Sunday, 29 January 2012

Creating New Game Settings from Existing Worlds

I've noticed something about us 15mm Sci Fi gamers.  We suffer from tunnel vision.

It's not something to be ashamed of, and it's certainly not exclusive to our little corner of the world.  Everyone gets it sometimes.  But when we get it, it results in months of delayed purchases, unpainted minis, general disappointment in the hobby, and at worst - frustration and anger at the manufacturers.  And one of the leading causes of this tunnel vision?  Settings for our 15mm games.  

We switch to 15mm for all the right reasons.  Tons of products available, excellent variety, good value, very inspiring (and obviously humble) bloggers, you know the drill.  So we take the plunge, buy some figures, buy some more figures, paint a couple of them, buy a bunch more figures, buy some vehicles, print some rules, buy some figures... and then we're stuck.  No idea what to do with them. There's no Codex - how do we paint them?  There's no novels or movies about these figures - so what are they fighting over?  

So we look for inspiration.  We all have a creative side - we wouldn't be shopping for 15mm sci-fi miniatures if we didn't.  But ultimately, we want our games to be familiar.  A favorite movie, book, TV show... or an existing RPG, maybe even a miniature game in a different scale.  That's what we want to play.  So we decide to play it, especially since we know exactly how it should look on the table... 

But wait.  Nobody makes a 1/100 version of that particular figure, that vehicle, that aircraft.  Now we're stuck.  What do we do now?  We talk to our buddies, we write blog posts about it, we turn to TMP and other message boards for advice.  How many threads have the title "What's a good ??? in 15mm?"  "Looking for ??? in 15mm!"  "15mm Proxies for ???"  Or requests for manufacturers to create a knock off version, just so we can get those perfect minis in 15mm...

"I know a genuine Panaphonics when I see one..."
For the most part, it's never going to happen.  Because of intellectual iroperty laws, copyrights, etc., we're never going to get those specific miniatures made in 1/100.  So we get stuck.  We have piles of unpainted lead and we stop playing games.  We beg manufacturers to release things they'll never get away with.  We do everything possible to get that specific setting, in its original detail, onto our tables.  What we never do is stop, take an objective look at that entire setting, and figure out the reasons we like it in the first place.  

What if we make the fundamental storylines into something which fits current miniature ranges?

Look at it this way.  We can wait months, years, or forever for manufacturers to release that "proxie" that gets us close enough for our lofty expectations.  Or we can apply just a bit of creativity, and change a few aspects of the story, the aesthetic, the technology... whatever it takes to play that theme, that idea.  If we do this correctly, we may end up liking our new creation even more than the original setting.

I really think anyone can do this with any novel, comic series, movie, TV show, or video game.  Do we really want to play the Battle of Naboo, but are disappointed by the lack of 1/100 Battle Droids and Gungans?  Let's stop looking for proxies, open ours mind, and create our own version with hordes of Khurasan Mekanoids attacking a jungle full of technologically-outmatched Blue Moon Fereen.  Want to run the final battle in Avatar but can't find any Na'Vi?  Let's relax and play a fun intepretation with Splintered Light Leonines.  Or here's a common one: 40K in 15mm.  Do we want to wait for the perfect Space Marines, Tyranids, and Tau to be released?  Or can we focus on the basic theme, and create our own interpretation with Blue Moon Orions, Khurasan Space Demons, and Eureka Ventaurans.

It's tough to do this, especially when we have such specific visions in our minds.  But let's choose the most important elements of the stories and be creative with the rest.  There are dozens of great figure and vehicle ranges in 15mm Sci Fi, and more new items are coming out every month.  It isn't worth sitting around waiting for that perfect "proxy" or "not-this" to come out.  We should make use of the nearly-unlimited game possibilities available right now.  



  1. Ok, that is one view. I tend to have several competing ideas going at once on my tables. And I tend to use shorthand in describing what I am doing and looking for.

    My Post Apocalypse is often described as Not-Fallout, While in reality it is crafted from all the joy that is the High Tech Post Apocalypse. In a weird way it owes more to Car Wars, Star Rigger, Borderland and Stargate than it does to Fallout. Meaning even there I use Mass media shortcuts to describe a new setting. Honestly Cyberpunked Wild West with Mutants is probably closer genre description.

    While my Traveller stuff is pretty vanilla Traveller, with the focus being on the bands of miscreants that inhabit your average PC's Freetrader or Scout ship than the military adventures that others tend to focus on.

    My focus on figures is two fold I advocate for figures I can use, using terms that will have the greatest understanding in the terms I use to discribe them. And use the figures that are produced fo fit into the projects I am working on....

    Come on, Eureka/Denizens Ventaurans are loved not that they are their own faction, but in the fact they Make Great Not-Zhodani in that their imagery matches the imagery of Classic Traveller.

    As for proxying in for other games factions, well people are going to do that. The entire Not-40K started with not so much trying to replicate 40k in 15mm, but to play it in 15mm, mostly to annoy Gaven. (at one Local convention we had loud large conversations about it when he was in earshot).

    In the end I play with what is available, ask for what I would like, and spend a lot of time talking about what I would like. When I talk about what I would like and use some third parties IP as a description it is conversational technique to express the form, not a request to copy.

  2. Very inspiring blog. I have gotten kind of hung up on finding the perfect Space Marine for my "Vraks" campaign. But I have also found the wonderful Rebel Miniatures Titan marines & Eureka Scifi Germans make great Death Corp of Kriegs. Throw in some of the GZG NAC troopers as a rebel IG army and now I can re-fight the Vraks campaign.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Great write up as always, and very inspiring. I've done my own versions of 40k and Star Wars to name but a few
    in 15mm.There are numerous miniatures that are suitable stand ins and or replacements for everything one can think of, and if you don't let yourself get too hide
    bound and tied to how things looked in the film,
    you can actually do better! As you say keep an onen mind.

  5. I'm not a 15mm gamer so my credentials are dubious but...
    If i have a concept then i search for the best miniatures to fulfill that roll regardless of company creed or fiction but i'm not afraid of mix n matching, and it's been years since i bought a miniature i didn't like just for the sculpt alone.

    I like creativity and individualism, i don't want my little toys to look like everyone elses and if they're straight off a peg then they'll probably be greenstuffed subtlely... so to look for the perfect match just to conform to someone elses view of how it should look is somewhat alien to me.

    There are so many good sources out their for inspiration but they're all open for interpretation and none are perfect but collectively one could have a lot of fun justifying that last purchase of "oh shiny".

  6. Yep.. I don't have a reference bacground for my games but still when I use Sahadeens I call them Sahadeens and like to fantasize about what this name inspire... and they usually fight against ARC Fleet, called ARC Fleet...

  7. I was struck by how very familiar your thoughts sounded. I've had them all, certainly. Stuck with a pile of unpainted lead, and lacking the motivation to get going on them.

    For me, the answer was a bit different, because I play mostly solo, and because I'm a painter/modeler first and a gamer second. I created my own campaign world. The choices I made were based in part of my own mental collection of creative sci-fi influences (Star Wars, Bladerunner, Dune, Bladerunner, Star Corps, Bladerunner, etc., Bladerunner) and in part on the miniatures I liked best, and the scenery I would have the most fun creating.

    Have a look here for my campaign setting:

    And here for a discussion of the choices I made when creating it, and why:

    If you do have a visit, you'll find that even this wasn't QUITE enough to keep my focused and inspired. Instead, my first foray into miniatures for this setting was a sideshow of the campaign. Just because the miniatures were so much fun to make and paint :)

  8. where's the "like" button?

    Lack of perfect figures shouldn't paralyse you - if something is close enough (and in 15mm there almost certainly be something that is close enough) use that or adapt your setting to account for any differences.

  9. Well said and true, oh so very true! Great thread too thanks to all of you for some good ideas and reaffirmation of creative thought!

    I have lamented frequently if only this .. if only that ... oh why can't that be in 15 MM. I've slowly started changing my mindset about the situation.

    I've begun looking at 28 MM figures and thinking how can that fit in a 15 MM world as something else. For me I own a ton of GW tyranids ... a good hunk of unbased and unpainted stuff and I've started thinking about how I can base that stuff up appropriately and use it with some of my 15s. I have a ton of old heavy gear 15 MM stuff (the very old RAFM line) as well as the newer dream pod 9 stuff ... I've realized it will be beautiful with 15s. A friend and I are working on doing an entire universe of our own to play 15s in. For me I do other mini gaming, historicals, etc. lots of 28 MM.

    I am looking at 15 MM sci-fi as my OSR style mini gaming (for those familiar with the movement to go back to old school D&D) ... I am as much excited about the potential to create new terrain, settings, to use minis, etc. etc. in new ways ... as anything with 15 MM so in that spirit why not really go all out and run with ideas, you hit a roadblock take a detour ... maybe you'll end up somewhere far more interesting that you originally intended. Thanks again for a great blog sir ... top notch!

  10. Well, my point in starting my Colony 13 project was to attack this problem by reducto ad absurdum -- what if EVERY fictional world collided in one place? I always poke at the seams even when playing with established universes -- and thus end up with Jedi gun-runners and the Federation of Star Trek becomes a totalitarian regime. It's a nod and a wink to the established fictional realities while making them something truly mine at the same time.

  11. I prefer creating my own backgrounds rather than basing it on another format. Although I like to watch sci fi films, I could never bring myself to try and base my 15mm projects on that. The only sci fi I think I was ever slightly influenced from was Terminator, Firefly and Battlestar.

    I like to have variation, as well as some realism added. The future is full of possibilities and will have far more variety to it and gizmoes than any Sci-fi film/setting we have around today.

    My little universe is based on Humanity only just beginning to leave the Solar system and colonise planets outside of it, with only limited exploration beforehand. Every planet is thus a frontier, with the powers that be back on Earth staking claims, in a sort of 'scramble for Africa' but in space. Bringing them into all sorts of trouble with other humans or other creatures. Given this way it also means I can add any 15mm figures I want, form a background story and let them go on a rampage, the possibilities are endless.

  12. Hey,

    GREAT POST! I think my tunnel vision comes from the fact that often times I do like the fluff provided with rule sets (Tomorrow's War and 5150:SA mainly) however, I get hung-up when a TO&E is provided and I can't find suitable figures to match what's called for in said TO&E! I literally have spent hours on the web searching and searching for figures sometimes, which, ironically is kinda fun, but can be frustrating depending on what my search yields.

    I'm a HUGE Star Wars fan, would game it in the MicroMachine scale if they were readily available. However, I bit the bullet and collected as many of the WOTC figs as possible along with as many vehicles as possible because I know it's something not easily found in other scales, sure you can proxy, but it's not the same, at least for me.

    I do like the fact that Tomorrow's War and 5150 try to leave things open for you the game to come up with your own stats, but it is frustrating when a TO&E is provided along with a solid back story that I'd like to dive in to, but have a hard time finding suitable figures. Call it OCD, but I like my figures' weapon/equipment (yes, even in 15mm) to reflect the appropriate army description listed in the rules...if I'm going to use the rule sets fluff as my gaming "world"...if not, then who cares, use what you want!

    That's probably just me though.


  13. Fun discussion, everyone!

    Many of you have taken the time to develop your own universes. That's awesome - I had no idea so many of you were going to those lengths. Others, especially Traveller fans, seem to have no problems finding 15mm minis to play an established universe. Both of those are great options, and gamers using those options probably get plenty of use out of their 15mm minis.

    Ultimately, this post was an attempt to create Option #3 - do a little of both. It just seems, from blogs and message boards, that people get lost in the middle of those options. They don't have the patience, energy, time, or desire to create a universe completely from scratch, nor are they able to find the right minis to play an existing universe. I'll follow up with my own example - adapting one of the Robotech series into something compatible with 15mm minis.

  14. I've taken 15mm as the chance to start creating my own universe. Many adventures so far have taken place on the thinly populated colony world of Gordon's Gamble:

    Inspiration comes from many sources; Alien/Aliens, Battletech, Kryomek, the GZGverse and Tomorrowverse, plus lots of novels - Peter F Hamilton, David Drake, Robert Heinlein, Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat & Bill the Galactic Hero series, the original Dark Horse Aliens vs. Predator graphic novel (before those stupid films came out...) plus lots more.

    After years playing increasingly prescriptive games where you must have the exact figures (which incidentally have just been re-released in a new style that costs 3 times as much as the old ones because they no longer fit the revised army list correctly), I decided that this was a chance to create my own background. No-one is going to criticise my army or grumble because it doesn't match the fluff text or colour schemes in the rule book.

    I can also develop the background as I play - the outcome of games can dictate the course that my universe takes.
    I like 15mm because there are so many ranges out there that are pretty much "context-free" unlike many of the 25-28mm figures which are more "game system" focussed.

    I also love the way that 15mm provides a way to get figures cheaply enough that you can experiment with modifying or painting figures to emulate other films or games. It's easy to get 4 or 5 packs of figures for a specific game, you can get them painted quickly and they don't take up much space so there isn't the big commitment in time, money and storage that you might need with a bigger scale.

    You really can have the best of both worlds and swap between them at will - today I might play a purely Star Wars inspired game but tomorrow I'll play an Aliens inspired bug-hunt and the day after I'll play in a background of my own creation. I can also use a different rule set every day because so many generic versions are available. The figures for all three can fit in a shoe-box and have probably cost me less than a days wages.


  15. It sounds like we have plenty of codex and campaign settings. They are just trapped in the random blogs and minds of hundreds of gamers.

    Lets face it, We have a finite number of figures and factions. Kit bashing and converting are common but most of those are vehicles.

    We need someone to create a place where persistent worlds can live and grow. If you create a world then you get a wiki style sub page. You can post scenarios, TO&E, and the history. Give the option for public editing or private (invite only).

    Miniature manufacturers can also step in and create history/TO&Es for the various rule sets. Khurasan always has wonderful descriptions and a back story to most of his stuff. It would be great to see that history released as a PDF with a few scenarios tossed in.