The RPG side of my gaming hobby has been experiencing a sort of golden age of late. I'm currently involved in...let's see, four campaigns, easily a lifetime high. (It's one of the reasons posts around here have gotten a bit thin on the ground--been too busy gaming to write about it!) But I've also been thinking a lot about the other side of my gaming hobby: miniatures wargames.
I've talked in the past about how that side has been subject to increasing atrophy over the years. Back in high school I'd say I was involved in minis wargaming at least as as much as RPGs. Nowadays I'm lucky if I can get in a game every six months. Most of my hobby today consists of painting figures. (Still gotta post pics of my Germanic Space Ork army that I put together last year...). Although this is partly down to a question of lack of time (viz. the "four campaigns" mentioned above, ahem), I also feel this is due to the wargaming and RPG hobbies going their separate ways over the last 10-15 years. There just simply aren't as many RPGers who play minis games as there used to be, it seems.
There are a variety of causes behind this, I think. Certainly, Games Workshop played its part by very much intentionally nurturing the perception of miniatures wargaming as its own thing (or, as GW calls it, The Hobby). I also think the emergence of pre-painted figures played a major role; people who were reluctant or indifferent towards painting no longer had to. The irony, of course, is that over the same span of time, D&D's various successive editions have become evermore miniatures-centric. Pre-painted figures enabled the quick and easy acquisition of lots of single models or small groups of models. But the idea of building and painting a large army and making the terrain to go with it? I've shown my miniatures cabinet to about a half-dozen gamers, ranging from total noobs to old grognards like me, over the last year. To a person, they have reacted with a sort of ambivalent amazement. The overall impression was summed up by one of their words: "I'd never have the patience to paint all those figures!" As if I did it all in a week of cocaine-fueled frenzy.
A while back I saw someone post some provocative words online. (Just the once?) The words were to the effect of, "Miniatures painting is a craft. It's not an art. Get off your high horse." I was a little taken aback at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I tended to agree. But I'd add a corrolary: done right, playing a miniatures game is where the art comes in. The sight of a table full of lovingly-crafted terrain and hand-painted miniatures is something to truly give one pause, to remind one of the beauty of human endeavor and creativity, hours of work simply for the sake of having a fun afternoon in the company of a few friends. I was reminded of all this today when I followed a link from the always-excellent World War 20mm blog to a series of pictures taken at a recent club game. Here's a selection of my favorites; the rest can be found here.
Those are pictures taken from the game in progress, not just posed to look pretty. That organic, almost alchemical process of figures interacting with terrain to create spontaneous vignettes...if that's not art, I don't know what art is. Aside from my own selfish reasons, I really wish more RPGers were also miniatures wargaming enthusiasts. It's such a rewarding aspect of the gaming hobby, and it's because of pictures like those above that, as much as my participation might have shrunken over the years, I'll never truly walk away from miniatures gaming.