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02 December, 2009

In the Grim Darkness of Nonmonogamy, There is Only Communication

In the grim darkness of the setting for the tabletop miniature game Warhammer: 40K, there is only war. Nonetheless, it holds some lessons relevant to our own daily lives.

The game simulates war in distant planets between various human and alien factions. It is a setting of crushing despair and little hope, in which humanity's only savior has been approximately dead for millennia and only keeps a pulse by eating the souls of hundreds of psychics every day. It's lovely. In the game itself, one commands a small army of metal and plastic figurines representing one of the many factions.

During a typical player's turn in Warhammer, each group of figures on the battlefield gets to run through several phases. First, one moves the troops. Then one can either fire on the enemy or, if one is close enough, engage them in combat: the Assault phase. Depending on how that goes, many things can result. You can force your opponents to flee, if they have taken heavy casualties. If they stand their ground, you may take a consolidation move; those of your models that are not in immediate contact with enemy models may move up to three inches (where a normal Move Phase allows six inches' movement). If you destroy the enemy unit, you move the unit forward a number of inches equal to one roll on a six-sided die. If you overwhelm the enemy, you may attempt to force them to break and run in a Sweeping Advance. If the advance succeeds, you instantly wipe out the rest of that troop. You then get the same 3" consolidation move that you would if they'd stood their ground. At the end of consolidation, if I recall correctly, any models not within 2" of another member of their unit are removed from the game, undoubtedly eaten by a grue.

This is not merely the recounting of an arcane and monetarily draining pasttime. No; there is a deeper lesson to be gleaned from the grim troop movements of the 41st millennium. It is the value of consolidation.

When my space orks slaughter a squadron of Imperial guardsmen, they do not simply bathe in the enemy's blood and raise skulls as goblets. Drippy, drippy goblets. Not in the least! They pause, collect themselves, and make certain that they haven't lost anyone needlessly in the scuffle. If anyone is more than 5" away from the nearest model, I can move the flank out to catch the poor boy. If my troops are packed so tightly that they'd be destroyed by a single shot from the Guardsmen's devastating Basilisk cannon, I can spread them apart. But, spread the troops too thin and I risk losing some to the attrition of the 2" rule in the next combat.

What I'm getting at here is resource management. Yes, I love crushing my foes in battle as much as the next fellow - even more, if we're operating on a metaphorical level here - but I know that there's more than just battle at play here. I have to maintain the cohesion of my unit, and if I let the thrill of battle motivate my every move, I can end up spreading my troops so wide, hoping to engage more of the enemy, that my offensive line breaks and I lose sight of my stalwart ork minions. I must keep the longterm health of the group in mind when I commit to any given action.

Likewise in nonmonogamous relationships. One has a finite amount of resources to commit, any one of which may prove to be a limiting factor; for me, that factor did not come from the sector I'd expected. Time, I thought, was the greatest of my romantic limitations. Recently, however, I have drawn a different conclusion. I've had great fun this semester, engaging in a variety of hand to hand encounters, and they've all been great fun. In this blog, I've been shying away from the term "polyamory" because it seems like I'm tending more toward the swinging side of things, pursuing more or less casual sex without making longterm commitments outside of the sexual realm, beyond the central commitment I've been holding for some time now. Suddenly I realize, though, that if I engage with many more troops, I will be spread to thin to enjoy it. The limiting factor isn't my time resources but my emotional resources. Every combat encounter will begin to seem the same: move phase, assault phase, resolution, and then consolidation, withdrawal or advance. I don't simply want to sweep through every unit in my path. I want to draw out the engagements, make them last, savor them. And (I begin to suspect), if I encounter too many more units, the savor will out.

I have a new strategy: consolidation. The troops have already engaged; the initial hand-to-hand stage is resolved. What's left is to think small: take those three inches1 of movement and see to the unit as a whole. Are all models within 2", maintaining group cohesion? Are they densely packed, inviting area attacks? Are they within assault range of another enemy troop; could they edge out of the way? Do I really know all the people I'm sleeping with, and isn't it worth pursuing those relationships in more depth before trying to ... um ... close with more ... enemy units? In other words, I'm on the downswing from quantity and moving back toward quality and depth of relationships. Oddly enough, this actually seems to have been sparked by my interaction with a young woman who, just as I did, explicitly declared her interest in a relationship predicated on getting it on and not worrying about the traditional courtship portion. Getting together went so well, though, that it got me questioning my actual wants ... and a pleasant evening spent with another friend of mine brought me some awareness of my own sexual saturation. I have enough partners; I just don't see enough of them. Time to consolidate.

1 And don't even think about a size joke, because you and I know exactly how irrelevant that is.2

2Actually, three inches is pretty frighteningly large when a marine is one inch tall.3

3Well, there's an image I didn't need in my mind.