What happened to the DIY ethos?

I know that the title of this post is going to honk off some folks, especially within the OSR, who will (rightly) chime in that the DIY ethos is alive and well in the RPG hobby. After all, we’ve got a glut of RPG rules right now – desktop publishing software and print on demand have ushered in a veritable golden age of DIY gaming.

Well… yes and no.

While it is true that there are a ton of new RPG rules being written and published (thanks in large part to Amazon, Lulu, and RPGNow), the hobby does seem to have lost some of the DIY ethos nonetheless. I’m thinking particularly of the accouterments of gaming. There was a time that it was a hassle to find 25mm unpainted lead figures. Terrain? Dungeon walls? Good luck. I picked up a slew of dungeon walls made out of cheap plaster at GenCon in 1985 (I think), but that was it. It was that or grease pencils on acetate.

Now, though, we’ve got pre-painted plastic figures and Dwarven Forge dungeon walls. Artistically rendered dungeon tiles are a dime a dozen. Some games even require that one use their figures, and GW even requires that they be painted a certain way. It’s one thing to be the only company making a D10 Klingon Battlecruiser, and having a game that you can’t physically play without having purchased the right miniature. And yet another thing when, if you show up to a game with a non-authorized figure (GASP!) you will be turned away.

One of the reasons I like Ogre Minatures so much is that it still has this DIY ethos. Part of it is certainly not by design – Steve Jackson Games never produced any Israeli Golems or Nipponese Ninjas – but a great deal of it is simply that when the game was made, that’s just what you did. You bought some figures, you kitbashed or created from whole cloth the ones you couldn’t (or didn’t) buy, and you played the game. And then you made your own terrain. Some of it was great, and some of it sucked. But it was homemade, and that gave it a certain authenticity from which we seem to be actively moving away. Not that it’s dead by any stretch, but it is definitely going out of style.

Go read this post from Chirine’s Workbench ye trendy and despair. There’s gold in handmade terrain, and handmade figures, and even hand painted figures. Let’s not let the “industrialization” of our hobby lose sight of that.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

11 thoughts on “What happened to the DIY ethos?

  1. As I posted on the workbench blog you referenced, there are still DIYers out there and some of them are making efforts to grow this practice instead of lamenting its passing. I encourage all who desire the return of a DIY mindset to first engage in it themselves, and then encourage and promote the same. It is only by fostering an interest in DIY in others we can create change. A notable current example of this is DM Scotty who has been instructing and encouraging others in DIY terrain building via his youtube channel, facebook group, and forum. Hopefully, others with similar or complimentary interests and abilities will follow suit.

  2. There was a time when plastic models were limited in a builders options because they simply did not make a certain type of vehicle or aircraft. The same was true of miniatures. what did people do? They did conversions by modifying existing kits or figures with others. Many of the early hobby zines even contained articles on "how-to". This was an acceptable past time and applauded others creativity.

  3. I dunno I use the hell out of my hirst arts mold as well as buying dwarven forge. But I do agree that Warhammer rules on minds and the like is pretty anal.

  4. I'm lucky in that no gamers I associate with look down on do-it-yourself projects. The local game store that hosts the local miniatures group is very accommodating, even though most of the games the group plays aren't the current best-sellers.

  5. @ dervishdelver: I got started the same way, building kits and converting them as needed.

    @ Rob Conley: I like what you're doing; you are adapting things for use in your games, and that's what it's all about…

    – chirine

  6. What happened to the DIY ethos?

    We got older. Got jobs, Houses, wives, kids…..responsibilities.

    I don't nearly have the time I did when I was playing first and second edition. don't have the time to spend all night playing or building stuff or painting anymore.

    I'd love to get some hirst molds and build some stuff. Or polystyrene and build terran like I did back in the 90's. But time I in sort supply. I'd rather be playing with what little time I have and farm out painting to a firm and buy some terrain.

  7. Totally agreed. I'm the only one in my group that would even consider doing it myself – the rest don't want to put in the work, and would rather buy it already finished. My tiny little budget (divorced non-custodial dad of two daughters – do the math…) is what turned me into a DIY terrain builder. I bought a piece of 5mm thick pre-primed plywood (4×8 feet) and had it cut into 1-foot (approx.) squares. I'm using these to create terrain that can be used a lot like tiles. Lay down the paint, flock a bit, glue some trees, create certain textures that are needed, and it turns out beautifully. There are cheap and fast options out there for doing it yourself. Remember, Gary once said that once we figure out we don't need the company any more, they're finished!

  8. And here's the further issue beside the market giving us stuff premade- when you've run out of time, and don't have the time to do those things anymore, you also don't exactly have time to teach someone. I learned from ay way back when in the infancy of GW days when kitbashing was not only allowed, but encouraged by GW. Someone taught me skills, that I still use today. But with lack of time- cant hang out 12+ hours at a friends house or game store from opening to close, I don't also have as much time to show people how to do things like I use to.

  9. @ Funblefail:

    Don't forget easy thing- I use to flock rocks or coal for strange terrain. Sticks with some flock glued onto one end and glued into the base becomes a tree(forests become easy to make after a while).
    Wander home depot and you'll find all sorts of things you can use rather cheaply with some work- Plastic piping can become a tower pretty easily for example.

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