Tuesday, 1 February 2011

When lives co-world (2)

This second instalment has been a long time coming. The first summarised itself thus:

The point is then that there's plenty wargamers and roleplayers have in common, and much to learn from the complementary ways of doing things. Part of my interest with this blog is placing the two side-by-side and seeing if they can't get closer still.

Since I wrote those words we wargamers - specifically 40K players - and roleplayers - specifically D&D players - have been bickering in our more or less separate groups, about labels regarding competition in the first case and the relative merits of the various editions in the second. Oddly it seems there are more heated disagreements within the groups than between them. There's not much left to say on either subject, and the sum of my thoughts I've already put in the comp post and post on ruleset size.

Perhaps these groups have too few points of contact, too little shared surface for friction? Well, no. The third blogroll to your left is the much discussed fuller spectrum, listing blogs on more than just one approach, presenting a mix of game types or storytelling with miniatures. These guys presumably belong to more gaming communities than most. Not much sign of conflict though. And even where a less blended blog focuses on one style of gaming, there are those which happily embrace other approaches, again with no obvious difficulty. Unknown Destination for example might be described in simple terms as an old school D&D blog with a thing for miniatures, while Galaxy in Flames I could comfortably say is a 40K blog with an interest in the narrative of the wider game world, in this case the 41st millennium.

The particular subject I'm going to dwell on today was trailed a long while back here, and it was summarised like this:

... rather than the base being an extension of the miniature and a link with the tabletop, the miniature is actually an extension of the base, and the base is a part of the game world.

The models that set me on the path were this power-armoured space marine at diceRolla and this terminator-armoured at A Gentleman's Ones. What's so special about these, you might ask, isn't this a common approach? Well, yes, especially the first, and increasingly the second too thanks to themed resin bases and more imagination. And that's great. See WarPaint's new gretchin for an idea of how subtle but effective it can be - and he made the landscape himself. For a different style, try the home-made Eldar-themed bases at The Dark Workshop. Since then I've seen more examples of the second too - this dreadnought at Truddenia is a good example.

So what do I want to say? Slightly different things to each group, then more to all.

Wargamers - they were cool models weren't they? Something we'd probably all do given the time and funds. Well that's a big step. That's an expression of love if not necessarily for the game world, at least for the imagination. Even if you feel the need to paint your army according to the liveries and markings laid down on high, you can still stake your claim to the world in how you model the the base. You tell the story. Why not carry that into the game? Why not overturn conventions, move out in new directions and make up negotiated rules on the fly for cool and unexpected events, or even possible events you'd love to see? That base is the portal to a new world of opportunity. If 40K's your thing, look into Kill Zone, just updated, and The Codex Project.

Roleplayers now. Hard to say how we feel about those miniatures, isn't it? We might well have wondered at the brutal ugliness of the designs, and scrap and barbed wire might not be our idea of an attractive game world. Maybe some of these can inspire, or some of the excellent links from this discussion? Going beyond the specifics, we love exploring spaces, corners of rich worlds. As roleplayers we almost certainly work from maps, and might well mark progress on a map in some way, quite possibly with miniatures. Geomorphs are all over the place at the moment. Well, why not go a step further and make some map elements more permanent? You could start with key items and features, something like these, these and this at Dr. Willett's Workshop, then move onto corridor sections and generic, re-usable rooms. How about a special set for the campaign showdown? Materials are cheap - polystyrene and plaster is quite possibly how most of us start, and details and paint can come later. For inspiration you could browse the 'Mapmaking merry' series here, listed lower down the right-hand column; of the four so far, the first and second might suit you best. I'll aim to get a big new post up in the next few days. But why? For a different kind of expression, for time away from the number crunching and paper, from pencils and dice. Indulge the artist within, get tactile - show yourself in another medium. It's a breath of fresh air, and will likely give you a different understanding of spaces and decor that will feed back into games.

The message for all of us then is this, and very simple: look at what we can laern from each other, from what are essentially very like minds. It might be summarised as metaphor in this: think into the landscape. What does that mean in practice? Take a look at these two posts for some sense of it, the first here at Hungry Ghosts, the second here at Nesbet Miniatures. We're interested in gravity, fauna and wind. Simple, but very powerful effects, that not only make the model look better, but help make the game come alive too. See what can be done with just a bit of imagination. If you're modelling that world, using greenstuff to get the effect you want is much easier than you might think, as I'm trying to show with the 'Porky models' series. The first Ork to come out of the project is here. Orks might not be your cup of tea, but greenstuff doesn't need to mean greenskins. For only this one model I've made pouches, monstrous teeth, a bracelet, cables, a strip of cloth, straps of leather and a pair of mushrooms, among other elements, all of which have uses beyond this context, and if I can do it, you most certainly can. If you're visualising that world in other ways, perhaps think how you can help visualise it better, by getting certain parts out of the mind and into reality, and freeing up capacity for exploring the lesser-felt details.

Our gaming worlds clearly overlap. In a certain sense then, some bickering between the various groups would be a good sign - it would mean the emotional connection is there too. If you want to start now, I'd be happy to host it. That said, we might try to bypass the bickering in this and get straight to fruitful discussion and debate. That's our scenic base - to explain the photos - our shared, open window into the hobby, the flora binding the ancient edifices and the fun falling like soft snow to cover the decrepit barriers.


The Angry Lurker said...

Being a wargamer it's all about imagination for me, I visualise everything before and during the project no matter how long it takes, the mixing of companies is sourced and welcomed.Scenery is everything with more than needed the best way to go but imagination is king.

Trey said...

While I've never been a wargamer, I wholeheartedly support their right to exist. ;)

Sean Robson said...

As both a roleplayer and a miniatures wargamer I see no conflict between these two styles of play - I see them as two facets of the same gaming hobby. Indeed, the line between the two often becomes so blurred that the distinction is moot. At what point does narrative storytelling in a 40k campaign venture in roleplaying territory and, likewise, when does the tactical maneuvering of miniatures in a roleplaying encounter venture into wargaming territory?

Considering that D&D arose from Chainmail when Dave Arneson said, "Hey, what if instead of each player fielding an army we each control one hero and work together," it's hardly surprising that the boundaries become blurred.

Von said...

I've been doing one for as long as I've been doing the other, to the extent that I honestly forget which one came first. Identifying with and personifying wargaming factions is the only way I can access them in any sort of long-term, fulfilling manner - contrariwise, I've always been drawn to the little stories within big conflicts when it comes to roleplaying.

I'm starting to think I should have given Inquisitor another chance...

Porky said...

This is perhaps the best set of comments that could be hoped for, glowing with tolerance and even professing the love! Without wanting any loss of variety, I hope very much that the approaches and views you've put are spreading through the hobby.

To some extent, with something like this being posted at this blog, the message is not reaching those it's really aimed at. Given that we're probably all regular readers of each other's thoughts, we can expect to have similar enough feelings on the subject. I wonder what readers of very different blogs and sites would have to say, readers of Bell of Lost Souls for example in the case of 40K. If anyone reading all of this feels the need to dissent in any way, please do.

@ The Angry Lurker - The mix of games your gaming group plays, and the compromise that presumably went in at the beginning, is a great example. I remember the zombie game you ran, and what I read and saw has me thinking of it as an epitome of the fun-above-all-else approach. The daily mini mix is another sign of the openness, and makes you a great ambassador for a relaxed take on things.

@ Trey - Given the combative mentality that has been known to emerge, I hope very much the reverse is true too..!

@ Sean Robson - You've hit the nail on the head here, and the history gets a welcome airing too. I wonder how widely the branching out is known, and I would hope that anyone becoming aware of it sees no justification for a sense of superiority in the relative lifespans, but rather recognises that early miniatures wargaming had a loose ruleset, and was more about simulation than any given party achieving a victory. Well done on making the point about similarities so succinctly too. I need to work on my brevity..!

@ Von - This is an excellent counterpart to Sean's point, with more areas of overlap. There is definitely more than one way to do the thing, but I agree with you that fulfilment really can come from a sense of what the faction is, and that the little story has as much value as the large, if not more. If only those Inquisitor miniatures had been 28mm. Maybe more players would have thrown themselves into it? Higher sales of 28mm minis and parts for conversion, as well as the easier access, longer-term interest and more cost-effective support, might then have made the game a greater financial success too.

Loquacious said...

I do both RP and minis, and I sort of .....um. ignore ....... the different camps and bickering nonsense and go about my merry way. I do what I like and hope that others will be inspired to do the same.

I play games that inspire me in some way, and many times the visual inspiration is most prevalent because I'm afflicted with "ooh shiny" syndrome. I don't mind, it's FUN.

Papa JJ said...

Once again thank you for the great honor of being included in the fun, this is a real treat! I think you know where I stand on the subject, drawing from both worlds I believe makes the experience so much richer no matter what sort of gaming you prefer. It would be interesting to see what sort of reaction you would receive from a larger audience like that of the BoLS community... do I sense another guest article in the works? That would be epic. :)

I was very excited about Inquisitor when it first came out but the issue of scale bothered me right away. I already had so many cool 28mm miniatures and plenty of terrain to go along with them, it was frustrating to then be asked to start all over with the larger figures. This was a significant barrier and kept me from going very far with it initially. Then maybe only four years ago I tried substituting 28mm minis and everything seemed to out work fine and was a lot of fun too. I highly recommend giving this a try.

Since making the adjustment to suit our existing miniatures collections, it has been quite enjoyable for my group playing smaller, more narrative-driven games of Inquisitor to help frame our 40k battles by providing a greater feeling of context and purpose. I haven't had much opportunity over the past several months to integrate Killzone into the mix yet but it surely allows for yet another level of gaming-narrative crossover. Add to this rulesets like BFG, Planetstrike, and the Fantasy Flight RPGs and you now have quite a gaming arsenal on which to draw for all manner of 41st millennium craziness.

Von said...

Inquisitor as produced did require a massive investment - not only in the upscaling of terrain collections and the learning of painting techniques appropriate for larger models, but also the learning of something that was palpably different from other GW games. As a game that attempted to bridge the divide between roleplayers and wargamers, it ended up becoming a casualty of the fear of difference that seems to afflict both...

Most of the successful Inquisitor games I've seen have been with 28mm figures (and, admittedly, some lovely conversions thereof), and while I see the sense in that I must confess a certain sadness. Those 54mm pieces were gorgeous, and I did enjoy painting mine even if I didn't do them justice.

Maybe I'll give 'em another go one day and build some scale terrain for home games - at least that way I can provide the complete experience for people wanting to give it a go.

Dave G _ Nplusplus said...

I'll recommend myself as further reading on this subject:
I'd be really interested to hear your thoughts on this.

I too tend to avoid much of the bickering in gaming circles. For a long time now, we haven't been able to put gaming sessions together, and the city I grew up in had very cliquey, unwelcoming staff at the gaming stores with tables, so I've gotten into the hobby side of things pretty strongly and love it. I game to have fun.. hence "game". I got away from drama after high school, and don't feel like introducing it into my life again to argue over tactics, lists and such, all of which are very subjective and regional for a game based on random outcomes.

Porky said...

@ Loquacious - That's the way to do it. Life's too short for such tight categories and needless prescription, and certainly for anything less than reasoned, reasonable and constructive exchange of views.

@ Papa JJ - You were in it right from the beginning. There is actually a second guest article already written and semi-submitted, and if it ever gets posted there, it ought to make waves.

@ Papa JJ & Von - With the popularity of Kill Team, Kill Zone and the continuing love of Necromunda, Mordheim and Gorkamorka, it has to be a question of time only before we see another full 28mm game in the same vein. Think how it would be received after this long drought.

@ Von - That fear of difference does exist, although these comments here do seem to belie the fact. As I wrote in my first reply, we all seem very much alike, and are probably not typical of the wider community. I for one wouldn't like to see uniformity of approach emerge; I like the idea of greater experimentation breaking the old categories and bring new and even more diverse ideas.

@ Dave G _ Nplusplus - I remember reading that and loving it, not least for the choice of pics, and the classic Golden Demon entries especially. The image research and range of suggestions are amazing, but for me the vision is the thing, seeing what we all see, but understanding it in a very different way and articulating the concerns. It's extremely pertinent still, and to far more than painting of course. Here's the plea that resonates way beyond the painting table, and even beyond the hobby:

"We have to try something different. The longer we wait, the more stale things are going to get."

I recommend reading it too, and the readers here that haven't already done so will surely gain from the experience. Here's a direct link:

Bringing a New Style to the Hobby

Porky said...

Anyone ready for more on the subject can find Sean's continuation of the discussion in this post at Tales from the Flaming Faggot.