-store asking prices had prohibited me from undertaking more than a few simple experiments with the stuff. Now, free for the taking, was a pallet load of the crap.

With the help of Maura’s mom and the family car, we grabbed as much of it as we could and dragged it back to my place in Woburn. Over the next few months — and with the help of my grandma’s church craft club hot melt gun and some of my old art supplies — I transformed the pile into a wide array of ruins, fortifications, and industrial facilities. I discovered I had a real knack for this kind of project, and the act of visualizing and constructing these pieces became a hobby unto itself.

Like the rest of my 40k noodling at the time, it was a load of pointless but entertaining busywork. Yet it kept me entertained and focused while I adjusted to my post-Sci-Fi Club, post-punk existence. There were plenty of other distractions to occupy me during that time, as well.

I still had my job at the library. The work wasn’t as laid back as it had been during the summer weekend shifts, but it continued to serve up all sorts of interesting treasures from the stacks and reference desk. My drift into the realm of postpunk and goth music led me to the college’s slim assortment of books about horror flicks, which in turn resulted in my picking up a copy of the original Psychotronic Guide at Wordsworth, which then convinced me to watch as many of the referenced works as I could.

I started off with Hammer horror and Roger Corman’s “Poe Cycle,” but quickly branched out into early “trangressive” stuff from the late Sixties/early Seventies and then everything from samurai epics to Veronica Lake vehicles to Eighties nuclear war paranoia flicks. I’d get up on my days off, flip open Psychotronic or some similar guide, pick out three films of possible interest, then head into town and see if I could find rental copies at any of the dozen places where I held a membership.

The goal wasn’t to become “a film guy” (I didn’t), but to tap a fresh vein of material for anything remotely interesting. That said, the cinematic history and analysis books I did work through in parallel with never-ending home matinee did end up introducing me to the wider realm of social and cultural history, which then became my primary focus in the final half of my undergrad experience (and for the two decades since).

Besides the massive infusion from the goth and postpunk mope music, my listening habits continued in the same trajectory they had been going — tons of shit from the previous decade with a smattering of current acts like Belly and Portishead. There was lots of new wave stuff thanks to the eternal feedback loop of mass-market CD compilations of the stuff and huge inventories of cheap used vinyl. Come for the Modern English, stay for Josie Cotton and Sparks. The Cleopatra label’s goth rock reissues and sampler discs convinced me into check out their wider catalog and then-contemporary Euro outfits such as X Marks the Pedwalk and Aurora.

I was trying to peel the sticky label from the cover of the latter CD on a bench in Harvard Square when another huge development of that era unfolded. As I cursed the stubborn adhesive, a familiar “Hey!” boomed in my ear. I looked up and my old, estranged, attempted-girlfriend-stealing, punk rock pal Leech was standing over me. He hadn’t fallen entirely off my radar in the two years since I considered beating him to death in a campus stairwell. We continued to drift on opposite sides of the same extended social circle, and I’d heard that he’d gotten into filmmaking and had some grandiose scheme along those lines.

The old rage had long since burned itself out, and so we engaged in awkward pleasantries for a few minutes before he brought up the reason he approached me. He was putting together a sketch comedy group, had actual backing (or so he claimed) by folks in the local biz, and wanted to know if Lil Bro (who had done a series of funny/experimental video shorts in high school) would be in interested in signing on. When I told him that Lil Bro was busy with his summer job and getting ready for college, he then asked me if I wanted to join the troupe.

Because I was bored and restless and stupid, I said yes.

Related posts:

  1. Role-Playing with the Changes: Long revision
  2. Role-Playing with the Changes: Sail or return
  3. Role-Playing with the Changes: Grim future past

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