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Rob Dean

Figures are forever, Rules are ephemeral

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TL;DR: I don't understand tightly linked figure and rules ranges.

 

I was writing my Huzzah report for my blog this morning, and one thing led to another.  My collaborator and I agreed at the convention that next year's game(s) was(were) going to be something using the combined resources of our 16th century home cast 40mm projects.  So, yesterday I dug out my bags of castings to see what I should start working on, and, after blogging this morning I decided that the proper thing to do was to muster the troops on the table and see what I really had. (My last inventory is both hidden somewhere and probably suspect anyway.)

 

IMG_2104.thumb.jpg.83200d889e8932bd1c53bb9a80b5f668.jpg

 

So, there they are: 4 artillery pieces, 18 assorted cavalry stands, 10 stands of pikes and pike command, 5 stands of swordsmen, 4 stands of improvised converted crossbowmen, and 8 stands of musketeers. (Three need repairs, which I can do today now that I've had them laid out.)  

 

The story that goes with these figures is this:

 

I have been interested in the 16th century, and the warfare of the 16th century, for longer than I can remember.  It's probably a combination of being an early music enthusiast and being exposed to Sir Charles Oman's History of the Art of War in the Sixteenth Century at an impressionable age.  In the early years of the current phase of my interest in the miniatures hobby (starting around 1987, say) I would play 16th century games at the conventions when I could, but never started my own project, being intimidate by painting all those Landsknechts.  

 

By the time our club, the HAWKs, had started in 1994, I was already casting some of my own figures from commercial molds.  Chris Palmer, also a member of this board, and I both had fairly extensive mold collections, including two non-compatible 40mm 18th century sets.  Mine were Prince August, and his Nuernberger Meisterzinn. He also had a Meisterzinn catalog.  I don't know much about Meisterzinn, but they were already a zombie company (things kept in production but no new products) by 1994.  They had a small range of 16th century molds, and I thought that it would be an interesting challenge to collect them, cast up some figures, and put a game together.  A set of rules called Armati had just come out, with a Renaissance section and provision for playing with a single stand as a unit, so I used that as the basis for my casting.

 

It took, as these things do, a couple of years to get things done to the point of playing games with them.  Not long after that, Chris decided to build some 40mm Leonardo da Vinci machines to go with them, inspired by a number of games of Leonardo Plus which were run at the cons for a few years.  Those rules didn't suit our collections, though, so we ended up staging a game using home rules at Cold Wars in 1999.  

 

After that, the figures got put away for a while, until Ross and I ended up in discussions about how difficult it would be to convert enough of the figures to form the basis of a 16th century English army (still using the longbow).  From there, we ended up deciding to put on a game in 2004 using a scenario from the Anglo-Scots Wars of the 1540s.  The siege of Haddington in 1548 was nearly a perfect match for our hodgepodge collections, with mercenaries from all over Europe participating on one side or the other.  Once again, we had to write rules to suit our collection of miniatures.  My pictures of that game are unfortunately pre-digital, and buried somewhere.  We even got an award from the convention for that one, because it was unusual and eye-catching.

 

Since then, we dust them off every few years, revise the rules again to taste, and set to.  If I'm at home, I'm somewhat limited by my collection, but I can still put on a decent two player game:

IMGP3942.thumb.JPG.eb90a0af99be4ebb62d97f4dd19ce74f.JPG

 

 

I still haven't managed to get to the Siege of Malta in 1565, but Ross wants to do Turks this next year, so we'll see what happens.

 

Anyway, after all of that, my point and question is this:

 

With my DIY background, I have a hard time understanding what seems to me to be the ever increasing trend of players buying into tightly linked figure and rules lines.  I see posts/listen to podcasts/conversations/etc. in which people grouse about the speed with which games come out and die, and how that renders their miniatures useless.  I may be a little odd, but it's not that unusual in the historical community to accept that the figures you buy are going to end up being used with many sets of rules, that you may need to write a set to match the size of your collection, and that you might want to work on something that you like the look of, because the figures are forever, but the rules are ephemeral.

 

Thoughts?  Are you a new person?  Another grognard like me?

 

 

 

 

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I can't imagine historical miniatures becoming useless. I mean ... history happened.

 

It's not like obsolescence (planned or not) of some crazy proprietary fantasy figure. These are figures of actual (types at least of) people who fought actual historical battles.

 

I would have thought some sixteenth century German mercenaries (forgive my vagueness -- not my field) would be usable in any game of that same scale that involved sixteenth century German mercenaries.

 

I can understand the complaints of, say, Warhammer Fantasy enthusiasts as their armies get retconned or depowered. But history gamers?

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I can't speak for most wargaming setups - I don't play wargames. ^^;

For RPG games, at least we are perfectly willing to take the rules and leave the setting - or take the setting, and leave the rules - as needed. The current example is our homebrew, Mallire. It doesn't fit most of the rulesets available, and neither Mr. Thorne nor I is savvy enough to create a system from scratch.

So... we're using The Dark Eye. Which is very tightly tied to its setting, Aventuria. Prying it apart is likely to be vastly entertaining, but we've done it before... (just try prying the Greyhawk out of 2e/3e/3.5e).

 

But that may just be us. I mean.. last night I cheerfully suggested using Starfinder to run the RPG-side of Battletech (Time of War … Mr. Thorne says the human-scale part of it isn't very effective, almost like they tacked it on as an afterthought or something. >.>). We're neck-deep in convention, so haven't yet gotten to actually see if that will work. ^^;

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2 hours ago, Rob Dean said:

 

It took, as these things do, a couple of years to get things done to the point of playing games with them.  Not long after that, Chris decided to build some 40mm Leonardo da Vinci machines to go with them, inspired by a number of games of Leonardo Plus which were run at the cons for a few years.  Those rules didn't suit our collections, though, so we ended up staging a game using home rules at Cold Wars in 1999.  

 

 

Did you inherit my small collection of figures left over from Landships & Landsknechts?

If not, letme know and I’ll hand them over.

 

And are you sure you still don’t want a collection of beautiful 40mm scaled Renaissance fighting machines? ::D:

 

Edited by Chris Palmer
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13 minutes ago, Chris Palmer said:

 

 

Did you inherit my small collection of figures left over from Landships &Landschneckts?

If not, letme know and I’ll hand them over.

 

And are you sure you still don’t want a collection of beautiful 40mm scaled Renaissance fighting machines? ::D:

 

 

Well, I now live in a bigger house than I did the last time you asked me that question...::D:

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I'm no gamer, but I think one should be able to use minis for any game which suits the time-period/setting.

Your troops look awesome!

 

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1 hour ago, Pingo said:

I can't imagine historical miniatures becoming useless. I mean ... history happened.

 

It's not like obsolescence (planned or not) of some crazy proprietary fantasy figure. These are figures of actual (types at least of) people who fought actual historical battles.

 

I would have thought some sixteenth century German mercenaries (forgive my vagueness -- not my field) would be usable in any game of that same scale that involved sixteenth century German mercenaries.

 

I can understand the complaints of, say, Warhammer Fantasy enthusiasts as their armies get retconned or depowered. But history gamers?

 

So, I should probably have specified that I do generally mean fantasy and science fiction players that complain about figures being useless because games are dead, etc.  

 

In the historical community, the related complaint tends to be about how your historical figures are based or organized.  (This does lead back, though, to my comment about needing to match rules to existing figure collections...it's a pain when you have things based around 16 figure units, say, and you want to switch to a set of rules based around some other number.  You either modify the rules as needed, or go back and see if you can find the reinforcements necessary to bring your units to the newly required number. Sometimes one of these things is easy; sometimes less so.)

 

So, yes, a landsknecht is a landsknecht, and will work as long as the rules will adjust for the bases that one uses.  In my case, I rebased these figures once, and I really don't want to have to do it again.  This is made more difficult by my source of the  thick beveled-edge wooden bases having dried up, so anyone new will be on non-matching bases. ::P:  I have maybe two dozen old bases left, which might be enough, given that my expansion this year is likely to be modest.

 

But to bring it back to fantasy/SF, I do treat my fantasy collection the same way--there's not a lot of proprietary IP in it (i.e. it's pretty Tolkien/D&D/Howard) and I've used the same figures for decades with more rules than I can remember.  

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Answer simple: money.

I cannot stop you from obtaining figurines representing Zulus and British infantry and refighting the Battle of Rorke's Drift. At best, I can manufacture figures and write rules, and sell them to historical game buffs and rage about how Sylverthorne is doin' the exact same thing and cutting into my profits with her infernal ideas about competition being good for the market.

GW, on the other hand, owns an entire slice of the miniatures gaming market, and has the trademarks clamped down good and tight, and periodically attempts to establish legal ownership over the concept of marines who fight in space. GW owns the miniatures, the likenesses, everything, and vigorously defends their trademarks.

When I think of games that rose and died, I think of GW, because they've produced loads of games that rose to popularity and then dropped dead, leaving a great many orphaned miniatures. They're not the only company that DID this, sure, but they're certainly the poster boy. And for purposes of profit, their minis are VERY tightly tied to their games, fluff, and rules sets; this is the BUSINESS MODEL for the sort of gaming that GW sells!

YOUR situation is that you play HISTORICALS, and you can't own history or trademark the likenesses of uniform styles and such. The only thing that will render your sixteenth century models obsolete is the march of progress, skillz, and technology that eventually had me putting aside my old seventies sculpts for the far sharper, nicer, detailed sculpts of today.

 

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I think with the fantasy and scifi games the issue is mostly that most rules sets are not written to be figure agnostic.  With historical games, as long as you have figures in the right scale of the right type, all you need to do is base them properly, and you can play whatever ruleset is available.

 

With a game like Infinity, say, there are only so many figures of cybernetic Japanese hacker dogs (if you can't tell I have no real experience with Infinity) and if the rules are revised to to sudden make your cybernetic Japanese hacker dogs illegal, then you feel put out.  There is also the fact that in general, there seem to be many fewer F/SF players that play older versions of the rules.  I'm always seeing battle reports (mostly yours Rob) of people playing older rulesets in the history genre, but not many people posting games of Vor or WHFB 1st edition.

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I think that this might explain the current popularity of smaller skirmish games like Frostgrave, Song Of Blades And Heroes, and so on. They're smaller (10 or 12 dudes as opposed to 10 or 12 units of dudes), and are figure neutral; use whatever figures you want. There also seems to be games out there that are following this example for mass battle games, too. Lion/Dragon Rampant by Osprey books are pretty good big battle games that aren't tied to any particular line of figures. Kings of War by Mantic is a hybrid of the two; they do make figures, but don't care overmuch what figures you use to play the game (at least that's how it used to be, I'm not positive if they'll change their stance as they make more figures to cover the holes in their line).

 

I've never understood (nor followed) the theory that my 'x' figures are useless because the game is out of print now, or got written out of the current edition. Orcs are still orcs, skeletons are sill skeletons, space marines (if they have helmets on) could be used as robots, and so on. Playing sci-fi/fantasy wargames is supposed to be about using your imagination, stretch it a little further and find some alternate uses for those 'useless' figures.

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1 hour ago, Dilvish the Deliverer said:

I think with the fantasy and scifi games the issue is mostly that most rules sets are not written to be figure agnostic.  ...

 

... There is also the fact that in general, there seem to be many fewer F/SF players that play older versions of the rules.  I'm always seeing battle reports (mostly yours Rob) of people playing older rulesets in the history genre, but not many people posting games of Vor or WHFB 1st edition.

Well, for better or worse, most of the rules are put out by companies that are also in the figure business, so I really do understand their vested interest in keeping things tight.  What I don't understand is why players buy into the whole thing.  

 

There is a certain amount of "Oldhammer" going on; I even bought a copy of 3rd (I think) in case I run across a player who has relaxed enough to let me play my generic figures as well. ::D:  But, yes, historical have a longer "tail".  I'm a little unusual even in that group, though, for my fondness for Charge! (copyright 1967)...

 

1 hour ago, Gadgetman! said:

You can probably cast new bases pretty easily, or 3D print them.

 

 

I'd have to go look for a 3d printer, but I suppose that would work.  Cast them in resin?

 

 

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Pingo, Dilvish, and Doc Bedlam hit the nail pretty much on the head.

 

With Fantasy and Sci-Fi games, the minis tend to be tied pretty strongly to the game itself. In some cases they're even tied pretty heavily to specific versions of the game itself. A change in rules that removes a figure from the game renders that figure unusable in the game until something else changes to bring it back. At best you can use it as a proxy for something that's still valid, but even that isn't always possible because if you're playing competitively in official tournaments then the rules of some companies rule out proxies.

 

If a game straight up dies, so does interest in the game from new players. That's not a big deal if you have a local scene of people who already played and have all the stuff required, but it means you're not going to get many new players because they can't buy the materials. In the case of GW, they tended to make side games that used very specific figures that may or may not have been in the same scale as their main offerings, then kill them after a year or two by pulling everything from sale.

 

It's why I like what Mantic has been doing. Their rules are largely figure-agnostic. As long as you've got the right base sizes and you and your opponent agree about the representation, you're good to go. You technically don't even have to be the right base size, so long as the base is the proper size or bigger.

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ARE there any manufacturers of your plain old historical miniatures (or rules sets) that attempt to weld the use of THEIR figures to THEIR rules or whatever?

I'd noticed that some outfits have begun making figures in slightly bigger SCALES, so's to presumably prevent the use of proxies -- there was a LOTR game that did that, as well as the new Doctor Who game, and I strongly suspect the new Harry Potter game is going to try it.

 

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