Decorated Bases vs. Blank or Clear bases

There’s a friendly debate floating around the miniature painting communities. It is the question of decorated bases vs. plain black, or even clear acrylic, bases that don’t clash with the map or environment the mini is being used in.

I like decorated bases. To me, every mini is a work of art, a tiny diorama in the palm of my hand. Black bases are dull and boring and do nothing to accentuate the work that went into painting miniature. A decorated base is a statement about the figure, an invitation to imagine the setting the figure is most commonly found it and better understand that character. The wizard is on shattered & scorched cobblestone. The ranger is stepping between tall grasses. The paladin stands proudly on a polished marble floor. The base tells part of the figure’s backstory.

I don’t fully understand the argument that states it is “immersion breaking” when the base doesn’t match the map. If it was about creating a sense of realism in the environment we could just create a bigger diorama if true immersion is what we wanted. I don’t have any trouble looking at a flocked base in a stone dungeon and imagining the scene at hand. I don’t get confused about whether or not the arid savannah is hot or cold because the dwarf fighter has snow on their base. My mind is limber and imaginative – I can overcome this dissonance in the same way I can look at a 1.5″ plastic blob with vague protrusions and suggestive features propped up on a 1″ gridded paper with scribbles randomly dispersed around it and convince myself that it accurately represents an alien, squid-headed, brain-eating monster standing in a dark limestone cavern dripping and echoing ominously.

Since most of my hand-painted miniatures are used by the players, to me it is also about the miniature being their avatar – a token to facilitate and remind them about their character’s abilities and motivations. I like seeing the leaf-littered red roof tile underneath my halfling rogue. I feel like using it reminds me every time that she comes from the streets. She’s a thug and a thief and she’s not putting up with this damp dungeon bullshit if she isn’t gettin’ paid!

I love others decorated bases too! A sculpt is a sculpt, and when it comes down to it will only end up being painted in so many ways, but the base is a blank canvas. The base is where you see that little extra personal touch from the painter. My rock elemental might be standing on magma, but yours is on cracked stone! We might have painted the mini in roughly the same way, but clearly our imaginations saw the same thing in different ways. I think that’s one of the reasons joining mini-painting communities and following other mini-painters is so stimulating. It’s not just about learning new techniques or pushing ourselves to improve – it’s seeing what another person sees when they look at an unpainted mini. For a moment, you are looking through their eyes, and that extends to how they decorate the base and that’s amazing!

So what’s your vote? You don’t have to be a mini-painter to weigh in. As DMs and Players, what you do like?