Tim Emrick / rpgs / smiling |
Smiling in the Face of Danger
Building tabletop miniatures with LEGO® toys
By Tim Emrick
The heroes stand outside the last room in the dungeon. The rogue unlocks the door, and moves cautiously towards the chest beyond. The GM asks what the other characters are doing. The players chime in, moving their plastic minis on the map as they jockey for position.
The rogue disarms the mechanical trap, then opens the chest. A sudden blast of wind knocks him out of the room. As the GM describes the attack, he pulls a mass of flailing limbs several inches across out of a box and places it on the map. The elemental dwarfs the heroes minis and fills the small room. After a brief stunned silence, the players react:
Is that to scale? Its huge!
Cool! Howd you build that?
This is SO gonna hurt
They may not be smiling right now, but their minis are. Because this GM isnt using traditional miniatures--hes using LEGO® models custom-built for his game.
Why Use LEGO® Models Instead of Traditional Minis?
If used in small quantities, LEGO® minifigs give the heroes their own unique marker type, making them stand out prominently in a battle. They are noticeably larger than 25mm scale, but small enough to fit in a typical 1 map square or hex. A given figure can be modified as that character switches weapons or upgrades gear.
If used more extensively, LEGO models can represent many kinds of allies and opponents with a little creativity and preparation on the part of the GM and players. Even with a small collection, the interchangeable parts allow for a great variety of models. Expand this range further by adding or subtracting limbs, or building creatures from bricks and plates (1/3-height bricks) rather than minifigs.
LEGO sets may not be cheap, but their flexibility can make them a much more efficient investment than the same amount of money spent on traditional RPG miniatures. LEGO bricks are also easier to store and transport than those miniatures. Both kinds of model require careful handling to avoid scratching the paint or knocking pieces off, but LEGO products are robust toys that can be reassembled easily if a brick is knocked loose. Repairing or replacing a metal mini can be tricky and expensive, while individual damaged LEGO pieces can be replaced more easily. Finally, a gamer who already collects LEGO sets can make some of those toy purchases do double duty as gaming props rather than adding yet another expensive hobby.
Note: I refer to LEGO products throughout, because I am most familiar with that brand of building blocks. My comments here are easily adapted to similar toys made by other companies. In fact, some competitors blocks interlock with LEGO bricks, giving you even more options for mixing and matching parts.
Getting Started: Basic Needs
If you already have a LEGO® collection, then you probably have enough pieces to get started. Take stock of your models to see what minifigs, accessories, and other small pieces you have. You may wish to separate these special pieces into a different container so you can find them again without sifting through all of your larger bricks every time.
If your collection is small to non-existent, then the best initial investments that you can make are 1) a bucket of basic building blocks, and 2) one or two minifig sets. The bucket gives you the means to fake creatures for which you dont have minifigs (more on that later), as well as providing materials for any other props (walls, statues, furniture, rubble) that you may wish to build. Many LEGO theme series have one or more sets that consist of a few (3-6) minifigs with accessories (weapons, tools, headgear, etc.) for under $10. Many series also have accessory sets available by mail order.
If you cant find a minifig set that perfectly matches the genre(s) of your game(s), look for sets that are not jarringly inappropriate and that increase the variety of pieces you have for building new models. Female minis are always a minority, so keep an eye out for sets that include them, regardless of the theme.
Here is a short list of suggestions for LEGO theme series appropriate for a variety of genres and settings:
Modern day: Start with City. (Community Workers, item #9293, is an ideal first set, with 30 minifigs and dozens of small props.) Add Alpha Team for special ops, and Aquazone, Arctic, and LEGO Studios for more gear and monsters.
Pulp: Start with Adventurers. Add more action-packed locations with Islanders, Ninja, Trains, and Wild West.
Fantasy medieval: Start with Castle. Add Harry Potter™, Islanders, Ninja, Pirates, and Star Wars™ to diversify outfits, props, and animals, and Bionicle™ and Dinosaurs to build larger, nastier foes.
Futuristic SF: Start with Life on Mars, Space, and/or Star Wars™. For additional aliens, cyborgs, and primitives, borrow from other themes.
Horror: Common undead types (ghosts, skeletons, mummies) can be found in many Adventurers, Castle, and Pirates sets, and the LEGO Studios series now includes classic movie monsters. Tentacled horrors can be built using parts from Alpha Team (Mission Deep Sea) and Dinosaur sets.
The most simple LEGO® miniature is just the basic minifig: head, torso, and legs. Standing it on a 2x2 or 2x3 plate gives greater stability and allows action poses.
What if you need a dwarf or other character who is significantly shorter than average? The LEGO Group has recently created short leg pieces for some of its models (Ewoks™, Yoda™, Gringotts™ goblins). If you dont have any of those sets, you can use a 1x2 brick, two 1x1 bricks (with or without studs on the side), 1x1 cylinders, or 1x2 bamboo wall bricks in place of normal leg pieces. For even shorter humanoids, use plates instead of bricks, or simply use the torso without legs. (See Figure 1.)
The smallest humanoids (pixies, gremlins, etc.), however, require a completely different solution. A 1x1 cone, a 1x1 plate with a clip on the side, and a 1x1 round plate works well; the clip allows the model to hold a small accessory, such as a knife. A 1x1 brick capped by a 1x1 plate also works.
For tall humanoids, you have several options. First, approximate the characters size and shape with normal building blocks. Second, use oversized minifigs from Technic, Jack Stone, or Harry Potter™ sets. Third, use Bionicle™ Turaga or Toa models. (See Figure 2.)
Alternately, modify a normal mini by adding 1x1 bricks to the feet and/or a 1x2 brick between the legs and torso. Increasing height in this way makes the arms look even more stubby; add a large weapon to compensate. To extend the arms, you can attach 1x(n) plates to the hands, but the resulting connection is unstable. A 1x1 side-clip plate lengthens the arms slightly while still allowing the model to hold items.
For small flying characters, an antenna on a 2x2 plate gives the model some altitude. Larger flyers need something more stable--either a larger base plate, or one of the clear plastic bases found in some Star Wars™ sets. In a pinch, simply stick spare bricks under the model.
All of the above minifig types can be diversified further by creative use of pieces other than the standard heads. A 1x2 brick or 1x2 slope brick gives a projecting snout as well as room for antennae, tongue, mandibles, etc. A brick with holes or studs on the sides provides space for eyes (1x1 round plates). Use a 1x1 plate with a clip on top to attach horns (from Castle or Islander sets), or by itself for ears or short horns. Here are two specific examples of fantasy humanoids (see Figure 3):
Satyr: Use a regular minifig head and torso. Attach horns to the head with a 1x1 top-clip plate. For the goat legs, swap pieces between pirate leg assemblies so that you have one with two peglegs. (Be careful not to strip the posts in the hip joints!) Use binoculars for panpipes.
Shadow/Wraith: Use an all-black body. A helmet or cowl on a blank black head gives the illusion of an invisible or incorporeal body part. A black cloak is de rigeur for many shadow-entities.
For models requiring a different body shape, you may be able to find a minifig that works as is, especially if you need an animal model. The LEGO® universe includes rats, cats, snakes, horses, scorpions, owls, falcons, sharks, dragons, and a host of other creatures. You can also build many creatures (or working approximations) with basic building blocks.
A very simple quadruped (dog, horse, etc.) can be built by inserting four 1x1 bricks or cylinders (or two sets of minifig legs) into the bottom corners of a 2x4 brick. For the head, use a 2x2 brick or a jumper plate (a 1x2 plate with a single stud on top) and a 1x2 brick. Use a 1x1 top-clip plate to attach horns, or by itself for ears. A variety of tails can be made from small plates, either plain pieces or those with extensions from their edges. Here is one example of how this basic form can be used to make other models (see Figure 3):
Centaur: Attach a minifig torso to the quadruped body. For the tail, use a jumper plate to attach a short plastic cape to the rump. A 2x2 plate between the torso and rump will cure the swayback look. If you want your centaur to wear a breastplate or other large torso accessory, omit the 2x2 plate or replace it with a 2x3 plate before attaching the torso. A quiver wont fit on the torso in either case, so hang it along the flank by a back stud.
Here are other examples of simple non-humanoids made with just a few pieces each (see Figure 4):
Imp/Gremlin: For a stereotypical small winged demon with a long tail, attach a bat to the back of a scorpion.
Giant Spider: Use a Bionicle™ Toa foot for the head and body. Insert a three-clawed Toa hand into each side for legs. (The Bionicle™ Master Builder, item #10023, has a larger spider model, as well as instructions for several other creatures.)
Pegasus: Attach two 1x1 side-clip plates to the slot in the back of a horse minifig, then dragon wings to the clips. (For tamed pegasi, you can simply attach the wings to saddle clips.) Use a 1x2 brick to fill in the rest of the back slot when its not being ridden.
Once you have a good selection of building blocks and have spent some time experimenting with them, you can progress to more complex models. Those projects go beyond the scope of this brief discussion, but see the Resources list at the end of this article for sites that should inspire more ambitious modelers.
Characters and creatures arent the only items that can be represented by LEGO® models. For a chest, dropped weapon, or other portable object, simply mark its location on the map with the appropriate LEGO accessory. For a statue, build a model of the creature represented; monochrome usually works best. A transparent flame brick mounted on a 2x2 radar dish or round plate works as a campfire, a brazier, or a small fire elemental. Scatter a handful of random bricks across the map for trees, boulders, or other obstacles. Bricks can even serve as shorthand for spell effects, such as pith helmets to mark invisible characters.
GMs with the inclination, bricks, and free time to do so may even want to build part or all of a scene in LEGO bricks. If a location has complex topography in three dimensions--such as a temple sanctuary, a rocky promontory, a tree dwelling, or the teams personal ship--a model can make it easier to visualize. In some cases, the model need not even be to scale to be useful. For one adventure, I built a model of the lighthouse where the climactic battle took place. I displayed the model while the players made their initial attack plans, then drew out the floor plans as usual as their characters advanced through the building, occasionally pointing to the model to indicate the height they had reached.
Faking What You Cant (or Dont Want to) Build
Even with a large brick collection, you will still have some creatures that you cannot easily represent with LEGO® models. Or perhaps you just dont want to build a model for every incidental townsperson the party may meet. This may mean going back to the sort of improvised counters that some gamers use to supplement traditional miniatures: dice, plastic animal toys, board game pawns, etc. However, spare LEGO bricks give other options. Keep a few low-detail minifigs (in different colors) handy for minor characters. Keep some basic bricks handy to approximate a monsters size and shape on the fly, or as counters for cannon fodder creatures.
Transportation and Storage
If you decide to add LEGO® minifigures to your tabletop marker collection, where should you keep them so they are handy to use? If you need to take them to a game site away from home, whats the best way to transport them?
Hardware stores (and some craft stores) sell toolboxes and hardware containers with adjustable dividers that are ideal for sorting specialty parts as well as storing prepared models. Smaller boxes (around 7x5x1 inches) can hold a normal-sized adventuring party, one mini per compartment, plus several extra accessories. Use clear plastic boxes to identify sets quickly, or opaque boxes to hide surprises to spring on your players during play.
The smaller boxes easily fit into bags or backpacks for transport to another game site. If a box lacks a sturdy clasp, wrap a large rubber band around it to prevent accidental spills en route. If youre supplying minifigures for a long-running game held at another players home, consider storing the heroes box there for the duration.
If you would like to try this idea in your own games, then the two most important websites for information on LEGO® products are:
Finally, here are websites by LEGOmaniacs that, while not role-playing pages, contain good examples of the variety of models possible for use as tabletop miniatures:
Primary content in this document is © Tim Emrick. All other text, images, or trademarks in this document are the intellectual property of their respective owners.|
|| ©2005 LUGNET. All rights reserved. - hosted by steinbruch.info GbR