Saturday, December 28, 2013

First Spark

The idea for customizable miniatures really began rattling around in my brain a little over a year ago when I started a 3.5 edition campaign with some friends. Two of my party members were entirely new to role-playing and, disinclined to invest in their own minis, had been using coins or spare dice to mark their location on the battlefield. As most tabletop gamers know, having and painting your own miniature provides a real sense of investment, and I wanted our new players to have that full experience, that tangible connection to their characters. With the holidays upon our merry band, I decided that I’d try to get everyone a mini as a stocking stuffer.

I figured the most convenient way of getting miniatures that matched up with my friends' characters sheets was to find a website that would let me build the figures myself. After all, I'd seen other apps that had customize-and-3D-print functionality. In my naivete, I sort of took for granted that a service like that would already exist for role-playing games. I thought it would be as simple as ticking a couple boxes, choosing from some cool armor options, and having it shipped to me. As it turned out, no such service existed.

I ended up doing what most tabletop gamers have done at one time or another: settled on minis that were close to, but not quite, what I wanted. I, for example, had built a character  called Harmony Harpbreaker. She was a sassy, lyre-playing, hard-rock inspired gnome bard characterized by smooth-talking and recklessness. In my case, ‘close to what I wanted’ ended up being this mini. And a lovely mini it was. Sure, it was similar enough to what I was looking for to be serviceable, but it just didn't capture the details I cared most about. Harmony would have had her lyre strapped to her back, ready for a quick-draw. She wouldn't have been wearing chain-mail, rather some stylish leather with evidence of the rough-and-tumble lifestyle of a wandering minstrel. And maybe most importantly, she would have had a more relaxed, suave demeanor instead of an aggressive, battle-ready stance.

Now, everyone liked their minis, spent a day painting them, and ended up more attached to their characters than ever. What really amazed me though was how difficult it was to find a figure that truly matched the character sheet and personality of each party member. After Christmas had come and gone, I told my friend Teagan Morrison about my struggle to find the ‘right’ minis and how I wished there were an easy way to build personalized figures. Surprise, surprise: as it turns out, he’d recently been hunting for a way to customize miniatures too, and he'd also failed to find a solution. He'd gone the 'green stuff' route, sawing apart two different minis and Frankensteining parts back together to approximate what he actually wanted. But the idea of customized, 3D printed minis had been germinating in both of us since.

After a conversation that played out like a superhero team-up comic, we decided to join forces, me with my experience working in the RPG community and him with technical experience garnered from his work in the video game industry. We were going to make the very service we wanted to use. We promptly began seeking out other party members to help make this fanciful dream a reality. By our powers combined! 

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