Sunday, August 31, 2008

Base-ic Instinct

I am a rebel, an outcast, a dangerous radical with views no decent human would hold. On the Group W bench of wargaming, I am the one that others move away from. Why? Because I believe that the WRG-DBx-FoG standard base sizes for 25/28mm ancients are too small. Way too small. Absurdly. Ridiculously. Small.

I have made a nuisance of myself on various newsgroups as I proclaim the good news that we ancients gamers can be set free from cramming big figures on little bases; set free from using one or two fewer figures on a base just to get any to fit; set free from cantering cavalry figures at an angle on the base to keep them from hanging out front and back; set free from having armies that look like 50s-era college kids stuffing themselves in phone booths and Volkswagens. But I go disregarded, despised, and derided. A prophet has no honor in his own country.

The base sizes for WRG ancients, on which the later rules were based, were essentially set back in 1969 when the 1st edition rules were published. Both 1st and 2nd edition rules used inches for the base sizes. It wasn't until 3rd edition were released in 1971 that the measurements were converted to millimeters and the final category, light-medium and light-heavy infantry, were added. WRG described a frontage per figure, but really, the 3rd edition basing took a 60mm frontage as its basis. On this frontage, you could fit four close order troops, three loose order troops, or two open order troops; thus 15mm, 20mm, or 30mm per figure. In the WRG rules, that made a difference because combat was resolved by how many figures were in contact. So, on average, close order troops would have twice the men in contact as open order troops.

The figures available at the time were small compared to today's offerings. Scruby, Greenwood & Ball, Minifigs, Hinchliffe, and Lamming were the main manufacturers. Officially, the scale was 25mm, which meant that from top to bottom, the figure measured 25mm. It was a loose scale and there was a lot of variety of actual size within it. For example, Ral Partha Miniatures, which came out in 1975, were "true" 25s and looked smaller than most. Partially, this was because Ral Partha were more proportional, which made them look less chubby and trollish that others. In any case, the figures current at the time fit the bases, even if tightly so in some cases. The newer ranges blew all that away.

Dixon miniatures were the first in my experience that really exhibited "scale creep." Marketed as 25mm figures, Dixon were a bit bigger and chunkier than other ranges. Throughout the 1990s, newer ranges came out that only increased the degree of scale creep until someone finally put away pretense and started calling them 28mm figures (or "heroic" 25s). But don't think of it as a mere 3mm difference--especially because most 28mm figures are really 30mm figures. Comparing the A and A Miniatures I used for my 3rd c. Romans to Minifigs figures of the 1970s is like comparing well-fed grown men to children.

The upshot is that the figures no longer fit the official base sizes. This has become a nearly religious war for some in the gaming community. There are several "flat-earthers" who see no problem with the old base sizes and will not accept any official--or unofficial--change, even as they resort to increasingly absurd expedients to fit newer figures on the old base sizes. The Warrior rules (a re-issue of WRG 7th edition ancients) offer an alternative larger basing for 28mm figures, but I don't see that it's caught on.

When Kevin Smyth and I did our WRG 6th edition project, we simply doubled the size of the DBA/DBM element bases. Doing this changed the basis from a 60mm frontage to 80mm, thus 20mm, 26.666mm, or 40mm per figure. The base depths also changed to 30mm for close order infantry, 40mm for loose and open order infantry, and 60mm for all mounted.

This new basing accomplished what are, in my opinion, the main reasons to base figures: Comfortably accommodating the number of figures required by the rules, protecting the figures on the base, and providing an aesthetic complement to the painted figures (many an ugly paint job is rectified, or at least mitigated, by a nice-looking base). The following pictures provide examples of figures based on the larger bases compared to the size of the standard base.

Close order infantry: 80mm x 30mm (20mm per figure) compared to 60mm x 20mm (15mm per figure)

Loose order infantry: 80mm x 40mm (26.666mm per figure) compared to 60mm x 30mm (20mm per figure)

Open order infantry: 80mm x 40mm (40mm per figure) compared to 60mm x 30mm (30mm per figure)

Close order cavalry: 80mm x 60mm (20mm per figure) compared to 60mm x 40mm (15mm per figure)

Loose order cavalry: 80mm x 60mm (26.666mm per figure) compared to 60mm x 40mm (20mm per figure)

You might look at some of the pictures and think that you could fit the figures on smaller bases. True, but they would be cramped. This is especially true with close order troops. You can see this pretty clearly when you consider that the base size that would accommodate two close order infantry figures using the standard base size (30mm x 20mm) is the same size I use in the larger scale for one figure (20mm x 30mm):

I've adopted the larger basing for the 28mm Field of Glory (FoG) project I'm doing now. Other gamers are using the same bases and re-basing figures mounted for other systems (like Warhammer Ancient Battles and Crusader Rules).

What about that 26.666mm?

When I first determined the larger basing, I asked myself the same question. That is one odd base size to measure. If you're basing for WRG 7th edition, DBA, DBM, or FoG. you don't need to worry about it. When I adopted the new size, I was basing for WRG 6th edition, which meant that I needed at least one singly-mounted figure for casualty removal. However, I based for 6th edition using two figure bases maximum because it helps with formation changes, expansions, and contractions. This meant that my loose order figures required 53.333mm bases for two-figure bases; another oddity of size.

Enter Litko.

Before the WRG 6th project, I always cut my own bases out of 0.10" plastic card. It was a lot of work to score, cut, and prep all that plastic. Being pretty ham-fisted myself, I wasn't sure how I would be exact enough in my measurements. Even easy measurements came out a little off, so that the best of my bases is a rough quadrilateral with approximate dimensions. I had friends recommend Litko for some time. I e-mailed Ken and asked if he could cut bases to my sizes and he responded that he could cut custom bases to within 0.001mm. I was sold. I've never based with plastic since.


  1. That's right, drag me into this. Make me an outcast on all the boards too-even if you are right!!

  2. You think your labeled a hieratic?!?!

    I'm ostracized for wanting to use the old Bruce Quarrie basing method, used for Napoleonics, for all Nap rules!

    On a side note... I agree with what you have written. I am hoping to get a copy of WRG for ancients and will look at this again.

    Also, I get funny looks for wanting my units to be as historically accurate as possible. Example, a Roman Imperial legion had 10 Cohorts therefore MY Roman Legion will have 10 units of 24 figures!!