Arcane Game Lore

Notes for tonight's game: TPK!!!

The Role of Miniatures

dnd_Box1stRole-playing games (RPGs) have always been about using your imagination; yet RPGs got its start in tactical miniature games. If you read the history of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), you will find that “it was derived from miniature wargames”. Often the use of miniatures (minis) has mixed feelings in RPG circles, devolving exciting, imaginative action into a tactical board game.

Role-playing has changed since its inception in the 70s, and the proliferation of minis into the system has developed games like Descent: Journeys in the Dark and even the new D&D Adventure System Board Games that play like the old school dungeon crawls from yesteryear. There was a time when I would advise against this. Having sunk many, many dollars into minis over the years, I would find the up-front costs of such games undesirable. But with the increased price of gaming books, the D&D Player’s Handbook costs $50, and the decreasing price of miniatures, D&D’s Temple of Elemental Evil Game costs $65, the price difference is less of an issue.

There is also the Old School Revival (OSR) that supports a simpler rule set, more storytelling and less tactical crunch in RPGs. Now this might appear to go against the idea of using miniatures, but it’s a matter of how you play your games. We have recently switched to D&D 5th edition, and find the lighter rules more freeing to role-play and worrying less about rules-lawyering. We still use miniatures heavily in our games for two reasons. One, our game master likes to make large maps for encounters. And two, not all of our players are keen on trying to visualize where everything is in a fight.

What about replayability? It’s true that fighting new and mysterious creatures is one of the things I enjoy about any game, and using the same miniature for different types of monsters loses something in translation. There is only so many times you can fight a red dragon until the miniature either means the death of the party, or another pair of dragonscale boots to parade through town with. But that doesn’t mean the figures will never be used again. After nearly twenty years, I finally broke out my old, discontinued game of Heroquest to play with my boys. The box is beat up, some of the miniatures are broke, most are still unpainted, and I had to download the original quest book because I can’t find the two I had at one point. But my boys still love the game.


I recently backed the Kick Starter for a board game called Zombicide. I’ve been a huge zombie fan since I watched George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in 1983 (the movie actually came out in 1968). I know there have been other zombie games that came out, and I’ve played a couple, but none of them really caught my eye until Zombicide. I’ve played about 8 times, and each time, it gets a little better. While the game is fun, I find that I’m looking for more minis to enhance the feel of the game. I recently found that 28mm minis are about the same size of 1:43 scale models. I have found some really cheap 1:43 scale cars to use in the game that really adds to feel. I also plan to use these vehicles in our Shadowrun game, so they will get some additional use.

You will have to determine if the investment is worth it in your games. You can have years of enjoyment without ever buying a single miniature, but if you have players that need a map drawn on a white board, maybe adding some minis to the game might be more appealing to them. If you decide to go with a game system, you can get a lot more minis than buying them one at a time, and if you have one of those nights where you’re missing too many players to continue the game, you can bust out the board game and still slay some monsters in a nice dungeon crawl.


Categorised as: General

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