Using LEGO as RPG minis

Recently, in another thread, I mentioned that I use LEGO as minatures. I thought I'd describe my method, in case anyone is curious.

  1. The scale I use is 4 "pips" equals 5 ft. This makes LEGO men 5 1/2 ft tall. For Ars, I'm considering 2 pips = 1 pace, as the troupe consensus was 2.5 ft per pace.

  2. I primarily use large grey base plates as the "map surface.". These are 60x60 ft. I used a sharpie to draw 5 ft squares on them. I have made a "ruler" with 3 levels, showing 1.25 ft, 5 ft, and 20 ft. I also have small plates, 10x10, 20x20, 20x40, etc, that are useful for setting up surprises that I can slap down on the table.

(For things happening at longer ranges, like a dragon spotted flying towards them from a mile away, and the PC's subsequently running to safety before the dragon reaching them, I might still place things on the table and just narrate the intervening distance, rather than trying to stick to the scale).

  1. Normal size humans sit on a 5ft square base. This was originally for DnD's combat purposes, but also aids stability. Larger things have appropriately larger bases, and when I don't have an appropriate figure handy, I just use an appropriately sized base and describe what they see.

  2. Each player models their character and posessions. Most of the time, models sit in front of players. At table, its not a hard and fast rule, but a guideline, that "what you see is what you get." Wearing your helmet? Armor on. Holding your sword up? Weapon drawn. Sword down? Weapon sheathed. This prevents players from always claiming advantageous circumstances. "Of course I have my ranged weapon in my hands." "I fell into the water? Of course I'm not wearing my armor." Etc.

  3. I don't model everything. When I do model, accuracy varies. The intention is to add clarity to my narration*. How detailed I get depends on how important terrain details are likely to become. I use more detail for stuff I've planned than stuff the players have sprung on me, as I don't want to waste session time building things.

  4. If details aren't too important, but I want to set the scene, I might, for example, slap down 5 trees and say "you're in a forest, the trail leads through the trees here" while tracing a path with my fingers. There are assumed to be more trees and small brush and other details not represented on the table.

  5. Buildings or dungeon walls are usually modeled as top-down-view wire-frames, like a 2-D map drawn on a dry erase board.

  6. I'll then add relevant "dungeon dressing" like tables, doors, treasure chests, etc, in 3-D.

  7. When combat breaks out or it otherwise seems relevant, we move the figures onto the game board. Generally I have them position themselves first, and then position opposition, keeping them from abusing terrain/positioning advantages.

  8. Sometimes, I'll have them position themselves in a default "formation" (what old school rpgs would call "marching order"). This ensures that they don't "cheat" when an "encounter" occurs. "We're ambushed? The fighter is in front." "A trap? Of course the rogue is scouting ahead." An opponent some distance away? Of course the fighter and rogue arent't blocking the wizards shot."

  9. LEGO is price competitive to other mineatures. For 5 - 10 dollars, you get 1-3 minifigs + at least one full outfit of weapons, armor, accessories, as well as some other swag - gems, vegetation, a horse, banners, some generic bricks, or whatever.

  10. Of course, the real beauty of LEGO is adaptability. In one of my first rpg experiences, I hunted for the perfect mini for my axe-and-shield wielding fighter. And then carefully painted it. And then next session I found better armor and a magic two handed sword. With lego, that model change is literally a snap.

  11. Since I don't have models for everything, some poetic license is needed. A dapper business suit can stand in for a well dressed nobleman in a fantasy game. A medieval breastplate can stand in for a bulletproof vest in a modern game. A small snake can be placed on a large baseplate to represent a gigantic serpent. Etc.

  12. There ARE models for just about anything people game. I've got skeletons, vampires, werewolves from the "movie monsters" line, goblins (dobbies from Harry Potter sets), giants (DUPLO men), camels (prince of Persia), etc, etc. One's only limit is budget and trying to keep the things organized enough to find what you need in a hurry. I use tackle boxes, but the organization is the nightmare hassle of this approach.

*EDIT: In addition to adding clarity to my narration, it cuts down on those disbelief-suspending measured descriptions ("a 45x75 foot cavern") while still allowing the needed clarity. If I simply say "a small room" or "an enormous chamber" the players have little scale to go on.

Nice. My ex-housemates used to do this for D&D.

I've always preferred to keep things mental, because that allows for things to be dramatically where they need to be. As Robin Laws said, it doesn't matter where the mook was. The mook is where he needs to be for your stunt to work.

One of my current players has volunteered to build our covenant in Minecraft. Which is cool enough that I'm wondering about whether to give bonus XP for this sort of thing.

A long time ago (but perhaps surprisingly in this galaxy), I ran a ArM3 game, which on of the players illustrated using POV-Ray:

as I recall, all writings in the pictures is in latin.

I went through a phase of collecting lots of Star Wars lego at one point, so I have vast armies of lego stormtroopers, etc.

I ran a star wars game using these guys as minis. The main problem I found was successfully identifying the different stormtroopers from one another! Poses help, different stuff-in-hand helps, putting the flat square '1 pip' bits on their feet in different colours helps the most.

Still, it did look cool. And lego-y.