[minis+] Step One: Look for the story in the mini

edited April 2012 in Play Advice
A while back, I was involved in a thread discussing whether maps were good or bad for play, and I got a bit bitchy when some of the discussion turned to minis use. One of the other posters asked to, rather than being bitchy, write something positive about why I like dminis or tips for using them.

Fair play and a good suggestion, so here's my attempt at giving a couple of tips that I do think are positive.

Before you do anything else, beore you make characters, before you start figuring out the game's mechanics for postioning and movement, or whatever else is usually associated with minis use, go pick up a miniature that catches your eye and look at it.

You don't even have to own. Next time you're at the FLGS, take a wander over by the minis racks, scan around a bit, and pick a mini in the pack that catches your attention.

Pull it up close enough to make out some details, and then really look at it.

The first things you'll notice are the obvious things. It's this sort of character from that sort of setting.

Look at its gear and clothes, its expression, its pose.

Just drink in the visual, and then let your mind wander. it will remind you inevitably of something. A character from some other source material or maybe someone you've met. It will give you some sort of inspiration and mental references.

Got that? Great. Now just embroider on that mentally a bit. Think up a name, a personality trait, a job, just one or two things about the character that seem obvious to you from what you're getting visually and the mental connections you're making.

Don't get really in depth.

Now that you've got that down, do the same excersise again with another miniature. Or pick a multi mini pack. Whatever.

Do that with 3-5 different miniatures.I'm not talking long, like a few seconds for each one. Maybe a whole minute.

Maybe take those packs of minis and set them down side b y side and let your brain wander and connect the ideas you've already gotten earlier. How do all of these weird things fit their individual stories together?

Done? Okay, now go for the bonus round advanced step: Look around at the terrain your FLGS has available. if they're selling minis, chances are high they also have some kind of tables for minis wargaming and associated terrain toys.

Just mentally pick out a few items and imagine they form the setting that those chosen character minis you just did the excersise with inhabit. It's where the main action of a story with those mix of characters would take place.

Cool. I appreciate you playing along with me through this post, and I hope you actually do try that excersise next time you're at the FLGS. My recommendation is to avoid trying it with fantasy minis. Choose the Reaper company Chronoscope Line Rack instead. You'll likely get even weirder ( and possibly more interesting) ideas.

When I'm in a thread, and I'm talking about minis use being more than just for tactical positioning and the fiddliness of that sort of thing, the ideas you get from the method I've just written up here are what I'm trying to get at.

It's about using them as inspiration for starting off a story set up, the way you might use another sort of visual art, like a painting or illustration, except that ypu can continue to manipulate these physical bits of art, re-arranging them as desired, during play.

It's entirely agnostic in approach to the question of whether one will use them with very fiddly measurement and positioning in the traditon that comes down to us from miniatures wargaming, or use them more in a casual fashion in that regard and only make roll offs for clarification as one tends to in non-minis using approaches to gaming.

I will emphasize though that i do consider this Step One!

If you start with this method when, for example, creating a character, you will feel less disconnect than if you'd made a character first, imagined all sorts of things about them, then chosen a miniature after that. There is lways a bit of a disconnect between player and character when miniatures are involved, but that gap is vastly greater if you choose a mini after the fact.

Well, that's me blabbering enough. Thoughts? Comments? Questions?


  • edited April 2012
    Bob, this is cool stuff. I do this a lot when I'm making encounters, finding a cool mini in my collection or at a FLGS and then building a new monster and an encounter around it.

    Monsterpocalypse minis are great for making gnarly monsters -- this guy became one of a mating pair of Octoprongs, who were mining evilite out of the kidneys of the dead God of Mercy and who had to be stopped!

    To take it one step further, use Google Images to find cool line or pixel art and print figs using those images.

    The last time our party faced robots, they were berzerker bots with lighthouse heads that shouted KILL THE HUMANOIDS! at them.
  • Posted By: johnzoBob, this is cool stuff. I do this a lot when I'm making encounters, finding a cool mini in my collection or at a FLGS and then building a new monster and an encounter around it.
    From stories I've heard fourth hand, some of the really weird early D&D monsters were made in much the same way: Early GMs like Gygax and Arneson found cheap plastic toys either from cereal boxes or gumball machines ( accounts vary) and just let them inspire the monsters in their dungeons. IIRC, both the roper and otyugh were supposedly from this method.

    For anyone else reading this thread, ifyou're interested in this trying sort of experiment and want to try it kinda collectively, I'll find some weird comboes of minis from sites I already know, then y'all can tell me how they fit together, or even how the individual mini inspires a character if you'd prefer.
  • I find this method interesting. My main problem with minis is that they tend to be pretty pricey.

    Anyone know any good sites or places to get weird cheap plastic toys and the like? I find that sort of thing harder and harder to find these days.
  • Posted By: whiteknifeI find this method interesting. My main problem with minis is that they tend to be pretty pricey.

    Anyone know any good sites or places to get weird cheap plastic toys and the like? I find that sort of thing harder and harder to find these days.
    Paper figs are pretty awesome. I am a fan of simple 2D paper models, though most folks dig the fancy "2.5D" models with intricate folding patterns. Making up a batch of paper minis is really inexpensive, and buying some plastic bases (also inexpensive) gives them the sturdiness of any plastic/pewter model.
  • edited April 2012
    Joe is right on the paper minis. I mostly use papermodels for terrain buildings. There are a number of decent ones out there, either free or very cheap for multiple periods/genres, provided you already have access to a printer.

    The other trick is to just plain be a bargain hunter. Check out sites like theminiaturespage.com, bartertown, e-bay, and whatever local sites you have. Lots of minis heads are magpies, and buy more than they'll ever get around to using. You can keep track of new ads, but often simply asking for stuff you'd like produces pretty great resulting bargains too, as people suddenly remember stuff from an unfinished project gathering dust in a closet and offer it at deep discount prices to help fund their latest project.

    I actually wrote up a fairly detailed essay a long time ago for a site Levi K was running on the topic of getting into minis use on a real world budget. Maybe Levi will pop into the thread and show us where that site is stashed these days.

    If folks are interested, I can start a new thread on how I approach building up a themed collection of stuff on a relatively Working Joe level of income.
  • edited April 2012

    If you had an idea for a specific type of collection you'd like to build, even just at a kinda woolgathering level of interest, it would be easier for me to show how I'd go about doing it and have other people jump in with ideas that might work too.

    The core general concepts I've been able to figure out are:

    1) Start with a small collection of flexible stuff that you'll use pretty regularly early on
    2) Bargain hunt for all of the stuff, but especially the mooks of the setting and the general use terrain
    3) Be prepared to spend a bit more money on stuff you'll really want to focus on, like the cool villains and heroes, but kow you'll only have a few of those
    4) Put aside a bit of money for the odd superbargain pieces that pop up for sale that fit with and easily expand on the stuff you've already collected. Do this forever.
    5) Learn to love your recycling bin, and look for free advice online for turning that into landscapes, buildings and vehicles on the cheap.
    6) Learn to love free downloadable paper models or inexpensive PDFs of the same
    7) Find sites where minis gamers hang out and ask advice, even if you won't be wargaming as such with your minis. Wargamers are imfamous cheepskates in the best possible sense.
    8) Remember that your hobby skills and colllection will both increase in caliber over time, and also remeber that many, many minis gamers play successfully with stuff significantly simpler than those near-museum diorama quality pieces you see people showing off.
    9) The discount fabric store is also your friend. A couple of yards of inexpensive felt in some appropriate color as a base for your table layout makes anything you put on already look about a thousand times more pleasing than the base table surface.
    10) Almost anything you need for terrain early on that doesn't come out of the recycling bin or your printer can be acquired on a long hike in the country or a quick trip to your home and garden supply store.
  • If you want attractive paper figures on a budget, Patrick Cruciau has gifted the internet with many wonderful paper fig illustrations from a wide variety of genres. Ancients, fantasy, Civil War, 1920s, American Revolution, sci-fi, steam, UFOs, X-files ... you name it.

    These are the best figure illustrations I've found, and they're FREE! Yay Patrick!
  • Some good advice. i actually have a pretty sizable collection of D&D minis and Mage Knight minis, but what I don't have are minis more suited for modern/sci-fi type gaming, and just a general lack of "people in any setting now brandishing weapons". Perhaps paper minis would be the way to go there, especially since it's not particularly hard to find images of relatively normal people.
  • edited April 2012
    Posted By: whiteknifePerhaps paper minis would be the way to go there, especially since it's not particularly hard to find images of relatively normal people.
    When I was designing my Writers Conference Roach playset, I wanted to include evocative photos of all the NPCs.

    For example, one of the NPCs was the self-published Martial Arts Sifu / Personal Empowerment Author character, Tag Wicklum, I image searched "martial arts sifu empowerment author," filtering for large images of faces and got dozens of different potential Tag Wicklums to choose from. I chose one and printed it on a photo card.

    The players really liked having photos to help them create these unfamiliar characters; they felt very oracular and fired up our play in the same way that Bob describes for miniatures.

    (obviously, these photos aren't miniatures, but we did use them in play, inserting the photos into our badge holders to indicate the current NPC we were playing. I hope it isn't breaking the thread to talk about these!)
  • Oh yeah, I've used that sort of thing before. In fact, that has been basically my solution for modern games is to just find picture of all the character, print them up on cards and use them as visual aids. It's great (and quite frankly, probably better than minis) for social scenes and general adventuring.

    It's when complex firefights involving multiple parties break out that I find myself wishing I had minis, usually.
  • edited April 2012


    While I mostly want to talk about minis use ( because this is actually a first of a series of related threads I'm hoping to start), a general discussion of using visual art for inspiration is certainly a closely related topic, and I don't mind if no one else does.


    Sadly modern and SF minis are ones that tend to be bit more expensive initially since there aren't as many sources for them. A lot will depend on the scale you want to use.

    For general purpose civilians at lower prices, try hitting Megaminiatures on their site or e-bay store, or look for companies that sell WestWind miniatures, in their superheroes line. there are multiple packs of bystander/modern people minis available for that. Going up in price range, EM-4 sells both plastic annd metal near- future miniatures, and Copplestone has some really nice but rather expensive minis in a cyberpunk/near future vein also ( although pricier than I tend to want to pay).

    Classically, you can look to other collectible minis games for prepainted stuff too. The Star Wars CMG may have individually useful single for sale on different sites, and other pieces from the DC/Marve/Indie Heroclix games might be good bets too for starting a collection. Another sources might be the old Horrorclix singles, which tend to sell at lower prices as it was't nearly as ppular of a game. Try Auggies Miniatures or the Miniatures Market for online sources.

    On the upside, near future, far future, and even postapocalypse in an unknown future can be pretty inexpensive to start building terrain for. The classic base building material for those kinds of settings is right there in the recycling bin: Styrofoam packaging for stuff like stereos and TVs or other smaller appliances. People have been using those things, only slightly modified with a few cuts, a couple coats of paint and some glued on gewgaws as futuristic cityscapes and starbases for decades.

    As mentioned, don't be afraid to just plain place a Wanted Ad around at trading/selling sites like the forum at RPGnet, theminiaturespage.com, or bartertown.

    I dumped off a collection of SF figures I wasn't using around three years ago for, I think, about $30 + shipping. It was around 100 minis from old classic model makers like TSR and Grenadier. I just plain wanted it out of the house.

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