Saturday, February 20, 2010

Totally miniless

Zak's last entry (which btw. is super awesome) made me realize that I've never used miniatures in D&D (or WFRP for that matter).


I dunno. I had friends who played Warhammer Fantasy Battle and they had loads of miniatures, but somehow it never occurred to us to use them in a RPG game...

I started thinking about this strange phenomenon and I came up with three reasons:

  • Minatures in Poland are expensive as fuck, especially that, until quite recently, Games Workshop was owning 90% of the market. Even today few shops sell miniatures made by other companies...
  • We were fully satisfied with hand drawn maps on which we marked our positions using pencils, dice or coins.
  • I've never met anyone using minis in their games.
And this is how I got used to playing the game. When I fist learned that in the west people use minis for RPGs - I couldn't comprehend it. Why would anyone spend money for that, when you can just use your imagination?!

All in all, I was very content with the mini-less way of playing RPGs. And never had any second thoughts...

Until I saw this. And than, this.

Perhaps I was missing something? I can't tell... All I know is I've never seen something like it and it sure does look like limitless amounts of fun!

Zak's styrofoam castle made me also think about how popular playing D&D with minis really is?

The stereotype propagated by the WotC books is: ANYBODY playing D&D should do it using minis (from WotC), dungeon maps (from WotC) and terrain models (from WotC).

This is obviously a cheap marketing trick, but still I wonder...

Logic would indicate, that old school players should have a soft spot for minis because of the game's Chainmail origins. But is it true?

Take this poll and let's see for ourselves!


  1. I played for decades, without ever touching a mini. Then, when I started playing 3e, a friend convinced me to go ahead and try using them. With 3.5, it became almost mandatory. Now that I've gone back to a pre-Wotc style of D&D, It's not something I would bother with, unless my player's really wanted to use them.

  2. I isn't that I can't play without minis, i just find having them makes things a lot more clear. Back when I started playing (c. 1979) we didn't use miniatures. Various people in my groups had painted minis. Then in 202 when WoTC started making the plastic minis it became so much more easy to use minis. Now not having minis seems strange to me.

  3. I could totally roll without them, but we have all this stuff left over from wargames.

  4. My experience is opposite that of R. Nichols above. Back in '79 we started D&D with minis but over time they fell to the wayside. Haven't used minis since then.

  5. In the 80s and 90s I played D&D without minis. As the game progressed in complexity, I found that minis were essential or at least very helpful.

    I used them when I played Labyrinth Lord and they were handy.


  6. Toy soldiers and plastic dinosaurs make anything better. That's my position, and I'm sticking to it. ;)

  7. We've got boxes and boxes of them in various states of decoration. Basically we only ever bought them because they looked cool, we hardly ever use them. Potentially we could lay out a scene with all the appropriate figures, but nobody can be bothered to sort through the pile of shrapnel. So we end up using barmaids, bottle tops and dice to represent PCs and monster.

    Far more valuable than minis I find is the battle mat. We can sketch out a room quickly, everyone can see it, we can make notes on it, catch any wine spills etc

  8. I played for about eight years without using a single miniature. We occasionally used a sketched map to determine positions, but never figures, just pencil marks on the same bit of paper. This was true of any game we played; using miniatures just wasn't the "culture".

    Since I started gaming again, I've used miniatures quite a bit. Part of this is because one of the more enthusiastic members of my group likes to use them, and part of it is because we've been playing a lot of D&D4 which, despite what some might tell you, more or less requires miniatures.

    That said, we've also been playing Pendragon and Call of Cthulhu, both of which are easily playable without figures. We've even gone without while playing Rogue Trader for the past few weeks, and I thought we'd definitely end up using them for that.

  9. I love minis, and have used them since the early days (1979 or so). They just look cool, especially when you get someone with a modicum of talent to actually paint a few for you!

  10. I love minis, I've painted them and I think they add a lot to a game. I also haven't actually used them in about 20-25 years.

    For one thing, I'm often running Sci-Fi and Superheroes and prior to HeroClix is was extremely difficult to find cool minis that even remotely looked like our characters.

    Secondly, I ran very fast-paced, cinematic and I'll admit somewhat over the top combat. How do you set up minis when one round sees a flying character moving at Mach 3 fighting a teleporter who can throw tanks and the next round has the teleporter attacked by a guy who can run like the Flash. Way too time consuming and confusing to move minis around a table every few seconds.

    Even in my Sci-Fi games players are just as likely to be jetting about in grav vehicles and starfighters as they are fist fighting or firing beams at each other.

    Still, if I could get ahold of some Star Trek minis that would be pretty sweet. I do use ship minis (mostly micro machines and old FASA minis) for spaceship combat on occaision.

  11. I'm the other way - I'm a wargamer and love miniatures but hate using them in RPGs. Anyway, you've inspired today's post - - something I've meaning to blog about for ages but never got around to!

  12. I like minis and building terrain and paper buildings. I don't like unfinished stuff on the table though - I'd rather use something more abstract if that's the case.

    I find minis make it a different kind of game, so it really depends on what you're going for. If I were running a superhero game I'd definitely want the minis. For anything where you want a dark/creepy vibe I think they're not as good a choice. Since I like a lot of RPGs in that style, I like the radio-theatre style more than the wargaming style.

  13. I find minis to overdetermine the "look" of the game. When you have a little painted-up fetish representing your character it becomes more difficult to imagine the character differing from that image. When Frobngald gets a dashing wyvernskin cloak or has his arm severed and replaced by a clockwork prosthesis he still looks like that same little painted warrior. Dynamism is stifled. Additionally, on a related point, the DM's natural proclivity to make up weird new monsters can be curtailed by the same force for stasis and predictability.

    Additionally we were always poor and rustic, so had to be content with using whatever came to hand, pencils, buttons etc.

  14. Interesting Tom, this may be another reason we never really adopted the use of minis.

    Since the vast majority of my players over the years have been artists* we prefer to draw our characters, ships, monsters, weapons, etc. With the advent of the computer, anything we can't draw ourselves can be found as a jpeg somewhere on the web.

    Often times we could draw exactly what our characters looked like but finding a mini of the character, his starship, that unusal dragon-like familiar or what-have-you was impossible. As you said, we could establish the game's look easier on our own.

    *You know how some groups have that one guy who can draw? Well, like most gamers I really got heavily into the hobby in my High School and College years. I attended the High School of Art and Design, Pratt Institute and the School of Visual Arts college. Every guy and gal I knew was that guy. Actually, they were way better than that guy. A good number of them are now professionals in various art fields including comic books and tv animation.

  15. "obviously a cheap marketing trick"

    Maybe it's because I work in the game industry, but I'm always a bit confused when people use a negative connotation to describe the marketing of various games. I agree that it's a cheap marketing trick, but isn't all marketing a cheap trick? And from where I sit, anything that drives sales is a good thing, since it keeps the company in business, providing us with more game stuff.

    That said, I'm too poor to afford minis (because I work in the game industry). 4E almost requires them for combat, though, so we use guitar picks with marker on them. :)