Garwulf’s Corner #16: Small Matters


Small Matters

I have a confession to make: I think I have an addiction. You see, there’s something I have to do in order to feel complete, to help give my life meaning.

No, it’s not cigarettes. Nor is it alcohol, or sex, or Barneyphilia (a truly sick addiction involving a cute purple dinosaur). Instead, it’s painting fantasy miniatures.

I started painting in earnest back in March of 2000, right after my girlfriend at the time broke up with me. I used to help get me out of the rebound, and then the habit stuck with me. Now, I am an avid painter, and if I don’t have at least one miniature waiting to be finished off, I feel as though something is missing in life.

It really is a great hobby. It is an act of creation, allowing me to take a blank statue (granted, a tiny one smaller than my little finger) and make it look alive. And, in the past few years, the miniatures truly have improved, becoming more realistic, noble, and a joy to display on my videotape and DVD shelf (yes, my dear readers, I finally got that DVD player).

And then came the D&D Third Edition miniatures, and things changed.

I picked up four of them, of which two are finished. As for the other two, I can’t even work out what they’re supposed to look like. Lots of details is one thing, but looking as though it’s designed by H.R. Giger is something completely different.

(At least the Diablo miniatures don’t suffer from this, from what I’ve seen. I’ve been trying to get my hands on them for months now, without success. But, the pictures look really nice…)

Regardless, this H.R. Gigerism seems to be spreading. The illustrations for the AD&D manual make adventuring equipment look like something out of an Alien movie. Even Diablo II suffers from this to a degree; I started an Amazon, just for the heck of it, and discovered that among other things, her leg armor while wearing ring mail appears to be unsupported, just resting on her flesh as though it is glued on or held by tape. The Barbarian has his chest bared until he is wearing the really heavy armor (after all, can’t miss getting those sucking chest wounds in the early part of the game), and the less said about the Necromancer armor, the better. The only character who wears realistic, sensible armor is the Paladin.

Contrast this with the first game, where the armor almost always looked sensible once you got into the various coats of mail and plate, regardless of the character class.

When I asked Ed Greenwood (who knows enough about what goes on in TSR’s mind to at least sound knowledgeable) about why this is happening, he told me that gaming companies are trying to make their products appear “cool” so that they can attract the younger gaming crowd. It’s a superficial solution that does more harm than good.

Fantasy is a genre that is currently in a battle for legitimacy. Thanks to Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings, fantasy has been able to gain some respect as literature. And with authors such as Tad Williams, George R.R. Martin, Dennis L. McKiernan, and Guy Gavriel Kay continuing to put out first class material that demonstrates just what the genre can do, at some point in the 21st century, fantasy might be considered a true form of literature.

And then these gaming companies come, happily pitching a product with a picture on the cover that looks so strange that most people who would really appreciate it won’t touch it, or producing miniatures that are so bizarre that a lot of fantasy fans will spend more time scratching their heads and trying to work out what the figurines are than actually painting them. It puts a face on the genre as a whole that drives people away, rather than bringing them in.

The fact is that people aren’t attracted to fantasy because of “cool” weapons and armor. Diablo II players keep returning to Battle.net because of gameplay and story, not H.R. Gigerish armor. People are attracted by epic stories that speak to them on a mythological level, great heroes, and an opportunity to escape from the humdrummery of normal life into a place of timeless adventure. Like in movies, it is the content that is important, not the eye candy.

I really wish that the corporate heads that came up with decisions such as making fantasy look “cool” would actually think beyond the superficial. Although the old axiom “Don’t judge a book by its cover” contains words to live by, most people do the opposite. “Cool” is transitory, something constantly changing, and probably gone tomorrow. When you make something look like a passing fad, it will be treated as such.

I would say this to the corporate heads: instead of trying to make fantasy look “cool,” make it look GOOD. Make it look timeless, of the highest possible quality, the sort of thing that people will start and stick with for the rest of their lives. Give it the same appeal that Tolkien was able to give to The Lord of the Rings, and help those of us who are actually in the industry with our battle for legitimacy.

(For those like me, who can’t resist painting good miniatures, there are a couple of lines that are still producing really great stuff. Games Workshop’s Warhammer line is still rather good, although time will tell as the new miniatures come out. Reaper Miniatures has an excellent line titled Dark Haven, and, from what I’ve seen, Ral Partha is still putting out beautiful work.)

Disclaimer: Garwulf’s Corner is written by Robert B. Marks and hosted by Diii.net. The views expressed in this column are those of the author, and are not necessarily the opinions of Diii.net.

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