Wednesday, January 20, 2010

To Mini Or Not To Mini

A question indeed!

A couple of recent posts at Chgowiz Old Guy's RPG Blog have got me really thinking about using minis in my game. I haven't yet used minis in our sessions and in fact, I rarely used minis back in the day once I figured out how to play the game correctly. In a practical sense, they always seemed to get in the way of playing, I felt that they became a focal point and distracted one away from the imagination of the game. But, on the other hand, they do look good on the table! But is this a rabbit hole that I really want to go down?

Miniatures in the RPGs that we played disappeared quickly. Some of the players who moved on to wargames continued with miniatures but only in their wargames games, be it fantasy or historical and not the RPGs. It sort of came down to really not needing them to play. Dealing with minis always put a pause in the game action while they needed to be manipulated and placed. This was all before battle mats so even using miniatures, the game was still abstract enough, but a distraction nonetheless. In many instances the original rules mentioned that miniatures were just an optional game aid but for some reason, they have always stuck around.
From Men & Magic (pages 3 & 5)
It is relatively simple to set up a fantasy campaign, and better still, it will cost almost nothing. In fact you will not even need miniature figures, although their occasional employment is recommended for real spectacle when battles are fought.

The use of paper, pencil and map boards are standard. Miniature figures can be added if the players have them available and so desire, but miniatures are not required, only esthetically pleasing; similarly, unit counters can be employed ― with or without figures ― although by themselves the bits of cardboard lack the eye-appeal of the varied and brightly painted miniature figures.
In our current game sessions, we've had some pretty small combats that we were able to just talk through without much of a problem. Our final combat in session 5 was a bit different. It took place in a very large cavern, and PCs and NPCs were scattered all over the place. Once combat began, I think it was a bit hard keeping everything in everybody's heads; what characters were heading in what direction, how far everyone was from what target, speed and distance, etc. I had sketched a map of where everyone was at first, but it was still pretty abstract. Don't get me wrong, the battle moved along nicely and there wasn't much complaint or anything. I think that this would have been an instance where miniatures would have enhanced that portion of the game.

Now if I go that route, I don't want the game to devolve into battle-mats and constant manipulation of the figures. I guess I'm seeing it as just a gaming aid to be used only when needed. But if that's the case, is it worth the effort? The money? The time to paint them? I mean, I do love minis. I love the way they look when they are painted. I love them standing there on the table ready for action but how will this affect the gameplay which I feel has been going pretty well?

I'm still going to mull this over in my head. I've already picked out a handful to purchase and paint but I haven't yet made up my mind. Though I might add that my wife is a bit wary of me going down that path even though she would enjoy painting them as well. Who knows, it may even get her into a game or two?


  1. Well, I suppose it's what you're used to. Back in the day, we used minis - or figures as we used to call them. And we used the cardboard dungeon floor plans (Games Workshop did some neat ones but these days you have be a banker with a bonus to get hold of them so I've made my own). All those years of playing makes me think instinctively of figures when thinking about games.

    I couldn't really imagine rushing in to a 30 x 30 foot room with my party, knowing that there are six bugbears facing me and have to fight the whole thing out in my mind. (shades of Hero - Zhang Yimou - there). I like to see my little metal guys, where they are, are they surrounded, can I get back to the door without exposing myself to attack?

    I was a wargamer before I was a roleplayer so perhaps that has biased me towards the use of figures. Plus my brother was an expert painter of figures back in the day and has passed on his collection to Junior Grognard - some of them are real works of art and beg to be used.

    Finally, a word of warning - beware the lure of Otherworld Miniatures. Once you start down the path, forever will they dominate your bank balance. Consume it, they will.

  2. LOL, yes Otherworld Miniatures is indeed on the list and I'm quite aware of where that can go. You bring up a good point about combat and I agree that that is one element that will be easier with a visual aid.

  3. I like mini's for games that are made for them IE Battletech but not for the more imaginative conceptual games like Swords and Wizardry. Just my 2 cents.

  4. I've also been thinking about this, especially since I'm about to begin with Swords & Wizardry hopefully soon (totally new to the RPG-experience). I like the thought of having your players imagine the whole scene in their heads - everyone will see a different scene, spiced up in their own unique way.

  5. I too love the look of minis at the table.

    My preference was always to use them as placeholders in marching order, not as combat markers.

    I find they slow combat down too much.

  6. Since many fantasy role-playing games emphasize squad level skirmishes, I see no problem with minis. I think they help keep everything straight. Rather than distract from play, I find that they reduce the number of debates. "Oh man, I thought you said the bugbear had fled, but now you say he's still in the doorway? What the hell?"

    For minis, I like grabbing inexpensive D&D minis on EBay.

  7. I like minis. I think the definitely have the place in some combats. Especially if it's a complex one. Probably because I'm a visual person and just like minis. But, in a Swords & Wizardry game I think they should be used sparingly. Sometime the combat should be fast murky and a little mysterious. Fits the atmosphere of our game.

  8. Thanks for your opinions on this topic. I'll be mulling over this a bit.

  9. I listen to the 4th edition DnD podcast sometimes, and I can see how it would be great to use figures if you were running a very technical combat like that. But it would certainly make it more difficult to suspend disbelief at times.

  10. You could make it a joint activity with your wife. Only buy ones that she would like to paint and only as many as she wants to paint. That way you get minis and she gets to paint.