Recently I have started sharing my collection of unpainted miniatures online. I should clarify, when I am referring to miniatures, I am referring to the miniature figures used in Dungeons & Dragons. Being a lifelong gamer, I have accumulated a few of these over the years. When I was very young, I even tried to paint a few of them.
At the time I took it very seriously. I would sit in the bookstore where they had one book on miniature painting and I would take notes on what to do. The end result? It was something lower than amateur. I believe one of my friends might have said something like, “did your dog paint that?” Naturally I publicly laughed that off, but inside it hurt. All that time, study and investment in equipment was for nothing. No matter how hard I tried, I could never get my hand to stay steady enough. Nor could I keep my brushes and paints in good enough shape for the fine work often required.
My miniatures were put into boxes and never used after that initial wave of enthusiasm. This mean my gaming style tended to be more “imagination-based”. Rough estimates and enthusiasm making up for true tactics and precise and orderly play. It is not for everyone, but it is all I know.
Recently I started to pull my older RPG stuff out of boxes. Do you know what I found first? My miniatures. Not the painted ones, which I am sure are in some envelope or box covered with the word “SHAME” and frowny faces in red crayon, but the raw unpainted miniatures. My first thoughts were back to those initial feelings of inadequacy at my ability to paint them. But after setting them up and staring at them on my shelf for a few days, I got to say, I am happy I never painted them.
No matter how skilled I was at painting when I was 8 years old. These still would have been wrecked by the hand of an eight year old. No, my figures are pristine and untouched. Just as when they came out of the magical forge that wrought them. They will remain this way for as long as I own them. Maybe I will even take them off the shelf and try to use them in a game or two. Oh and when I find that shame box I will liberate those poorly painted figures and return them to their original unpainted glory using some elbow grease and Simple Green.
Using Simple Green to remove paint from miniatures
Once I started playing Dungeons & Dragons as a kid, I voraciously consumed anything related to the game. One of my “holy grail” items was a copy of Mattel’s Dungeons & Dragons Computer Labyrinth Game and one Christmas there it was under the tree. I was ecstatic and spent the entire winter break playing it. There is even some vague recollection of me playing it alone at the kitchen table. While my family was celebrating new years even in the living room.
Why was I obsessed with this game? Well, besides the print ads for the game, there was this magnificent commercial. They stopped running it before I got my copy, but how could you forget an ad like this?
In the game, a player moves on an electronic board trying to find the treasure and bring it back to a room. Along the way you will encounter walls, other players (in 2 player mode) and of course the dragon. The game was pretty easy to jump into, but I remember it took me a while to really master it. My big issue was the dragon. You just could never tell where it was going to be and in 3 hits, it could slay you. Yes, they did include an incredible dragon figure, but that was only to approximate where it was and more than not, I was way off.
While the game board and figures were beautiful, it was really the sounds that made up this game. As you moved around the board, the pressure you place on the square you landed on would trigger a sound. In a quiet room, you could actually sense the building tension from these simple sounds as you grew closer and closer to the dragon. This tension is something I rarely get in modern video games, outside of jump scares in horror games. It is a very memorable use of simple technology.
My copy of the game died in the late 80’s. At the time, I wasn’t playing it much, so it moved to the back of the closet and eventually into the basement. At some point my sister threw it in the trash. Not a huge loss, even if now it makes me sad. One bright spot, she only through the game board out. So my figures survived. That amazing dragon? It is still in my possession and has been used in several pen and paper gaming sessions over the years. The Dungeons & Dragons Computer Labyrinth Game is the game that just keeps on giving.
Gamescience started releasing dice several months ago, but recently Lou Zocchi and is legendary dice company have started to release the classic colors and professionally inked numbers that have made this company so well-respected. I had considered writing about this a few months ago, but I was patiently waiting for the production line to really get cranking, but now new colors and styles are being released every week. It is a great time to be a gamer!
So do yourself a favor and treat yourself to a setup of a set of dice that are as iconic as the game they are used.
Right before the Retroist Forum closed a discussion began about a book that I really wanted to get my hands on, “The Dungeons & Dragons Choose your Own Adventure Sticker Book”. I have attempted a few purchases online since then, but have been outbid every time so far. I imagine it will be only a matter of time before I get one, but I am happy pretty happy with what I have in the meantime. Just last week I got an email from a reader of the blog and former forum poster containing scans of every page of the album. This of course just makes me want this album more, but it is great to get a full sneak peek at what I will eventually own (and of course be able to share it here).
I am a lifelong player of RPG games, but I must admit for most of that time, I have hardly used miniatures for the actual gaming. While they help the players get an idea of setup and logistics, I always found that part of things also slowed the game down and took it out of the realm of imagination. That does not mean I did now own miniatures. I owned quite a few and even spent some time trying to learn to pain them.
I would use them when I was the DM to set the mood for the game, putting them out on the table for people to move around. Which sadly often resulted in them getting damaged. So then I would only use them for display or in the rare instances when I got to be a player. Then I would pick on that most closely resembled my character and would bring it to the gaming session as my companion.
Grenadier made a lot of great miniatures and the RPG shop near my home carried them almost exclusively. It was a shock to me when the company went under in the nineties, but it is nice to know that their original molds still live on.