Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Even though the Holmes Blue Book edition of D&D with which I started was insistent on the optional status of miniature figures, I wasn't immune to the lure of these tiny lead statues. Between the mainstream media coverage which linked RPGs to minis and the older guys I knew who played the game and used them, I very quickly came to see a strong link between miniatures and D&D. And of course the link is solidly grounded in history, given that D&D -- and roleplaying more generally -- is an outgrowth of the miniatures wargaming hobby. Plus, nearly every game stores I visited in the late 70s and early 80s always included a glass cabinet where they displayed dozens of fantasy gaming miniatures for the delectation of kids like myself.
So, even though I didn't need them, I frequently picked up miniatures to use in my games. While my primary criterion in selecting minis was how cool I thought they looked, always in the back of my mind was Gygax's words in the introduction to the then-new AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide that Grenadier Models figures were "the only ones which comply in all respects to AD&D specifications and the AD&D Monster Manual." As such, I bought a lot of Grenadier's boxed sets and blister packs between 1980 and 1982, when they held the official license for the AD&D line. You can see a rather extensive listing -- with photos -- of Grenadier's offerings here.
By today's standards, Grenadier's miniatures are pretty crude, laughably so at times. Even compared to some of their competitors, their sculpts were not always very good. But, for me, the official AD&D seal of approval meant a lot and not merely because I was a ravening TSR fanboy (though I was). What mattered to me is that the miniatures closely matched what I saw in my rulebooks. Thus, Grenadier's goblins and kobolds weren't generic little baddies but baddies that resembled the DCS and Tramp illustrations from my Monster Manual. This fantastical verisimilitude was especially important when it came to D&D-specific creatures like the beholder, the umber hulk, and the rust monster. Grenadier even produced boxed sets that included monsters that appeared only modules, like the yuan-ti, aspis, and cave fisher.
By the time Grenadier ceased producing official AD&D figures, I'd largely decided that I neither wanted nor needed to buy miniatures for use with my games. As it was, I mostly used minis as "props" to hold up to my players rather than anything more elaborate. And even when I did make use of cardboard dungeon floorplans, most of my minis remained unpainted and insufficient in number or diversity to represent everything included in my adventures. Still, there was something potent about those Grenadier miniatures, potent enough that, even now, three decades later, I find myself frequently thinking about them and imagining using them at my table alongside contemporary old school sculpts like those of Otherworld Miniatures and Fractured Dimensions (which, coincidentally, is currently trying to raise funds for produce four sets of pig-faced orcs). If that doesn't say something good about Grenadier's body of work, I don't know what does.