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RPGs: wargaming's gateway drug?

Here's one way to get more of your friends into gaming with miniatures: get them hooked on RPGs first. This may well be old knowledge, but I'm new to it. Two friends, Becs and Drew, have been helping Jeff and I test our new RPG ("wait, you wrote an entire roleplaying game?" ...yes we did, check out last month's post).

Having never played an RPG before they were both soon enthralled and taking any opportunity to roleplay in any setting. This soon led to playing Inquisitor (or rather, our stripped down version of it, because the original game was ambitious yet clunky). They were enthralled by the macabre dystopian madness of the 40K mythos. Thus, when Jeff said he'd run a game of Deathwatch, they both jumped on it. Just one complication: Deathwatch uses miniatures.

My latest Deathwatch mini: Brother-Sergeant Elias. More on him another time.

Rather than being put off, they were keen to give it a punt. They split the cost of a Deathwatch box with Jack, another new player who'll be joining us for the game, and I set about showing them the ropes. They asked me what ropes had to do with painting miniatures, and I put away the hessian poodle I'd just crafted before their eyes, sad that no-one appreciates my incredible aptitude for making rope animals.

To ease into the whole painting thing, we sat down to paint something much simpler: a goblin. I guided them through the process, and with each step they did a cracking job for a first effort, so I kept adding more detail, curious to see how far I could push things. Here I present their first ever miniatures:

Becs' first ever mini!

Drew's first ever mini!

They're an assload better than my first mini, that's for sure. We pushed onwards to the realm of spehss mahreens.

For a black and silver armoured dude, Deathwatch marines take a fair bit of time. There's a lot of small details. Not ideal few newbies, but needs must, and they rose to the challenge admirably.

Drew's Salamander. She was keen to pick a thematic weapon, so a combi-melta
made sense.

In the post-pigmentary glow of success, the three of us sat down and talked about their initial thoughts on painting miniatures. Having now spent ages transcribing the things they said, I almost wonder if I would've been better off just uploading the discussion as some sort of mini-podcast, but whatever.

I think of myself as being pretty open and secure in my nerdery, but listening back to the audiofile it’s clear that while I don’t mind if people think I’m a nerd, I expect them to be taken aback by the miniatures-filled cabinets in my house, and so even though I was talking to Becs and Drew – who had now painted a few minis of their own – I was still assuming that their first thought was “nerrrrrrrd!” and that I’d had to help them past that initial aversion. Clearly, that whole part of the process existed only in my head.

After reading up on the Howling Griffons, Becs wanted a loadout
reminiscent of an actual knight.

To begin, I asked them for their thoughts on miniatures prior to painting one for themselves.

Becs: It’s something that I knew that came with roleplaying, because I knew a bit about Games Workshop, having had friends who worked there. I just never thought it would be something I would do, even though I would consider that I have nerdy interests (like in comic books and things like that). I never thought that roleplay or tiny mens [our slang for minis] would be something that I would ever be interested in or spend time on.

Me: Why was that?

Becs: I always assumed it was something boys would do, and I know that sounds really stereotypical and awful. So it’s not something I would ever expect to have been encouraged to get into. So if I hadn’t met people, I don’t know how else I would’ve found my way to it.

Me: Is that the same for you Drew?

Drew: Yes I’ve got two older brothers who both mainline this s--t like nobody’s business but it’s one of those things where I’d be like “what are you doing?” and they’d say “you probably won’t like it.” “OK bye!”

It’s just a thing that my older brothers did.

Becs: Also it seems like quite a skill to do, as well. It seems quite unapproachable when you just have no idea what you’d be doing. How would you even get into that? I wouldn’t even know how to get into that.

Drew: The painting thing did throw me a little bit. I mean, until you actually do it I don’t think I realised how creative it could actually be, to sort of pair the colours, to make the model, because obviously you have choices, and up to that point I assumed it would be kind of a “oh, you build the thing and you paint the thing exactly this way.” It’s a lot more creative and expressive than I expected it to be.

Me: so now you've painted a mini, how did you find it?

Drew: It was simultaneously harder and easier than I was expecting. Also there was a turning point before I actually ended up enjoying it. We were doing the basecoats, following your instructions for colours, sort of like, uhhh, this is both boring and kinda difficult. I don’t understand how this is happening. It wasn’t until we started putting the little pink bits…

Me: I remember literally seeing your face go from Im paying attention to HES SO CUTE!

Drew: Well yeah! It suddenly went from well goblins cant really have humanity, but

Me: [laughs] They can totally have humanity they have a horrible, sh-tty streak of a particular kind of humanity.

Drew: [laughs] It was just adding the little pink bits on the ears and the nose, it became more of a character and suddenly it was adorable, cute little goblin that I was making. I was kind of like aww, and then I became I got into it then, and suddenly painting was a thing you could get good at, and then the model will look better, and then its more of a character and more alive because it looks like you would expect it to.

Me: So Im hearing that theres something there about bringing things to life, and also a skill challenge. Is that

Drew:Yeah, so Ive done painting before, but its very different on such a tiny, tiny scale.

Me: And what about you, Becs?
Becs: My tentativeness around it was more to do with my beliefs in my abilities having never done anything like that before. And being a bit clumsy and never really good at doing things with my hands. I never thought of myself as being creative in that sense, so it really pushed me and Ive found something out about myself which is that I can do painting stuff. And like anything, it takes time to get better.

Me: Is that something that appeals or intimidates?

Becs: Its something that I need to actually do it; I like being challenged. But I think Ill get frustrated when Im not achieving the level I want to achieve! I just really wish that Id done this when I was younger, because I think I wouldve eaten it up. I was much more artistic when I was younger.

Drew: Im glad I started this now; I dont think I wouldve had the confidence as a child or a teenager.

Becs: Yeah and theres no way I wouldve gone into Games Workshop as a teenager. I found it quite scary. Thats probably just my preconceptions; its like when I go into a high-end clothes shop and you feel like youre not really their kind of clientele.

Drew [In a southwest accent]: We dont want your type round here.

Becs: Its the sort of thing you have to get over. Its for everyone.

It became clear that one of the factors that intimidated them going forward was... me, actually. They were looking at the five bajillion paints and all those minis and, from their sample size of one, assuming that this was what all hobbyists needed. I had to reassure them that, while there's definitely some investment to get a basic selection of paints and tools, you don't have to have all the things.

I also had to reassure them that it doesn't always take so long to paint minis. They were new, and I'd been pushing them for detail because, well, that's my instinct. They're keen to learn new techniques like highlighting, but there's also something to be said for showing them how to get solid results at a reasonable speed.

What I took from all this is that the only thing holding me back from introducing more friends to the joys of miniature gaming are my assumptions about what they think. Oh, and that RPGs are an easier sell than wargames, since they require no initial outlay... I don't know if Becs and Drew would have been as keen to jump in if they weren't already emotionally invested in the story world and the characters we're creating in Inquisitor. I wonder how many other tabletop gamers have come to the hobby this way? It won't be the route for everyone, but it certainly worked this time. 

Drew has now started working on an Aeldari Kill Team, and Becs is already talking about a more ambitious version of her Deathwatch character and magnetising jump packs... no really.

What have I unleashed?


  1. Christ, i've been in the hobby for nearly a decade and a half and i've only just started dealing with magnets in the last 2 years! Glad to see more people getting involved in the hobby though. More killteams for my 'stealers to nom on too!


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