Thursday, August 29, 2013

Magnetic, low-profile miniatures basing

Every miniature its base

I don't think there's a single perfect basing method you can apply to all varieties of figures, but for any particular variety I have to believe there's a good solution out there. Sometimes, and it's the case with the D&D collection and my choice of low-profile, magnetized ellipse bases I want to focus on today, there is a clear winner when I weigh the pros and cons of the options in light of any particular variety. Then for other collections, say my Oldhammer collection or my dark age fantasy collection that has some Red Box games figures, any solution I consider seems to have cons and there's no clear winner. For those, because it's usually a fairly big commitment to go one basing method or another, I find myself avoiding painting any of it and leaving the figures to lie in boxes un-based.

But you have to live in the imperfect world and for me that means making up my mind on a basing method every now and then and carrying through with it. This topic has literally kept me up at night often enough to warrant an infrequent series of posts to come whenever I make up my mind and have something to show for it.

That out of the way, this first post, about the low-profile ellipse (and sometimes round) bases I do for my D&D figures, has a happy ending with no lingering regrets. While I spent quite a long time researching options and trying them out, once I made the decision I rested easy until I came to the next collection I needed to base.

First up, here are a few examples of the figures I've shared already:

Why go with these ellipse bases that conform to the basic footprint of the figure itself, rather than the more trendy method of putting the figures on a few standard sizes of round bases, often much larger than the figures footprint? In contemporary D&D a figure includes a base size in it's stats but this base size could could better be described as an area of control, as something the creature may, if it wishes, enforce during combat. In my view, even if you want to enforce area of control rules there's no reason to impair the overall utility of the figure by putting the figure on a base that's much too large for it. You can simply eyeball it or use a template when it becomes relevant. Meanwhile, those figures on large round bases become extremely unwieldy when you try to negotiate them in a 3D dungeon, one like mine made of Dwarven Forge pieces, or in buildings. In a roleplaying game anything can happen, or anything should be able to happen, and thinking about overall utility when considering things like bases can help make that anything happen. Why can't an ogre mage share a pipe with the characters in a tavern? Your basing choice may make that awkward or even impossible to represent the activity with miniatures.

Moreover, even if you're strictly interested in tactical combat having your figure's base match it's area of control doesn't make sense, as the creature should be able to selectively enforce area of control to it's advantage. Take, for example, the bugbears above, which are a little too large for 25mm bases, but if I'd have gone for 30mm bases they wouldn't have been able to fight side-by-side in a dungeon corridor, and thus they'd be that much more easy to kill if the party had only to face them one at a time. And with larger figures you come to situations where if you put the figure on round base with a diameter equal to it's widest dimension you'd have a base that wouldn't fit in the 48mm across Dwarven Forge hallways, when it's clear when you look at he model that it should be able to fit if it wants. Common sense is my underpinning philosophy when DMing, that characters and creatures should get to do what they want when it makes sense.

Some few other pros to toss out. The low profile means the figures don't look out of place next to furniture, and they more closely look a part of the environment, especially painted as I've done them in a subdued, nothing-jumping-out-of-you style in colors that match their most common environment, again the Dwarven Forge. I've also decided to magnetize the larger ones to vastly save on efficiency when it comes to storage (though I don't magnetize the 25mm human-sized ones as I'm concerned about their lead ankles over the long run).

Now the cons. I think the main con is that every now and then I'd like to do big battles with the D&D collection and for battles square bases make ranking up units easier. Or, if the figures were on round bases one could make use of pre-made laser-cut movement trays that have a round cutout for each figure. It's not a big deal overall, as I can model movement trays that have foam turf over the whole surface and I can put however many figures on each one, but I thought I'd toss this out as it's really the only con I've come up with beyond that final, inescapable fact of all miniatures, that you have to model them on a single style of terrain, and unless they are historical figures fighting only in green fields their live long days (I envy them sometimes!) one day your figures will be fighting outside their element. Those battles outdoors will suffer slightly for it I guess, if and when I come to that, but as these figures spend the vast majority of thier time underground what could I possibly have done better than I did on this point?

So that's why, and here's what. I get my ellipse bases from Fenris and Ian there is really fantastic to work with, I couldn't be happier. Below you see my first big order from a few years ago and in the meantime I've gone back several times for more.

I spent several hours going through my collection and determining a number of core sizes I needed and in what quantities, and then I did a reality check by printing off test ellipses, often a number of variations of each size increment, and doing a test fit of the miniature on the paper template.


For large figures, magnetizing them is a no brainer in my opinion. In fact, I don't think I could store my collection in my apartment otherwise, and it's not a small apartment. What you need to drill a clean hole in a base is a moto-tool and brad point bits that fit it. The brad point bits are essential and I'm grateful to a TMP member or two for pointing (sorry, that was unintentional) me in the right direction.

I even lucked out in that the diameter of the various bits match the magnets I had already bought absolutely perfectly. You might want to buy your magnets with the brad points diameters in mind, however, and not chance it.

And then you'll need some kind of rig for drilling. Here you can see what I came up with after some trial and error. Arrived at this setup through trial and error. Needed to get the drilling platform up high enough that I wasn't killing my neck. Those boxes are a good counterweight as they store my Dwarven Forge collection. I figure anything I put them to use for is helping me get my money's worth!

Now, above was a few years ago. Since then I managed to score a Dremel drill press for very little at an estate sale, and this is really drilling the way God intended, this thing gets my endorsement:

Ok, now for the slightly fiddly bit. The bases are drilled but before you glue you'll want to give a passing thought to aligning your magnets. You see if two disc magnets are placed side-by-side with their poles aligned the same way, they repel each other. This can mean you go to glue two magnets in a base and the magnets leap out of the sockets. The second thing you should be aware of is that if you glue a magnet directly into the hole, even if you glue on a very even surface there is a likely chance that once the glue has tried your base doesn't lie perfectly flat and the magnet is sticking very slightly out the bottom. I don't know why this happens, but it does.

To resolve these two issues I one, divide up the magnets on a two sides of a piece of scrap metal, one pole on side and the other pole on the other, and when I go to glue I glue one hole on all the bases first and then go to glue the other pole magnets in the other holes, and two, I glue a tiny piece of paper to the bottom of each base, so when the base is glued it's a tiny bit off the surface I'm gluing on, and when dry I can scrape off the paper. Honestly the polarity issue you could ignore if you really wanted to. But the paper step I don't recommend you skip.

This will probably explain a little better:

One note about gluing. I found it's better to set the magnet in the whole and put a couple tiny dabs of glue, and in fact I use white glue for this step, and then once that's dry go around again, picking up each base and applying super glue on both sides with a toothpick and blowing into the cracks, and then setting each down sideways leaning against something for a minute. If you start out with superglue from the start, especially if you use enough to really hold the magnet in there, it will run out the bottom and glue the whole base to the paper or whatever you have beneath.

And in that last pic you can see that each base I drilled is intended for a particular figure. My plan is that one day, literally, every miniature its base.

And here are some results! A number of figures here able to stand up on their own now!


  1. You sir are a consummate professional. A very interesting article.

  2. Smart idea. Brad point drills are a very handy thing to have around. I have a honking great drill press in my garage so drilling is simple. I really like this - I can see me using this for cavalry, waggons, big animals etc. Thanks for sharing.