Friday 14 May 2010

Backstories: I don't give a......

Show me the minis. Show me the quality of the sculpting. Show me a range of believable combat poses. Show me the leader figures, the SAWs, heavy weapons.....

I don't care if you call them Nid Mercs - on my gaming table this week they will be Blu Ars Marines, next week they might be Zoltarian Drop Troops. Humans, clones, synthetics whatever, according to scenario and what the miniatures best pass for.

I just want to be able to put my minis on the table and have enough poses that will compliment each other and allow me to tell a story on each base - this is a fire team giving covering fire, this team is assaulting, this team is under fire and taking cover.

That's the only 'story' I want from your minis.

Have a backstory to present a coherent design philosophy across a range of miniatures, AFVs, heavy weapons and accessories - I applaud that - but I'm still not going to buy into it.

Maybe it's because I'm from the Airfix Generation and not Generation Y, not bought into Warhammer and W40K - I accept this - but I also know when one or more disparate packs are being passed off as "the emperors new power armour" ;-)



  1. If you're going to have the Blue Arsed Marines you should have used this picture:



  2. ...but if they have a nice back story, you can charge extra for the minis!!! :)

  3. "A brand new Army from Game$ Dork$hop!" (and this is the REAL Joke)

    Note: Blue Arse Marines make your previus Light Blue Arse models unusable with the current set of rules.

    Note2: Rule fixes for Blu Arse Marines will be published on White Arse for all the current year, until the models will be updated with Deep Blue Arse Marines.

    Note3: The current story is: They are good and fight the Evil (Current target audience is at the moment 10 years old)

  4. In all honesty guys, I don't think this post was meant as a jab at GW but at figure manufacturers in general. I also think the main gripe is about the fact that some companies seem more bent on producing a flash of greatness while layering on so much theme and story and never really filling out the lines.

    I recognize a manufacturer's need to call their product lines something, but how many players actually use the figures as what they were intended to be?

  5. I couldn't agree more, Mark and Eli - well said! As you say, we have to give them some sort of name to identify the figures, but aside from that we try to keep everything we make as generic as possible - which is why I've always resisted tying specific vehicles to specific figure groups. It's all (Science) fictional, so use your OWN imaginations, everyone.... ;-)

  6. Understandable point, Mark.

    However, backstory/fluff does help as a means of holding a product line together, or of explaining why divergent products can be used in the same setting.

    Some folks just like to read the fluff, and extrapolate even more detailed scenarios inside a particular universe. It often leads to greater customization and personal vestment with a set of figures. A good thing, in my book.

    Backstory helps, in this regard, and gives the consumer a deeper "bond," for lack of a better word, with the items he spends time and money on to purchase and paint.

    At no time do I think fluff should be used as a weapon to keep other figs off the table, though, nor intentionally force someone to buy a newer, more expensive fig, or exclude the purchase of other manufacturer's figs.

    Fluff should be a good thing, adding only positive vibes to your product line and the industry as a whole, but it should be commpletely voluntary.

    To bottom-line it:
    Voluntary fluff = good.
    Mandatory fluff = bad.


  7. You guys are right, and probably my comment was a bit bitter without a real need...

    The main thing I'm loving about 15mm manufacturers is the "proposal" of some lines of background without killing your own imagination and telling you exacty what to do/think/buy.
    That is what I was missing from GW and other manufacturers!

    I love this community, is very different from what you find in the average mini/rpg shop (at least in my Country!) :)))))

  8. @JBR, but theme and fluff are keeping miniatures off the table. I will not name names, but a few miniatures lines are using heavy theme to excuse the lack of certain key troops in their lines. The lack of these troops makes the forces less appealing on a broad spectrum.

    One thing that I have always liked about GZG's figs is that every force has the basics in one form or another. But when a manufacturer who is producing miniatures, that are not part of a specific game, tell me that a line will not have SAWs or Rocket Launchers because they only fight in close combat or whatever, then I tend to back off from that line because I cannot build a viable force out of it.

    Now, there are always going to be niche product lines and obscure aliens who fight in "that one way" and these are fine, but I'd hate to see them be the rule.

    The other main complaint is that manufacturers still seem to continue producing poses that are outdated and not really fitting battlefield poses.


  9. True, Eli, about some manufacturers resorting to fluff to excuse gaps in their product. The market will decide, though. People will either buy those figs, and hopefully that will finance more diversity in the line, or people will stay away, and the figs will dry up.

    Fluff, to me, is an extra, a bonus, a tidbit that you can choose to take up, or set aside.


  10. I think Mark's post a while back in which he described what he thought should be included at minimum in a miniature line release was absolutely, 100% on the money. This post is a good addition to it.

  11. Eli, aren't "certain key troops" an imposition of your backstory onto the manufacturer? I know there's the desire with some gamers to play "WWII in space" with every line of sci fi models that come out (substitute War in Iraq for some others in terms of model poses), but frankly if old diagonal tube mortars and wheeled anti-tank guns and stretcher bearers and what have you were required for every line I make, then half of the lines I make would not be available right now. Same goes for the idea that "key troop types" means every army is starship troopers and so requires men in power armour ....

    I don't see why people care if you provide backstory, provided of course that the product is shown and adequately described. I suspect that is what Mark was referring to, when the fluff sometimes gets in the way of the product description. As long as it doesn't, well, why care either way? Some people like it, and I know several gamers who have dropped the pelagic dominate right onto their table, xenophobia and all! But if they want to use the models for something else, there's nothing stopping them.

  12. Really, only Mark knows what he meant and the only reason I spoke up on this at all is that the initial crop of comments were decidedly in the wrong direction from where the post was obviously directed.

    @Khurasan - I don't think I'm doing any such thing, nor did or do I expect all troops to be represented equally in all armies. I do not think that wanting to have the basics in an army comes anywhere near asking for WW2 in space.

    In general - What I find the most annoying about this topic is that companies will time and again worry about what will and will not sell but constantly miss the mark because marketable and viable options do not fit the fluff they have established. This is compounded when they ask for feedback from consumers and then ignore in-demand items that conflict with fluff. This is especially frustrating when fluff is usually a pretty flexible thing and most ideas can be worked into a given fluff in one way or another.

    I don't expect all armies to be cookie cutter, but if a company can't produce miniatures that people will buy because of how fluff effects their choices in production, then I think there is a problem.

    I know that another point of frustration for me is watching frenetic miniatures designers/manufacturers who jump from one project to the next and never leave enough of any one to complete a playable force.


  13. Just a side note. I'm not against fluff. I just hate seeing it get in the way of good miniatures and the expansion of miniatures lines.

    JBR, Khurasan Jon, and GZG Jon, all do a pretty smashing job of bringing us what we want. I don't like it all and I sometimes wish they did things differently, but they do a good job.

  14. With the latest GW price hike forthcoming, not to mention a proposed increase in VAT in England, i'm glad i'm now into 15mm.
    Still it's nice to bring out the crab claw Slannesh Daemons once in a while, and fight a gold painted C-3PO Chaos legion....

    Which reminds me my GZG Alien Mercs are calling me to battle once more in 'not' Mogadishu

  15. There are two types of fluff.

    One is used to drive figure sales by tweaking the rules to fit. Enough said on that one.

    The other type of fluff is to tie in the minis by type, purpose, etc. and to provide a background that gamers want.

    And that's overwhelmingly want. Not a guess or gut feeling but years of business with customer contact, polling etc.

    And as I've always encouraged people to use whatever figures they want to use I understand the need and importance of a back story to gamers regardless of age.

    Gamers don't have the time or desire to make up scenarios let alone back story. I ran a poll on my Yahoo Group and out of the 450 responses,individual voters, only one vote was in favor of making their own storyline/scenarios.

    Don't want back story? Great, don't use it but the vast majority of people do. But if you're going to buy a tool box why would you want only hammers? It's a tool, use it if you want but because someone does or doesn't doesn't make them a better gamer.

    And yes, I like complete lines as well but it's a business. Manufacturers need to walk a fine line between doing what the customer "says" he wants and what makes business sense. If it costs me X amount of $$ to make a figure that will sell in the hundreds or one the will sell in the tens and cost the same, I know which one I'm making first.

    Bottom line is it's their money out there and they have the final say so and they don't owe anyone anything. However, like JBR said, the figures will sell or go by the wayside and that's a chance manufacturers have to take.

  16. And while we're talking about fluff to some degree it's needed. For example 5150, our sci fi rules has over 30 different types of aliens from over six different manufacturers.

    Each has their own set of Reactions so they all behave differently when in combat.

    All have squad and platoon organization as well as unique attributes and some have unique weapons. Anyone that has played against Spugs (Spriggan Minis), Sahadeen (Rebel Minis), or Drantak (Regiment Games)can tell you they behave differently.
    If not for the fluff then you'd have 30 types of vanilla.

  17. I think people are missing my point on fluff. I don't mind fluff that adds a bit of flavor to a line and I'm not expecting companies ot make every essoteric idea that gamers can conceive of.

    I'm perfectly capable of throwing out backstory and fluff that I don't want to use and that is what I do most of the time, but what I am cautioning against is fluff that restricts sensible business decissions and produces klines that are unsuable or of limited use.

    I'm sure this isn't new stuff, but I have been gaming for a long time and I know the sorts of things that bother me and other gamers I know and play with. Does marketing research say that it's a good idea to make lines that consist of a single pack of troopers and never produce anything in the form of expansions? Does market research say it's good for business to flood your line with too many poses of a far too similar nature and/or of a ridiculous nature?

    Sure it's their money, but they want me to spend mine on what they have produced with theirs.


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  19. @Ed - I have been speaking mostly to the point of miniatures producers. I would expect that a set of rules would have more fluff inherrant to it than a line of miniatures. I also accept that over the entirety of a miniatures line you are going to have to have some variation to keep individual lines selling.

    I have 5150 and it does have a good range of variety, but there are also similarities between the various armies that would constitute the essentials.

  20. Well Eli I didn't say you had asked for anything in particular (you haven't so far said what those "basic" or "key" models specifically are), but that same thought -- that the key or basic models are missing -- is certainly what people are thinking when they ask for WWII era weapons, or for the troops in power armour, or troops carrying their weapons as if they were early 21st c. assault rifles, or whatever.

    If you do flesh out what those basic or key models you've referred to are, I think it's safe to say that others would disagree with you on some of your choices, at least. In the end, since this isn't real, what key or basic troops are is to some extent a matter of individual preference. As this is sci fi, there could be an alien military made up of nothing but searcher drones and orbital batteries.

    Goes without saying that it's impossible to listen to all the voices. What you have to do is visualize a race, how it fights, and build models around that, hopefully not the same bland, safe take on each sci fi army. Making an army in that way is not "hiding your lack of key models behind the fluff," because "key models" is just an opinion, and no line can accomodate every single opinion.

    On listening to input (or not), I think it's great that people give input on what models should be made (which is good because I often ask for it!), it's important for the gamer to see, in answering those qurstions, that not everything that's suggested can be made.

    Also that, because something is advocated on the Internet by one voice or even a few doesn't mean it's going to sell. There are people out there who never let a release of mine go without some kind of left handed compliment or outright complaint about an aspect of it that is not the way they want it to be, but often without ever having shown any significant support for my business. (This is an observation you will hear from virtually every retailer who spends a significant amount of time discussing their product online.) On the other end there are people who don't make a peep either way on the intertubes when a new product comes out -- they just quietly order $100 worth!

  21. @Khurasan - I get it. You make your point well enough and at least you understand what I am getting at, even if you do not agree with it. I also don't have any way of knowing whether I am the majority or minority. I'm voicing my opinion and arguing my point of view.

    I will say that I have a hard time buying figures that never go beyond one or two packs of miniatures. I hate wasting money and time on figure lines that don't go anywhere. I'll also say that I'm not likely anybody's best customer. I don't have the cash for it (goes back to the wasting money and time part). That said, the right miniatures line is going to get what money I do spend.

  22. I like non-mandatory fluff that gives miniature lines a personality; of course, I usually re-fluff them to my own tastes, but having unique poses and/or weapons spurs my imaginations when I invent my own fluff.

    I also have a habit of mixing-and-matching minis from different lines to build an army that suits my needs, such as, for example, using Rebel Minis Sahadeen support-weapon packs to give SAWs and rocket-launchers to a force mainly composed of Rebel Minis Armed Gunmen (which have only assault carbines and shotguns). I paint them all as one army with one uniform set of colors...

    I also like minis that I can use for more than one use; the Khurasan Giant Ants are one example for this, as they can be giant ants in 15mm D&D (yes, I'm going to use 15mm in D&D) or a variety of alien monstrosities in sci-fi combat or in Traveller games (such as the Chamax). The same goes to Rebel Minis Armed Gunmen which could be thugs in one Traveller game, militia soldiers in a FAD game or pirates in another Traveller game.

    The bottom line is that I like figures with a "personality", yet with enough versatility for me to use them as I please.

  23. Fluff, at the end of the day, is fluff. You either like it or not. If you can take the fluff concept of a fighting force, marry it with figures, and add a rule-set that allows the army to act in a similar manner to the fluff, then you are pretty lucky for a science fiction wargame concept.

    While I enjoy reading fluff concepts, such as GZG Jon's Solar Wars and Khurasan's Sepulveda Campaign, I've come to the conclusion that I want to make armies and run games set in my Traveller Universe. I, therefore, look at figures in various producers' ranges and make my 'buy' decision on whether I can integrate them into my campaign (and on a certain amount of 'Oooh, shiney!' as well :( ).

    As an example, I bought a pack of Rebel Minis Earth Marines, and then had the idea of using them as mid-tech troopers from a High Pop world called Kamperal. I then bought some GZG Goliath battlesuits, thought that they looked a bit like the Earth marines and, taking the High Population concept into consideration, decided that the Kamperalian forces were used to fighting in the acrologies and megacities of their homeworld, and in the undersea domed cities and underground labyrinths of their two subject worlds. Therefore, they did not use wheeled or grav vehicles, due to the confined spaces, but specialised in 'walker' technology - the Goliaths were squad support vehicles, the troopers use GZG octo-walker APCs, and heavy fire support is provided by walker "tanks" such as Critical Mass'.

    So, why are SciFi gamers lazier at coming up with their own backstories than Historical Gamers who research the uniforms and armies of their chosen period? I have no idea. But at least the producers' fluff can act as a default setting if the gamer can't get his mental finger out!

    Here endeth the lesson ;)

  24. Mark's blog post immediately made me think of Rebel Minis' new "9"s (synthetic, clone-type infantry). When I first saw them, I thought "meh," not bad, but why are their heads so small? Then I read the background for them, and saw that the unusually small heads was actually a deliberate choice, because these are meant to represent manufactured soldiers. I really like the idea behind these figures (go check it out on Rebel Minis' blog if you haven't yet, it's very cool) but I'm still not really sold on the figures themselves.

    I agree with Mark, and anyone else, who laments uncompleted lines of figures. But I probably disagree over what precisely constitutes a "complete" line. I don't need to see SAWs or heavy weapons if the figures, and the sci fi army or race they represent, don't require such weapons. Whether they "require" such things to me depends on the relationship between the type of figures and the back story behind them (I hate the term "fluff").

    I think there is a division here between old-school 15mm folks, and some of the more recent converts. Prior to 2007 or so, when all these wonderful new 15mm sci-fi lines started popping up, 15mm sci fi was pretty homogenous. There was GZG, with what was already an enormous, well-developed line of figures, and then there were a few good but smaller lines, such as QRF, Old Crow, etc. What all of these had in common was an affinity for either "near future" or "hard" sci fi. That means equipment and weapons that are just an iteration or two removed from real-world modern equipment.

    A common concern among 15mm players at the time was (and is) the order of battle. Most players from this traditional school of thought in 15mm sci fi spend a fair bit of time making sure their forces conform to a logical organization. These organizations would be recognizable immediately to real-world soldiers from our own time.

    Now, that is all fine and well. But here is where I sympathize with Jon from Khurasan--the reason I'm doing sci fi, instead of WWII, is that I want to see some imaginative stuff. I think there ARE a lot of gamers out there, who, as Jon puts it, are really just playing "WWII in space." That's fine, to each his own. But it seems like these guys are never happy if they don't see the SAME THING repeated in EVERY line of sci fi figures. You MUST have the SAWs, you MUST have bullpup individual weapons, you MUST have guys kneeling, you must NOT have melee weapons.

    I think there are several lines of figures out there now that cover this conventional, near-future/hard sci fi vision very well already. Let's have something different. That's why I'm excited about stuff like CMG's Kaamados Dominate, and Khurasan's Vespulids. Stuff that is different, and not just modern militaries extrapolated out 10 to 50 years in the future.

    Finally, a reason I don’t sweat a lack of SAWs—it is very possible that in the near future every individual weapon will basically be equivalent to a SAW.

  25. My thanks to every contributor for some really robust and well constructed arguments. It's been interesting to see the spectrum of opinion and thought.


  26. I don't even like the word fluff! This has been a great topic which much debate about our favorite topic.. (small cast metal objects).

    I think a well devised background and concept adds to a game. As an example I was looking at the Pulp City super hero game and on the web site they had a very nice story about how one of the heros was made in lab and how much trouble they had controlling him when a fight started. This sort of light touch to a story triggers my imagination and makes me buy into the model and the game world.

    Having said that there are some things like "Orks in Space" (always made me think of pigs in space from the muppets), "Elves in Space" etc that would make me avoid reading or buying into background fluff. It did not stop me playing 40K but I prefer the harder edge of SCI-FI from authors like Ian Banks which is not reflected in mainstream games. There would be nothing involving elves in space suits which would make me buy into a game background story or archaic imperial gothic stuff.

    @Ivan DBA: I don't understand your two school of thoughts argument. I don't think I fit in either and like a lot of people around here I have had 15mm since the 80's with the Traveller models which had "Lizard, Bear, Dog and various other Alien types" which in many ways are similar to the latest round of models coming out i.e. aliens which might have evolved from one of our native animal species.

    I for one enjoyed a roleplaying approach to my gaming with a focus on the story and following unit organisation. However I do understand that there are modern gamers which like a traditional military approach to SCI-FI more than the "fantasy" of it. I just don't think it is a total divide between groups.

    Another example of back story is the Kaamados which have those troops which are promoted to proudly carry the flag of their masters, only to discover it is a a bomb which will be detonated when they are in the midst of the enemy. Another small hint at a back story which brings the whole army alive.

    So I think back story and fluff is great, it adds to my gaming as a roleplayer and big fan of sci-fi literature. I need more than just different poses but that is a personal opinion. Long live Pigs in Spaaaaaaccce!

  27. Sure if a line of minis catches our eye we may well want to see it 'complete' in regards to our favourite set of gaming rules. That way we get to play with them.

    I hope whatever becomes my 'favourite' set of rules allows for some surprisingly asymmetrical (yet fun!) encounters. Sure I will most likely field and play with a force that plays like 'Vietnam in Space', but I expect that army to encounter and contend with a truly alien force that organises and fights in an alien manner.

    Fluff, used correctly, will be the foundation for this kind of game. I applaud designers of minis and rule sets that strive to provide us authentic goods and are not just selling us another suit of 'the Emperor's new clothes'

    Mark, a great discussion! Well done. Here's to more of the same.

    Thomas in Vancouver

  28. @Eli - Point taken. But 5150 was written with specific miniatures in mind, Smoggers, Quar, Spugs, Drantak, Hydrissians, Grath, Hishen and Razors. All of these were minis in production. The difference was only the Grath, Hishen and Razors were produced by Two Hour Wargames.
    But complete lines are attractive. Defining complete is the rub.
    Good stuff all.

  29. @Peabody - Is that Vancouver, BC or Vancouver, WA?

    @Ed - Thanks and it is hard to keep them unique but also marketable.

  30. As someone just getting into 15 mm Sci-fi let me say that I love the fact that THW works with various manufacturers to include their ranges in 5150. I also appreciate the companies working with THW to allow this.

    Personally, I need a little fluff. Whether I am taking it from a book I am reading or the manufacturer it helps to have some idea of what the figs represent. Some companies go too far - I am really tired of half my Blood Angels needing to be rearmed to conform to a new set of rules every year or so.

  31. While a backstory is nice, it is not mandatory. Often I use my own story anyway. I don't know how many wars my Star Wars figures have fought and they have nothing to do with the SW universe.

    Would you like to exchange links?