Is the OSR anti-miniature?

The always-excellent Chirine has a post up today about miniatures. One of the things he mentions, based on his experience in OSR message boards (he doesn’t mention which ones), is that the OSR in general feels miniatures are a Bad Thing in RPGs.

With all due respect, I don’t think it’s the case that we OSR types are invariably anti-miniature. Although I don’t go on gaming message boards at all now, except for Canonfire!, and the subject never seems to come up there, it being Greyhawk-specific. Perhaps the attitude is different on message boards than it is on the blogs, I honestly couldn’t say.

I, myself, am a prime example. Back in the day we always played with figures, except when we played someplace where there weren’t any to be had, in which case we didn’t. It really didn’t enter into our minds that the question was relevant; use ’em if you got ’em.

Labyrinth Lord at Dreamation 2012

Then I stopped playing in the 90’s, got rid of all my figures (and repeatedly bang my head into nearby cinder block walls when I think about it), and when I came back to gaming I didn’t use them, strictly because it was too expensive/too much effort to reassemble a collection. Now, though, I’m about to run a new campaign, and have been painting up a bunch of figures especially for it. (It happens to be a 5E campaign, but they’ll be used when I run 1E or ADD, too.) But the attitude is the same; miniatures are nice to have, but aren’t essential, and neither are they anathema. I get the impression that many of the OSR bloggers have the same attitude, but I may be mistaken.

I would say that the existence of a whole company dedicated to making OSR miniatures might be a point against Chirine’s conclusion; pig-faced orcs and all. Heck, Otherworld Miniatures even has a Labyrinth Lord line, which would be odd if the writers and players of Labyrinth Lord (an OSR game if ever there was one) were against the use of miniatures in their games. There are also going to be some Barrowmaze figures, which again is a prime example of an OSR type adventure.

My point being, one’s experience on some message boards shouldn’t be extended to the OSR as a whole. Some folks might well be against miniatures (their loss), but some of us are very pro-miniature, or, at the very least, pro-miniature-if-they’re-handy. Please feel free to sound off in the comments; is the OSR (or should it be) pro-, anti-, or practical- when it comes to miniatures?

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.

12 thoughts on “Is the OSR anti-miniature?

  1. If they want to play "old school" style, they should use them. As you say, if we had 'em, we used 'em. And in any regular gaming session, we'd arrange for someone to bring 'em.

  2. Dear Sir (or however one starts these things):

    May I compliment you on a wonderful and superbly written post?

    You've gotten right to the heart of what I was trying to say, and did it very well.

    My 'less then optimal' experiences have been on RPG forums; I have never had a poor experience with any OSR bloggers. The folks blogging in the OSR community seem to be a lot more informed about the history of our shared hobby, and a lot more practical in their play styles. I have learned a whole lot from them, and I enjoy reading their blogs. To me, this old fossil, they represent a very positive and dynamic school of gaming – an OSR that really does mirror what we used to do, way back when.

    I am thinking, more and more, that the comments on the RGP forums stem from what seems to have happened with D&D 4.0 – I think that I've gotten hit by the edges of the 'edition wars'. From my perspective, these forums have a lot of folks on them who simply don't know a lot about the history of our shared hobby – they remind me a lot of the 'scientist' in the first book of the "Foundation" series, who doesn't do field work; he compares the ancient texts, and disdains 'practical' work.

    I'm looking forward to seeing what you get for comments!!!

    – chirine

  3. The miniatures divide in the OSR is the same as it was back in the day. Which to say there are some of us that used them, like me, and some of us who don't.

  4. I am more than a little cinical about "old school". Most, it seems to me, use it when they make some claim like the one you mentioned above. Something like, " this is how we did it, and still do it, no body did it any other way, and if you don't, you are wrong". Half of the time, they are saying how those other old schoolers aren't old school because they don't old school the right way.

    Play what you want, how you want, with what you want.

  5. I have sometimes used them, sometimes not. Most of the time in my early years of gaming, my groups didn't – not out of principle, but just because we were kids and couldn't afford them. When we did eventually have some, it was minis for PCs and pennies or tiddly winks for everything else. We also used them very abstractly (without precise measuring and such), just as a kind of marker to make relative positions clear when there were lots of characters and/or monsters involved.

    In my current group, we sometimes use them, sometimes don't, depending on the GM. Like Rob Conley said above, he always uses them. Ken H. uses them too. I think Tim Shorts' last session didn't use them, and in the sessions I've been running I haven't used them either – though that may change in the near future, since the party has a lot of NPCs. If I do, I'll probably use them abstractly (I'm toying with the idea of an abstract battle board à la "Ancient Odysseys: Treasure Awaits!").

  6. We used them a lot when we were playing in high school—in our parents’ basement on a pool table. But now that we’re playing in our own living rooms and dining rooms, the space once used by miniatures is now used by beer, wine, cheese, cracks, take-out food.

    Occasionally someone gets the idea that we should use miniatures for the night’s game; the miniatures invariable get set aside when we need space for the mashed potatoes or whatever.

  7. There are many separate camps within the broader "OSR". The "Simplicity" camp is a major one — These are less concerned with recapturing the whole experience of RP gaming in the '70s-'80s (which, for folks playing every day after school, could be pretty "immersive") than they are in returning to what they see as a much simpler core system, which seems like a better fit for their much busier modern lives. For these players, miniatures (and the money and time needed to acquire and paint them) probably seem like a needless additional encumbrance.

  8. I have been playing rpgs since 1983 and have never used miniatures, though I have often used graph-paper maps in the middle of the table or a dry erase boards or the like. I actually think I am statistically anomolous in that I am on old-school gamer who hasn't used miniatures. I would surely not be against it but I've never felt compelled to do so.

    The two reasons for this are:

    (1) I grew up playing D&D in the library at recess at school and at other guys' houses, and nobody I played with had or used miniatures. I think we thought they were too expensive.

    (2) I am a lousy painter / visual artist so the added activity of painting them has no appeal.

    But I have known a few folks who were into them and if a player came along who had them I could get into it.

  9. Back in high school, we never used miniatures. We had neither the money to buy them, the time to paint them, or the patience to use them. We had a blast nonetheless.

    However, after I got back into D&D again last year, I started using miniatures. I decided to do this after attending GenCon in 2011. I played in a session there in which the DM used them. For the first time, the relative position of the combatants in a melee became clear to me. It was a revelation.

    So, when I finally managed to get my own group together last year to play, I bought one of those wipe-off grid maps and used the plastic figures from my Talisman board game for the PCs. I then bought a few plastic and wood counters for everything else. I can't imagine not using them now.

    So, to answer your question, I don't think the OSR is anti-miniature. With D&D having originated with Chainmail and other historical miniature games, how could it be? They are in D&D's DNA, so to speak.(It's no coincidence that the old movement rates were given in inches.)

    As much as I like them now, though, I still don't think there's any right way or wrong way to play as far as miniatures are concerned. Some people love miniatures and use them. Some don't, and don't. You can have a good time either way. I think that's what really matters.

  10. It's nonsense to say OSR gamer are anti-miniature, in fact I find it an offensive smear. We were using lead figures when we could although not to the degree of Warhammer folks but we certainly used them, we inherited them from the TSR roots of the hobby in wargames, and it seems to me they mostly disappeared when these White Wolf-loving theater majors ruined the hobby in the 90s.

  11. Eh, If I went "old school" I'd likely use plastic army men, just we did in our first game in '78. No grid just the easiest way for ending arguments about who was in front.

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