Before the rage of the internet rises up to cut the tongue out of my face; I use miniatures, I use them regularly too. I definitely have a soft spot for them because, let’s face it, they’re the bee’s knees. With that out of the way, I’ve also played quite a few games without them. There’s no doubt that playing without miniatures feels different. Of course, this advice is not applicable for all games, some tabletop role-playing games rely on mapping and miniature use. I would not recommend trying those games without that, it would be difficult. Whether that’s a good thing or not is for you to decide, but let me try to convince you to give it a shot.
C’mon, don’t look at me like that. You knew that this would be the first point in this list! A good miniature is beautifully sculpted, and, if you’re lazy like me and search them out, well painted. If you’re a game master, this becomes even more expensive because all the baddies are usually massive and immensely detailed. Based off rootless, random speculation of my perceived state of the hobby, it seems like unpainted miniatures are still immensely popular. That furthers the expense, because you need paints, brushes, some bits of terrain, glue, and whatever else you need to create your miniature the way you’d like. For those of you that don’t buy the unpainted plastic or metal miniatures, that means you rely on one of two things: random booster packs or buying singles either online or, if you’re lucky, in your friendly local game store. This easily becomes more expensive long term than buying the unpainted ones and putting in some time and effort. Buying random boosters, you hope you get what you want inside.
More often than not, you get some cool ones and some, ahem, not so cool ones, shall we say? This is the marketing loop, because you buy another pack in the series. Then you get a duplicate, some more less cool ones and then maybe one that you didn’t have before. At around fifteen bucks a pop (depending on where you live, I’d imagine), this gets expensive quick. From that, you surmise that the intelligent thing to do is to hunt down singles. Disappointment slaps you in the face like your mother that you just scared because you got into the chemical cabinet. The prices are inflated, and if you’re buying online, you must wait for your precious miniature to show up. Not to mention, the shipping cost drives you to buy more than what you originally wanted to justify an extra six (or twelve, if you’re bratty like me and enjoy overnight) dollars to have this little plastic warlock show up at your door. Even thinking about this point makes me want to apologize to my bank account.
2). Encourages Imagination
In theory: If you don’t use visual stimuli to paint the picture, the mind will do so itself. Imagination is a large part of what makes our hobby beautiful and that should be cherished. Admittedly, this is the most cheesy and sentimental of the points. From my experience, using miniatures encourages players to narrate their actions as, “I move from here to here, stab this guy for *rolls dice* fifteen damage and use my quick action to cast heal.” That’s not a very interesting way to narrate what happens. Undoubtedly, you have players that absolutely jump at every opportunity to explain what their character is doing, regardless of what’s on the table. There’s nothing wrong with either play style, but sometimes not having miniatures can coax that other player out into the theatre of the mind. Having a scene described to you and having to imagine it yourself gets those creative juices flowing. There is a bit of a problem with playing this way, for sure, especially with a game that uses a distance by feet system; imagining positions can get confusing as hell. See? Sometimes I just like to play devil’s advocate. I usually don’t use miniatures at convention games I run because it’s annoying to lug around. Playing a simplistic game like 13th Age makes not using them easy. If you’re running Pathfinder? Well, you and your players are in for a hell of a ride that I probably wouldn’t be interested in.
These little people and creatures are sometimes extremely fragile. Since we already established that you spend a lot of money and/or time on these pieces of art, you certainly don’t want your precious children getting broken, bent or damaged. For the people using the metal stuff, you also don’t want your paint to get chipped because, damn, was that a time investment. This is where I feel bad, because you see people that love their miniatures so much that they have trunks upon trunks of stuff they wheel around at conventions. I shiver at the thought. Usually for the more fragile miniature types, you have some sort of plastic trunk with foam cutouts for your hoard to be organized and protected. It’s bulky, it’s heavy, and it sucks. But, for the love the hobby, some people will carry that burden to the end of the earth.
For the pre-painted plastic ones, it’s a little easier. I personally use the Very Useful Box brand of storage containers. It allows me to categorize the miniatures by type before I just cram them all together. Somebody else I know simply uses a tacklebox, the kind with just a tray on top and this big open chasm underneath. Nowadays, these miniatures are pretty good at not being broken, and most companies have a program where you can exchange them if they are. This doesn’t change the fact that it takes up a lot of space. What could be worse than either of these two methods? Display each and every one of your miniatures on a shelf in your home. All six hundred of them, in fact. It’d look fantastic but, jeez, that’d be a nightmare to dust…
Of course, all of these points are incredibly opinionated, but I hope you can draw something useful from it. Despite my sensibility, I’m a sucker for miniatures because they’re just so pretty and look fantastic on the table. In conclusion; know your group, know your budget, and have fun whichever way you decide to game. Until next time…
Stay Metal \m/
Sean is the Heavy Metal GM. He’s an aspiring freelance writer and blogger that loves the hobby more than life itself. Always up for a good discussion, his blog covers general gaming advice as well as specialized advice/homebrew rules for 13th Age RPG. You can find his website at www.heavymetalgm.com, join the conversation.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.