I’ve become increasingly dissatisfied with how much of our lives are lived online and in virtual spaces. About two years ago, I cut out all computer gaming and started playing table-top RPGs as often as my schedule would allow. Since it’s the 21st century, I’m a middle-aged guy, and my nerd friends live all over the place, that means we use Roll20’s virtual tabletop more often than not. It’s great to be able to goof around with actual people and collaborate on storytelling instead of just following a branching choice path written by a game designer. But…it’s still online. What I really miss is the tactile quality of gaming when I was a kid: the books, the dice, the pencils, the miniatures. Watching Mike slam the demogorgon figurine down on the table in Stranger Things took me right back to late-night game sessions with friends. So I decided to paint up a few minis. I got a starter kit from Reaper and bought a bunch of orcs and skeletons. I watched a few tutorials on YouTube and took a crack at painting.
It turned out to be a lot of fun. There’s something therapeutic to be able to focus closely on painting and just block everything else out. It’s also nice to have a physical token of your effort. After a while, I stumbled across the Chainmail skirmish game that Wizards of the Coast published for a short while around 2000. I had a chance to pick up a lot of the figurines at a decent price and started reading up on the skirmish game rules as well. The designers set the game in the Greyhawk universe and had planned on some significant expansions before the franchise was cancelled in 2002. So it’s kind of an orphan system. In fact, the Core Rulebook was only released in pdf form for a short while and WoTC seems not terribly interested in republishing it. There is a brief rulebook that comes packaged with the Starter Kit, and several scenario booklets were published as well. But it looks like the entire Chainmail franchise was put on ice when WoTC came out with the Miniatures Handbook for D&D 3.5 in 2003. Around that time, they seem to have made the decision to start putting out prepainted, plastic miniatures as well. This probably made good sense from the perspective of drawing new players into the game. But I confess I find those plastic miniatures pretty awful, for the most part.
The quality of the Chainmail figurines ranged from average to surprisingly good. A lot of them need pinning and prep work before painting. At the moment, I have about 3/4 of the miniatures released, some in unboxed form. My plan is to paint through specific factions and to document the process here. I’ve also been reading up on the several miniature game rulesets that TSR/WoTC have developed over the years. Ultimately, I intend to adapt these to skirmish play with friends and with my kids. I don’t plan on doing a lot of research into the game itself. If you dig around online, it’s possible to dig up some forum posts by the original designers telling the story of the game and detailing its backstory. There was also a brief run of Chainmail-focused columns in Dragon Magazine which is interesting stuff to read. My focus here is going to be on painting the figures and on learning the game rules. Any gestures toward the setting and lore will probably be incidental.
I’m aware there’s something quixotic about this. I mean, there are popular tabletop wargaming systems out there that have many dedicated players and all kinds of online resources. But I like the idea of PvP skirmish combat in the D&D universe. The current WoTC board games connected with D&D are sort of infantilizing. Halfway through playing one of them, I find myself wishing I was just doing an OSR dungeon crawl. I might have tried Warhammer or Warmachine, but the cost of getting set up seems really high. Maybe I’ll evolve in that direction later. For the moment, I like that Chainmail has a finite set of miniatures and that it’s set in a universe I’m already familiar with.
So, let’s get started…