Musing on Basing

I’ve always been a fan of basing. I’m not sure why – maybe because basing responds really well to thinks like washing and dry brushing and those early techniques you learn when you’re first painting. Makes you feel like you did something awesome even if you’re in the “basecoat and wash” stage with miniatures generally.

Recently, there’s been a couple discussions on Facebook, podcasts etc. about basing that have got me thinking more about the philosophy behind basing – different ways to approach the concept of basing, and what it means about your figures, your armies, and the game.

As near as I can tell, there’s three main “concepts” for what a base should be – which I’m going to call “Game”, “Frame” and “Narrative”. Note that while my bases squarely fall into one of these categories, I don’t think any of them are wrong. They’re just different ways to view the role of the little round things at the bottom of your miniatures.

Of course then there’s “Unpainted”. That one’s definitely wrong :).

Somewhere standing to the side are the clear acrylic base folks, who are in essence staking out the position that bases shouldn’t be a thing and should just get out of the way.

Game Basing

To me, these are the bases that most recognize that at their core, miniatures are just glorified game tokens, and that bases should be either unobtrusive or actually convey useful information. This is the domain, for example, of the bases that adorn the Dropfleet Commander figures.

They are tokens made to convey information. When it comes down to it, the miniatures themselves are just signifiers of what the token is that looks good on a tabletop. And part of me respects this position – after all, I grew up with my dad playing hex-and-counter wargames, and a common refrain of mine about miniatures is that if we’re not going to paint them, we should just go back.

There is a somewhat less extreme form of this that I think many 40K players would find surprising – albeit useful – if they encountered it on the tabletop: differing bases by squad. Usually in the form of different colored rims, or squad signifiers on the bases. The utility, to anyone who has had to piece together which set of identically painted cultists is which squad, is undeniable. Yet I know a lot of people, myself included, who would never even consider the idea.

So the short version: Stupidly useful for in-game information, but somewhat pulls you out of the immersion of the game.

Frame Basing

This is where I think most gamers end up: the base is a frame for your miniature. And like any good frame, it should be complementary, but unobtrusive. This is the realm where I think the GW basing kits at the moment come into their own – just evocative enough, either in plastic structure or with texture paint on the base, but not too much to be fussy. Enough to say “Urban Rubble” or “Mars” or “Underhive”, and to have that be enough.  This is also the realm of the black rimmed base, which I think is a fabulous color choice for a simple frame – it draws the eye up toward the figure, accomplishing exactly what it’s supposed to accomplish.

This is, I would argue, where my Imperial Fist bases are right now.

I could add more to them. I want to add more to them. But right now they’re quick, easy, say what they need to, notably “Deck Plates”, and they don’t get in the way of the rest of the figure. They are a frame.

Frame-basing is also immensely flexible, which allows for something hugely important: consistency. You could, productively, base basically every 40K army imaginable on “Urban Rubble” style bases, and have them look and feel appropriate for the setting. Lava bases work well for Chaos. This means multiple armies can have the same basing scheme, and look coherent to one another – enabling you to swap units back and forth without interrupting the feel of the force as a whole. Here, the relative simplicity of the frame is also elegant – by not getting in the way, it lets you build larger, more diverse armies.

Narrative Basing

Narrative basing is going all-in, treating the base as an extension of the miniature, something that deserves as much time and thought as anything else in the overall construction of the figure. It’s there to tell a story, and supplement the story of the figure as a whole. And it’s meant to draw the eye.

To put it bluntly, these bases are here to look good, and are often a pain in the rear to actually work with. Though that’s not exclusively what separates them from frame bases.

My Eldar bases fall into this category, at least in my opinion.

The bases are work. There’s water effects, and three different types of grass, and bits of resin sourced from different places. In some ways they class with the models, rather than serving to specifically highlight the models, because they’re busy telling their own story – that of a fallen Eldar world turned miserable swamp. The advantage of these kinds of bases is, again, that they’re helping tell the story of the figure. Imagine these weren’t Eldar, but Imperial Guard. Imagine those heavy weapons teams with stagnant water soaking their legs as they set up guns braced on rotting wood. That basing can help convey a feeling of misery. For the Eldar, it conveys a sense of motion, with lots of room for bounding off of logs and other bits of debris to stay out of the water.

But these bases don’t feel as “home” on most tables. The rims aren’t black – they were chosen to convey the swampy-ness of the intended setting, and they look great on swamp-type mats and basically nowhere else. They look downright odd on most Games Workshop terrain in a way frame bases, even frame bases that don’t quite match up with the board, don’t. Simply because they’re telling a different story from the rest of the game pieces.

Swamp meet…deep space listening post?

But when they’re on their home turf, with everything – bases, mat and scenery all telling the story they’re supposed to be telling? They’re amazing.

The Takeaway

I don’t really think there’s a wrong way to do basing – I’ve got armies in all three styles (or I will once I work up the energy to tackle the Dropfleet Kickstarter box currently sitting in to-do pile). And I don’t even thing they’re in ascending orders of effort – I’ve seen people with amazing glow-effect squad markings on their bases, and to use an example from this post, while the Imperial Fist bases are simple, there’s no reason they need be. Brass shell casings, weathering effects, etc. could easily be applied to those same bases, adding a tremendous amount of complexity to them, and they’d still largely be frames. Their intent is still “Look up at the neat yellow Space Marine”.

Each method just involves a different approach to basing, and what you want to do is probably something worth thinking about when you embark on a new army. Or at least I think so – but then I think far too much about basing.

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