Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Miniatures are Old School

Reading Rob Conley's post today about miniatures and their use reminded me that there's actually a fairly widespread prejudice against the use of miniatures in the online old school community. I find that rather odd, because, back in the day, minis were one of things nearly every article, report, or dramatization of roleplaying games included, even highlighted. Granted, this emphasis was largely driven by the usual journalistic/cinematic need for "flash," something visual to attract attention to its story, but that doesn't change the fact that the use of miniatures is deeply ingrained in the early days of the hobby. That only makes sense, given its roots in miniatures wargaming (as the covers of every OD&D book remind us in no uncertain terms), so what's at the root of this rejection of minis among old school gamers these days?

There are, I think, several factors at work here but two are critical. The first is that a lot of us have latched on to the very miniatures-heavy nature of the WotC editions of Dungeons & Dragons as a cause rather than a symptom of what we think is wrong with those games. Since they promote the use of minis and we don't like those games, minis have become, by extension, emblematic of all we dislike. To my mind, this is no more logical than disliking polyhedral dice for similar reasons but, for good or for ill, a lot of us have chosen to fixate on minis as the issue, not the design of the games themselves.

The second factor has to do with when most of us entered the hobby and the circumstances under which we did so. I was a mere lad of 10 in 1979 and was not a wargamer, miniatures or otherwise. Consequently, I had no prior history using minis as aids to adjudicate combat (or anything else). Certainly I saw lots of minis for sale -- I was particularly entranced by the large glass case of them at What's Your Game? in Harborplace -- but they mostly seemed like cool props or toys rather than something integral to play. I suspect this attitude is even more prevalent among gamers who entered the hobby a few years after I did, with Moldvay or Mentzer, when phrases like "products of your imagination" became popular as a marketing ploy. Thus, for gamers of a certain vintage, miniatures are not just optional, they're outside their experience.

There are other factors too, such as the time and expense necessary to buy and paint minis, as well as their relative impracticality if you have to cart boxes of them to your meeting place week after week. I also think that many of us in the old school movement have convinced ourselves that "old school = rules light" and further that miniatures are somehow contrary to being rules light. Leaving aside the error of equating rules lightness with old school -- a post for another day perhaps -- the use or rejection of minis is to my mind a separate question entirely. Likewise, I've sometimes seen, perhaps echoing TSR's catchphrase, the claim made that minis are somehow an impediment to one's imagination, or at least that they're a crutch for unimaginative players, although I doubt this is a widespread view.

I think, in the end, what we must acknowledge, as Rob does in his post, is that miniatures are simply a tool, like referee's screens or adventure modules. Their use or rejection has little to no bearing on whether a game is or is not "old school." It's true that Gary Gygax famously didn't use miniatures in his home campaign, as equally famously Dave Arneson did. I am sure, if you did a survey of first generation gamers, you'd find no consensus on the topic and that's fine. None of us should use or reject miniatures on the basis of what Gary or Dave did or didn't do, but I do think it behooves us all to remember that this hobby arose out of miniatures wargaming and many early gamers profitably used miniatures in their campaigns. Far from being contrary to old school gaming, miniatures are very much a part of it, even if many of us choose not to follow suit today for reasons of our own.

66 comments:

  1. I Really think the cost of minis plays a role. Some of us who struggle to find any time at all to game also don't have tons of currency sitting around to buy a new mini every time a character dies, we change class, or the game collapses and a new one rises from the ashes. I think they are greatly useful, but also problematic. I think better use of printed or cardboard markers could alleviate some of this monetary stress, but I've noticed that they don't seem to have much popularity. The key may be to continue to hammer on how useful physical representations of a combat space can be and reinforce that these representations need not be cast in pewter to be informative.

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  2. Mini's make the game easy and visually applicable. It's a bajillion times easier explaining a situation by drawing it out or using cutouts/mock-ups (See Dwimmermount's blog). I can describe a setting or encounter but in less than than that I can plop down miniatures, scribble on a board, and say "This is what you see."

    Tangibles bring new life to the game with scope. That Big Red Dragon looks damn scary when it takes up nearly 6 inches on the table next to the little halfling.

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  3. I spent my formative childhood gaming years at the local game shop, so mini's (which we always called "figures" at Aero Hobbies) were a given. If you didn't have a mini for a game there, owner Gary would paint a little stone or piece of wood with a face on it, and you'd have to use that in the game (sort of his version of the dunce cap). I amassed quite a collection before I was even 17 years old. It was and remains an important part of my gaming experience.

    A lot of people who don't use mini's say "they take away from the imagination" and I call total bullshit on that. They are missing out on a key element of the hobby that goes back to Chainmail.

    If just used for placement, or well-painted to represent what a PC/NPC looks like, either way they are a huge part of the enjoyment. If I had to make a choice of getting rid of dice or getting rid of mini's, we'd be pulling random numbers out of a hat.

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  4. We used them early on but ended up using carboard chits with hand drawn pictures and finally just the characters' initials.
    I had fun buying them and painting them (still love Grenadier's "Gnome King" and Halfling Lookouts") but in the end they cost too much money and time to be worth it. The chits were just easier to carry around and utterly disposable.

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  5. A few of my main objections to miniatures that don't bear directly on the whether or not they're "true old-school" elements or encourage rules-heavy play:

    a) They can be quite expensive in any sort of quantity. As can the materials to prep and paint them.

    b) A pain to transport in quantity? Definitely.

    c) On the subject of painting, I haven't a shred of artistic talent.

    d) Time spent arranging and fiddling around with them can easily slow a combat as much, if not more, than the visual reference they provide might speed it up.

    e) For some, minis help them visualize a scene. For others, like me, a bunch of little pewter statuettes are much inferior to my own "mind's eye" renderings of a scene. For me, they only serve to constrain the imagination.

    DM: "The towering arch-demon lord looks like this." *plunks down mini*

    Me: "Oh, is that all?"

    f) In my experience, they can exert a negative influence on the surprise and variety within a campaign. Simply put: The DM often feels subtly (perhaps even unconsciously) disinclined to use monsters and NPCs that he doesn't own minis of!

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  6. Yeah, I agree with will.

    Also:

    "I do think it behooves us all to remember that this hobby arose out of miniatures wargaming and many early gamers profitably used miniatures in their campaigns. "

    *Shrug* My hobby didn't. :)

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  7. To not acknowledge the simple fact that D&D has its roots in miniatures war-games is historically disingenuous.

    Sorry folks. That's where it started.

    Either way, if you like 'em or not, it really doesn't matter.

    I use them for combat. mostly paper minis for monsters . I tend to shy away from mapping the whole damn dungeon/castle/whatever. Takes too much time.

    Other than that, I like to collect and paint minis for my PCs when I play. Kind of therapeutic in a way.

    the Zen of minis painting?

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  8. I never used minis, in the day. But I agree that it doesn't mean minis were never used, nor that minis are unsuitable for old-school gaming.

    I have a rather large collection of minis now, and would love to get some use out of them at the game table.

    Besides, i'm a much better fig painter now, than when I was 12.

    Will, its time for you to pick up a brush, and overcome your well-known fear of minis. ;D

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  9. "I find that rather odd, because, back in the day, minis were one of things nearly every article, report, or dramatization of roleplaying games included, even highlighted."

    As you probably know, I see the facts on this issue going in the other direction.

    My main criticism is neither of your two critical factors -- It's that the minis scale just fundamentally doesn't work in either OD&D or AD&D or any TSR-era game. The fact that Gygax didn't use minis allows me to make sense of why this was the case.

    I did use minis last Saturday night while running G1 to make sense of the all-out clusterf*** of 7 high-level adventurers running from the Great Hall fighting against 40 or so assorted giants and ogres, but I have to use my fixes to scale and time to make that work.

    I've actually been meaning to ask you: In your OD&D games using miniatures, what do you use for the ground scale?

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  10. blackstone: "To not acknowledge the simple fact that D&D has its roots in miniatures war-games is historically disingenuous. Sorry folks. That's where it started."

    It would be equally true to say something like: "You must acknowledge that the birth of D&D came on the day that Gygax decided to eliminate miniatures from his prior wargaming play."

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  11. >DM: "The towering arch-demon lord looks like this." *plunks down mini*
    Me: "Oh, is that all?"<

    Not many mini users have a representative for every monster, demon, or diety encountered. Most of us go with the descriptive element in that case, rather than search for a mini to represent Xiombarg the Chaos Goddess or whatever. You can have the best of both worlds - some things to represent (especially characters, which are the easiest to obtain and paint) and somethings that come straight from the imagination. I personally only tend to have figures to perfectly represent foes about 25% of the time. In that case, I use description and often images I find. I'm creative and imaginative enough to make it all work, and I have a greater overall experience for it.

    I will admit that now that I am getting older I have less time to paint (and trying to paint now proves to me I should get glasses), and bearing a case of mini's can be a drag, especially if I want to ride my bike to the session. But overall I find it worth it, mostly because my group likes to use minis.

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  12. f) In my experience, they can exert a negative influence on the surprise and variety within a campaign. Simply put: The DM often feels subtly (perhaps even unconsciously) disinclined to use monsters and NPCs that he doesn't own minis of!

    That's a danger, I suppose, but it's never been one for us in the Dwimmermount campaign. I regularly say things like, "Pretend these orcs are werewolves" or whatever and no one seems to mind.

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  13. *Shrug* My hobby didn't. :)

    And what hobby is that?

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  14. I've actually been meaning to ask you: In your OD&D games using miniatures, what do you use for the ground scale?

    We use 5-foot squares (generally).

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  15. "I can describe a setting or encounter but in less than than that I can plop down miniatures, scribble on a board, and say "This is what you see.""

    Wow, I have to say, my experience has pretty much been the exact opposite of this. I find it far faster to describe in vivid detail the surroundings of the players and their enemies than to try and fish out miniatures and draw on a board. What's more, it infuses the scene with so much more nuanced detail that I personally think it's much more immersive.

    It's my belief that the presence of miniatures makes all players (DM included) more prone to move the miniature about, say "I swing my sword", roll, and declare damage or miss. When everything's verbal, players are more inclined to put details and flourishes into their actions that just make it that much more exciting and interesting for everyone at the table.

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  16. To not acknowledge the simple fact that D&D has its roots in miniatures war-games is historically disingenuous.

    I got into RPGs via Choose Your Own Adventures not Miniature Wargames. So my hobby rather than "the history of D&D" didn't come from a background with minis.

    I like making and painting minis, but I don't feel compelled to use them because of their being "more old school" or anything. :)

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  17. It would be equally true to say something like: "You must acknowledge that the birth of D&D came on the day that Gygax decided to eliminate miniatures from his prior wargaming play."

    Absolutely. I'd never deny that. My point is only that I don't really get all the anti-minis talk I keep seeing, much of which seems to imply it's somehow wrong and contrary to old school principles to use minis. I'd never fault anyone for not using minis, as there are innumerable good reasons for rejecting them, from personal taste to arguments such as the ones you raise about scale and so forth, but I just don't get all the hate for minis in the old school community. It's as if people have forgotten the history of the hobby.

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  18. It's my belief that the presence of miniatures makes all players (DM included) more prone to move the miniature about, say "I swing my sword", roll, and declare damage or miss. When everything's verbal, players are more inclined to put details and flourishes into their actions that just make it that much more exciting and interesting for everyone at the table.

    See, I don't find this as a universal problem, both because some people find the minis help provide a context for adding verbal details and because some just don't care about those details. They want combat to be quick and easy to adjudicate rather than "immersive." I don't think either approach is wrong or superior to the other; I think it comes down to a matter of personal taste, as it should. My only purpose in making this post is to point out that miniatures are no more or less old school than any other option.

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  19. Perhaps Gygax didn't play with miniatures, but, while my first few games of D&D didn't feature minis, I started using them pretty quickly, and used them quite heavily once I started gaming at MIT. In the 1979-1981 time frame at MIT, most everyone I saw playing D&D used minis, and that included the older folks who pushed for more "role playing" as opposed to "hack 'n slash." And when I got to college (and thus started playing with a very different community), the people who played with me weren't shocked at the use of miniatures (though I did also start migrating to counters).

    Oh, and I used to lug 25lbs worth of books and miniatures on the bus and subway until I started having the use of the car, and I had to walk 1 mile to get to the bus... Even with the car, I still had to lug all that stuff a hundred yards or so.

    I'm also curious if Gygax really didn't use miniatures, or if there's a bit of revisionist history going on.

    Now what might be pointed out as a difference between D&D 3.0 and later and the early use of minis is the fact that D&D 3.0 makes a much more formalized system, which in fact, feels more board game like than miniatures like to me.

    As to description vs. laying out a battle - all I can say is that as a visual person rather than a verbal person, I often feel lost without visuals. Non-visual setups can work in some cases (Dogs in the Vinyard works pretty well for me for example), but I could never play D&D without any miniatures.

    When I did go back to OD&D, I did decide to lose the battlemat, but we still used miniatures. I layed out dice and pencils and such on the table top to show the relevant walls. The placement of the miniatures was relevant, but we weren't slaves to counting squares.

    I respect that folks who came to the game from other backgrounds may not feel miniatures are important, but everything I experienced was that miniatures were solidly part of early RPG play.

    Frank

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  20. If you started with the "Red Box" this is what it said on the cover:

    "This game requires no gameboard because the action takes place in the player's imagination with dungeon adventures that includes monsters, treasure and magic."

    The single-player instructional tutorial was also a Choose Your Own Adventure / Fighting Fantasy type adventure.

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  21. I enjoy minis in my old school style play and agree with James. Well said.

    And I never used minis (although I had a bunch) in the day.

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  22. My love for minis is one of the things that got me back into the hobby. I remember getting the boxed set of Grenedier's Tomb of Spells as a birthday present that became a seminal moment for my love of all things fantasy.

    We didn't always use them back in the day, but I have to admit that there is a certain boyish "come over to my house and let's play with Star Wars figures" quality to the fun these little hunks of paint and plastic invoke.

    Now I pick up mostly WOTC prepaints on ebay because I'd rather spend my limited time playing than painting. Transporting them in tackle boxes is easier with plastic minis than with metal.

    We swap out minis often, where an orc could be a werewolf on our battle grids drawn with dry erase pens.

    My experience has been that they help the game come alive for some people, making it feel more grounded in reality, more tangible, substantive, and less ephemeral. I think they can actually save time because a picture is worth a thousand words and there's less speculation as to what is where, especially when adjudicating things like missile range and movement.

    The biggest problem I'm finding is tracking multiple minis' hit points when you have several that are all the same. For example, having ten bugbears that all look the same.
    I've tried painting the bases different colors, and we used to write right on the battle mat the hit points lost, but there has to be an easier way.

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  23. I had been a wargamer for several years before being introduced to D&D in '81.

    We played without minis, and I think one reason for that was the make-up of our group. From the very beginning it was at least 50% women (wives, girlfriends, friends). (We had to have an "out plan" once because our DM was pregnant, and VERY late! )

    The ladies were used to putting up with us arguing over the range of a panzerfaust or how many hexes a tiger tank could move after making an opportunity fire attack. But they wouldn't tolerate us turning D&D into a war game.

    And because we'd finally found something we could all do together, the guys didn't pursue the idea of minis.

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  24. I think the most salient points have already been made. Let me just add, that most of what is exciting me now about adventure gaming is the DIY aspect.

    Come cheap 3d printers and I bet people with be all over designing their own models of pig-nosed orcs and hirelings and sharing with each other.

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  25. "This game requires no gameboard because the action takes place in the player's imagination with dungeon adventures that includes monsters, treasure and magic."

    Sure, but notice it says "requires no gameboard," not that gameboards are disallowed. I don't have a copy of Mentzer anymore, but I'll bet it includes a section or two in the rules discussing the option of using minis. I know that the Rules Cyclopedia, which draws substantially on Mentzer's rules, does have such a section, complete with a discussion of using a ruler to determine distances and it was published in 1991.

    My point remains only that miniatures are an ancient tradition of the hobby. Individual players can use them or not, as they wish, but it's not as if WotC introduced their use to D&D.

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  26. Sure, but notice it says "requires no gameboard," not that gameboards are disallowed.

    I guess it doesn't say a Wet Banana or any number of other things is disallowed either. Picking up that box I wouldn't think to go get my swim trunks on before playing the game. :)

    an ancient tradition of the hobby

    ...

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  27. I've got cupboard full of miniatures (mostly unpainted) that I collected throughout the 80's. As a DM I found myself tracking down figures for monsters I wanted to put in the game. This often resulted in the adventure not happening the way I wanted because they didn't make an X or I couldn't afford 20 of Y. Also whenever I'd pick up a module and see something like 30 giant rats I knew we'd end up using dice to represent them on the tabletop.

    Now we use some figures for the PCs (they don't really match the characters but we generally know which is which). Then we have about half a dozen orcs and skeletons. Just about everything else gets a cardboard standup or counter.

    We also use a monitor flat on the table as a gaming surface. Some photos here:

    http://www.freeyabb.com/goblinoidgames/viewtopic.php?t=1856&mforum=goblinoidgames

    Certainly very different to how we did things 30 years ago but not out of place in the OSR.

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  28. It's nice to have a mix of both in a game and especially when it comes to the more physical aspects of the game like melees and explorations. But I do understand the appeal of not using mini which is all the reason why I like using a battle matt because drawing the floorplans allows the players to both have an idea of the layout as well and "fill in the blanks" to the textures and details with their own imagination. Even with minis I like them to be minimal and for the longest time i would use how ever many pennies I would need and place a sticker on it with the name of the monster or NPC.

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  29. I always wished I could afford more figures when I was a kid. I never had enough cash. Now, as a so-called adult, I have more disposable income and access to eBay and I've been able to buy a bunch. I buy MageKnight figs and pre-paints. I only paint figures that I particularly like or for my PC's, important NPC's or for friends.

    In the early days of my RPG experience, we used them mostly for marching order. Once there was a thing called a Battlemat, we used them for battles.

    I have no philosophy on the issue except that I like them. That's good enough for me.

    I've built a pretty cool 3D board and my players like it too. (See my blog if you are interested -- I have pics).

    Hauling them around is a drag, so when I go to a friends house, I bring my Cardboard Heroes. When people come over to my house, I use the 3D board and all the minis.

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  30. We never used them during Gary's games, but that doesn't mean anything to me. It's all a personal preference - nothing more, nothing less.

    I think minis/figures are cool! Did we use them all the time? Nah. Were they necessary for most things? Nah. Are they cool! Hell, yeah!

    You can take them or leave if you want. Minis are definitely fall into the "Old School" realm. We used them in 1979/80.

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  31. Way back when, I had a gazillion minis, and used them. I wasn't the greatest painter in the world, but at least I could roughly follow the contours of the clothing and such.

    Although for some reason most of my elf figures ended up being drow.

    I ended up losing all those miniatures back when I was moving all over the place, usually only after a few months. It just wasn't worth hauling them around at the time. Of course, now I bemoan their loss something fierce (along with most of my SPI/AH wargame collection).

    I don't think minis are definitive one way or the other when it comes to old-schooledness; it just comes down to personal preference. Some of us used them back in the day, some of us didn't (and/or played without them sometimes even though we had them), and in my personal experience it didn't matter one way or the other.

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  32. AD&D measured everything in " for a reason.

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  33. When I began playing in the seventies (Holmes edition), I started out not using minis, but rapidly came to several conclusions:

    1. Minis and positioning solve arguments quickly.
    2. Minis provide a heavy personal investment on the part of players in their characters.
    3. Minis are handy for giving players an idea of size of the opponent, facing, and so on.

    As a puppy kid, particularly one who lived way the hell and gone out in the boonies, I could not obtain miniatures freely -- if it wasn't cost, it was availability by mail. I eventually solved this problem by using cardboard minis, when they became available.

    I don't care what EGG said, when I see a rule that dictates human and humanoid and horse movement in "inches," that system is DERIVED from minis, even if you don't use them.

    The idea that to use them is somehow wrong or contrary to "old school" beliefs strikes me as kind of silly. What, I can't use a computer to build dungeons? Seems pretty arbitrary to me.

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  34. @Jim:

    "Once there was a thing called a Battlemat, we used them for battles."

    Battlemat is still around: http://is.gd/brwVk

    I find mine essential.

    security word: "bummo." "Nuff said. :)

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  35. There's nothing more deliciously D&D than those Grenadier boxes, filled with partitioned blue foam and lumps of lead that vaguely resemble adventurers and monsters. I love minis, associate them with even my earliest days gaming, and can't imagine playing the game without some kind of physical representation on the table. It doesn't have to be the exact figure and it usually isn't, and my players and I are fortunate to have strong enough imaginations to get past any discrepencies. In fact, it doesn't even have to be a figure: it can be a die, an eraser, the top hat from monopoly, a cigarette lighter: whatever. Just as long as I can look at the table at a glance and tell who is going to set off the unseen trap, who is getting flanked by the gnoll and who is getting clipped by the fireball. Being able to whip out a pack of Otherworld Minis pig-faced orcs is cool, but in the end its nothing but bragging rights and a handful of pennies (with a nickel for the leader)does the same job.

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  36. I used minis the very first time I played in 1979 and have used them ever since.

    I'm still playing and bring my large boxes of minis and a battlemat to every game. Combat is so much easier to sort out using minis I would never stop.

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  37. Oddly enough it was a well developed miniature collection which spelled the end of our D&D group back in the day. Our group would dabble in tabletop miniatures from time to time (Sword and the Flame, mainly) but after the 1st edition of Warhammer was released, we quickly realized that we had amassed enough D & D minis to form rather impressive armies. This was back in the days before army composition and balance was a point of emphasis, so we'd have eclectic armies of heroes and bad guys fighting each other on the kitchen table using Warhammer rules. Unfortunately, D&D was dropped by the wayside, although we did play a little WFRP from time to time. From there we got into Napoleonics and Pike & Shot - some *serious* minis indeed.

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  38. Clear example of how "is it old school?" is getting confused with two other questions - "is it not new school?" and "does it work for me?" But then, if you're not into old for oldness sake, or new for newness sake, only the last question is really relevant to play.

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  39. As the instigator of these series of posts on miniatures I can attest that this divide is an old old old dispute in gaming. I was noted for being a miniatures DM from the get go. Toting around my foam filled box sets of grenadier figures.

    My mom had these wooden milk crates (which I still have and use) that made carrying books and miniatures with and without a car doable.

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  40. Yeah, but only asking, "Does it work for me," puts a dampener on the banner-waving that the echo chamber likes to do. Anyone who has read the DMG can figure out for themselves that AD&D is derived from a miniatures game (inches), irrespective of whether the author of said tome actually used them. All that's left is creating another tempest in a teapot. Sure, miniatures are "old school." Equally true is that arguing (or even discussing) whether miniatures are old school is just plain boring.

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  41. What's funny is that as a kid I remember the minis being part of the entire D&D RPG experience. The game completely consumed my brother and my imaginations and minis that we painted ourselves were just another manifestation of how much we had vested in those characters and the game itself. I had a bard and a blue phraint I was particularly attached to.

    The few times I DMed as a kid I remember building adventures around some awesome monster mini that I lovingly painted and the moment when I dropped that cool sucker right in the middle of the map and heard the players whistle.

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  42. Equally true is that arguing (or even discussing) whether miniatures are old school is just plain boring.

    Really? I must be weird then, because I'm actually seeing some interesting discussion going on here, but then, being trapped inside the echo chamber, I would, wouldn't I?

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  43. In my case it was definitely financial. I couldn't afford both the miniatures and all the new games so I never got in the habit of using them. Besides I was the kid in a wargames club, so ended up embarrassed at having so few figures amongst those people with whole armies of exquisitely painted wargames minatures from various periods.

    There was also the side effect that I tended to be very discerning on the quality of the miniatures (to the level of following the production of specific sculptors), and kind of went overboard on painting the miniatures I did have (which means they were not really suitable for gaming), but did look quite good. But painting each individual scale of a giant snake ... not reccomended.

    When we later went TFT mad, we generally relied on counters, at least until Steve Jackson got Dennis Loubet to draw the first Cardboard Heroes, at which point they became standard for the game.

    [And this is the reason why I consider TFT and 4e to be boardgames rather than role-playing games, because the essential focus is the godlike maneuvering of the characters by the players, rather than a player identification with the character – it raises the players above the battlefield.]

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  44. Why, why, why in all my gaming years have I never met another DM who uses simple CHESS pieces as minis!? They're cheap, easy to find, come in a variety of sizes, and abstract enough that they don't interfere with your "mind's eye."

    Chess pieces! Just use 'em!

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  45. "There's nothing more deliciously D&D than those Grenadier boxes, filled with partitioned blue foam and lumps of lead that vaguely resemble adventurers and monsters."

    Hee, hee, hee. Elegantly put. I still pine for those boxed sets when I see 'em on Ebay...

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  46. I agree with James, in that I don't understand the anti-mini sentiment either. It makes no sense. You can play however you like, but to say it's wrong to use minis? Nope... I've got a great imagination, and minis and terrain only reinforce that, and make it more fun.

    Also, like many have said it solves arguments. "No! I was no where near that orc!"

    I remember once we needed a lot of skeletons, so we took a bag of large white lima beans and drew skeletons on them. They were great, and very cost effective, and light weight.

    That being said I've done it both ways. My first Traveller campaign was mini-free, and it worked great.

    I just really wonder why so many in the OSR are anti-mini. It's just odd. Just because EGG didn't use them doesn't make it into some kind of glorious edict that must be obeyed. Get real. Game like you want to, but don't criticize how others play. Old school is old school, minis or not...

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  47. Well said, Zanazaz. IT doesn't matter if you use minis or not. It's still part of the "old school" experience, but not a deciding factor.

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  48. Here's the resistance to minis, in a nutshell, even though it is not specifically OSR related:

    http://www.geneticanomaly.com/RPG-Motivational/slides/acceptance.html


    That said, I think the advantages and disadvantages have been well hashed out in this thread. I never used minis when I played back in the day--I simply couldn't afford them. And now that I am getting back into the hobby, I still can't afford them.

    Remember, too, that minis are merely representations of the characters--so there is no real need for them to actually resemble the characters. They are tokens, nothing more, nothing less.

    I like Aquatic Environment's mention of using chess pieces as minis--the analogy to chess pieces is actually quite good. In a chess set, it doesn't matter what the piece looks like, it matters what it represents in terms of abilities and for individual identification. That's why chess sets can be all fancy-schmancy and actually be iconic representation of the pieces, or be officially licensed products ala the Star Trek or Star Wars or Simpsons chess sets, or be fairly generic in nature. You can teach a kid to play chess without actual chess pieces but using various other representations. Heck, I've seen blog posts where people discuss teaching their kids to play RPGs using action figures and/or toddler toys as minis on a portable whiteboard used as a Battlemat.

    Minis aren't a "requirement." They don't make the game "more authentic." If you want to be authentic, pick up H.G. Wells' Floor Games and Little Wars and a whole bunch of lead or tin soldiers.

    So let's leave it at this: minis are an option--and it is always good to have options. If you enjoy using minis, great, good for you. But let's recognize that they aren't a requirement for play. Because they aren't, just like playing absolutely BTB isn't a requirement.

    Or, as Bill Maher would say:

    New House Rule: No more saying "playing the way I play makes me more old school."

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  49. But let's recognize that they aren't a requirement for play.

    I don't think anyone here has come close to suggesting they are, honestly. Rather, it's the opposite notion, that minis aren't part of the hobby, that's being resisted.

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  50. I don't think anyone here has come close to suggesting they are, honestly. Rather, it's the opposite notion, that minis aren't part of the hobby, that's being resisted.

    I don't think anyone is saying this either.

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  51. Lead figures weren't that expensive, in most cases. Only the superduper big figures, or the real specialty ones, were pricey. Buying huge numbers of them, sure, that would set you back. But people were always giving other people figures they had no use for. Also, I knew people who molded their own in lead, not too expensively.

    Sigh. Pewter and plastic just aren't the same.

    But I'm still annoyed at how freakin' sexist, impracticable, and fashion-victim the figures of women characters were. You had to pore over those bags and boxes to even find a few decent ones. Or you ended up having to paint the half-naked ones as being dressed in tight fitting underblouses and hose, since miniskirts and wilderness don't mix.

    "Ooh, you just lost two hit points from that thorn bush smacking you in some tender places."

    That's one good thing about those plastic figures -- you can find a lot more fully dressed warrior ladies these days.

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  52. James: "We use 5-foot squares (generally)."

    And do you use the move/missile/spell ranges in inches as written (like I do), or do you use the book-stipulated 10-feet-unit and convert (i.e., multiply inches by two)?

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  53. JDJarvis: "AD&D measured everything in " for a reason."

    Honestly, I have to disagree with that. AD&D measured things in inches for legacy reasons only; they'd been developed in Chainmail and copy-and-pasted forward; the inches presented were not (by the book) used in play, and were a dummy unit only.

    Test question: A totally unburdened PC miniature would move how many inches on the tabletop? (By the book, AD&D) Think carefully!

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  54. Zanazaz: "Just because EGG didn't use them doesn't make it into some kind of glorious edict that must be obeyed."

    I kind of like minis, and knowing that Gygax disused them explains why we have to edit his rules to make them work.

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  55. Maybe what is really objectionable from the old school point of view is not the minis, but the grid system of 3rd and 4th edition D&D.

    D&D used minis and inches, but was based on free-placement tabletop wargaming systems. Now, gridless wargame combat famously leads to disagreements about base contact, putting "english" on movement and facing, line of sight, etc. - one of the reasons gridded wargames came to be so popular. But gridless skirmish combat rules are also a lot more adaptable to improvised or imagined situations. It's clear that people hold a variety of opinions on how to represent the players, dungeon and monsters in D&D, but a grid system - and worse yet, rules and abilities dependent on that system - forces a single solution.

    Of course, gridded fantasy skirmishes are also as "old school" as Melee, Wizard and The Fantasy Trip. But it's my impression that those proto-Gurps systems were more admired by designers as a tour de force, than embraced by players.

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  56. The only thing I've ever used minis for in my RPGs is to show marching order. This is pretty much how all the groups in my area did D&D in the 1970s and 1980s. The only groups that used minis and battlemats to fight out combats were those who made combat the central feature of the game -- turning the game into more of a wargame than a roleplaying game.

    I played Ancients minis and lots of AH/SPI wargames before I got into D&D in 1975. One of the reasons I liked D&D was it did not require players to have a lot of small unit tactics skills to play and enjoy the game. I was -- and still am -- awful at small unit tactics (grand tactical and strategic level wargames are another matter). So I really have no interest in having a small unit tactical minis game (or board game) for every combat in my RPGs. Most of the people I've played with over the last 35 years or so have felt the same.

    Minis were an optional -- and, in mt experience, seldom used for anything but marching order -- back in the day. One of the major things that turns me away from post Skills and Powers D&D is that minis and battlemats became almost required to play and combat ability went from something the character needed to something the player needed, which reduced the pool of players to those who enjoyed (and were good at) tactical minis battles. If later versions of D&D had good with the GURPS method of including a "basic" combat system that need not use counters/minis and battlemats and an "advanced/detailed" combat system that did, both minis-lovers and minis-haters could have been supported.

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  57. Matthew W. Schmeer said: But let's recognize that they aren't a requirement for play.

    James Maliszewski said: I don't think anyone here has come close to suggesting they are, honestly. Rather, it's the opposite notion, that minis aren't part of the hobby, that's being resisted.

    Agreed--as you wrote in your original post. But when I read comments like "There's nothing more deliciously D&D than those Grenadier boxes," then I can see the writing is on the wall for dogmatism to creep in.

    So, call what I wrote a preemptive strike. You just know somebody is going to come out and try to write a mini-use subsection into their own OSR manifesto, now that a lot of old school bloggers are turning their attention to mini use.

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  58. I started getting minis around the same time I got into D&D --- we had a chalk board with squares on it or used grease pencil on the formica table top.
    For monsters we often ended up using whatever we had --- I had Airfix 1/72 Romans, Gauls, knights, etc, that we used as goblins, soldiers, etc., and we would use stuff like dice, rubber monsters, etc. I had a rubber alligator that I used for years as dragons, a hydra, etc. My "Britains" crusaders and Saracens (which are about 2 inches tall) were used as giants.
    I remember that the 'Bullette' and the 'Rust Monster' were inspired by plastic critters that Gygax bought from the Dime Store. He got these wierd looking creatures in a bag of dinosaurs and decided to make up monsters to go with them.
    My only objection is the bulk and fragility of my lead minis... these days I keep my older leads at home. I have a few of the wotc plastics for 'go' games and admire their near indestructibility.
    I'm not opposed to playing without them, but always found it fun... providing there is some compromise between square-counting / bonus whoring by the more competitive minded and expediency.
    One of the ideas I found interesting from a game I sat in on years ago was that the DM had a table with no grid on it... and when the player cast a spell like fireball, he had to state the range (I want it to burst 12 inches from my position) and THEN the DM would get out a tape measure and measure it... so sometimes it landed a little too close or far away.

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  59. limpey: "One of the ideas I found interesting from a game I sat in on years ago was that the DM had a table with no grid on it... and when the player cast a spell like fireball, he had to state the range (I want it to burst 12 inches from my position) and THEN the DM would get out a tape measure and measure it... so sometimes it landed a little too close or far away."

    That's directly from the original Chainmail game. I still use it, too.

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  60. Sorry to be coming late to the party; I tried commenting yesterday morning, but it didn't seem to take...

    1) Gary once told me that he stopped using his collection of 40mm medieval Elastolin figures once D&D got 'popular', as they were too fragile and expensive to replace when the ham-handed gamers got a hold of them. He also had problems with 'shrinkage', which happened when gamers wanted True Relict of their games with Gary. I asked him about the new 25mm metal figures, and he told me that he didn't like painting them, and he didn't feel like paying somebody to paint them for him.

    2) We always used miniatures in the original Thursday Night Group at Prof. Barker's; it was the custom of the house that anyone coming into the game would get a personality figure that I'd do up specifically for their character. Prof. Barker, of course, had been hand-carving his own 54mm wooden figures since the 1940's. 'Shrinkage' was a problem for us as well, as there were a few folks who also wanted Authentic Relics of their games with Phil.

    3) You don't need miniatures per se for the game; it's a handy way to mark things out, but coins, chess pieces, glass marbles, and dice have all been used, and I still use them that way today.

    4) I agree with the poster who remarked on the grid-based combat systems; it just didn't seem like an RPG, using that method.

    yours, Chirine

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  61. And do you use the move/missile/spell ranges in inches as written (like I do), or do you use the book-stipulated 10-feet-unit and convert (i.e., multiply inches by two)?

    I use 5-foot units instead of 10 but otherwise convert the inches, as per the books.

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  62. Just so I'm clear -- An unburdened person moves 12" on your table (60 ft), not 24" (120 feet)?

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  63. Just so I'm clear -- An unburdened person moves 12" on your table (60 ft), not 24" (120 feet)?

    Correct.

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  64. We (AD&D) "use" minis. That is, we have a box of them (now another box as my sister found one of my boxes from when I was a kid and sent them up) and my players use them for their characters. I find it's great for them. They take knowing the PHB seriously since it's their book, and with minis they can plan their moves out in combat and feel like they're putting in their best effort. When a character dies, the player just finds another mini in the box for the next one. No one worries too much about verisimilitude or gets attached to the mini--it's a tool to do a job. For monsters, I use a bunch of keys pried off a computer keyboard (pretty good range of sizes there). Which means it's still imagination supplying the details.

    I do remember though, that a $1-$3 mini was the kind of thing I could afford at Sword of the Phoenix when I was a kid. It was often in price or begging range. So I ended up with them, and they were a part of the game for me. It was nice to see that old box and my terrible painting jobs again.

    CAPTCHA: eyslyp. The dryad pours something in the wine and passes you the goblet. An aroma of flowers and dying time fills the tree . . .

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  65. Necro-comment....I enjoy this blog, even if missing the discussion. The question of "what is old school?" is one that certainly has layers. In general, "old school" means simply whatever the generation or two before the current one did. I don't think it actually pertains to a given time. But with RPG gaming, we do have a fixed point with 1974, when Ziggy played guitar, and D&D was born.
    So, while it is fair to ascribe old school RPG gaming as 1974-1984 or so, and I appreciate the gold/silver/bronze ages in regard to the game's development/publishing, it does seem that far and away, those qualities described as "old school gaming" have nothing to do with the 70s and early 80s. No one seems to equate the flavor of those times with OSG, so much as the experience. Hence we are able to still enjoy it today.
    I'd even go a step further, and say that OSG is not defined by edition or rules set, even as we trace this hobby's lineage. We tend to remember it as the good times of youth. Minis, no minis, OD&D, 2nd edition, even on up to that other game, 4E. Wherever a group of mostly kids are, in a basement, playing one of these games, eating pizza...that is old school. In just a few years, all those kids will look back on it as such. They just don't know it yet.
    I am mixing terms here a lot, but as I said, it is a layered thing. There is OSG in terms of D&D chronology, and there is simply the experience, which is not tied to game system or time. Which is a fortunate thing.

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