Let’s start off with knowing who to blame here with a faultless record of a conversation had at the Goonhammer Open Heresy Event, Day 2, 3rd September 2023, or, in a better calendar, 17 Fructidore, 231:
Lenoon: Hey Soggy, if you take some pictures of my ultramarines, I’ll do an army showcase
Soggy: Do a trip report!
The Goonhammer Open has been and gone – months of preparation, frenzied painting with a baby on one knee and a land raider precariously balanced on the other, zoom conversations about maps and quadrant bombardments, anxieties about restaurant bookings and train tickets, all now lost like drops of sweat in the DMU Student Union. It was the best goddamn miniature gaming event I’ve ever been to. Incredible people, wonderful games, dice rolling hotter than the surface of the sun and my Ultramarines and Militia not just holding the line but pushing it up and over the steaming holes where traitors used to stand. Now, it is over, and it’s time to write about it.
How do you write a trip report?
I am not a phenomenal travel writer, a comrade toiling at the coal face of competitive 40k, or a man, myth and Greg. I don’t play games in that volume, or have that appreciation for food, drink and company, or really know how Heresy works. So, with apologies to every opponent I faced – you were all wonderful, magical players who I enjoyed all of my time with – and to Lupe, who made Heresy fun, this isn’t about the games. It’s about you.
You and me might be quite similar. I find meeting new people difficult and it’s an intensely anxious process. I struggle to make friends, and I struggle to maintain friendships and put the effort into them that they deserve. Online, it’s easy, so discord, whatsapp, facebook messenger, signal, whatever batshit thing we’re all off to after twitter vanishes up the festering arsehole of it’s owner, they’re where I find, maintain, and enjoy, friendship.
Meat space is hard as hell. It’s male, and male presenting, friendships that I struggle with most because for various hideous reasons I’m not going to put out there on Goonhammer (yet, maybe GW will make a Father Knight), I am afraid of men. The concept of deliberately going away to hang around in a male dominated environment, out of my comfort zone and surrounded by strangers is not my thing. It’s definitely not my thing to convert online friends into IRL friends either, because online is very safe – I can leave, and “Lenoon” is an online thing anyway, an avatar of posting spinning an extended universe of projected emotion that I have created to defend the meat. I have been anxious about conflating the two, intensely so, for months.
I won’t be next time, because what I experienced over the weekend was not a series of four games (and four victories), but many, many, moments of friendship, love and support, and that’s important to talk about I think. Warhammer is a social event, and we talk about good opponents and bad opponents, losers and winners, but I don’t know if we talk about friendship and regard and comradeship. So I’m going to.
With our comrades in the ASLEF union taking much needed and much-supported strike action on Friday, my original plan for getting up to Leicester needed some finessing – and in walked Goonhammer’s own Soggy to sort that out. Very graciously picking me up in south London, and even more graciously sitting while I stream-of-consciousnessed the Historicals team’s plans for the next 12 months for four hours of traffic, this was an excellent way for me to start the weekend, and Soggy will probably recover his hearing with no permanent damage in a couple of days. Once arrived, we got straight into setting up, picking up the rest of the setup team and getting down to work on tables, mats, incredible terrain for the Heresy side of things and having a good chat.
My concern with male friendship is usually “what will happen when im no longer funny/interesting/of use”, so I had prepared my three great anecdotes as carefully as I’d been painting ultramarines:
- That time I got dysentery
- Medical mishap during a routine arse exam (unrelated to anecdote 1)
- Once bought Jarvis Cocker a drink
Luckily these three played pretty well into the local conversation meta and I felt pretty confident I was off to a good start.
It’s weird putting faces to names though sometimes – when people you know via their articles or their posts in a discord become “real”, especially with those I’ve chatted to and collaborated with extensively. There’s always a discomfort for me, because suddenly I’m not “Lenoon”, I’m Aaron, and that is an almost entirely different person. What I noticed though, on this self imposed theme of male friendship, is the smiles and handshakes and hugs and good-to-see-yous that everyone did, for everyone else, every single time. We were busy, we were stressed, we were all very tired already, but time was made for each interaction to take a moment and address how very pleased we were to be in each other’s company. Taking that time is hard when you’re up against the clock, but it was taken – and given – freely.
Dawn of the First Day broke hard and early, but I was well awake already. I’d woken twice in the night because I couldn’t hear my baby breathing and, in this case and this case only, that was a good thing. He was about 200 miles away, so if I’d been able to hear him breathe, everyone in Greater London would have been deafened and thousands would be dead. Still, I ended up a ball of jittering nervous energy as Bair, Wings, Corrode and I headed back to the venue. These are good guys, and I was put well at ease and allowed to share pictures, worries and thoughts of my far-distant son, put to bed the night before without me for the first time in his life, and exchange tips with Corrode on how the fuck you’re supposed to even carry a child, which were much appreciated.
I was excited, but entering the venue, already buzzing with Heresy and 40k players, was like putting the snowball of my child-related anxiousness onto the sizzling heat of a Fray Bentos tin and I immediately started to melt. What I found amazing was how friendly everyone was to each other – and the amount of people I’d met and played with before, or had met briefly once, or, taking time out of their busy organisational schedule, I’d spent hundreds of hours chatting with, who were just really fucking personally friendly. All people that I’ve interacted with over this really quite daft thing that we do, who met my well-masked nervousness with their own beaming positivity and carried me along with it. Walking from entrance to the command table was trying to get over a wall, each nod and smile or friendly face from my local club was a cupped-hands-under-your-foot boost that got me up and over it. That culminated in a bearhug from Lupe which was very much, to continue the metaphor, the hand grabbing your backpack and hauling you up and over the edge.
Without them, I’d have but the army back in the bag and I’d have gone home, simple as that. You should cherish the people around you, you know?
And that’s a learning point for me, because it took – and takes – real effort for me to talk to people I don’t know and to do so cheerfully is insurfuckingmountable. But here’s the impeccable, three point list of ways to talk to people at an event:
1. I’m <NAME> and playing <FACTION>
2. Your models are cool
3. Nice venue isn’t it?
Then, beaming, just walk on (with hope in your heart) and repeat that until you’ve tricked your brain into being comfortable.
I should really talk about the games, but first, and if you’ve been paying attention so far, you’ll not find this surprising, I tend not to play games against people I don’t know. Because you just never know, right? They might be a perfect, wonderful opponent, or they might get salty and weird, or – at least in my sadly abuse-addled mind – they might get dangerously angry. Every opponent that I played against or alongside this week was a delight. The worry is entirely on me, and no reflection of the community, though if you see yourself there as someone who gets angry, talk to the man in the mirror, y’ken?
Still, it was with a fair bit of completely unwarranted trepidation that I stood up to the plate to face Josh, who’d brought choppy, transport-heavy sons of Horus. A frequent club opponent and good mate also plays choppy sons of Horus, so I had a fair idea what I was in for and my target priority. A well timed disruption from my supreme commander let me take the Justaerin off the table and into reserves and I was, for once, very focused on playing the objectives – until Konrad Curze showed up.
Why GW haven’t hired our Traitor supreme commander (Badusernametag on Insta) to remake the entire chaos line I am unsure. Curze is an art piece and his drop ship even more so. Nevertheless, once he’d done fucking up my back line he fucked off to another table and I got back on with contesting, seizing objectives and claiming points. It was close in the end but victory one on the board – and against two really special opponents too. Josh was a really great opponent with a really beautiful army, who stayed positive despite the events not being in his favour – something of a running theme with the opponents that I faced all weekend.
One of many unique bits of the day was that we’d also been asked to bring reinforcements along, a 750 point list that you could throw in to other battles to bolster your side. This proved to be very interesting – see my game three below – but a lot of fun was had with it. Immediately after my first game I was thrown into another, with my brave Militia deploying into a Raven Guard vs Death Guard and Warhound Titan game. 21 militia in Bs3 raiders was a bit of a joke in the run up to the game, but they deployed, held an objective, racked up points and helped the Raven guard to a significant victory.
This was probably my favourite interaction of the weekend, because I arrived in a very tight spot for the Raven Guard, shook hands and was all business, talking about deployment, quadrants, points, etc etc. No expectation beyond to play the game (in a friendly manner) and to shore up a comrade who’d just had a Warhound stomping all over his best laid plans. We share one universal language at these events, and using it is very helpful for getting over the fear of being chucked in at the social deep end.
Moments of Kindness
By lunchtime I was strung out with phantom worries about being away from my baby for so long (24 hours at that point) that I was staggering under the weight of my own understanding of what a dad should be.
There were two moments lunch that were kindnessess. Our Traitor Supreme commander, in full, and terrifying makeup, speaking softly and lovingly about his experiences of fatherhood, to the extent that I went out in the sun and had a little happy weep, remembering first smiles and first laughs. The second is Max – a club mate and himself a recent father – seeing me stumble about trying to keep things organised and offering to grab me some food, which at the time seemed like manna from heaven, then talking about milk and sleep and offering an app suggestion to help keep in touch with the baby’s routine when I’m away. Exactly what I needed in that moment, both physically and mentally.
We talk about attending events and being good competition and not being that guy quite a lot, but going out of your way to be kind is something different. The way we approach each other isn’t just about minimising discomfort, but creating happiness. It’s important, because these events can be hard for any number of reasons. There’s consideration for the opponent and those around you, but here two men went out of their way to help a third, and that is kindness as an activity, something to practice and put out into the world and I am thankful to Max and Toby for it.
Breaking of Heads
Post lunch, and having had another can of Irn Bru (bringing me up to five since Friday morning), it was down to the Conduit to fight Drew’s mechanicus over a crashed thunderhawk. Drew is another artist in the medium of miniatures, and the mechanicus army is stellar, well thought through and beautifully realised from concept to execution. This was a close game right up until events in the campaign made everyone on the board have +1 to wound rolls and -1 to saves.
For Mechanicum firing S8 beams and shit into marines it didn’t do much to affect the maths – if he hit, he was nearly always killing on a 2 anyway, but for me trying to kill T6 and T7? Game changer. When we turned that card over, it turned into a bit of a blender.
Drew somehow took the campaign removing his sole advantage for the duration of the game in good stride. I legit don’t think the card could have penalised his game plan any more than it would of if the reverse side was “Drew loses the game”, but this indefatigable champion of being a great guy to play against stayed cheerful and pleasant. We should all, honestly, try to be more like him.
Reinforcements arrived for both sides in this battle, but a little too late to matter, and unfortunately I have forgotten the details as I was so goddamn hungry.
Breaking of Breads
Next up, Dinner. I was additionally nervous about this as it involved a couple of things that were tailor made to contribute to my social anxiety – I’d booked the place, there were loads of people coming, only I’d been there before and, worst of all, I had to walk everyone over. This was another learning experience – if you have red lines or stuff you just cannot and will not deal with, tell people. I cannot cope with people questioning my directions when I’m the only person who knows the way somewhere. It is maddening to me, absolutely and completely enraging. I think I actually just full on barked “SHUT UP” at one point, which was not my finest moment.
The restaurant was a fantastic experience, and not at all socially overwhelming. It was really calming and fulfilling to literally sit down and break bread with people, discuss the day, talk general Warhammer but also to explore lives and experiences a little bit. I overshare on the Goonhammer Discord basically as a matter of course, so reeling that in and just being a normal guy talking about food, and holidays, and, of course, how Heresy isn’t a well balanced game, was very pleasant. To be honest, I felt like a hero when everyone was enthusiastically talking about the food – and particularly when we managed to add another few people to the table, a crisis I’d anticipated and done nothing to manage – solved by the kind people at Herb. Seriously worth travelling up to.
Strongly recommend going somewhere for really very good food – it gives you something to talk about. Breaking bread with people is an important social ritual, and for good reason. I felt listened to, respected and, to be honest, really quite honoured to be sharing a meal with good people and good friends.
Energy and Respect
Another sleepless child-anxious night, but again dragged my flagging corpse-like body up to De Montfort Student Union for another two cracking games. First up, once I’d had another Irn Bru (I’d picked up another on the way home the night before, and so was up to 8 for the weekend) and several coffees, was Goonhammer Patron MetzoPaino and, for a couple of turns we had the classic Heresy experience – Terminator-Killing blast templates scattering poorly, chucking an astonishing 69 bolter shots at a unit of Praetorian Breachers, who, with T5 from Biomancy, managed to lose one model, lascannons slicing through armour and indeed everything else, as if it was butter, and my favourite photo of the whole event:
Metzo’s army is astonishingly lovely up close, Death Guard done exactly right, and the deserved winner of the Best Painted Traitor award. It was also a game where nothing went his way, but again, a real study in how to play graciously, to take swings with good humour and to know how to celebrate the moments things do go right. It was another pleasure of a game, and one where I let the walls between Lenoon and Aaron go a bit. Going and grabbing a massive tray so that Metzo could roll all 69 bolter shots in one massive go was leaning into the silly, and that’s often hard for me to do, but again – a learning moment. Fucking go with it. With reinforcements pouring in on either side creating a turn where I had a good chance at tabling Metzo then he had a very good chance of doing it to me, the mental processing load on this game was intense.
That’s where mutual respect comes in, because in my next game I faced the incredibly enthusiastic and absolutely wonderful, top class human being (and Goonhammer patron) Jellymuppet. Jellymuppet is the personification of loving this hobby of ours, always, unfailingly, yes and-ing your playing experience. At this point though, I was not yes-anding because I was just dead on my feet. So I asked a big, difficult question – I couldn’t reach Jellymuppet’s incredible energy so I asked them to come down to reach mine. They said yes – such an incredible act of kindness to an opponent in my mind, because I’d asked “please can you change yourself to help me out” and the answer was, immediately, unhesitatingly, “of course”. What a lesson that is – and, in learning it, I pushed back the tiredness and met that energy somewhere in the middle.
The board we were on was lovely, and we gravitated to quite a “real” deployment where first-turn moves would make all the difference, and this left the sieze the initiative as all important. If Jelly could seize, we’d be in for a slugfest of unbreakable militia and heavy Death Guard guns. If they couldn’t, snipers, fulmentarus and lascannons would reap one hell of a toll. The seize roll was a two, and that was that. It was a fun but intense game, and I think for Jellymuppet’s Death Guard and Militia it was like walking onto the killing floor of a slaughterhouse, because after two shooting phases there just wasn’t enough left standing in front of my gunline to carry on.
After the excellent closing speech from Lupe, lots of applause for our winners and prizes and accolades, I had a long, and uneventful journey home. I felt drained and exhausted and emotionally very low, running entirely on fumes by the time I reached London.
That meant I had a lot of time to reflect, but most of my reflections weren’t positive – not about the event, but about myself. Writing this up has been a good opportunity to do some meta-reflection. What can I do next time to feel better on the journey home?
The main thing has been to think about my time and my approach. I’d been stressed in prep and on the way up that people wouldn’t like the army, that they wouldn’t like me, that I’d not remember any of the rules or be an unpleasant person to play against. None of that was true, so why had I been feeling it? Anxiety is very real, and very treatable, so a really positive upshot of GHO has been to look at my options for talking this through.
In terms of my time, the main resolution has been to game more, and to game more with my friends. Yes, I’ve got a little kid and big ol’ heresy games and mass Napoleonics battles are more difficult to fit in than ever before, but there are other games – including our own Flower Wars – that are much easier to fit in. Gaming is what I want to be doing, and gaming with people even more so, because no matter what my anxiety says, spending time with people that I love, with new friends, with positive, welcoming and friendly men, is important to me. I gain energy and happiness from it, so why not invest more time doing it?
So, you’ll see me at more events – even if just to help out and book restaurants – in the future. I’ll be bringing whatever lists I can, which in this case seemed to gravitate towards some fairly sick filth, a better and more open attitude and much more Aaron. Thanks to all involved in GHO for the games, the organisation, the friendliness and the kindness, because not only did it make for a great weekend, but it’s hopefully contributed to a better future too. Friendship really is heresy.
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