Miniatures and D&D, and wargames and D&D

Squidman, over at Elves ate my homework, recently wondered if people really use miniatures much in D&D, and The Fighting Fantasist rather shockingly argues that minis detract from the game. (A pox upon his house!)

Seriously though, I can see his point. I’ve played in many a RPG session where the specific figures, and terrain pieces, did not jibe with what the DM was describing, and as players we occasionally tried to use this to our advantage (“But how can they see me behind that rock?” “It’s only two feet high.” “But it’s an inch tall — that’s at least 5 scale feet!”) Oi.  In fact, it seems that a lot of people never got into minis for the RPGs.

For the most part, though, I think having complement of figures has tended to enhance the game, and I certainly take pride in being able to whip out a hunchback or a cherub or dozen wererats or whatever the DM throws at us.  The minis set up is a constant reminder of what’s going on, and an aid to imagination.  Ultimately I guess it is a matter of taste.  If you love collecting and painting minis like I do (or at least one person you game with does), you use them; if not, you don’t.

The use or non-use of figures in RPGs always makes me think about the wargaming roots of D&D, and the potential for mass battles in D&D campaigns. You can see a number of discussions of the topic all over the blogosphere (Chgowiz’s Old Guy blog, Delta’s D&D Hotspot, Zak S.’s game blog, and my own blog, among others!) and I’ve come to the conclusion that there are actually at least three competing and somewhat incompatible goals.

1) A playable war game where the players can put on their grognard hats and enjoy a good miniatures game (the important thing being that the game is fun and easy to learn/play and uses a horde of minis, ideally with the PCs involved as leaders types, heroes, etc. on the field).  Similarly The Lord of Green Dragons’ advocacy of Field of Glory can be understood as taking this approach.

2) A simulation of D&D on a massive scale — characters and monsters and spells should all work as they do in the regular game, but somehow the tracking of hit points and such is made more manageable. The central idea is that the flavor of D&D should be retained. Delta has been wrestling with this, and Zak S.’s system linked above seems to be an elegant solution to the problem. TSR’s Battlesystem is another approach, and running a Chainmail game might work too, at least for OD&D.

3) A simulation of a battle from the PC’s perspective, where the PCs get to be involved without needing to don the grognard hat, or even lay out a bunch of figures; what you need is a simulation of the battle that tells you who won or lost, possibly just running the part the PCs actually participated in (seen this referred to as “running a battle as dungeon” but it is also the idea behind the excellent mass combat rules in several old GURPS supplements — I haven’t actually played GURPS in years but at least as of 3rd ed. the mass combat rules were very good and very simple).

Having clarified that, I can now at least understand why I want use HOTT (I like option #1), and why a lot of players probably like #2 (they want to play D&D after all), and why DMs are probably tempted to go with #3.  Three different problems, three different solutions!  Why didn’t I see this distinction sooner?

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Published in: on March 6, 2010 at 3:00 am  Comments (10)  
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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. To me role-playing with mini’s don’t take the imagination out of the games, grids do. I really like the AD&D melee transpires between all foes within about 10’ of each other and rolling randomly to see who you attack in a melee. To me that is the most “realistic” from my little experience in fake weapon sparing. If I had my druthers when melee takes place I would just spar off figures and the side with more combatants gets to flank figures positioned on the ends of the line inward. For example if 4 heroes faced 5 orcs in melee one of the heroes at the either end of the line would be flanked. Which one would be up to the orcs commander. I would only let thieves and assassins target specific foes, but I digress. Anyway the figures themselves are in my mind a big plus. Well painted figures, like yours, are even a bigger plus.

    • Thanks!
      Would thieves and wizards still be able to hang back out of melee? Or would you need to keep a dozen men-at-arms on hand when fighting goblins so your soft targets don’t get mobbed? The one thing that is nice about grids is that they give some tactical options. But 3e/4e probably overdo it.

  2. I hope you don’t misconstrue my post about D&D and minis to be anything but a supplemental suggestion. I will use minis for marching order, for relative positioning and for the sheer entertainment value of having those figures out on the table – where my fun breaks down, in the D&D games that I play in, is when it becomes mandatory for using grids, having to see the game as a chess board versus an abstract combat.

    Having said that, I also love the idea of mass combat in the context of a D&D campaign and have been working (slowly) on how to OD&D-ify HOTT.

    • Yeah, I think there is a huge range of ways people can use minis. See Tom’s suggestion below about doing away with the grid.

  3. (If you’re curious on that bit – let me know – it’s currently a Google Wave document)

    • Yes, I am definitely curious. My efforts have kind of fizzled out!

  4. If you want any info on how my system worked out that isn’t in the blog., let me know–

    I basically ran it like the PCs and their individual foes fight like regular DnD and the rest of the minis fought like a wargame with the PCs in charge.

    • Thanks! I really do like how simply you handled the hit points issue. I guess the two issues I’d worry about with my group, some of whom have even played miniatures wargames, would be they will almost certainly attempt to use complicated formations (shieldwalls, wedges, skirmishers, whatever) and cavalry. Did either come up for you? I’m not sure how to best handle mounted troops. I guess I’d just add the mount + rider’s hp before dividing by 10 and use the better to hit, AC, and move of the two.
      I know you said you wouldn’t bother with morale; but for me morale & formations are the two things that make a battle different than a skirmish.

      • It was more of a skirmish, all told, so formations didn’t come up, but for cavalry I would’ve said:
        -an ordinary horse has 2 hp
        -an ordinary rider has 1 hp
        -if you’re on the ground in melee you hit the mount unless you say you’re going for the rider, in which case you’re at -3 to hit
        -cavalry can attack “en passent” without stopping
        -if the cavalry tries that, only the rider OR mount can attack, (and can be automatically hit back)
        –if it stops and engages, both mount and rider can attack–assuming the mount has an attack stat
        –optional rules for being thrown from the mount at the DM’s discretion

  5. polearms v. cavalry are only at -1


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