Monday, 22 February 2010

Miniatures? Nein, Danke!

Squidman over at Elves Ate My Homework has a post about how he is being tempted to introduce miniatures into his RPGs. This reminded me of something that I have mentioned on the intertubes before (Frothers probably) about how, despite being a huge fan of toy soldiers, I really, really, really hate using them in RPGs. And increasingly it seems I am in the minority. :)

I have always found that when using figures in RPGs the better painted they were and the nicer the floor plans, the more the visual side took over and ruined the picture you had in your minds eye.

I once played in a one off WFRP game where the GM had a big collection of well-painted (well... well-painted for 1991 that is) figures, card tiles, 3d scenic items (he'd really gone to town) and it was impossible to picture the "reality" as being anything other than the diorama laid out in front of you. This really jarred when the GM had to say things like "these Orcs are actually Skaven". I could not see them as being anything over the Orc miniatures in front of us, painted in those colours.

At one point we reached a cavern with a Red Dragon (I know this doesn't sound very WFRP - the game was really a traditional xD&D dungeon bash but WFRP rules were used because the GM liked them) and the GM laid down a card floortile of a cavern floor with a firepit in the middle. "There's a Red Dragon here", he said, "and that firepit isn't."

Completely could not see the scene in my mind's eye.

Conversely in an AD&D 2nd edition campaign I was in for a bit, the GM sketched out everything in green dry-erase marker on half a hollow core interior door (glossy white) and we used all sorts of rubbish to depict PCs and NPCs or just X-marks-the-spot in more green marker. Strangely I always found my imagination to be really sparked off by this, perhaps because there was nothing to hijack my mental image.

Another memorable RPG experience was in a game of Stormbringer at Wolves Uni RPG Soc when we were trying to create a diversion in a marketplace. I have no idea how we came up with the idea but we asked the GM if there was a pet stall selling exotic birds. The idea was to distract the owners attention, release the birds and use the chaos to achieve whatever aim it was we were trying for. Running with the idea (as all good GMs should do) the marketplace was improvised on a piece of A4 paper in blue biro, little scribbles showed where everybody was. I got really taken by the scene and could see the marketplace explode in a riot of tropical plumage because nothing was in the way. With figures I just wouldn't have found myself so lost in the immersion that makes RPGs such a fantastic pastime.

That's why I stopped using figures in my RPG sessions. If the scene on the table doesn't match the intended scene 100% - I've lost it.

These pics I see around the forums of people gaming with the truly horrible WOTC D&D Miniatures, all crappy factory painting and crappy plastic on awful plain black bases just turn me off big time. It would spoil a game for me, but swop them for bottle tops and I'll be there with my dice bag eager to play.

(For the record - the pic is of the first Citadel Miniatures I owned that were a Christmas present alongside the Mentzer Red Box set. They too ended up being dropped from Basic D&D games and were absorbed into Warhammer stuff).


  1. I really like miniatures, model buildings, terrain, etc. But I prefer playing RPGs without them for all the reasons you mentioned. :)

  2. I'm going to be using miniatures next week in my Rogue Trader game, because we're going to be doing starship combat and that's too complicated to do in your head.

    Otherwise, I'm with you. I don't like using them in rpgs, because the focus is taken away from your imagination, and it's placed on the tabletop; D&D4, for all it does well, does feel like a board game at times, and I'm glad my group is taking a rest from it.

  3. Everything you said. My only qualifier is that sometimes people paint up a fig and say, "this is my character".

    Fantastic. Now we can all see what your character looks like, in your minds-eye.

  4. Hey, I just posted along similar lines:

    "the more the visual side took over and ruined the picture you had in your minds eye."

    Totally agree with this.