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Basing preference: Plain or detailed?

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In a gaming Facebook group I'm a part of, someone asked a question - do you prefer plain black bases, or detailed terrain bases?  The question seemed obvious to me.  When I started painting miniatures, bases were either broccoli or square, and a plain black base was looked at as an unfinished base.  At the very least you sanded and drybrushed or flocked them.


The answers in the group surprised me.  Out of dozens of answers, the overwhelming majority preferred plain bases.  They felt that detailed bases took away from the miniature, and that it was counter-immersive to be playing a game and have a dwarf with a snow base, and elf with a forest base, and a fighter with a desert base wandering around in the same stone floored cave.


It was also notable that the vast majority preferred round bases.  Some of those that did didn't just prefer them, the vehemently hated square bases.  I wonder if some of the change in views on bases are a result of the popularity of the pre-painted D&D minis line over hand painted miniatures over the past decade?


Anyway, it was an interesting enough discussion that I thought I'd bring it here and see what people had to say.

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I greatly prefer playing with figures that have scenic bases and making scenic bases even if they "clash" with the current environment that the character in use is in. To me, I do the base to set the mood and COMPLETE the miniature (usually it's a very personal base meant to help tell a little story of where they are from or what they did), I feel that plain black bases distract and make the figure incomplete... My own personal opinion.  I also prefer 25mm (1 inch) square bases as they actually give a little more room to pose figures. I use mine for gaming (D&D), which is why I don't use bases bigger than the 1 inch for medium sized.  

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For miniatures wargames, I use whatever basing standards are required by the game. For the games that I play, that's usually rectangular, multi-figure bases.


For RPG figures, I use a size that works with the figure, biased toward bases that will fit (for "Medium" figures) into a 1" square. But I typically try to go a bit smaller than 1" in at least one dimension so that the terrain on the map can be at least partially seen.


For display figures, I'll use whatever works with the figure.


In all cases I do some sort of work on the bases: rocks, sculpted boards, tile, flock, bushes. I have some 1/285 armor figures where each base is a simple diorama -- The four bases of bicycle infantry can all be put together to show a bicycle platoon travelling down a dirt road with trees, the halftracks show dismounted figures in a hasty fighting position, some using the halftrack for cover, and so on.

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I'm not surprised that a Facebook group would prefer plain. The majority of people out there who play with minis at all would be RPGers, and the majority of them probably don't even own the minis they use; they probably pick them from their GM's big box of pre-painteds.


Conversely, I am not surprised that so many here prefer scenic, since that's pretty much what we do here.


When I paint minis to put up on the table for sale, I base depending on who I think is most likely to buy them. If they are specifically for wargaming, I go ahead and go to town, since those dudes usually want the scenic stuff and take better care of things. If they are generic, and likely to be picked up for an RPG, I tone it down and tend toward tougher materials, like styrene or solid resin bases, or similar. That's because those are more likely to be dropped, kicked, knocked across the table in a fit of gamer rage, or have Mountain Dew spilled on them.


For my own stuff, it depends on how far down the road I am thinking, in terms of use. I might base for whatever setting or terrain I believe the mini will see the most in-game, or I base per the theme of the mini itself.

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I fall between the two camps. I don't mind plain black bases, but I prefer a little bit of groundwork of some sort. I'm not fond of over-detailed basing though; I feel that it tends to compete with the figure, and I reserve that sort of thing for dioramas or figure vignettes.

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I prefer decorative bases, even if it's impossible for the terrain on the base to match the terrain the figures are on.  I mean, it's not like I expect the figure to always carry the weapon the character has in-game, or always to be in the same pose as whatever action the character is taking in-game.  The pose and base detail help to contribute to an atmosphere/aura to say something about the character, I think, or his "native habitat."


The base I go with is often dictated by the game I play (e.g., Iron Kingdoms and its lipped bases at 30, 40, 50, or 120 mm diameters), but when I have a choice, I tend to go for 25mm round bases for "normal human" sized characters.  Since I have an abundance of them, I make a lot of use of leftover Mage Knight and HeroClix bases for figures that are a bit too large for 25mm rounds.  Any larger than that, and I tend to go with whatever is the smallest base I can fit the figure on without too much fear of it falling over.


I'll use plain bases when I have to, for the sake of getting things done quickly, but I prefer decorated bases when I have the time and resources.  I just think they're more fun that way.  I realize that sometimes I've gone a bit overboard with trying to cram things into a decorative base, to the point of elevating the figure a bit too much or adding too much clutter to be practical.  I try to be better about that now.  :)

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I think you will find that there is a difference in basing preference between RPG gamers and skirmish/wargamers.


Bases help unify a cohesive force in wargaming and add a lot of character. For warbands/ armies, scenic basing is obviously the superior option. This is my preferred game type.


In RPGs circumstances vary widely; each character is unique and each player has their own interpretation of what their character should be, leading to a patchwork of basing options.


Personally, I fanatically prefer decorative bases - even in RPGs. IMHO a mini in a RPG is glorified placeholder. Unlike wargames where WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get), characters often vary considerably from their mini depending on circumstance (weapons and armor change as characters adapt to different environments over time). Because of this, I say go all in - make the token as differentiable as possible from the others, and let it convey a.... story or aspect of personality of the character. A dwarf on a snow base will convey a different feeling than the same dwarf on a lush jungle base. If you start adding in references to backstory then the miniature really comes to represent the personality of the character rather than their current material state.


That said, I love making terrain too, and for a while I pondered the idea of mounting my minis on clear acrylic bases so it would appear as though they were standing on whatever terrain was below.


As far as basing shape goes, I'm inconsistent. I generally pick whichever base looks best on the mini. sometimes they have vertices, sometimes they don't.

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