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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Minis - Do You Use Them?

I've probably asked this before, but I was listening to the latest Save or Die Podcast on my commute to work this morning and the use of miniatures came up.

Back in my early days of gaming, we used minis and dice interchangeably to determine marching order and occasionally the initial set up of an important battle. We never moved them around or plotted points and the like.

When I returned to gaming it was via Fantasy Grounds - a virtual Tabletop. I played in game that used virtual minis or pogs and those without. Those without always seem to be faster paced and there was more Theater of the  Mind going on.

These days, I DM via Roll20, another VTT, and while I use maps and fog of war to show the players where they are, I don't use minis. Slows the game up too much for my taste.

All that being said, I'm waiting on my Reaper's Bones II box of minis to show up at my door. I love minis. I just don't use them with my RPG gaming.

What about you? Do you use them? Why or why not?

30 comments:

  1. I use them in the games my daughter and I play...just ordered some more yesterday..lol...they will be very useful with all of these Blue Dungeon Tiles I have everywhere. I think there neat too. As far as the games I play in at roll20, most are theater of mind.

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  2. I have found a new obsession with minis. It's Zach Glaser's fault. Lesser Gnome sold me a box set and it was stuffed full of metal, so now I'm buying paint brushes that have like one hair and inventing ways to make terrain for my table. Once upon a time, I had players that were too cheap to buy their own books let alone minis...ah, nostalgia for bygone days. My children get a kick out of using them to play Monopoly and sometimes a giant spider takes out an aircraft carrier in Battleship.

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  3. I was introduced to D&D in 1979 at a house that had an old school wargaming sand table. The only use for minis, even in a place that was so evidently wargaming based, was to indicate marching order.

    I've tried out using minis in OD&D, AD&D, B/X D&D, 3.0, 3.5, and Pathfinder. I haven't found a single edition of those where the minis made the game faster / better for our groups. What we did find is that they seriously changed the way people played the game where they became much more focused on positioning instead of on descriptives and dramatics as well as slowing down the play of combat.

    So no, we are a no-mini game environment.

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  4. Other than a few experiments over the years to see if minis made the game "better", I've never used minis in any RPG I've ran for anything but marching order (exception: a few mass battles fought using minis rules not rpg rules).

    Combat is not the central attraction/activity of my D&D campaigns, so want fast combat. Minis always seem to slow combat down. I've seen games where it takes longer to set up the minis and terrain pieces for an encounter than the average time my groups take to play out a combat. While this is obviously an extreme, even normal use of of minis/counters seems to slow play as players soon start to obsess over exact positions, exact distances, etc. and combat becomes a game of "chess" instead of a fast and exciting part of the adventure.

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  5. We use minis quite a bit, some lead but also some of the Pathfinder Battles prepainted plastic just on top of a map grid (no terrain pieces yet). Has definitely cut down on the "I wasn't standing there!" arguments at the table, helps with line of sight questions, etc.

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  6. When I run a "toy game" like Pathfinder (or 3.5), and I have the space/time I bring out all my toys - out come the Dwarven Forge tiles, the minis, etc. If I have less space I drop the DF tiles in favor of Blue dungeon tiles, a flip mat or gaming paper, but we still use minis or counters. Sometimes I run classic RPGs or DCC with minis (mostly for marching order), but usually I prefer the theater of the mind play - and I usually don't run "toy games" preferring Dungeon World or DCC. But every once in a while I like to break out all the toys and go all out.

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  7. I never used minis until 2003, when I acquired a group that was used to using them and 3.5 came out (written with strong emphasis on using minis), and they definitely detracted from the pace and sometimes the enjoyment of the games. These days I am trying to get away from them....5E is very easy to run TotM, but I feel like I'm having to "re-teach" that style of play to my groups who are so used to Pathfinder/3.5 that they get stuck worrying over exact positioning and other minis-focused minutiae. It really is a shame....the freeform method of combat is so much faster and more engaging, once someone realizes they can do it that way.

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  8. I'm a miniatures junkie.I always use them. It was really about the miniatures and not so much the rules for me. Not that I don't appreciate the rules, I just fell in love with the little wonders. Surprisingly I disliked the later editions of D&D even though they became miniature-centric!

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  9. I used to use them a lot in the AD&D 1 days, back when they were actually made of lead.

    I started using them again in the 3.5 days because my kids and wife love them.

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  10. I've attempted to use them, off and on over the years but they always seem to be forgotten and end up getting buried under beer bottles and chip bags. I'm in a phase where I'm giving them another go but again, they're usually forgotten within minutes. I love the concept of them but they've never really worked for me. Especially playing S&W, the game moved faster without them.

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    1. Agreed. I like the idea of using miniatures, but in the end I always decide against it. They just don't seem worth the bother.

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  11. I used them heavily when my group started to play 4E. It was a good use for my huge collection of prepainted D&D-Minis. Everyone - me included - liked the foray into tactical combat as a main part of our game. It was more of a phase though. Even while still playing 4E, we decided to change back to TotM, which works way better when combat is not supposed to be the centerpiece of the campaign.

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  12. I do use minis, yes. On the tabletop I think they really help for - as mentioned earlier - line of sight and positioning and whatnot. For my Roll20 game, though, I think I'm going to try foregoing them and playing as mentioned above: using maps and fog of war, but not for tactical reasons.

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  13. When I started playing OD&D we didn’t use miniatures in large part because we didn’t have any. Party order was written out on a piece of paper. Later I bought and painted some minis and started using them. I find them helpful to clarify position and line of sight in combat. The dungeon room or wilderness setting was quickly sketched without too much concern for exact scale. Similarly movement was a bit abstract and driven by referee discretion rather than measuring with a ruler or grid.

    When I switched from D&D and other level based games to Runequest I went to a lot of effort to find and paint miniatures that matched specific characters – both my PCs and the PCs of some of the other players. Again they were helpful for positioning and LOS and in RQ 2 vs. 1 makes a huge difference in combat so representing positioning is important to any half-way accurate combat. As before setting and movement was representative not to scale.

    For Call of Cthulhu we had miniatures, but mostly because they were fun to look at. Occasionally they were used to show party order. Only rarely was combat enough of a factor that we used a map or even a sketch. Star Trek was very theater of the mind. We never used miniatures and a room sketch was more likely to be used to let you know who was sitting next to whom at the diplomacy table or on the bridge than it ever was to be used in combat. We did you post it notes to represent ships in ship-to-ship combat but movement and positioning were extremely abstract there as well.

    For Star Wars D6 I accumulated and painted a bunch of miniatures and crafted special miniatures for the key PCs. They were fun to look at. One of my players is very tactile and likes to pick up her miniature when thinking about her character or when making a point. As in D&D and Runequest miniatures were used to show relative positions and LOS. It’s useful to know who you can shoot with a blaster and who is blocked by cover or a walking carpet. Once we switched to playing via Skype miniatures stopped being used since me and my miniatures were on two separate continents and there was no easy way to show them even if I did have access.

    For Honor+Intrigue I don’t have a stash of Early Modern Musketeers, Duelists, and Pikemen and I haven’t been motivated to accumulate and paint a set. Since we are still playing via Skype the appeal is less since half the players couldn’t touch the miniatures or even easily view them. I do miss the positioning and LOS clarity though. Me having a different view of position and LOS from the players or the players having different views from each other is a frequent and sometimes frustrating occurrence. To the point that I am considering switching to a system that displays the scene using tokens or something.

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  14. Don't use 'em and don't like 'em.

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  15. I've never seen the appeal.

    It's too hard to match them to your expectations, and in my experience they drastically reduce imagination.

    When I was first learning the game in 81 or so, lack of availability made the decision. When I thought to restart the campaign and thought people might expect to use minis, the potential expense was staggering. I bought a box of pathfinder pawns instead, but luckily no one seems to want to use them.

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  16. I cannot even imagine gaming without minis. We used classic lead miniatures since the first day I gamed in 1979, and ever since. I've accumulated well over 1000 during the years with, sadly, only about half of them painted (and not by me, I suck at painting). They are cool to look at, fun to position around the table, fun to paint (if you know how, which I really don't), When I pull out the boxes of old fashioned lead miniatures for the players to choose characters from when I run a con game, the players eyes light up and it's like seeing a bunch of kids on Christmas morning. Without miniatures it's just theater of the mind....players trying to do eight impossible things and DMs screwing players. Miniatures, IMO, are an essential part of the experience, as much as the iconic graph paper or funny shaped dice! I wouldn't even participate in a game without some sort of figure used to represent characters and monsters (and the times I have, it nearly always sucks). Now if I could only get some use out of all those boxes of Dwarven Forge dungeon terrain...

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  17. The PC's are minis, we use either a set of wooden game pieces (colored disks, pawn figures, etc ) or cheese balls and licorice twists for the monsters. In the latter case you get to eat your kills.

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  18. I like miniatures, but I never use them. IMO they get in the way and are a pain in the ass to store and transport.

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  19. I paint; it's my main gaming hobby since I can't get time to have a 6-hour block to run a game. BUT, the only reason I use miniatures is to remind me which of my bad guys have done their action. I liked having a painted mini for my character, but I dislike measuring distances/squares when playing, unless I'm playing a wargame.

    I've found that if I put miniatures on the table, my players revert to asking about exact distances and doing the tactical boardgame thing.

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  20. Great spectrum of views here. Good to see this kind of dialogue.

    We tried to use (lead) minis but they always got lost in the woods. We drew the maps with charcoal on big pieces of plywood so you could stand or flip and keep the map awhile (playing in the woods allowed us to smoke dope and play with fire and old girlie-mags, too, away from adult supervision) until the adventure moved from Haunted House to Smuggler's Caverns. Don't bother trying to find a lich-mini (we used it for the dead Rumpelstiltskin Alchemist) in thick maple leaves and forest soil. Bad enough to try and hunt a 12-sider chucked into the woods by some a-hole who got a bum roll . . .

    I'm only playing one campaign right now but I just discovered in the past week how much I hate dicestream and prefer the old-school feel of rolling the bones. There's something "organic" about rolling "plastic" (weird) that cinches the experience for me.

    Amazing, the things that matter when you get old.

    -Rick

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  21. I actually got my start in RPGs without minis, but very soon I was pretty much more into minis that RPing, and during my hiatus from gaming (due to lack of a group, dating, and work) they minis were the only thing that kept me in the hobby at all. Nowadays I'd be perfectly willing to play without them, but I have a pretty big collection and we play at my place so why not use them.
    I don't really get the argument that they detract from one's imagination -- hell, we often use proxies and what not so I don't think anyone at the table assumes the minis are a perfect representation of the encounters and characters.
    I particularly like them for marching order and to help illustrate positions in combat. We don't get too caught up in pixelbitching and staying in the grid, but I can see how that might make for less fun.
    Should I stop gaming again, I will certainly continue to paint minis, even if I never buy another one.

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  22. We use counters in Fantasy Grounds 2 with great success (along with all the other features - FOW, grid maps, targeting, effects, etc). With a big combat it may take a minute to populate but well worth it. The tactical options are fun for our group.

    Back on in the day, playing our version of AD&D/BECMI, we just didn't have a bunch of minis so graph paper and TOTM was it. Twilight: 2000 showed me the fun of minis in a tactical sense and started me on my slow immersion into Wargaming with 40k. Since the I really like to use miniatures and terrain in a face to face game. Now when I game F2F I use Paizo maps, dungeon times and the Paizo Pawns. I have a good selection of pre-painted minis from D&D and Paizo, along with a few reaper bones I picked up and a bunch of LOTR minis from GW box sets (all unpainted) It does help with the atmosphere and the Players like to choose their pawn or mini. And when the players enter the room and I pull out the Gargantuan Green Dragon mini, it is well worth it. So yeah firmly in the mini camp.

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  23. My group never used them until 4E came out. And sadly, I think that was a primary reason we only played it for about a year. I don't know if its just how I developed as a gamer or a personal preference (or both) but theater of the mind is the only way I run now. I will use minis as a player, but its not my first choice.

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  24. I use miniatures for my Pathfinder games, where they're a necessity. I also use them for my Labyrinth Lord games.

    When gaming on Roll20, I have the advantage of using character portraits, so it's definitely better than physical mini's for me at least.

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  25. Miniatures. Bleh.

    In my experience, they've always slowed things down way too much. A combat that should last a half hour lasts two hours. The dynamics, the quick thinking all go out the window. I feel like whenever we have used miniatures in the past, someone should be playing the Final Jeopardy music.

    Our games have gotten so much more fast paced and fun since ditching 3.5/Pathfinder and the fact that miniatures are almost a necessity. Sometimes, we get four or five combat encounters in one session. That would have been unheard of in the 3.5/Pathfinder days of our group.

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    1. Interesting, maybe we should make a distinction between pre-3E/Pathfinder/plastic minis and old school lead? Because in my experience, minis sped up gaming in old school. I have actually sat at a con and watched Dms argue with players for an hour of total gametime about where their characters were during an orc attack because no one was using minis or even places holders to spot their characters (the problem with theater of the mind, if you have divergent minds, you get two different opinions if everyone isn't on the same page). 3E type miniatures were a necessity because of the intricate table manipulations, and I agree it detracts from the spontaneous mood of the game; we just use minis in our old school games so you can see exactly where the characters are in the room or hallway when the carrion crawler drops off the roof. Especially fun when you fight a horde of orcs and I get to dump 40+ orc minis out on the table and surround the PC minis with them! I don't find using minis limiting or slower than not using minis.

      It reminds me of similar arguments like "Do you make your players map, or do you draw the maps for them?" or "How many dice do you roll for character creation?" Same kind of personal preferences involved, no one right or wrong, but strong opinions either way.

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    2. Maybe it would be worth making a distinction between games played at Cons and games played amongst longtime friends?

      For instance, I can easily wrap my brain around what you are saying, vis a vis, the argument at the Con. But I have little experience with Cons. On the other hand, I play regularly with people that I have been close friends with for a long long time. In other words, we've built up enough trust, through longtime friendships, that we all trust each other enough, whoever is DMing, that we don't invest too much of our egos into where we were, and whether the DM is being fair and/or trying to screw us.

      As far as mapping, well, that's a whole other kettle of fish. Map if you want. Or if you don't, don't bother. But as the DM, I'm not doing it for you. And if you don't, well, there are consequences for not doing so. It's up to the players...

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    3. James, there is almost always that one dude at the con that says his character is right behind the bad guy every time....even if you just walked through the door and the bad guy is standing at the altar 100 yds away. Hell who knows how he got there......

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  26. I don't often use minis, but I have been clinging to them for everything during my current Dwimmermount campaign

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