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Thursday, December 6, 2012

My Experience with Miniatures

Several of the OSR bloggers also like miniatures, and do routine posts about their latest acquisitions or constructions. I've commented before that I don't use miniatures, but I thought I'd do a personal history post about why I don't use them. So, forgive the following; it won't have any useful information, just autobiographical stuff.

I've mentioned before that my first experience with D&D didn't even involve a book. I was taught by a friend who learned to play in his math class at school, and all we had were mimeographed tables. What I didn't mention is that we also weren't playing with minis or counters of any kind, nor did we write down marching order or attack positions on scratch paper; it was pure arena of the imagination.

In '77 or '78, I saw an ad for Holmes Basic in a magazine and managed to talk some money out of my mom to order it. After getting that, I saw a couple other things on the product list in the back and got the PHB and Metamorphosis Alpha. There was no game store in the town where I lived, and I didn't see Dragon Magazine for a couple more years, so I didn't see much about minis, other than occasional references to "you can use miniatures if you want to".

I eventually gleaned more information about miniatures and realized I didn't want to get into them at all; I was always low on cash, so miniatures seemed like too expensive a hobby to dive into. Plus, I've never been too good at small manual hobbies (didn't do too well with a couple model kits I bought,) so the whole painting side of minis seemed too much like frustration waiting to happen. I did actually get some minis at a garage sale once (an AD&D dwarves set, as I recall,) but never used these even for marching order.

On the other hand, I did use counters and hex battle maps when I bought Mêlée and Wizard. My friends and I played that a bit; not as much as D&D, but we got several sessions in, including a 12-hour marathon. Later, when I was in my GURPS phase, I did some of the Cardboard Heroes-style paper minis. And aside from the fact that these didn't really seem to add much to the game for me and the more detailed combat rules weren't really giving me any pleasure, I found one annoying aspect to using counters was transportation and organization; they were an extra thing to keep track of, and the really small counters like those for dropped weapons tended to get scattered and lost. I kept finding tiny cardboard swords on the floor of my apartment for a couple years after I stopped using counters.

For a while, I did still toy with the idea of at least using visual aides. I practiced rendering overhead terrain shots in Bryce 3D, thinking I might print a set of full-color geomorphs, but this seemed like too labor-intensive, in the end. And it would still be extra stuff to transport and keep track of. This is also why, if I ever have a sudden windfall, I don't see myself changing my mind and getting a bunch of pre-painted minis, or paying someone to paint them for me. I usually travel to someone's house or to a store to run a game, and I travel by bus. Some of the prefab dungeon components look nice, but they would be even bulkier, plus the assembly and disassembly time would annoy me.

So, I know from personal experience that I just don't enjoy minis. Which is why my rules suggestions tend towards abstract movement and combat. Maybe at some point in the future I might consider doing those Bryce-style geomorphs, or maybe Sketchup-style, but as images stored on a tablet device instead of printed cards.


  1. I never used minis as a kid. I tried using them for a couple sessions in recent years, as I've come back to the hobby. But in my experience, they tend to make old-school D&D combats longer, due to people studying the map and mini positions on top of the usual combat process. They also just take up time in relation to set-up. Now, if my combats need to be less abstract, I usually just draw up a sketch of an area on paper and the players can use it to indicate where their characters are at, and I can do the same for my monsters. I've also aquired a small dry erase board and marker for the same purpose. Works just fine.

  2. I love miniatures and have armies of the things. I had minis before I had any games to use them in, putting them together and painting them was a natural extension of my love for plastic model kits.
    Later on I justified/rationalized buying them with RPGs in mind but I never ended up using them much. Like you say, it's just that little bit more of a hassle to transport them for something where they're not really necessary. When I run games at home they might come out... but that hardly ever happens.
    Instead they get a lot of use in wargames, where they are the focus not a distraction.
    The GM of our Saturday group uses the Cardboard Hero flats... but even then, they only come out in larger battles and he's just as happy to use markers on the dry erase battle-mat.

  3. Dry erase boards or battlemats certainly eliminate the transportation and set-up issues of miniatures. But as I alluded to in the post, I found that the kinds of rules that make positioning important and battlemats handy (if not necessary) just don't entertain me.

    Detailed tiles stored as pictures on a tablet or color e-reader might be good, though. I still see a problem with time investment. But at least I enjoy 3d modeling, ao it doesn't seem like a waste of time.