Conflicted about my toys

I love miniature figurines. I have ever since I was a child; one of the great Christmas presents, and one that I've always remembered, was some sets of Airfix 1/32 scale polyethylene toy soldiers.

I have to make a real effort to restrain myself from buying new figures all the time, even though I already own thousands of them (most of the metal ones are still, and will probably always remain, unpainted). I must have spent close to a thousand bucks on those WotC pre-painted plastic figures, even though I kind of hated the fact that I couldn't tell what I was getting in the box (I don't buy them any more, because the overall quality of both sculpting and painting has really gone down the toilet).

The drawers shown here are all full of figures, and they are but a fraction of my collection.

I'm really tempted by those DwarvenForge (?) modular dungeon pieces as well, but I know in my heart that I'd use those once in a blue moon too. So far I've resisted.

For all that I love them so much, I hardly ever use them in roleplaying.

Partly it boils down to laziness; quite often I just can't be bothered hunting through my vast, obsessive collection to find the monster I want. Also, I prefer not to have to break the flow of the game just as combat is beginning just to make sure that we're playing with exactly the right figures. If I remember to prepare beforehand, and separate out the monsters I'm intending to throw at the party, then maybe... but I'm seldom that well organised.

Partly, and in my mind more importantly, it's because the figures themselves are seldom perfect representations of what I have in my mind's eye, and the chances are they're not quite right for any of the players either.

One of the things I love about tabletop roleplaying games is that although we're all working in a common milieu, with more or less precise descriptions of the environment and adversaries from the GM, everyone at the table will be seeing something different in their own imaginations. Everyone pictures their own characters in their own unique way.

Miniatures, and things like the 3d dungeon mapping modules, erode that personalized vision. There's still some imagination at work, but it's going to be heavily influenced, for good or for bad, by the physical reality of the gaming environment. Illustrations and models are useful when description proves to be inadequate, but they're not as personally satisfying as the creations of one's own brain.

There are undeniable advantages to using some kind of tabletop tactical display though. It makes it clear to everyone just what the situation is from moment to moment, so the chances for misunderstanding are lessened — and that's not something to be sniffed at, when one's character's life is on the line.

When we do use figurines, quite often I'll go for something like this in preference to actual monster miniatures.

Actually, the Mr Man toy is probably a bad choice — who could possibly see that and be terrified? Even though I may be describing a foetid, tentacled, bat-winged maggot-demon from the Abyss, dripping with foul ichors and snarling at the characters with a huge mouth full of shark-like fangs, the players are going to see a happy smiling Mr Man and go "Awwwww...."

Bad choice, but good demonstration. That's what I mean by the physical environment contaminating the imaginary one.

I don't mean, by all this, to say that I never use monster figures. What I do mean to say is... I'm conflicted about the wisdom of doing so.

We do tend to use adventurer figures for characters, and they do end up merging in our minds' eyes with the characters they're supposed to be representing. A problem with that is that once that happens, the figurine becomes useless for any other purpose. This figure has been used to represent Annette's character, Zosia the elvish fighter-mage, for many years now. If I tried to use it to represent an NPC... well, it just wouldn't work. Through osmosis, that figure has become Zosia. It could be nobody else.

Ah well, if I can't use that figure, I suppose I'll just have to go and buy another one. Or ten. Or twenty.... just in case.

It's not my fault.


  1. Okay, do a conversion. Give the Man toy some bat wings and tentacles, cover him with slime, and the players WILL fear him. Then use him ALL THE TIME. Bwahahahahahaha... Hhhhmmmm... I need to start searching the toy bins at the thrift stores for a Man toy. He will be True Evil.

    Then I will turn the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man into a Balrog...

  2. This is exactly why I use Meeples and other random stuff from my pencil case rather than actual miniatures!

  3. That's an impressive collection... from where I stand, it would be hard to NOT play them, if purely for a quick aesthetic effect if I actually had the monsters (for example) that matched the encounter. Why not, considering the prep time to be so minimal. Maybe though, you're really a last minute, seat of the pants DM (not that there's anything wrong with that). I get that too.

  4. Great collection. I've got some of the Dwarven Forge but seldom use them.