Saturday, April 13, 2013

Why I Don't Use Miniatures in My RPG Gaming...And What I'm Gonna Do About It

Now this is just ridiculous.
In my earlier post I talked about using miniatures to inspire character and campaign concepts in RPGs. I also mused on why my group and I only did that once, despite the successful outing. Our lack of action, as I indicated in that post, was due to a lifelong resistance towards integrating miniatures into my RPG gaming. The campaign in question is illustrative of the issues I have with using miniatures. Here are the main points:
  • Painting miniatures adds another task to the GM's already full plate of responsibilities. I recall a session or two of that 1997 campaign getting postponed a few hours as the GM furiously worked to finish painting figures for that session. I know a lot of folks bypass this problem by using unpainted or partially-painted figures, but that's not really how I (or the people I game with) prefer to do things. The way I look at it (and this goes for miniatures wargaming, too) is that if you're going to half-ass it, you might as well save yourself a lot of time and money and just use cardboard counters instead. (Of course, the 1997 campaign took place in the days before pre-painted figures, so this issue is not quite as critical as it once was, at least as long as your genre of choice happens to correspond to a well-supported pre-painted line of figures like D&D-style fantasy or supers.)
  • In a similar vein, because of my reluctance to use proxies, I find that, as much as miniatures can be an excellent aid to visualization (if a picture's worth a thousand words, then surely a three-dimensional figure is least 6,500?) and creative conceptualizing, they can also impose limits both on the GM's vision and the players' imagination. For example, in the 1997 campaign there was an NPC ally of the party whom we all quite liked and respected - until the GM put the NPC's miniature out during combat, at which point we all burst into uncontrolled fits of the giggles. There was just something about the way the figure was sculpted that looked a bit off, and our collective view of the NPC took a nosedive, causing him to become a figure of ridicule for the remainder of the time he was with the party.
  • On a related note, using miniatures can also impose limits on what the GM feels he can present in an adventure. A more recent example: I'm currently running Deadlands: Reloaded for my tabletop group. For those of you who don't know, Savage Worlds (which powers D:R) is extremely miniatures-focused, as much as Fourth Edition D&D. It's quite possible to play SW without miniatures (as we are currently doing), but some of the advantages of the system are lost in the process. I've considered once again attempting to integrate miniatures - lord knows there are plenty of awesome Old West/Steampunk figures available these days - but the adventure I ran last week reminded me of the limits of using miniatures. There was to be a rolling battle sequence along the lines of The Road Warrior featuring two steam wagons loaded with Chinese bandits (and an ogre!) supplemented by a steam-powered gyrocopter attacking a train the PCs were aboard. Had I wanted to run this with miniatures, I would have had the choice of tracking down and procuring a number of appropriate figures plus finding or (more likely) building my own steam wagons and gyrocopter. Just not worth it, especially for a one-off combat. Yet I can't help but think that the encounter would have indeed been greatly enhanced by the use of figures.
  • Of course, many of these issues become obviated over time if one builds up a large collection of RPG minis - "Ah! I can use that old Orc Battlewagon as a Steamwagon! And these Shaolin monks will suffice for the bandits. Etc." - but that kind of requires sticking to a single genre for the vast majority of one's gaming. I can see the logic of building an RPG miniatures collection for people who play D&D pretty much exclusively, but would I really want to go through the trouble and expense of building up a "Weird West" collection if I don't intend on playing Deadlands more than, say, a handful of times?
I think, in the end, the best solution, for me at least, would be to use paper flats if I want to use figures in my RPG gaming. There are tons of good ones available nowadays, both for free or for a nominal fee, and the magic of computers even allows me to make my own if need be. Paper flats can serve as a nice visual aide, too. Maybe not as nice as a figure, of course, and therein lies the continuing attraction of using actual figures, but clearly, with my admittedly self-imposed requirements, that option is just too logistically fraught to consider at this time.

And I could see collecting miniatures for certain special projects anyway, as much for its own sake as anything else. For example, I'm constantly on the hunt for the old Lone Wolf line of miniatures put out by Games Workshop in the mid-80s and I have a small collection of compatible Ral Partha and Grenadier figures, all with an eye towards running a Savage Worlds Magnamund campaign some day. And I've recently been toying with the idea of collecting some suitable 15mm sci-fi miniatures to represent my vision of Rifts. But for the most part, I think paper flats are the way to go.
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