Saturday, April 13, 2013

On Using Miniatures to Kick Off a Campaign

Utgar Skullcleaver: professional barbarian
I love miniatures. I'll never forget the first time I went into Wargames West, looking for a copy of the Basic boxed set so that I could see for myself what this whole "D&D" thing was all about. The store's racks of miniatures, the cabinets full of painted figures - it all blew me away and was a visual trapping that sold me as much on the gaming hobby as all those funny-shaped dice and the iconic Larry Elmore art. Yet I've never been able to mix my minis with my RPGs. For me, miniatures have always been a separate hobby. (The whys and the wherefores are a topic for another post.)

I've taken stabs in the past at integrating miniatures into my RPG gaming. I was musing recently on what was probably the most successful outing in this regard, one of the greatest D&D campaigns I've participated in. It took place over summer break between my freshman and sophomore years of college (back when we could fill a whole day with gaming, so it probably was the equivalent of about a six-month campaign nowadays). We had had a couple would-be campaigns fizzle on the launchpad and, as we kicked around ideas on how to get back on the horse, we came up with an interesting gimmick: we would, as a group, go to the local game store and pick out miniatures. The players (myself included that time) would pick out a miniature and then make a character to match what they had gotten (my own choice is pictured above), while the DM would pick out some monster minis and design the first adventure around what he had gotten.

It worked a treat and set the campaign off to a great start. The funny thing is that we still failed to gel with the idea of using miniatures in a tactical way. After the first adventure ran its course, the tactical combats sort of petered out and our PC minis, although still present at the table, served more as mascots than as playing pieces. Nevertheless, I really think the strange alchemy produced by conceptualizing a campaign by choosing from the game store's available stock is really what produced such a successful campaign, and I'd love to give it another try. It's strange to me that we didn't really understand that at the time and never tried the same gimmick again, even though it was so successful. It's a shame, really, because I'm not currently located near any well-stocked game stores (which are rarer and rarer these days anyway) and I don't think one could really replicate the gimmick with online shopping.
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