Max Sydney Smith

I, Nerd

The following text is excerpted from I, Nerd by Max Sydney Smith, the latest in Open Pen’s series of novelettes.
I, Nerd follows Robin, an enthusiastic yet unsuccessful player of tabletop games, who, when his local club announces its imminent closure, bands together with friends to enter the National Masters Tournament, and so immortalise the club name in the national rankings. A funny, poignant, depiction of a sub-culture under threat.
Full details on
I, Nerd can be found here.


Everyone knows the best articles on the Game’s tactics are on Briohmarblog. I have read them all before but I decided to read them once more. It is Friday evening, the night before the tournament and I want it to be tomorrow already.

My miniature case has been packed for hours. I have checked and rechecked all my units. After our game Simon suggested I drop two of my Halfling Spearling companies and reinstate my Pony Riders to give me some fast moving chaff. So my list is now: three Spearling legions and four smaller Spearlings companies, two bands of Pony Riders, three Ballista, one company of Hippogriff knights, a Magician and my Cockagriff. A Cockagriff is a magical creature with the body, tail, and back legs of a lion and the head and wings of a rooster. I am worried its wings will snap on the journey so I have packed emergency superglue and Blu-Tac. I also have two sandwich bags of dice, two measuring tapes, my laser pen, the Game rule book, the Game extension rule book, ten printed copies of my army list and a tray to carry my miniatures between games.

I have laid out my outfit for tomorrow which I only do for big days, like if I have an appraisal at work. My clothes are folded on my chair, from top to bottom in the order I put them on. In the perfect world I would own one set of clothes. Every night I would wash it in the sink with a bar of soap. It would dry overnight and every morning I would wear it again. All else is vanity.

I make myself a cup of tea, turn a fresh page in my notepad and open up Briohmarblog. By way of introduction, Briohmar says he has been playing tabletop wargames for twenty years. Before the Game he played the Other Game and before that, other games I have never heard of. He is a retired US military intelligence analyst who was assigned to a unit that taught MDMP (Military Decision Making Process). His articles are structured around the nine principles of war, MOOSEMUS (Mass, Objective, Offensive, Security, Economy of Force, Manoeuvre, Unity of Command, Simplicity and Surprise). Some of these principles do not seem that relevant to the Game, but the acronyms are impressive and I write them down.

In his first article, Briohmar divides the Game’s units into categories like anvils, hammers and chaff. Anvils are units which can take a hit and hold, hammers are units which do the hitting, and chaff are cheap, expendable units. Briohmar says a good general must be prepared to let his chaff units die and he quotes Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket who says, ‘Marines die. That’s what they’re there for, but the Marine Corps lives forever and so you live forever.’

I love rousing speeches in movies. Like in The Return of the King when King Theoden rides along the crest of the hill, running his sword against the spears of the Rohirrim shouting, ‘Arise riders of Theoden! A sword day, a red day and the sun rises!’ Or in Henry V when Laurence Olivier addresses his men, rousing them for one final assault. His voice leaps louder as the camera pans out and he shouts, ‘The game’s afoot – follow your spirit, and upon this charge cry, God for Harry! England, and Saint George!’ His horse rears up and he pulls it round and gallops out of the gully and all the soldiers charge after him shouting, ‘God for Harry! England and Saint George!’

Maybe I love these speeches because I want to be a hero. Or maybe these scenes allow everyone to be a hero. I do not need to be Theoden or Henry V. It is enough to be a Rider of Rohan or an English longbow man, to be myself, or a version of myself with all worry erased. They relieve me of my feelings of uselessness and anxiety about what I am supposed to do with my life and relieve me of my responsibility for those feelings as well. They make everything simple. All I have to do is follow.

It takes me a long time to get to sleep. There is a line in this Nietzsche book I am reading that I keep turning over in my head. It goes, ‘I have always laughed at the weaklings who think themselves good because their claws are blunt.’ It makes me feel small and trapped that line. I do not have an answer to it. I cannot refute or escape it. I try to think what Gandalf would say in response to it because often that helps me feel better about things people have said to me. But it does not help this time.

I, Nerd is out now with Open Pen. For more information and to purchase a copy from the publisher, go here.

Max Sydney Smith was born in 1986 in London. His flash fiction pamphlet, ‘Without Seeming to Care at All’ was published in 2019 by Rough Trade Books as part of the Rough Trade Editions series and longlisted for the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award in 2020. His short story ‘Something Less Than Our Best’ was broadcast by BBC R4 as part of their Short Works series in 2020. His short stories have also been selected for publication in the Open Pen Anthology in 2016 and he was longlisted for the Cambridge Short Story Prize in 2019.

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