Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Recalling the Past - 1983 TSR Miniatures

I have hundreds of miniatures in my collection and see no sign of my acquisitions ending. Painting and collecting them (and occasionally actually using them in a game) constitutes a large portion of my hobby activity. Although I laughed when I first heard the terms plastic crack, metal crack, and lead crack, the smile quickly faded from my face when I realized how accurate those words were. I am very addicted to all the various forms, genre, and activities associated with those little miniature figurines.

Though I had been playing Dungeons and Dragons religiously since 1982, I did not purchase my first miniatures until several years later. I was in eighth grade when a TSR boxed set completely changed the gaming hobby for me. My first miniature, or miniatures rather, was a Magic Users and Illusionists set I picked up from a local bookstore. To this day, I have no idea why I chose this particular set. I rarely, if ever, choose to take on the role of a magic using character in any game whether it be roleplaying or not. Surely one of the other sets out at the time would have held more allure. I can only speculate that perhaps this was my first exposure to the miniature line and that this set may have been the only one available (since it was purchased in a bookstore instead of a hobby shop). Whatever the reason, the twelve little figures included in the box hold a special place in my memory of the hobby.

I'm certain that I tore into the packaging as soon as I got home with my precious treasure. Fortunately I had paints on hand from my years of building plastic models. Of course, the paints were thick enamels by Testor and were completely unsuited for the small metal miniatures, but I did not know that back then. Even if I had better paints on hand, I do not think it would have mattered. At that age and experience level, I had not even the slightest notion of the concept of shading or highlighting and to say that my initial attempts were frightening would be an understatement. But you could not have convinced me then that my work was anything other than a masterpiece. I would spend hours on a single miniature making sure that everything was just right...including the black dot of paint for an eye that I would apply with the end of a tooth pick.

Two miniatures in the box stand out in my memory. The little gnome illusionist (bottom right) my have been the first miniature I ever painted. Though I can recall little of the details, I do remember that his trousers where an incredibly bright blue. Why I would remember such a seemingly insignificant detail I do not know. But I can see those shiny blue pants in my mind and even to this day I must say...those pants were BRIGHT. The other miniature that stands out in my memory is the elf with the wand (second from the right on the second row). He is significant only because I remembered thinking he did not look like an elf to me. I painted him of course, but I told myself over and over while painting him that he was a young human and most definitely not an elf. Isn't it odd what images and memories remain with us as we age?

Looking back at the miniatures today it is easy to see how far the industry has come as far as sculpting and casting are concerned. The minis in the box seem "flat" compared to the robust and intricately detailed figures of today. Facial features are neutral or lacking completely and the poses seemed forced and unnatural. Yet, despite their simplicity, the figures in that box represent the heart of the Dungeons and Dragons game more so than any of the wonderfully designed miniatures of today. Perhaps I am simply falling prey to the "good 'ole days" syndrome, but to me those simple lead miniatures recall the awe, adventure, and allure of roleplaying games in the golden age of the 1980's.

I still have those original miniatures hidden somewhere amongst other childhood keepsakes. I found them and reminisced several years ago when I began to get back into the hobby after a long hiatus. Unfortunately I seem to have misplaced the old miniatures again.  Looking at the box of my newly acquired Ebay version and handling the cold stark unpainted magic users and illusionist certainly brings back memories. But nothing compared to the rush of nostalgia and longing for the past that I felt when I found those old painted miniatures that evening. I could almost see myself as a young boy, intense concentration written upon his face and a far away look in his eyes, applying that bright blue paint to the trousers of that little gnome.

What was the first miniature you ever painted?

1 comment:

  1. My first figures were wizards from an even earlier authorized AD&D set by Grenadier. I failed miserably, being not older than 10; using old jars of my father's Testors enamels that had already turned gummy so it was like I cast a web spell on all of them.

    It was many years until I tried again, then with a pre-primed MERP figure by Mythril Miniatures using artists acrylics. Not great, but much more satisfactory than before.