Saturday, January 31, 2015

Di-mini-shing Returns

I came to RPGs from miniature wargames. I bought some of the early Minifigs D&D and Middle Earth miniatures by mail from the UK before I had ever played D&D, and I used them in fantasy battles with Chainmail and various homebrew rules. The people I started playing D&D with were into painting, collecting, and fielding miniatures, so of course our D&D games featured them too, although it was tough to find minis to represent the PCs. When the first Ral Partha minis came out, they represented a huge leap in quality and appeal. We were all over them, although now, as I'm handling a few and peering at them through my reading glasses, they seem spartan and understated, smaller and less robust than I remember them. My collection grew to include Minifigs, Ral Partha, Heritage, Grenadier, Citadel, Rafm, Thunderbolt, and Reaper. The older ones have paint jobs that make me cringe -- I think I'm still getting better at the craft as my eyesight gets worse. No question that I love them as craft and as collectibles. But as to their function in play, well...

These days I'm less in love with using minis at the table, except to show the party's line of march/order of battle. The more you have, the longer it takes to find them and put them on the table, and the concreteness of them actually works against the game's power to immerse and evoke. The other day I was doing a Dungeonteller game for a mixed group of kids and parents and the idea that I actually had were-rat minis evoked laughter from the grownups -- "Do you have a box of were-rat ballerinas? What about were-rat accountants?" And so on. It is a bit off the deep end. My rate of mini acquisition has slowed of late. I think that aiming to have a mini for every monster in the game becomes ploddingly literal-minded and dreary after a time. I'm thinking of putting the minis away and just using colored pawns or meeple, but part of me is still that 13-year-old wargamer who wants to lay down the heavy metal and make the other players quake with fear.

What role do miniatures play in your games?


  1. I have dispensed with miniatures for monsters,
    instead I color coordinated d10s and a d6s to represent opponents. This serves as a hit point tracker for me and the players, greatly facilitating game play
    As the players inflict damage on their opponents, I use these dice to track damage.
    Uninjured opponents are represented by a d10 set to ‘0’.
    For example, the first round of combat, the wizard does 14 points of damage and the archer does 3 hit points with an arrow on an hostile troll;
    I would now represent the wounded troll with a d6 turned to ‘1’ and
    the d10 turned to ‘7’… ( 17 = 14 +3).

    1. Dice as minis/hit point trackers -- cool idea. Funny, one of my students was teaching his buddy how to play Magic: the Gathering the other week. He takes out a d20 to use as his hit point counter, I soon found out he had no idea that it could be used as a die to generate random numbers.

  2. Doug,

    I love minis. I love them. That being said, I can go any way with them. I am happy not using them. I like the idea of "newer" old school, where they are used to represent a visual of the characters, party marching order and positioning, and just rely on theatre of the mind for everything else.

    I also like the all out. Minis, buildings, terrain, etc. Our group is mostly in agreement in the all out, but we have not achieved it yet. We are doing well now, but some day we will hit the "it." My wife rolls her eyes, but makes the note anyways, when I say something like, "we need a mule handler figure to handle our pack animals. An actual one. And some miniature bookshelves. And a campfire. And maybe a tent or two." It happens every session...a couple of times.

    When I was a little blue boxer, we set up the Keep on the Borderlands using wooden blocks and legos. The forest surrounding the Caves of Chaos were about 15 trees made for model train set ups. I had a Grenadier models set of 16 o so blobby-sh adventurers, supplemented with some plastic Airfix figures. It was awesome.

    Now I have a middle class income, an understanding wife (she's went to Gary Con VI, failed her Save v enchantment, and is ready for VII), and the will and time to put into into making things look the way I dream. The plethora of items that is available would make my 10 year old self head spin.

    The Glass Works from Rise of the Runelord:

    I have not seen the real map for this part of the adventure, but I have been told by others who own it that our DM did a very good job making it with the dungeon tiles.

    We're not completionists as far as creatures go. I don't feel I need one of everything. There will be stand-in figures for the more obscure enemies.

    Imagination and t.o.m.e. stuff is great, and I am all in for a non-mini game. Mapping used to be a skill, that if not done properly could lead to some bad things happening. But I do love the model aspect of the hobby. I get a very comforting feeling seeing a cool set up.

    David S.
    Minnesota, USA

    PS - If you are interested, we are doing pictorial posts on Rise of the Runelords adventure path for Pathfinder. Not a huge 3e fan, but our group is not into powergaming/munchkin stuff, so it has been a good experience.

    PSS: AND...I am painting up a mule handler! So even if your figure acquisition rate is down, I will try and pick up some more to maintain the average balance of figures in the world.

    1. Gorgeous minis and setups in those photos you linked to. I spotted the pack mules in there. Have you ever tried using Sculpey to make-n-bake your own scenery pieces? I've used it to make campfires, benches, beds, rock outcrops, and so on. They take paint easily and hold up for years.

    2. I have not really tried that material, although I have heard of it. Not sure of my sculpting skills, but one can learn by doing.

      I have also not used "green stuff" that much either. At this point I can only think of a couple of times and nothing too major. I mainly use it for filling in cracks on figures I glue.

      I did do this character's hair with Games Workshop's paint on green stuff and it really seemed to work out well. (last 2 pics on bottom are the mini.)

      Now with printed minis the DIY kit bash stuff will be a thing of the past. ;)

      I have not been too brave since though...maybe trying some Sculpty would be a good project. I would like some dungeon rubble and potion bottles!