Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Word of Clarification

I try to be clear when I write my posts, but sometimes I forget to include important bits of information that are obvious to me but might not be so obvious to others. A good case in point is when I talk about the "wargames" heritage of OD&D and early gaming in general. What I typically fail to make clear is that I'm (primarily) talking about miniatures wargaming rather than Avalon Hill-style hex-and-chit wargaming. Gygax and Arneson were avid players of miniatures wargames, as was M.A.R. Barker. And of course the Chainmail rules out of which OD&D arose were "rules for medieval miniatures," according to its subtitle.

Miniatures games back in those days were often kit bashed affairs, with models swiped from a variety of different sources and rules that left a lot of leeway for interpretation. This ethos was carried over into OD&D, along with measuring movement in inches. While I have no particular attachment to those movement rates, I do have a fondness for the "seat of the pants" style of refereeing that those old miniatures games demanded and that was imported into early roleplaying games. I was never a minis gamer myself, but I knew older guys who were into Napoleonics (and American Revolutionary miniatures) and used to watch with awe, not just as they assembled their meticulously painted 15 mm armies, but as they seemingly effortlessly dealt with situations their rules didn't explicitly cover. What I saw still sticks with me three decades later.

Ironically, I don't have the patience to be a good minis player. I'm not a very good painter and I get easily distracted when it's not my turn. I'm also a poor strategist and tactician when it comes to things like this. In the few games I have played in recent years, I tend to get trounced rather unceremoniously and the fault is largely my own.


  1. Nice minis!, are they from your collection? I've been window-shopping for Arthurian style miniatures to enhance a Chivalry & Sorcery/ Pendragon mashup campaign, and can't decide which line I want to use. I never did much miniature wargaming myself (compared to hex and chit), but unlike many I find myself more drawn into roleplaying with minis on the table. Must be a 70s thing, though it surely has made a comeback of sorts with D&D 4E and others.

  2. I can remember lots of miniatures games like that in the '80s. In my university group, we had one guy who ran the Napoleonics, one for moderns, 2 for WW2; and they alternated weekly who ran what. Most of us didn't have armies (I was a hex & counter guy), and didn't even read the rulebooks, it was all in the referee's head. Almost every week, rules might be adjusted or added, depending on discussions around the table.

    I would play Saturday afternoon with these guys, and then Saturday night or some weeknight with an AD&D group that had the same attitude to rules.

    So, I can relate to the "seat of the pants" style you refer to, that's my background, too.

  3. Nice minis. Now somebody get some putty and flocking on those bases pronto! They're naked!

  4. I've always found it interesting that D&D was based on miniatures, but the early editions and early games I remembered were so absent of minis. So many awesome and fun games were played without the aid of miniatures, up to and including 3rd edition.

    Granted, I love miniatures, modeling them and painting them, and I love wonderfully done scenery (of which I also enjoy making), but if there is one things miniatures lack, it's the thrill and anticipation of combat. Combat without miniatures, done through a DM's description, can get rather frightening as a player in a good way if done right. It's a lot different when a monsters sprints 30 feet across open ground to strike at you, the speed amazing and scary at the same time. It's a different matter entirely when it's 6 squares, and they are using a charge attack.

    Don't get me wrong, I have lots of fun using miniatures in 4E now. 4E is better for it, I believe. But I still love those adventures without maps and minis spilled all over the table.

  5. First, it's worth noting here that EGG didn't use miniatures in his games (I got this from Michael Mornard, aka Old Geezer, who was a player at Gary's table in the olden days).

    Second, though it is true that miniatures wargaming, as opposed to AH's hex and chit wargaming, is at the roots of the original D&D game, some elements of the latter were carried over to D&D gaming, in the way the Wilderness environment was represented, for instance (with hexes, as opposed to the dungeon square grid).

  6. I'll certainly take OG's word about EGG, and I'm sure many didn't play D&D at the time with miniatures. But my group did, my first con game in 1979 did, and there was certainly someone else out there buying all of those fantasy miniatures from companies like Heritage, Martian Metals, Ral Partha and others in the latter half of the 70s!

    I often get the impression that some enthusiasts these days would rather bury any association between miniatures and early FRPGs, simply because they didn't use them with 3.x (or whenever they entered the hobby).

  7. It was the first Grenadier AD&D boxed sets that I bought before I had even read the D&D blue book rules that got me started in the hobby. I love miniatures, and always have used them in game play, even from the start. In fact, when I first started playing, I thought you had to map out the dungeon in miniature scale, which resulted in a HUGE paper-covered floor. There we were, slowly crawling around on top of the BIG MAP, drawing out the dungeon as we went, all the while pushing our Dungeon-Dweller and Grenadier figs along as needed. It took forever, but it was still fun. I do remember, however, that it really sucked when you finally went down to the next level in the dungeon. I never understood how one could possibly afford all the paper needed to map out a large dungeon with more than three levels!

  8. Nice minis!, are they from your collection?

    If only! I found them on a historical minis company's website. Maybe I should include a link next time :)

  9. the early editions and early games I remembered were so absent of minis.

    Mine too, for the most part. We used to use minis for marching order and the like, but we rarely had battle mats or dungeon models back then. I've opted to use minis for the Dwimmermount campaign as an experiment and I (mostly) like the results.

  10. I often get the impression that some enthusiasts these days would rather bury any association between miniatures and early FRPGs, simply because they didn't use them with 3.x (or whenever they entered the hobby).

    Yes, I've noticed that too. Part of it is that there are some old schoolers who, upon seeing the heavy dependence of the WotC editions on minis, have decided that the surest way to distance those editions from the editions they love is to decry the minis connection. While I'm sympathetic to those who want to point out the discontinuity between later editions and the originals, I don't think minis is the place to do so. By my lights, there are plenty of other discontinuities elsewhere without having to deny a connection between early gaming and miniatures wargaming that's unhistorical and mistaken.

  11. I'm absolutely with Jason on this one. We utilize minis all the time in the 4E game that I take part in. It's required actually. I can't imagine trying to play that game with out them. But for our Labyrinth Lord and Castles and Crusades games, we definitely go sans minis. I love the pacing when you don't have to stop to draw a battle map, search for, and place a bunch of minis.

    The theatre of the mind thing seems to work a lot better when everyone's involved. Not that I'm bagging on minis, I really do think they're cool. And they do play a role at times...Representing large numbers in battles, marching order, confusing terrain, etc.