SRM’s Roundabout to NOVA 2023: Sweaty [Competitive] and Sweaty [Very Warm]

Hello again, I guess it really hasn’t been too long since I wrote one of these, has it? For the uninitiated, this is like a Road To… series of articles, but all at once, with a joke name only I think is funny. Savvy? That’s a little Pirates of the Caribbean reference for all you Deppth-Charges out there.

This is my 5th time attending NOVA, the birthplace of my podcast, The 40k Badcast. Sometimes when a couple middling white dudes hang around a table, they say “we should start a podcast.” Sometimes, they might even record an episode or two. Rarer still, they keep at it for nearly 7 years. NOVA is also adjacent to my own birthplace in Maryland, though my occasionally non-rhotic accent is much more at home in New England. I live far from both now.

The Plan

Last year, the 40k Narrative put me through a Simpsons ironic punishment hell, with too many games and too much homework. If you want a refresher of my experience, you can read this writeup from last year, or simply look at this single image:

NOVA Goons. Credit: Fake James

Far in the back, mouth full and heart empty in an open, red, two-of-a-kind 40k Badcast baseball jersey, I am nose deep in my phone while my cadre of friends and co-conspirators are having a lovely time. The Narrative last year was brutal, with 9 overly complex games and a whole Crusade worth of homework to cram in between each of them. After so many post-9th edition Narrative events utilizing Crusade, I am confident in saying it does not work in event play.

One of my main goals outlined in my previous Campbell Ramble was to play fewer games, and I have certainly planned to do so, if only by 1. This year I will be playing in the 40k GT, my second time hurling myself into the competitive grinder to find out what I’ll look like coming out the other side. In Tacoma I fared relatively well, topping the 1-3 bracket of other dumpster divers after winning 4 games in a row. At NOVA, my goal is simply to place higher, getting into the 2-2 bracket and maybe earning another plaque for my troubles. I think it’s certainly attainable. My list has been doing some work in my local competitive league, and I intend to bring it largely unchanged to NOVA. Let’s outline that now.

The List

SRM’s Black Templars at NOVA 2023. Credit: SRM

In Which I Take Two Lands Raider

Black Templars, 2000 points. Righteous Crusaders.

High Marshal Helbrecht (105 Points)
• Warlord
Castellan (105 Points)
• Enhancements: Tännhauser’s Bones
Judiciar (75 Points)
Primaris Chaplain (65 Points)
Primaris Techmarine (75 Points)
• Enhancements: Witchseeker Bolts
Crusader Squad (75 Points) 1x lascannon 1x plasma gun
Primaris Crusader Squad (160 Points) 2x pyreblaster 1x pyre pistol 1x power weapon
Black Templars Impulsor (115 Points) 1x Multi-melta 1x Shield dome
Ballistus Dreadnought (170 Points)
Bladeguard Veteran Squad (200 Points)
• 6x dudes
Land Raider (275 Points)
Land Raider Crusader (255 Points)
• 1x Multi-melta
Primaris Sword Brethren (165 Points)
• 1x Master-crafted power weapon 2x Power weapon 1x Thunder hammer 1x Twin lightning claws
Storm Speeder Thunderstrike (160 Points)

My strategy is suitably simple for Sigismund’s simps. I’ll outline it thusly:

  • This list will take the Uphold the Honor of the Emperor Vow nearly every time for that 6+ Feel No Pain and the Leadership bump.
  • Helbrecht, The Castellan with T-Bones, and the 10-man Primaris Crusaders squad ride in the Land Raider Crusader. Uphold gives the T-bones Castellan a 5+ Feel No Pain that he passes on to his entire squad. Helbrecht ups the squad’s strength by 1 and lets the squad crit on 5+ in melee. The Castellan gives out Lethal Hits. This combo has easily cut down Greater Daemons and happily hung out to tell the tale afterwards.
  • Chaplain and the Bladeguard ride in the Godhammer Land Raider. They serve as a mobile reserve for Helbrecht’s unit, either as a second wave of bodies or as another unit to push the front.
  • Judiciar and Sword Bros ride around in the Impulsor as my main mobile unit, providing just enough of a threat to make them worth paying attention to. They Fight First which is also a funny trick.
  • 5 man smolmar Crusaders hang out on an objective and take up 75 points.
  • Techmarine follows the Land Raiders, fixing and buffing as necessary. He’s a Lone Operative near vehicles, meaning he can safely snipe out characters with his Witchseeker Bolts Forge Bolter. This can reliably put out 4 mortal wounds a turn on a psyker of any size, and is an unexpected little pocket of damage for 10 points.
  • Land Speeder Thunderstrike always shoots first, aiming at the one big target per turn I want dead, handing out a +1 to wound against it. The Land Raiders chime in and see if they can kill it. If they can’t, the Ballistus finishes the job or I kill it in melee. The Ballistus always shoots last, as it has a built-in reroll to hit against units over half strength.

I had a bear of a time against vehicle and monster-heavy lists in Tacoma, and I feel this list has adequate ranged punch to deal with at least a few of them. There isn’t much in the army to Do Activities, and I don’t have cheap trash units to use for screening or board control, but it’s a list that’s been taking its licks and continuing to kick, so I feel comfortable taking it. I’ve been doing extremely well in my local competitive league with it, so I also know it inside out. Hopefully, I won’t be fumbling and bumbling my way through any games.

Day 0 – Arrival

A 3am alarm. An empty road. Blondie’s Atomic at max volume from an open window. The airport’s an easy drive in the middle of the night, at least when it’s not winter. I speed through security and before I know it I’m asleep on the plane, having once again forgot my foam airplane sleeping donut. Someday, I’ll remember it. Never again will I purchase a duplicate from your Hudsons News or fly-by-night airport retail establishment – it’s about the principle of the thing. I land in SeaTac, my preferred airport, around 6:30. On the recommendation of a listener back in Tacoma, I downloaded Find Me GF, which you may think is a poorly-named platform for finding a girlfriend, but is actually for finding gluten-free and allergen-sensitive food. I’m allergic to too many things now, and it pointed me towards Flora, which was fortunately not far from my landing gate. I had 3 cups of Stumptown coffee, black as my Templars and nowhere near as bitter. This preceded a reasonably sized and wonderfully seasoned veggie/egg scramble and an order of cheddar grits better than most I’ve had at dedicated Southern joints. SeaTac is one of the few airports I’ve been to where good food is relatively easy to find, and I’m happy to plant a flag at Flora. The siren song of sweets sung from across the way and I grabbed both a double chocolate and salted caramel macaron from Lady Yum. The lady behind the counter liked my hat. I can’t blame her, it’s pretty good. Better than pretty good were the macarons, perfectly crunchy and chewy in equal measure, with some of the richest ganache I have ever eaten.

The second and longer leg of my journey mostly involved me sleeping with Gorillaz’s 2018 album, The Now Now, repeating for an hour and change. It’s not a bad album at all, I just have a really easy time falling asleep to it compared to ambient healing frequencies or forest sounds or lo-fi chillhop beats to fall asleep/study to 24/7 or whatever. I woke up and watched Prey, that movie owns. The night time action scenes were compressed within an inch of their life on my shitty Hulu download, but I got the gist and still enjoyed the film. One tonal 180 later and I watched The Grand Budapest Hotel, not quite as crunched as Prey but still something I wish I watched on a bigger screen at home. David Lynch was right, is what I’m saying. The young lady sitting next to me from Eagle River, Alaska excitedly looked out the window as we approached DC and asked about the landmarks below. I pointed out a few, but despite being born in Bethesda and visiting DC fairly regularly, most of my geographical knowledge of the area comes from playing Fallout 3 ad nauseum in college. One of her friends goes to LVO, so she had some reference for what brought me out here. She was visiting a friend and it was her first time on the east coast. For a first time visit to the eastern seaboard, DC or New York City are definitely the best bets if you want American history or sensory overload, respectively. I recommended some monuments and art museums (I’m a big fan of the Hirshorn) and we went our separate ways. My podcast co-host/partner in crime/hetero lifemate Dan picked me up at the airport, navigated us through some bewildering DC traffic, and got us to the hotel in one piece.

This is NOVA’s first year at the Washington Hilton, the very same hotel Ronald Reagan was shot in by John Hinckley in 1981. He’s doing fine. Hinckley, I mean. Ronald Reagan is in hell. The hotel was experiencing key problems, and as a result we had to be escorted to our room and let in. This would not be the only issue with keys this weekend. We were given a drink ticket as compensation, and I used mine for an old fashioned made with Woodford Reserve from the hotel’s sportsbar, which I want to call McBennigan’s, but Dan always called McNulty’s. I should remember this shit as a McLastname guy myself, but all that I really cared about was the frankly wonderful old fashioned in the glass before me. Woodford has kind of an oaky, heavier taste than something like Maker’s Mark, and I was happy to have a generous pour of it in this complimentary cocktail.

A very legitimate 40k Badcast logo. Credit: SRM

Dan and I set up one of the conference rooms for what would be our very first live show – and a sold out one at that. There were chairs for about 40 people, and after Dan was satisfied with the technical stuff and I’d hastily scrawled our logo on the white board in what I immediately learned was permanent marker, we were good to go. As our show was immediately after the GW preview event that evening, we rushed down to the line for the event, hastily scarfed some $23 Caesar salads, and gathered with our crew in line. Whilst waiting, I had a Cutwater Tiki Rum Mai Tai that was not only alarmingly strong, but also gave me an instant headache.

The GW Preview Event

I’ve been going to these since the very first one many years ago, and no two seem to follow the same format. This time around, Mike Brandt talked for a while beforehand; time I used to put the provided $10 voucher at the GW store towards Ajex Gorgoth. Afterwards, there was a prerecorded 15 minute-ish video where the presenter would periodically pause after each clip. The crowd was good, the vibes were good, and nothing could match the feeling of elation at Fulgrim’s reveal, only for the entire crowd’s hearts to die at the mention that he was a Forgeworld model for 30k. You can check the reveals out yourself or just listen to our live Badcast recorded immediately afterwards. Speaking of…

Babby’s First Live Show

Campbell “SRM” McLaughlin (left) and Dan “Dittka” Boyd (right) live at NOVA. Credit: SRM

This was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in my entire life, though I appear to be wincing in the photo. You can listen to it here if you haven’t. I haven’t performed in front of people since my high school grunge band days, and I haven’t spoken in front of a crowd outside of some pre-COVID weddings I officiated or emceed. This eclectic grouping of lived experiences only partially prepared me for yukking it up in a room of 40ish people, most of whom I already knew. The entire crowd got to shout “Fuck you, Baltimore!” on several occasions. None of the live questions were bummers or cringey, which was my biggest fear. Most importantly, everyone seemed to have a real good time, which is what matters most. It went well enough that we’re talking about doing more next year. A veritable bushel of beers had been brought to us by our friends, new and old, and we got to lead our audience in the biggest grip and rip in Badcast history. My grip and rip was a Diver English Pale Ale by Lake St. George Brewing Company. Malty, smooth, and with a gentle hop character, this was a genuinely lovely brew out of Maine that carried me through the show. Folks hung out and chatted afterwards and we called it a relatively early night; going hard early in a con is a rookie maneuver.

Day 1 – In Which I Mostly Loaf Around

There is an above average hotel breakfast buffet at the Washington Hilton. There are tiny sous vided egg bites, one of which I enjoyed. There are shot glasses of smoothie. There are trays of breakfast meats and eggs, bagels of the glutinous and non-glutinous varieties, bland Sysco fruits and some ritzier fare like smoked salmon. It is also $35 a plate, and the coffee it comes with is burned and sour. Knock $15 off and I’d be a much happier man, but even at that gouged price point it was a fine start to a relaxed day, and a nice morning hang with my pal Dan. He edited the previous night’s show in the room while I largely just loafed on my phone, then took over and posted the show once he’d done the actual hard part. He had a Song of Ice and Fire event that morning and my schedule was clear, so this marathon was off to a relaxed start.

One of the distinct pleasures of this NOVA compared to ones past was the meeting of people from across my sundry social circles all converging once. I’m talking about groups like the Maine crew playing A Song of Ice and Fire during our live show, the various Goonhammer folks walking about, the NOVA regulars, Badcast listeners and more. Foremost amongst these people was my dear pal Peter “BuffaloChicken” Dolan, who had emerged from the woods of New Jersey with his wonderful spouse Kat, his brother Thomas, and their friend/adult son Chirlin. I so rarely see these folks out of their natural habitats, and seeing them flourish in the 40k Trios event gave me hope that I’d see them outside the tristate area again. Hell, it looked fun enough that I wished I was playing in it.

After getting a passable nitro cold brew from the hotel Starbucks, checking in on the vendor area, and bothering my friends playing their various games, it came up to lunch time. Spencer Connell, a longtime NOVA regular who was now co-running the 40k Narrative with Chris Stover, joined me on my foodquest. Spencer is one of the most genuine people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, and always a delight to have across the table. We used to practically be neighbors in the Boston area, only for me to yeet myself across the country when the world started to end in 2020. We grabbed lunch at the hotel’s Sidecar bar, a sterile, sparsely appointed establishment that feels like it belongs in an airport with charging stations on the bartop. Said bar also shared a problem I ran into in most drinkeries in the DC area: they don’t have hard cider. Not wanting a repeat of the previous night’s Mai Tai headache, I chilled with water until my spicy salmon salad came out. Said salmon was not particularly spicy, but had a pleasant dry rub on it. Unfortunately it was on the dry side, and the salad itself was nothing to write home about. It also led to a Bathroom Event which I will not detail here – even I can only be so exhaustive. I don’t regret the hang with Spencer though, he’s a great dude, and it was a pleasure to catch up on the real life shit that we have to deal with when we’re not at nerd summer camp.

Game 0 – vs. Patrick’s Ultramarines

Black Templars vs. Ultramarines. Credit: SRM and Artum

I was going to get a game with Spencer, but his Narrative duties kept him occupied so I invoked the “you snooze you lose” clause and instead got a game with Patrick “Artum” Robins. Despite being acquainted with each other forever, we only got our first game at NOVA last year, where we were both absolutely exhausted and I himbo’d my way to victory. Patrick is a very good player, he always knows his rules, and generally builds potent combinations of characters and units for maximum effect. However, his dice don’t always get the memo. He had the first turn, in which he didn’t cause much damage but plopped some dudes on the central objective and more or less dared me to come and get it. I immediately blew up his Repulsor and poured my army into the center of the board, engaging his brick of Bladeguard and their Captain, the Redemptor Dreadnought, and his Hellblasters all at once. He had made a mistake in his sequencing that left the Hellblasters exposed, and I was going to take advantage of that. These were a lot of targets for High Marshal Helbrecht and his attendant Castellan/Crusader blob to take on, but that many chainsword attacks tend to make their point known. After the dust had settled and saving throws were failed, he was down to a couple Hellblasters and his Captain. My Bladeguard cleared out some of his Infiltrating units, and when he fell back with the ‘Blasters a few died immediately from a desperate escape test. I continued to roll onward, taking more ground with my Sword Brethren and ended the game ahead at 88-41. I wish Patrick’s dice went a little better for him – while his deployment and first turn gave me ample opportunity to bully the center where I want to be, his return swings and armor saves cost him the game as much as my strategy did. Still, I love playing Patrick, and I always learn something when I do. This was also the first time this weekend I got to remind someone that Hellblasters can all take plasma pistols, the funniest possible detail that 10th edition has brought to the table. This is a gift I give every Space Marine player I go up against, and has been a surprise to all but one.

Dan and Scott “Horussy” Horras had scoped out a cocktail bar that they wanted to hit, The Golden Age. I’ll assume it’s not named after the seminal Berserk arc, but instead a paean to the cocktail bars of old, and the menu reflects the latter. In theme with this, I had an absolutely incredible sazerac that hit the spot on that warm summer day. Scott and I had probably our first 1 on 1 conversation outside of a 40k game, despite knowing each other in passing for 7 years and going to almost all the same events. Good dude. Dan returned and I had one of the best Manhattans of my life before ordering some impeccably spiced and impossibly tender lamb skewers. The lot of us destroyed a charcuterie board together. Our bartender, Haytham, was hugely considerate of my allergies and did shots with us afterwards. Top tier hang all around, no notes.

The Margaritaville Manglers. Credit: SRM

That night I was supposed to play some board games with Scott, Michael, and a few others, but I somewhat tipsily wandered away to hang out with Pete, Kat, and a rotating crew of other friends. Pete gave me the second custom Palm Treeman for my Hawaiian shirt wearing Halfling team, The Margaritaville Manglers. I still have not painted the first, but I think now I can batch paint the pair. They’re beautiful, lovingly crafted miniatures by one of the most talented and enthusiastic converters I know. It shames me that they have seen neither brush nor table as of yet, and I intend to change that shortly. I was also granted a Team Comfort Slam silk robe, some Necromunda cards, and a neat little fish guy model from Silver Tower by the Jersey crew, all of which I now treasure. This hang was accompanied by a New Grist Pilsner from Lakefront Brewery, historically the first beer to be given the official gluten-free stamp of approval by the United States government. It’s not a much-loved beer by the general populace but I thought it was fantastic – crisp, slightly sweet, and sessionable as hell. I turned in before it got too late, hoping to get a good night’s sleep before our first day of organized gaming.

Day 2 – The Actual Day 1, Which Was the Actual Day 2

Dan had the idea that the buffet would be faster than the quick grab n’ go cafe, and I don’t necessarily think he was right. Regardless, I went along with the plan and had a stale gluten free bagel with cream cheese and passable lox for a mere 35 United States dollars. I washed that down with a few shooters of smoothie and some bad coffee and we were off to our first official games of the event.

Each game, as my opponent and I introduced our armies, I would say I was taking Righteous Crusaders, not the Gladius Task Force detachment. As my opponent visibly staggered back and asked why, I administered the verbal uppercut of “Because I’m not a coward.” This sort of resolute confidence would land me a C-suite position were I a complete and utter sociopath. I came here to play Black Templars, not Ultramarines by another name, and by gum would I be crusading all weekend.

Game 1 – vs. Shaun’s Eldar

Black Templars Castellan vs. Wraithknight. Credit: SRM and Shaun

I knew how this game was going to go. You, dear reader, already know how this game went. No small amount of digital ink has been spilled about the galling quantity and quality of Elf Bullshit in their pre-balance pass era. I’ve heard it all before by this point. Hell, I’ve probably said half of it. No shade on Shaun, he was a lovely guy, but this game was a foregone conclusion and despite my best efforts, was a 24-97 defeat for me. When I asked him frankly how I could kill his Wraithknight, he simply said “you can’t” and he was not lying. The only dose of serotonin amid the joyless task of placing my models back in their tray was when my Techmarine with Witchseeker Bolts killed the Yncarne. Reliably putting 4 mortal wounds on any psyker he can see every turn is absolutely worth the 10 points, and it’s potentially my favorite enhancement in the game for sheer unexpected entertainment value.

It’s telling that 60% of the top 10 players at this event were playing Eldar, and all of them had the Yncarne, a Wraithknight, and at least 2 Fire Prisms. Most also had a smattering of Hornets, a Farseer that could get resurrect on a 2+, and some Warp Spiders. Even post-Dataslate I think the whole damn Index should be thrown out, and the sheer amount of flat high damage, rerolls, and guaranteed outcomes make for an uninteractive army that simply can’t be played against. Skill issue, sure, but with a half decent list and no small amount of experience, any game against Eldar is just me trying to keep them from getting a perfect 100 whilst I hope I can break the 50 point mark. Anyway, fuck elves.

Game 2 – vs. Eli’s Knights

SRM and Eli on stream. Credit: SRM

Knights have been another bugbear of mine, a hard list check where a certain threshold of anti-tank is necessary to survive. This would be my test against them, after a poor showing in Tacoma. As Eli and I were setting up the table for our game, a NOVA staff member walked on up and asked if we’d like to play on stream. We obliged and moved our stuff up to the main stage, ready to play in front of an audience with live commentary. If you want to check out the stream, it’s on the Warhammer Twitch channel.

This game was a barn burner. The main goal was to kill more stuff than your opponent each turn, and as I brought down Canis Rex, I completely blanked on his special rule. The gooey center of the knight, Sir Hektor, hits eject and the unit doesn’t count as dead until you hunt him down. Naturally I lost out on a bunch of points early on to this, but it did open up a whole flank of the board for me. Eli parked his Knight Valiant dead center in the board, daring me to come within conflagration cannon and harpoon range. Dare I did, and Helbrecht and his crew of weirdos charged in, got torched, and were intact enough to cut the giant robot down. My Bladeguard were chopping up Knights and Armigers, even without the fire support of my Land Raiders. The Sword Brethren ganged up on Sir Hektor and it went something like this. At battle’s end I narrowly eked out a victory, scoring 80-66. It was a fantastic game, and Eli played the angles on the board like a carpenter. It felt vindicating to defeat one of the armies that traditionally give me trouble, and I’d gladly play Eli again.

Playing on stream is an odd but not unpleasant experience. There are a multitude of added pressures, the notion that dozens if not hundreds if not thousands of people are watching right then and there. Commentators are stopping by and telling the world that man, you really flubbed that dieroll. Support staff are coming through asking you what your updated scores are each round. On the other hand, this was probably the only table in the entire hall with good lighting. The rest of the 40k area was bathed in dim blue light that made it hard to see, and gave it real junior prom energy. That probably makes it a wash.

Game 3 – vs. Nathan’s Custodes

Before this game began, I ran to my room, scarfed a granola bar, and grabbed another gluten free beer given to me by my friends and listeners, Brut Tang Can by Departed Soles Brewing. This sells itself as a “dry” IPA, a style I’ve never seen billed before. It delivered on that promise and then some, with a wash of tangerine flavor that offset that dry bitterness with juicy citrus. A lot of gluten free beers have a bit of an odd aftertaste, due to the millet, quinoa, and other grains used in place of barley and wheat. That tangerine flavor absolutely flooded that odd taste out, and good gravy would I like to find this beer again.

Oh right, Warhammer.

Black Templars vs. Custodes. Credit: SRM and Nathan

I’d played my buddy Kriegsie and his Custodes in an early game of 10th, and found them to be a tough matchup for Black Templars. When your army is “elite melee dudes” and their army is “eliter melee dudes who play Calvinball on objectives” it makes for a hard fight. I was relieved his army had none of the Custodes karate tanks, but it had multiple 10-strong bricks of golden banana bois which were going to be exceptionally tough to crack. I blundered hard on the player-placed objectives in this game, and clustered them together. This is usually a good thing for my army, as it lets me concentrate my relatively small force in one place. The problem is, he wants that even more and Custodes get tons of buffs on objectives to boot. I had been the unwitting player 2 of plenty of mind games while playing Kriegsie’s Custodes, so when Nathan attempted the same I just shrugged it off and tried to himbo my way through it. By intentionally failing to heed the warnings of my opponent and all of his free Heroic Interventions and Fights First bricks of immortal golden idols, I still lost the game, but did so while interacting with the mission more. Ultimately the results were a 63-100 defeat for me, which I think is actually pretty decent considering the roughness of the matchup and how badly I blundered with objective placement. I also want to give full marks to Nathan as an opponent; aside from just knowing his rules well, he was a genuine, jovial, and all around lovely person to play against. He’s a diehard Custodes fan, and I respect commitment to the bit.


Dan and I embarked on a journey for dinner, trying to find something that wasn’t packed to the gills on a Friday night, and crucially would have something I could eat. There’s entire restaurants I can’t eat at because they cook their food in Cursed Oil, and my particular set of allergies make any meal outside the home a culinary minefield of bad tum-tum time. After dejectedly leaving a Thai place with an aroma I will covet for the rest of my life, we found our way to La Tomate Bistro, an on-the-fancier-side Italian restaurant. While wheat, and therefore pasta, are my sworn enemies now, I can go hard on cured meats and cheeses and by gum did we. Some of the best, freshest mozzarella of my life, prosciutto with fig jam, and a main course of seared salmon had me feeling like the fanciest of bois. Between our own conversations about Warhammer, family, and all the rest, we got to overhear the worst date of at least one person’s life. The drama of this dinner and a show culminated in the pair not just leaving, but leaving through separate exits, which is a first amongst the bad dates I’ve witnessed. Trust me, I’ve seen many bad dates and been party to more than my fair share.

Dan and I swung by Golden Age again, where Haytham was still working, recognized us, and slipped a paper with all my allergies in front of me at the bar, which is so dang sweet. We hung out with Clyde and Dylan, a pair of brothers, Dan’s friends, and fellow competitors in the GT. There was some grousing about Space Wolves I only sort of remember, as I was happily tucking into a Portland Sour. All those shitty whiskey sours I had in my 20s were leading up to this elevated version that wouldn’t make my teeth hurt or give me an instant headache. I very much want to take this bar home with me.

Day 3 – In Which I Attempt to Clear the Dumpster Bracket

With the breakfast buffet being an expensive racket and a line out the door of the hotel cafe, we went searching outwards for a quick breakfast option. We were joined by Dan’s friend Scott Dornbush, who showed me pictures of his lovingly painted and expertly converted Idoneth Deepgitz army. His commitment to the git was later rewarded with a Player’s Choice award in his Age of Sigmar event, which was richly deserved. The three of us bounced from cafe to cafe, lines consistently reaching the curb of each. Eventually we landed on Dolcezza, a coffee shop and gelateria. I didn’t have it in me to slam a pint of stracciatella first thing in the morning, so settled on a fairly pleasant buckwheat bar and the best cold brew I’d have all convention. Our bellies not exactly filled but our clock loudly ticking, we headed back to the hotel for our first games of the day.

Game 4 – vs. Ben’s Ultramarines

Black Templars vs. Ultramarines. Credit: SRM and Ben

I make an effort to give a Badcast sticker to every opponent after our game; a signifier of good sportsmanship and a token of friendship. These invitations to Do Cool Crimes don’t just advertise my podcast, but hopefully let my opponent remember our game and reconnect at a future date. It is rare that I do not hand one out, as I enjoy the company of most people I meet in this hobby.

This opponent did not receive one.

I do not intend to drag this individual, as using my modest platform to bully a stranger without one is equal parts irresponsible and cruel. I will, however, deliver the unvarnished truth of this game: the vibes were bad. My dude was in a mood and spent most of deployment complaining that he hadn’t slept well because he couldn’t smoke weed to help him go to bed. A walk down any street in any direction of Washington DC will greet you with the sweet smell of that wackiest of tobaccies, and a cursory googling shows a 24/7 dispensary was all of a 4 minute walk from the hotel. When he was done complaining about his inability to dance with Mary Jane, he started kvetching about 10th edition, how it was the worst edition ever, how badly it was written, and so on. I respect this difference of opinion even if I absolutely do not agree with it, as ultimately it doesn’t really matter. He had first turn and toed a tank into a ruin saying he would shoot out. I told him it had to be wholly within to do so, and there was both room and movement to accomplish this. I showed him the rule. He flagged down a passing judge. The judge possessed a teacher’s guidance and a saint’s fortitude as he politely walked my opponent through the interactions of terrain and vehicles. The scowling and growling continued as the judge took his leave. An ineffective turn 1 of shooting from the Ultramarines led to a far more effective turn from my Templars. I blew up some vehicles, and set up a number of charges for the next turn. He retaliated, still hampered by the tight angles of the terrain and my admittedly solid saving rolls. He complained that Templars were flat out better than regular Marines (they aren’t) and that his army was bad (it wasn’t) as he flubbed shot after shot from his on-meta shooting army.

Reader, I have a gift. Sometimes, a player is deathly slow, as they either don’t know their rules or wait until their own turn to start making tactical decisions. In others, a situation is unfolding where neither player is having a good time and the game seems interminable. In these scenarios and ones like them, I can draw on some hidden power and find a way to end the game as quickly as possible. Wanting to rid myself of these sour AM vibes, I channeled this might into a series of charges that largely wiped his army off the map. The 10-strong Desolation squad with their attendant Bolter Discipline Apothecary was chewed up and spit out by Helbrecht’s squad, soaking a flood of overwatch and cutting through regardless. Guilliman was sent back to Ultramar by my Chaplain and Bladeguard. The Gladiator took its last bow as my Sword Brethren brought it down. My opponent promptly gave me the handshake on the bottom of turn 2 and conceded. After playing out the remainder of the mission we came to a 98-19 victory for my Templars. The affair was over in less than an hour. I don’t mean to gloat or grandstand, but it was clear nobody was having a good time and I’m glad I could end it for both of us. The results also put me into the 2-2 bracket, breaking my record from Tacoma.

For lunch this day, I embarked on a journey for Mexican food with my friend and occasional Goonhammer Historicals Pervert, Michael Dicianna. We had first met at the US Goonhammer Open in 2021, where he and his wonderful wife Emma bought me an entire cannonade of Heavy Seas’ Loose Cannon IPA as we sat at the hotel bar. This was one of the key moments that brought me personally out of the daily grey malaise that was the pandemic at the time, and I want to extend a belated thank you for that. I understand Covid is still very much around – I have it as I’m writing this – but the daily mortal threat of it has been curbed by vaccines and a better understanding of the virus. Michael and I went to El Tamarindo, and as it was restaurant week, we went hard. The first step on our journey was elotes, wonderfully grilled and beautifully dressed with cotijo, mole, and an avocado sauce. I could eat this every day. Second was a pair of sopes pollo poblano. For the uninitiated, picture the Mexican Pizza from Taco Bell in your mind palace. Now spike it into the trash, because this is far realer shit. This pair of pillowy fried masa cakes were topped with chicken, mole, queso fresco, and cilantro. I could also eat this every day. The light crunch of the masa cake giving way to a soft interior, the savory chicken with a hint of sweetness and the bright freshness of the cilantro made for a delightful main course. Last but unfortunately least was a flan on a slab of chocolate cake. I couldn’t have said cake due to my wheat allergy, but I scooped off the slightly rubbery flan and was disappointed by its taste and texture. Regardless, the food was wonderful. More importantly was the hang with Michael; having 1-on-1 hangouts at cons like this is uncommon, and are more attuned to getting to Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey than your typical adventuring party at a bar. We talked about the usual stuff – family, history, gaming, and the optics of playing the “bad guys” in any number of historical contexts. That last one is more a philosophical exercise than anything with a concrete answer, but it was a good conversation. I think he was just vibing for the rest of the day, but I had to motor off for my next game.

Game 5 – vs. Nick’s Tyranids

Black Templars vs. Tyranids. Credit: SRM and Nick

Nick’s army was a wall of chitin, claws, and gribbly tentacles – all big monsters with some deep striking Gargoyles for funsies. The actual scoreboard units were his two Biovores, who would launch spore mines every turn for Deploy Teleport Homers and Behind Enemy Lines, his two fixed objectives. This all but guaranteed him full secondary points every game, and while I think it’s narratively boring, safe bets are few and far between in this game – unless you’re Eldar, anyway. We danced around for the first 2 turns, not causing too much damage, maybe blasting a bug or two down, but by and large I had to skirt around his line until I could bring all my melee units to bear. All at once, on turn 3, my infantry poured out of their Land Raiders, and even though I lost a few Crusaders on Overwatch (double free Overwatch from giant flamers! My favorite!) that Tännhauser’s Bones upgrade kept enough of my dudes intact to hit his line and cut right through. That Helbrick getting Lethal Hits on 5+ was what floated me through most of the big bugs, with the +1 to Wound from my Chaplain on the Bladeguard picking up the slack. It was a slow erosion over multiple Fight phases as my dudes cut his giant bugs down, and my Land Raiders ran the midfield, scoring objectives and instantly killing his Gargoyle swarms. A Trygon popped up only to get shot up and cut down by Sword Brethren, and my Techmarine did his usual psyker sniping against a Neurotyrant and some Zoanthropes. Despite doing so much damage, Nick was still scoring points left and right – holding the objectives he had to and banking on those safe 40 points from the Biovores. I could never quite breach the walls of his castle, but I didn’t need to – I came away with a narrow 92-85 victory. It was a hell of a game, and even though so much of it went my way, the score shows how close it really was. If I had any means of dealing with those biovore buggaboos I could have widened that gap, but a W is a W. Nick was a hell of a nice guy and a fantastic opponent, and I’d be happy to face off with him again.

The Capitol Palette, In Which I Am Technically a Babby

Black Templars Marshal in Terminator Armor. Credit: SRM

My Internet pal and listener, Thomas Leef, had wanted to meet up and say hello. He had submitted some incredible work to the Capitol Palette, and encouraged me to do so as well. I sprinted back to my army case, fished out my Terminator Marshal Velstadt, and brought him up to the reception table. I was asked if this was my first time entering. I answered in the affirmative, but added that I’d been painting for a long time. Even with that caveat, they entered me into the Apprentice tier, and so Marshal Velstadt would be judged. Had I more time or foresight I would have brought a few more models to enter into the squad or vehicle categories, but for a quick tossing of my proverbial hat into the equally proverbial ring, he would have to do. Thomas and I talked for a bit about painting and the con. I scarfed a granola bar. I grabbed a Rope Swing IPA from Lake St. George Brewing out of my hotel room and enjoyed its light body and fruity character. I checked my phone for my next pairing.


Game 6 – vs. Jared’s Eldar

Black Templars vs. Eldar. Credit: SRM and Jared

Despite my previous drubbing by Eldar, I was going to try my damnedest to break through another, largely similar Eldar army. I’m a firm believer that a wall is just a door that hasn’t been made yet, and this second Eldar army represented yet another knife-eared facade that needed breaking through.

Friends, I did not break through.

His army had traded out the Wraithknight for more Fire Prisms and Hornets, but was still built around uncannily reliable high damage shooting, the Yncarne, a Farseer on bike who gets back up on a 2+, Warp Spiders, and D Cannons. Despite this brutal list built on a fairly similar template, I found myself performing far better. The threat of the Yncarne was ever-looming, meaning I had to be precise with my target priority and sequencing. The frankly criminal amount of board control provided by a Greater Daemon with the *Teleports Behind You* “Nothing Personnel, Kid” rule meant I had to be judicious with what I killed, when, and where. This often meant I was strategically leaving his squads barely alive, solely to keep the Yncarne in one place. Multiple exchanges went something like “You’re not gonna kill them?” only for me to reply something to the effect of “lol no” before moving on to the next target. Fortunately, the Yncarne yeeted itself into the middle of the board at just such an angle where my army could unload on it, culminating in my Techmarine using his Witchseeker Bolts to cause the 4 mortal wounds required to put the Yncarne in the ground. The rest of the game was strategically splitting the fire on my Land Raiders for maximum vehicular carnage, only to roll low damage results and leave those flimsy Hornets and Fire Prisms on just a wound or 2. The game was fairly close on points, and I was pretty sure I had a shot at taking it – actually winning against this busted Index would be an enormous point of pride. For a reminder, this Index was boasting roughly a 70% winrate at the time when the ideal is between 45-55. Unfortunately, a late game charge likely cost me the battle. My Bladeguard charged into his Night Spinner, which was sitting right near his home objective. My plan was to kill it then pile onto the objective, scoring me a bushel of points. However, the wording of consolidation put priority on piling into enemy units over objectives. As he had a Death Jester sitting slightly closer but in the opposite direction, my Bladeguard had to pile into the elven juggalo instead of actually doing what I wanted. This was my misunderstanding of a rule and I’ll completely own that, but man did it sting. Despite a decent showing, getting the big 15 for holding the sole objective at the end of the battle, killing a not insignificant portion of his army and still having plenty left on the board, it was a defeat for me – a hard fought 56-73. Jared’s upfront concession that he’d “heard it all before” RE: Eldar Bullshit was something I tried to honor, but I fear I may have gotten a bit salty this game – especially when my misinterpretation of piling in likely cost me the win. Jared really was a lovely opponent, and I apologize if I didn’t bring my best self to the table.

Two Vagabonds at Vagabond

Dan and I reconvened and arrived at Vagabond, a vaguely beach-themed bar and bougie bar catering to people younger and prettier than our typical crowd. I started with a Shark Tracker by Cisco Brewing out of Massachusetts. It was your typical light lager, but a few cuts above the domestic macrobrews. At first I scoffed at the push by craft brewers into light beers some 7 years ago, but with those 7 years in my rearview I’ve come to appreciate something easy drinking and predictable between the stronger and weirder stuff. Light lagers are also typically brewed with barley and the addition of rice or corn, so they’re pretty safe bets for the allergen minefield that is my diet. This was followed by a Pacifico, another known quantity, but one with a special memory tied to it that I’m always happy to revisit. While brevity may be a lost cause in this travelogue, I will save that story for another time.

The food though, my god the food. Tuna ceviche that would melt in your mouth, perfectly acidic and just spicy enough from the wasabi avocado puree to satisfy my need to be a spicy boi. Yucca fries, heartier than potato and a perfect starch to hold down the fort. Quesabirria, beef tender to the point of stew with chihuahua cheese in fried corn tortillas, the savory microphone drop following everything that came before. Our delightful bartender, Heidi, asked why we were in town. We mentioned NOVA and gave the barebones description one gives of the Warhammer hobby to a presumed non-ham audience. She said that made sense, some folks were playing Dungeons & Dragons at the bar the previous night. I finished the meal with a Padang Padang, a cocktail Heidi described as “for bartending nerds”, which immediately grabbed my attention. White rum, dry sherry, vinho verde syrup, creme de banane, and grapefruit bitters made up this concoction. Dry, sweet, smooth, creamy, bitter, this beverage was one of the best things I drank all trip, and there was some stiff competition there. My hot tip: If there’s a cocktail on the menu you don’t recognize and can’t mentally assemble, it’s either a joke or the best thing on the menu. Neither outcome will be boring.

We returned to the hotel where Dan was going to be playing Magic with some folks and I half-committed to joining. As he broke out his Warhammer Commander decks and started explaining how the game worked to me, I accepted a cider from Tony of the Dice Like Ice Podcast. Tony was wearing this bandolier of beers (referred to as a “beerndolier” in my contemporaneous notes) and was freely distributing them. I had a cider from his home state of Georgia, and while I lapsed in my duty as a journalist to note the name of it, I found it to be nicely centered between the sweet and dry sides of hard ciders. I left Dan and the group to their game of wizard poker and instead stood around a table chatting with a bunch of old Something Awful folks for a while. I remember fairly little of this, and if you’re keeping track of this day’s beer count, you can probably guess why. I had a half pour of Naragansett from my pal Fakie, since to quote my extremely Bostonian former coworker Jen, “It’s like drinkin’ a wadah!” ‘Gansett is primo New England dirtbag beer, and if it’s good enough for Quint in Jaws, it’s certainly good enough for me. The hangs were good, but there was one more day of gaming ahead of me, so off to bed it was.

Day 4 – The Middlest of Men

My slightly hungover Sunday began just a bit too early, as every day at this convention has. This time, hoping to avoid the meander required to find breakfast outside the hotel and shirking the wallet drain of a $35/plate buffet, we hit the hotel cafe. Whilst waiting in line we heard one guy go off at length about his divorce. Personally, I found it too early in the morning to overhear this sort of post-matrimonial distress but he had an audience who seemed sympathetic in that most dudely of ways: Nodding and occasionally offering an accordant grunt. I had my typical home breakfast of yogurt and granola with an iced black coffee, which would keep me going til lunch. The coffee was burned, as Starbucks always is, and the yogurt was your typical Chobani grocery store affair. The granola was some sort of local brand and was actually rather good, and stayed crunchy throughout.

Game 7 – vs. Justin’s Genestealer Cults

Black Templars vs. Genestealer Cults. Credit: SRM and Justin

I had next to no experience playing this army, save for half a game against my buddy Max in Tacoma where we mostly just shot the shit and ate ribs. Dan’s advice was to leave my army outside of their vehicles for maximum board control and screening opportunities. At deployment, I thought to do this, but went with my tried and true strategy as I would rather use a suboptimal strategy that I understand intrinsically than try something new at the 11th hour. Instead, I opted to deploy a bit more conservatively, splitting the difference between the two approaches. When speaking about this game to others after the fact, it seems Justin got a few rules wrong that may have played to his advantage. This may have been a fault of my own retelling, or refraining from asking for clarification in the interest of alacrity, as this was the only game I played all weekend where we were running up against time. The announcement loudspeaker, which consistently spoke too loud, would remind us that we should be finishing round 3 while we were only just beginning the turn and so on. This was not due to his own hemming and hawing or a perceived lack of army knowledge, GSC are just a staggeringly complex army with an awful lot of models to move, remove, and move again.

Black Templars vs. Genestealer Cults. Credit: SRM and Justin

I had to avoid my bloodthirsty impulses and refrain from wiping units out. As tempting as it was to pick up entire 20+ strong units of cultists in one go, doing so would just let them come back and shoot me with a bevvy of bonuses from a corner unknown. Worst of all were the Acolytes with their dynamite packs, which only really were dangerous for the turn they arrived. Again, the “You’re not gonna kill them?” “lol no” exchange was echoed, save for the rare occasions where I would wipe a unit and their attendant characters out. Unfortunately, I did wipe out one of his units of Acolytes, only for them to reappear on his home objective, just in time to Overwatch my Sword Brethren with their blasting charges. All that remained was my Judiciar, vying for control of Justin’s home objective against one of his mortar trucks. I needed to perform a Cleanse mission to scrape together just a few points, as by the last turn we were neck and neck. You can’t Cleanse and shoot, but you can use the Grenades stratagem to cause some damage, and it doesn’t count as a shooting attack. I spent the Command Point and had to make a trio of 4+ rolls on 6 dice, causing enough mortal wounds to destroy the truck. Mathematically, it was completely average. Experientially, it was unfortunately below that probability, and I only scored 2 mortal wounds, losing my opportunity to Cleanse. The previously alluded to Acolyte unit with all their hand flamers was still close enough for Overwatch, so even though my Judiciar could absolutely kill that truck in melee, they could kill him with their hand flamers and score Justin Defend Stronghold. Ask how I know that. At game’s end, I still had a fair few vehicles on the table and Helbrecht’s brick had happily carved up any innumerable Cult jerks, but Justin eked out a narrow 77-87 victory. It was a hell of a game, and I’ll be honest, I don’t really care if he got some rules wrong. Had we more time I might have interrogated some rules further instead of just going “huh, sounds complicated” and continuing onwards, but I didn’t detect any foul play. Justin was a fantastic opponent and I won’t let a few potentially mistaken rules get in the way of my favorite game all convention.

Interlude: No Time For Lunch

This Terminator Captain is now technically an award winning model. Credit: SRM

I was told to head over to the Capitol Palette area to “pick something up” and I was delighted to find my Marshal had won a silver medal in the Apprentice Single Model – SciFi category. I ran into Norman, Rocco, and TD over there, so we went to the Irish O’ Flannigan’s generic bar in the hotel for lunch. There were maybe 35 minutes to go before my next game, so I abstained from ordering food and simply had the thinking ‘ham’s lunch: A tall pour of Guinness. I’ll be honest, it was a good draught of the stuff; all the better on an empty stomach. The four of us chatted about games and painting that weekend, passing around TD’s Capitol Palette entries and marveling at just how damn good a painter he is. Norman said something to the effect of “It pisses me off how good you are at everything” only for TD, without missing a beat, to wisely state “I don’t do things I’m not good at”. I downed the last of my beer and ran off to my final game of the GT.

Game 8 – vs. Jason’s Orks

Black Templars vs. Orks. Credit: SRM and Jason

Before our game even began, Jason offered me a Bud Light from his beer bucket. It paled compared to Cisco’s better take on light beer I’d mentioned the day prior, but I get why someone might crush 3-4 of these in an afternoon in desperate search of a buzz. It wasn’t especially great – better than a Miller anyway – but I wasn’t about to refuse my opponent’s hospitality. My attention was immediately drawn to Jason’s army, a lovingly converted Ork force riding in converted vehicles and with a smattering of LEDs for good measure. Said collection of vehicles and their character cargo informed my only fixed objectives of the event; Bring it Down and Assassinate. I blew up his Ork Ford Bronco on turn 1, stranding a good few Beastsnagga Boyz out of position where they could get boltgunned. Helbrecht’s crew cleaned up Snikrot and his Kommandos, and I felt confident that even exposed, they would be able to weather whatever came at them next.

Black Templars vs. Orks. Credit: SRM and Jason

Jason was the softest spoken opponent I had played all weekend. On his second turn, he asked me to pardon him, as he bellowed what was likely the final WAAAGH! of NOVA 2023. Said WAAAGH! heralded his major push, charging unit after unit into my bricks of Templar infantry, only to bounce off and be cut to ribbons by said Marines. Somehow all the Beastsnaggaz, Squigosaurs, and Stormboyz in the world weren’t enough to cut through a 3+ armor save with a Feel No Pain. His major push stymied and his key pieces removed from the battle, turn 3 onwards was largely my game.

The thing that shocked me was just how little killing power Orks really had against my army. I expect some middling shooting offset by brutal melee. Aside from a 10-strong unit of Flash Gitz and Badrukk wiping out my Sword Brethren, at no point did I feel like any of my units were in a particular amount of danger. Jason played his army well, despite the bluntness of the Ork attack, and we ended with a 67-50 Templar victory. This put me at 2-2 in the 2-2 bracket, making me the most average ‘ham of all.

Parting Shots

Campbell “SRM” McLaughlin (left) and Dan “Dittka” Boyd (right) at a very cool plaque Credit: Dan “Dittka” Boyd

I felt good about my record, but knew I wasn’t going to win any awards, so packed my army and headed for my room with Dan. In a dark echo of the first day’s key woes, neither of our keys worked and we had to wait for a security guard to let us in for about an hour. We passed the time talking army construction, strategies, how our games went, typical Warhammer stuff. Eventually we got in, I dropped my army off, and we went and got a selfie where Reagan got shot. You can buy a t-shirt or sticker about it, if you’d like. Seeing that design in person on multiple people, some of whom I didn’t even know, was particularly vindicating of my deep-fried graphic design skills.

We were hoping to grab dinner with our friend Dave, but he was off chatting with Dave Taylor and some other hobby luminaries so Dan and I held down the bar for a while. One Guinness became a Vienna Lager from Devil’s Backbone, a merely okay take on the style but one that so far hasn’t caused any distress of the ol’ tum. It just comes across as kind of thin to me, like it’s missing something. A rotating crew of Maine gang folks, the old Something Awful crew, and other NOVA regulars came and went, and Dan and I found our way out on our own dinnerquest. Unlike Adepticon or even NOVA’s old location, there’s tons of great food options a figurative and potentially literal stone’s throw from the convention center. Eating at the hotel is really just for convenience’s sake, and even if the food was better I’d still recommend you venture out yourself.

We found our way to Grand Duchess, a bar with the specific flavor of dirbag vibe I was looking for. I had a Founders All Day IPA courtesy our delightful bartender, Nick. Hoppy and on the lighter side, it’s a beer that dares you to take its name to heart. Nick was funny as hell, and her rapport with her coworkers and the few obvious regulars hanging out at the bar made for a welcoming environment. Unfortunately, the food was a no-go for my stupid allergy set, and we continued onwards. The next day was Labor Day, so every joint was pretty packed, but we eventually found our way to Los Molcajetes – Mi Casita 3. The whole joint was dead, and we took a seat in the basement. As the only people in the room, we got to talking with our bartender, Jesús, and he made us some killer margaritas. They tasted how they oughta taste, and I mean that in the most complimentary way. We ordered based on his recommendations, my food sensitivities accounted for, and they did not disappoint. I can’t really do shrimp, texturally, but the fresh, spicy, acidic, and savory flavors from the ceviche made up for it. The tamales were what I was actually all about though, their thick masa outer layers giving way to the perfect ratio of meat, cheese, sauce, and what have you. These were also genuinely spicy, and as a former attendee of Hell Night in Boston, I’m no stranger to hot stuff.

We stumbled back to the hotel for one last evening of hanging out. I was mostly chatting with David, his experience in this year’s 40k Narrative, and the typical combination of reminiscing and looking forward. The Narrative was a much better time for all involved this year, and it delighted me to hear that. However, it had changed, and there’s no avoiding that fact. It was under the stewardship of different people now, and while many of the players were familiar faces, the format and culture had changed as well. In the old, pre-pandemic days, the NOVA Narrative was built around late night gaming, wild doubles matches, and Warlord council meetings in the lounge. These meetings were nominally where the next rounds of the battle were planned and resources were allocated, but in practice were just a place to socialize, trash talk, and hang out. These were where those lifelong friendships were forged, and what made the old NOVA Narrative special. Those meetings and that lounge are gone now. Time has moved on, and there’s no use in chasing grains of sand in the hourglass.

Day 5 – The Voyage Home

At 4am I woke up and tried to pack all my belongings in my suitcase. Between my clothes, the leftover beers given to me by the Maine crew, and the models I had acquired, I could not close my bag. As I was putting my full 165lbs of bodyweight on my suitcase in an attempt to close it, Dan murmured “I’ll mail your shit” and I felt a wave of relief. I made a pile of my plunder, hopped in the waiting Uber I’d scheduled the night before, and I was off to DCA.

After 45 minutes in the TSA line and an entirely too threatening wall-sized ad for a forthcoming Dunkin’ location, I was at my gate and looking for breakfast. There was nothing on earth I wanted more than a bagel, but the Great American Bagel Bakery only had the most glutinous of bread rings, so I had to skip them in favor of seemingly the only thing I eat anymore, which is yogurt and granola. Chobani’s cherry flavor is decent if you’re into that sort of thing. After finishing my gurtnola it was time to board, and I spent the majority of the flight catching up on sleep. I tried some ambient forest sounds and the trickling water just made me have to pee, so the same 3 Gorillaz albums once more accompanied my rest. Again, The Now Now makes for a lovely sleep aid. I had an airplane Starbucks coffee, black, and watched two episodes of a recent season of Archer while the flight wound down. Archer was sharper in its prime, but I still found myself laughing in spite of it. I landed at SeaTac, got a second gurtnola and a frankly bad hot coffee from the unfortunately named Salty’s in the 20 minutes I had to spare, and juggled them until I could get on the plane. A couple whose names I have forgotten were also heading home to Bend and spotted my Dungeon Degenerates pin. Like an absolute poser, I just thought it was a cool art thing, not an actual game, and we talked RPGs for a bit. I have not seen them since, but in a town as small as mine with but a single game store, we will likely meet again. I spent the short flight home building lists; new takes on my Black Templars or potential Guard armies. I landed in one piece, got in my car, and headed home, my luggage in hand and my mind full of new ideas.

Conclusion: In Which My Campbell Ramble Concludes

Compared to the rager room parties and packed lounge of the old days of NOVA, this was quieter, gentler. It probably sounds like I’m drinking a lot at this event and I won’t say I’m not, but compared to the days of old this is practically teetotaling. $5 draughts of Fat Tire – $4 if you brought your mug – were the norm in the old NOVA lounge, and you bet I would sink a $20 before factoring in the tip. A look around at the crowd this year showed familiar faces, older than they were and with more responsibilities. It also showed new faces, a younger crowd on their own journeys, finding their way into NOVA and keeping it alive. I think back to attending Historicon with my dad, and how seldom people looked younger than him. Flattery is not my intent there, that crowd just got older each year and so rarely did it seem to interest new blood. I hope things have changed since my last Historicon in 2009, but we’re here in 2023 and NOVA is changing before my eyes. New games. New venue. New people. Its grown in size and scope and shows no signs of changing. Late in the writing of this article I looked at the time capsule I’d made for myself in 2017 on my long-defunct YouTube channel. Aside from the over compressed audio and sometimes shaky video, this gives me a clear reference point for these two points in time.

In that video I tell a truth which became a lie; that I would never be a GT person. I could not have anticipated what the following years would hold, or that I would find myself genuinely enjoying organized tournament play. I played a lot of Crusade at the tail end of 9th, both in Seattle Tacoma and at NOVA proper. Those both scared me off narrative events, because for some fool reason organizers seem to think “Narrative” equals “experience gain” and other RPG mechanics. I genuinely feel these don’t work in event play, and it’s telling that this year, only the core 500 points or so of the Narrative lists would utilize Crusade’s experience system. I think that’s a decent compromise. Narrative play existed before Crusade and even before Warhammer (ask your local grognards) and will exist long after.

Black Templars Techmarine. Credit: SRM

I know I will never win a GT. An RTT or local league, sure, but there’s no way on God’s Goblin Green Earth that I will ever beat the likes of the Art of War crew or other folks who grind out a dozen games a week. What really appeals about the GT format is that the expectations are already set. Unlike a Friendly or Narrative event, everyone’s there for the same reason with the same assumptions. People still care about the things I care about – painting, modeling, and storytelling – but aren’t going to be bringing intentionally hamstrung lists in the name of narrative, or bringing the hardest lists possible to an event for storytellers and daydrinkers. Everything is clear and unambiguous, and it’s just a damn good way to get in 8 games of 40k. With the winpath pairings and bracket system used by most official GW GTs, it’s rare you’ll get paired against someone in a wholly different league after the first truly random pairing. I think back to Adepticon 2017 when I played in a Horus Heresy “friendly” where I was matched against one genuinely narrative Raven Guard list, a rather tough Emperor’s Children army, and a netlist max quad mortar Sons of Horus force. When I asked that last opponent what I could have done differently after such a blowout, he scoffed and said “buy a different army”. In a bracketed system, we never would have played. In a GT, I would have had the expectation to bring a harder army. The notion of a “friendly” event had failed me.

If you are a more casual player, I recommend you try a GT at least once, just to see how you like it. Maybe it won’t be for you. Maybe you’ll find you Got That Dog In You and start paying attention to the meta. Maybe you’ll end up on the bottom or mid tables where the pressure is off and you can just have a chill game with a potential new friend. At time of writing, I’ve played 38 games of 40k this year. 17 were at GTs. A further 5 were in a competitive league with the same list and expectations I had for the NOVA GT. If you’ve looked at that list and those models, you’d know that I value theme, flavor, sportsmanship, and the hobby aspect as much as anyone could be expected to. GTs aren’t scary. They’re Good Times. Thank you for reading.

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