Basic Role-Playing can be played as a strictly verbal game, as you can see from the example about the farmer's child coming to the big city. But many games go farther than this, and play with miniature figures and a battleboard.With some variations to the quoted text, this section has appeared in every edition of Call of Cthulhu since 1981, including the current edition for sale from Chaosium.
Focus is always useful, for all the players can then weave their imaginations into the framework. For instance, setting up a marching order for a party of Adventurers to travel overland shows which characters will be in a position to speak to each; this may be significant if a character must choose one person out of many to aid.
Aiding rules interpretations is an excellent reason for using figures. When the figures are on the table, it is possible to see that your friends are blocking the field of fire your bow might have, or it will show which characters are first assailed by giant wasps striking from the flank, or how long it will take for one character to aid another. With figures, measurement provides answers to "My guy was supposed to be here," and "Where is the elephant?"
Even a few props will provide drama. A large ruin can be constructed with childrens' plastic construction blocks. A bit of scrounging unearths railroad props, cake decorations, weird things from hardware bins, and so on. Styrofoam packaging can be carved to different shapes. A few HO trees, some toy fences, and a large rock will turn an otherwise lifeless melee setting into intriguing opportunities for deployment and use of special skills.
Figures are commonly 1" high led miniatures. These may be purchased at many game and hobby stores or ordered through the mail. Some manufacturers have published attractive cardboard figures, and many people make good use of the cheaper and more readily available plastic toy figures. Preferences and pocketbooks have a large influence on what is used. Remember that no one is likely to have every varied monster or person type called for in a game, and that it is common to substitute something. In any case, figures are recommended.
The second edition of RuneQuest, meanwhile, includes a very brief discussion of minis under the heading "Other Playing Aids" and says simply:
TIN/LEAD OR PLASTIC FIGURINES (These are optional, but give the play some focus and help settle arguments over who was where. We recommend 25 mm miniatures as the best all around size.)Section 1.4.3 of Stormbringer is entitled "Use of Miniatures" and says this:
There are an enormous number of fantasy miniatures (small figures cast from lead) available in the game and hobby stores. Many FRP players choose to paint one or more miniatures to represent their characters, and to use these figures to get a picture of where the characters are in relationship to each other. Some GMs are so prepared that they have miniatures of the monsters ready for the combats. Use of miniatures adds color and an added degree of realism to the game, but requires quite an additional investment in time and money by the player. Whether you use miniatures or not is your choice (Ken St. Andre doesn't; Steve Perrin does.). It is likely that a line of Stormbringer miniatures will appear sooner or later.Ringworld follows RuneQuest in having only a small section devoted to minis under the title of "Play Aids."
Metal figures are frequently used to represent explorers and other characters. If you lack metal figures, the box includes a sheet of paper explorers in various poses.This is interesting, because, once upon a time, most Chaosium boxed games included a sheet or two of paper cut-out "minis," with additional ones being included in referee's screens and other products. The first edition of Call of Cthulhu certainly did, as did the first edition of Stormbringer. I don't believe I've ever seen such things for RQ but I could simply have overlooked them. Regardless, I think it's intriguing to note that Chaosium's RPGs throughout the 70s and 80s were all extremely friendly to the use of miniatures, including games like Call of Cthulhu, which isn't a RPG one normally thinks of as having much connection to the wargaming roots of the hobby (though, to be fair, there have always been CoC minis available for the game -- I even have some).