Tobold's Blog
Thursday, August 10, 2017
 
A niche within a niche

I was watching a video on YouTube about 3D printing miniatures for tabletop wargaming. The conclusion for the guy who made the video was that 3D printing was okay for stuff like terrain, where he didn't care too much about, but not of high enough quality for his painted wargaming miniatures, where he cared a lot about how they looked. I don't disagree. But it makes me realize that in fact my personal application of 3D printing for my Dungeons & Dragons games is special, a niche within a niche. Because I have extremely low requirements, which a cheap 3D printer is well able to fulfill.

I was never much interested in painting miniatures, which was compounded by the fact that I never had much skill in that area. I have a small collection of metal miniatures, but they are either unpainted, or have been painted by my brother or friends who are good at that sort of stuff. And I wasn't even using these miniatures during the years I DM'd two 4th edition campaigns, I used tokens I printed in 2D on thick paper, and then stuck on self-adhesive felt pads.

The reason why I never was overly concerned with the quality of my monsters is that tend to be used for a relatively short time. Even more so in 5th edition, where the fights are shorter. But in a D&D campaign one usually uses a lot of different monsters. There are over 400 of them in the 5E Monster Manual. Some you might use several times: If you have an adventure about fighting orcs, you'll end up with several fights against orcs. But obviously always fighting the same monsters gets boring for both players and DM, and so one always tries to mix it up. And of course different monsters have different "challenge ratings" (as it is called in 5E), aka levels, and while at the start of your campaign you might have some interesting fights against goblins and kobolds, later on you fight orcs, ogres, or even giants.

I know some people spend weeks on building dioramas for D&D. The results can be highly impressive. But obviously it takes you far more time to build a diorama of a scene or a whole dungeon than it then takes to play through it. If you hobby is actually playing D&D, as opposed to building dioramas, putting too much effort into your monsters and terrain simply isn't worth it.

In my current 5E campaign, the first dungeon contained a bunch of goblins, a handful of wolves, and a bugbear. The biggest fight involved all three types of these monsters. So for me the "specifications" or requirements I had towards my 3D printed monsters were simple: I wanted the monsters to be at the right scale compared to the 28-mm scale painted metal figurines one of my players provided for the heroes, and I wanted them to be easily distinguishable, with no doubt of which one was the bugbear, the goblin, or the wolf. I didn't need them to be painted or very pretty. I didn't need their surfaces to be very smooth, the layered structure of a 3D printed object wasn't really a problem. I didn't need a whole lot of them, as rarely there are more than half a dozen monsters of the same type in a D&D fight. In short, my requirements are a whole lot lower than what somebody needing miniatures for tabletop wargaming might require. The monsters I print are cheap and not pretty, but they serve their purpose in my D&D game. And being 3D results in me and all players around the table easily being able to see from every angle which one of the monsters is the bugbear, which isn't quite as obvious with my previous 2D tokens.

In short, I am still using my 3D printer nearly every day to print out monsters for my campaign. I am preparing a big campaign, and I have some technical problem with my printer where it does well printing a single miniature, but fails if I try to print several of them in a single job. As 3D printing is inherently slow, printing the whole army for a campaign takes a lot of time, albeit not a lot of attention. But besides this specific niche within a niche application, I haven't really found another good reason to own a 3D printer.

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