Combat – How Do You Eat Yours?

With the release of D&D 4th Edition I’m finding myself asking any roleplayer I come across from outwith my gaming group the same question. Do you actually ever use minitures during a game?

I’ve never understood it to be honest as I’ve always took the pastime to be about the storytelling rather than attack arcs traced out on hex paper or line of sight being blocked by an out of scale plastic barrel. Having only ever used miniatures in a gaming session once around 17 years ago I still struggle to this day to work out just what it brings to the game. When we did try it I was running a game on Griffon Island for my Runequest campaign and in all honesty it was more hassle than it was worth. Aside from having to draw out maps and room plans to scale for every encounter I had to contend with players being grumpy because their figure didn’t exactly match that of their character. The very next session we ditched the figures and went back to using a notepad to scribble down maps and help explain locations. When it came to the actual combat we found the encounter to be clearer in our heads without the use of props as I was describing the locations as well as the enemy in a completely different manner. With the figures I placed them on the map and it turned into a small scale wargaming skirmish and that was it. No roleplaying involved at all.

I can see that if done in a way that takes the best of both worlds it could work but for something as simple as a fight with a band of kobolds in a cave its an awful lot of work for something that in my eyes does not add very much to the game.

As you can probably tell I’m not really feeling the new edition just yet. Is it just me or are WotC trying to push every single angle they can to get you to part with every spare bit of cash you have?

“Oh look we sell miniatures now…I know lets make the combat rules work for figures and get everyone to buy them as well as the rulebooks. Oh and while we’re at it lets split up the character classes and thing slike that so we can release the players handbook over several volumes. They’ll have to buy everything just to play the game they way they want to.”

It’s getting all very White Wolfish. They’ve ran out of ideas so lets rewrite the rules again and get a new cash boost when folk buy the new books. They got rid of Thac0! *shakes head*

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16 Comments

  1. Wickedmurph says:

    I’ve never really used miniatures in combat before 4e, although I had a bunch lying around that I inherited years ago from another player. I was leery of using them initially, but the feedback from the group has been really positive, and I’ve come to like it.

    Of course, 4e makes it pretty much non-optional, which is a bit of a downer. Still, they didn’t get any extra cash out of me to do it. I bought a sheet of gridded foamboard, taped clear plexi to it, and draw on it with dry-erase markers. I pulled out a bunch of old boardgames and found all the markers, icons and little figures I could ever use. I eventually found the aforementioned miniatures, so I use them, but I didn’t really need em.

    Of course WotC wants to make money, and they do that by providing everything you need to play the game. But just because you need it doesn’t mean you have get it from them. We don’t give supermarkets grief for selling cooking and cleaning supplies. ‘It’s like they want me to buy everything I need for cooking from them. And I have to eat!”

    There are a thousand ways to put together the tools you need to game without spending money at WotC. But they do own DnD, and they do spend money paying people to make things for gamers, so I spend some money there, sure. Expecting a company not to want to sell things is like expecting a dwarf not to be surly.

    Do they want you to buy from them? Sure. Do you have to? Yes, a certain amount – if you want to play DnD and don’t want to steal. Do you have to buy everything they make? Hell no. They do have a plan, it’s called “sell stuff and make money”. Just like everybody else in the retail business.

  2. Jonathan says:

    Heh… yeah. I don’t think I started using miniatures until 1999, when 3E came out i think (which is when Wizards really started in with the “hey… use miniatures” angle). Now, I’ve never been to GenCon, but haven’t all the D&D sessions at each year’s gencon always used miniatures? I dunno, maybe its a matter of perception: new players see D&D as a miniatures game, its TANGIBLE, you can see all the little doods all over the game table. Shyt.. even to someone who doesn’t know a damn think about D&D.. seeing a game table set up with dozens of miniatures “looks fun” (to quote an aunt of mine while walking past a Games Workshop store).

    I miss the old days of storytelling style D&D to be honest. But, now that all my current players are used to it – i don’t know how I could make the switch back.

  3. greywulf says:

    I’ve gamed for almost 30 years, and never wanted or liked minis but finally bit the bullet with my group with 4e.

    We’ve still not completely convinced about using them; we feel they get in the way of the role-playing as the characters stop being “the players” and become “the piece of plastic on the table” when combat commences.

    That said, 4e IS unusable without them, however you butter your aardvark. So, if we want to play 4e, then minis it is.

    Very, VERY grumpy that Wizards’ think it’s a good idea to make a game that needs minis then thinks it’s a good idea to sell said minis randomly. That’s like…… uhhhh…. no, I can’ think of what it’s like. no other company is that darned stupid…………….

    Imagine wanting to play chess and the chess pieces were only available in random booster packs. THAT’s that Wizards’ minis policy is like.

  4. Greywolf says:

    @Greywolf: While I’m no friend of miniatures, I have played for the last year with a GM who loves them. In fact, it makes every D&D session a board game with minis.

    BUT YOU DONT HAVE TO BUY THEM. You could as well use some other token and just remember that the cent piece is a kobold with a scimitar. In fact the random character gives you the chance to get away with less then perfect minis – they never fit PERFECTLY, so you got to make compromises – so the skeletons are goblins to today…

  5. Ken Newquist says:

    I think it’s all in how you use them, and the make up of your group. We’ve used miniatures since our campaign begin, back in the waning days of 2nd Edition D&D, as a visual and tactical aid. In combat, it helps everyone to understand where the heroes are relative to one another, and a well-painted mini gives players that little extra something to help visualize characters.

    I don’t think it’s hampered role-playing; that still happens during combat, and we easily transition from combat to role-playing and back again without any great difficulties.

    My group likes a mix of tactical gaming combined with role-playing, so for us, it works well.

  6. Hey there,

    Being in a third world country forces us to adapt. Because of that I’m currently using a mathematics notebook with a square grid in every page as my battlemat.

    Player positions are marked with simple shorthand notes like a triangle, a circle, a star, anything that can be scribbled quickly. So far it’s working for our group, and I get to pass the map around to the players if they want to see and study the positions.

    The upside to this is that it’s completely resistant against knocking over or displacement due to the table being jostled or moved. The downside is that after a single combat, the paper’s smudged in half-erased marks and lots of cover and concealment lines.

    That being said, roleplaying still takes place in my D&D 4e game, even if the combat’s taken a turn for a more wargamey side of things. I won’t cross the line and say that it’s necessarily better, since I haven’t played 3.x, only being familiar with WoD, nWoD, L5R and HERO, but I will say that my group is definitely having fun.

  7. justaguy says:

    Well… on one hand, yeah it’s kinda crappy that the minis are random. On the other, it’s been relatively easy to pick up individual minis in other ways. Either e-bay or local stores that resell individual minis. And, generally, most of the minis are cheap this way. Up until the point you buy so many it becomes non-cheap… not that I did that.

    As for mini use to the actual game… Well, I’ve used them on and off over the years and I’m torn. On one hand, yeah they are bit more cumbersome but on the other they tend to get everyone on the same page. I never really ran into the issue with minis not matching players 100%, because I never had anyone care that much. an I’ve never foudn them a huge burden when I use them. Unless you consider my crappy drawing and painting skills burdens…

  8. Scott says:

    4e isn’t that much more minis-oriented than 3e. The rules are written in terms of “squares” and so forth, but by converting 1 square = 5 feet, you can finagle things just like you could in 3e.

    Minis definitely help, though. Just like in 3e. (Seriously, tracking things like AoO and partial cover was a lot easier with them.) They’re a little more important because combat is a lot more mobile.

    But you can get by without them, if you really try to.

    The random packing, that’s a separate (and very valid) complaint. But there are plenty of places to get singles fairly cheap, unless you have the misfortune of wanting one that’s a “good” rare. I visited a local game store and got a small army of humanoids and a couple of humans and demi-humans for around $10.

  9. As far as I’m concerned, 4e is not an RPG – it is a miniatures based skirmish game with a few roleplaying trappings – and that is absolutely fine if you like that sort of thing (which I do).

    I get a game of 4e in about once a month, but I look for my roleplaying fix elsewhere (with the HeroQuest 2 playtest rules at the moment).

  10. Bob says:

    @Wickedmurph – I wouldn’t quite using the cooking example myself. That would suggest that I could go into almost any store and pick up a good alternative whereas these days I’m lucky if theres 3-4 shops in my nearest city that sell the books and even less that sell figures no matter who the producer. WotC are selling the blister packs of miniatures in bookshops and so have no competition in those cases.

    Back in the early days when folk like Gygax were were running things in the RP world when you bought a roleplay system you got everything you needed in one box. It was only when new ideas came out that you got new books. These days it seems they purposely split the books or rewrite things to make make money. I know why they do it but it goes against how the RP scene brought me up.

    @Jonathan – I have to admit I’ve barely played 3/3.5Ed thanks to the cost of replacing all our 2nd edition books so I’m not an expert on it but my very first exposure to D&D was certainly with a table full of figures. That film E.T. has a lot to answer for! ;)

    @Greywulf – Its that angle of the players stop being the character and the game revolves around the miniature that I really don’t like.

    The random blisters are another bugbear of mine. Back when I first started and miniatures for RP were still sold quite openly in our gaming shops in the UK you had a choice. Pay a premium to get a blister with one figure and you basically got to chose or pick up a blister with 3-5 random figures but those random bags were always class or monster based so you’d get a bag of mages or a bag of orcs etc. None of this complete random thing.

    @Greywolf – I’ve done the token/substitution thing before whilst wargaming. It works but I’ve found only the token side works. I spend a lot of time trying to get the description of an area to feel real in a players head but as soon as I place something on the table that isn’t actually there even if it represents something that is then some of that picture in your head disappears and it a real struggle to get that feeling back.

  11. Bob says:

    @Ken – I think thats where my groups have differed. It’s all about the roleplay and we try and deal with the combat as fluidly as possible so that there isn’t any real difference between them. I’m not sure if this is because we never really used mini’s that we do this or we’d have done that anyway?

    @Pointyman2000 – Thats basically what we’ve been doing for years although its not necessarily a square ruled notebook we use.

    @Justaguy – We’ve been quite lucky in the past that a lot of our players have been really good at art and just whilst doodling during gamed we would end up with character portraits which gave that same connection people seem to have with their miniatures.

    A prime example of why I’m not thrilled about the new D&D minis is the random blisters as I mentioned but also its the fact they’ve introduced new races that no one really makes figures for. You could fluff it and use something vaguely similar but a large proportion of players are going to want something that actually looks like their character. It’s one thing to fudge a human fighter that has a longsword and cape when you have a two handed sword and scale mail but its different if the minis race looks nothing like the pictures in the books.

    @Scott – Unfortunately none of our local gaming shops repackages the random blisters so we’re left with importing them which isn’t cost efficient. For that price I can just by the blister pack anyway and bin the other figures.

  12. Bob says:

    @David – Thats exactly how I’m feeling about 4Ed right now. My problem is D&D actually is/was my roleplaying fix when im not playing WoD.

  13. greywulf says:

    I agree – you don’t HAVE to use Wizards’ own miniatures. I just think it’s silly that Wizards’ policy on random miniatures means that folks end up having to look elsewhere (ebay, counter collections, home made, jelly babies, whatever) for what they want.

    It’s like they want us to use miniatures, want to sell us miniatures, but don’t want to do it in a way that makes sense. So, rather than get the sales, we go somewhere else.

    They say it doesn’t make economics sense to sell non-random minis. But surely not getting the sale makes even less economic sense?

    Like I said, it makes me grumpy :D

  14. Scott says:

    @Bob: Ugh… that makes getting the minis a lot harder, yeah.

    In the 3e days, I knew someone who’d buy one package every three months; you do tend to end up with a good number of common mooks and a couple of PC/NPC types, that way. You also end up with things that you might never have used otherwise, but that inspire you. Like Leaf Blights.

    There’s also the option of using other companys’ minis… assuming you can find a merchant in your area selling them. Usually those are metal and cost as much for a single figure as a blister pack of the plastic would, anyway, though.

    A cheap option is to buy a piece of cardboard or posterboard, cut it into squares, and write “orc” or whatever on each square as you need them. Even when you pick something nice and durable, it’s not too hard to get a couple hundred counters for pocket change. They’re also lightweight and take up very little space.

  15. Hammer says:

    “As you can probably tell I’m not really feeling the new edition just yet. Is it just me or are WotC trying to push every single angle they can to get you to part with every spare bit of cash you have?”

    Looking back at the release lists for 3.0 and 3.5 and the up-coming 4E releases, it’s pretty obvious that WOTC are trying to grub everything they can out us. Not that it’s anything new, but the degree to which they are doing it is getting a bit excessive – especially as core rules from 3.0/5 seem to have been cut with the soul purpose making us buy more books so we have any idea how the rules work.

    Personally, I like miniatures and love doing all the dungeon map preparation and so on. But the emphasis on combat over RP in core 4.0 is a bit tiresome. They did the same thing with the Star Wars RPG a few years back. Wouldn’t be surprised if they reissue D20 Modern with emphasis on miniatures.

    One thing I do really like about the miniatures is that some of them are visually stunning and they are a good visual prop.

  16. Bob says:

    Thanks to this post I’m actually considering bringing miniatures into my games. I won’t be adopting 4E anytime soon or for that matter 3/3.5 but I think for the major set pieces in the game it may enhance it a little.

    I’m also a good sucker for a good miniature myself. Been a good few years since I’ve had teh time to sit and paint though. I’ve got a W40k Imperial Guard army still to paint. I’ve started my first squad and managed to paint 2 tanks in 3 years. Still leaves me with about 100 troops and various bits and bobs to get through. I like painting individual models…not whole armies!


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