Debasing Old Miniatures (2) Acquisition and Separation

Time to get back to some long-overdue projects, starting with this one.

The big advantage of these crappy old miniatures is that they’re common and cheap. Mage Knight and Dreamblade in particular aren’t played often anymore, and the people who play them have by now consolidated the armies/builds they want. Plus, there’s a lot of chaff out there that isn’t necessarily good for the game, but which fit real well as RPG figures.

For acquisition, the methods are roughly the same if you’re looking for Mage Knight or Dreamblade. (These are probably the best two suited for RPG figures, though if you find a good deal on, say, Warcraft minis, or want to sift through the HeroClix box for the handful of non-capes which you could use—Hand Ninjas are a nice fit—well, it’s pretty similar as well.) Odds are, one of the gaming stores in your area might still have some booster boxes lying in the wholesale/bargain bin. If not, there’s always eBay; dropping $40-60 on a nice-sized lot of figures should get you a good cross-section.

A cross-section of old miniatures I debased: Mage Knight and Dreamblade figures, with a DDM Ogre Skirmisher, Fiendish T-Rex, and Hammerer for size comparison. Most of these are Mage Knight; you can see some orcs and dragon dudes, some koa-tua stand-ins, a bunch of cavalry, some Technomancers and their golems, the big Hill Giant single, and a hag riding a winged dead thing.

Mage Knight

Sculpt Anatomy: WizKids’ figures… tend to suck, really. A lot of them are cool, some are badass, and a chosen few are simply amazing. The Dungeons line, as I recall, had a lot of figures made from old Ral Partha molds, and the later lines had some choice figs for characters. But there’s a catch: those weren’t produced in the same number as the less-cool figures, and most of the good stuff has been bought, sold, and traded several times over. There’s a lot of gems out there, but be careful when buying: Mage Knight had a lot of production bloat for its first few sets, because it was expected to become the new Magic. And for about ten minutes, it almost did.

On the plus side, the good figures are great, and even the bad ones are interesting filler. There’s a lot of traditional fantasy characters in heavy plate with swords, riding horses, elves with bows, and all that. There’s also a lot of people with steampunk/magitech gear, blackpowder firearms, golems, strange macguffin devices, etc. If you’re anal about fantasy figures having fantasy gear that’s post-1300s… yeah, buy singles.

Also, most of the WizKids sculpts are for Mage Knight purposes only, and don’t match established game lines’ deceptions of things: its orcs, for example, are mondo-scale, and many will require large (40mm) bases. Humans and elves are often a bit tall, others are too short, and there’s a lack of gnomes/halflings in the sets.

This is my box of extras, about 3/5 of what I own; the rest are debased and in-process of becoming real figures. Expect a lot of duplicates because of WizKids' REV setup and early crap commons.

There’s also some 3,000 figures in the line, but since WizKids populated its sets with REVs—rookie, elite, and veteran versions, the same sculpt but with different click-dial stats and a single different color—that could be highly inflated. Also, to get all 3,000, you’d end up with more crap common duplicates than you’ll know what to do with. I know I certainly don’t need fifty-plus troll archers, since they look like wooden demons and require expensive 40mm bases, but I have them just the same. (Though, having duplicates is nice when they’re broken, break, or whatnot.)

Construction/Debasing: WizKids’ figures are hard plastic glued to a hard-plastic clicky base. Which can be problematic: DDM figures bend, WizKids figures break. (I realize now I forgot to mention superglue on the list of tools from the last post; ah well.)

On the bright side, this makes it very, very easy to separate them… once you know what you’re doing. Aim for more prying and less cutting—if you’re cutting, more than likely you’re damaging the figure’s foot. Instead, try to work your blade under any overhanging bits and chisel inward, pivoting the blade up and down gently as you go. The goal is to separate the plastic bits from each other, and in most cases, the glue erodes enough to assist you here.

If you’re doing it right, you’ll see mostly black plastic on the click base; best result, you’ll see the original guide marks on the figure’s feet. If you’re seeing white or green, you might be cutting too much, and if it’s jagged, you’ve cut the figure and not the glue. It’s better to cut down into the base and trim off the excess than it is to give your figures unlevel feet.

The screeching terror popped off its base without a hitch. The Amotep Gunner, on the other hand, was fine at first, but between a surplus of glue and the knife digging upward, his left foot was badly mauled. More where he came from!

Be very careful with dainty-footed figures; you’ll probably lose several limbs, feet, and toes before you’re done. Don’t put too much pressure on the figure, or it’ll snap; do the legs one at a time, and be as gentle as possible, and things will work out on most of them. And expect some figures to be a pain in the ass: for several, it’d take me about three seconds to pop one foot off the base, and half an hour to get the other leg free. (This would be after a string of figures that fell off in my hands, even before I brought the knife to bear.) At this point, I can pop a figure off its base in under thirty seconds, unless it’s held on with remnants of the ur-glue used to hold shut the gates of oblivion: it’s more about gently prying the plastic apart than it is cutting.

Also, I’ve seen people talk about putting them in the freezer for a few hours before debasing them; I’ve tried it, and it works very well, particularly with large minis that have large bases held on with gallons of glue. I’d recommend starting off with the whole “freezing” thing, since it makes the glue even more brittle.


The few Dreamblade figures I own that I found interesting enough to debase for RPG purposes.

Sculpt Anatomy: Dreamblade was the follow-up to Hecatomb, the awesome card game that used pentagon-shaped plastic cards, and was vaguely Magic-influence. It takes place in a mental mindscape where two players summon forth a variety of end-time monsters, nightmares, and mutations. Needless to say, there’s a lot—A LOT—that won’t work. There’s a giant shark fin, and a humanoid mass of arms holding various weapons, and a lot of strange technological… things, and a ton of bad puns: a bipedal flame “fireman” in helmet and bunker gear, a literal interpretation of American Gothic (the pitchfork-wielding man has horns and a tail).

Also: most of them are huge. As in, large. Granted, a number will fit fine on standard 25mm bases, but even then they’re too tall, too bulky, too husky, or reach out far past the base’s edge. And much like with the Mage Knight minis, figures that fit perfectly on their proprietary game’s bases don’t transfer to 25mm medium bases, instead requiring 40mm large ones.

So, there’s plenty that won’t work; I think I got a dozen boosters and have maybe a dozen figures I can use. The ones I can, though, are prefect for many kinds of extra-dimensional, extra-planar, and Lovecraftian horrors… plus steampunk monstrosities, and a few “that looks cool and could have a monster built around it” figures. The ones that work are evocative and unique; a lot of it is unusable crap, though there were a good number of figures, and some stunning high-end ones: the dragons/drakes and angels go for a pretty penny, but they’re worth it.

Construction/Debasing: Wizards’ built these as soft plastic figures molded with a soft plastic base, which was then inserted into a hard plastic base. Don’t bother trying to separate the two bases; I pulled one that was already half off its base, and it took me a half hour working with knife and screwdriver to pop it out… whereupon I found they’re held in with glue, attaching four L-shaped lines into similar-shaped grooves, and a circular peg into an octagonal hole. Don’t try it; it’s not worth the time.

I know it's hard to see, but here's the underside of the one Dreamblade figure I bothered to debase all the way. Slots and hexagon in the base, ridges and cricle on the figure.

I’ve found it’s easiest to just take a normal exacto-knife blade, run it flat along the bases, and just slice right through the bottom of the figure’s feet. That plastic is very soft, and the knife goes through them like butter… hence the cutting myself. Don’t bother freezing or anything, and don’t expect the hard plastic to cut with anything short of power-tools. The plastic is so soft, you’re biggest problem should be keeping the blade flat and parallel with the bases so you don’t pull up and remove some guy’s feet.

Also, big figures. On some of these, you just have to sigh and give up, understanding there’s no way on this earth that the figure will be removed from the base safely. At that point, get a Sharpie and color out anything on the hard plastic base. Bam, you’re done there; mission accomplished.

Further Thoughts

To be honest, the more I look at the figures, the more I’m starting to come up with interesting ideas… not just new monsters/races to fit the figures, but something I’ve been working with on the back-burner for a while now. If I only had the time for that—then again, I have nothing but time… something I’ll start working on soon enough.

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