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?

How We Grow – Part 2

This is Part 2 of 2 about coordinating organized play for D&D Adventurers League.

DM Appreciation Society

If there were no Dungeon Masters, there would be no Dungeons & Dragons. DMs shoulder the biggest portion of the table’s responsibilities when they take up the mantle, more so when they do it for Adventurers League.  They are the faces of Organized Play, the ambassadors of D&D.

If you’re an organizer that doesn’t DM, making sure you regularly acknowledging the time and effort your DMs puts forth is worth it. DMing is a mental marathon of decision-making and problem solving.  Studies have proven that each act of making a single small decision depletes your energy bit by bit, and DMs make hundreds of small decisions every session. Because players don’t always remember, or even understand, the level of effort it takes to manage a table of 4 to 8 strangers for 2-6 hours once a week, every week, for months on end, it is worth our time to make the extra effort to pat our DMs on the back and give them a reminder about why we appreciate them. You may be a DM yourself, in which case: pat yourself on the back for me! I think you’re awesome!

Supporting your DMs is not only about encouragement though. It’s also about creating a foundation for your DMs to stand on and a safety net for them to fall back on. A strong foundation helps your DMs by providing the tools and knowledge they need to do their best. At bare minimum it is your responsibility to distribute materials and make sure the modules get into the right hands. You can go above and beyond by following relevant news and keeping your DMs posted on any changes or useful information.

Secondly, a safety net is about trust and being there for your DMs to fall back on. Your DMs need to know you’re there to back them up – that you support them first, players second. Yes, thats right – DMs first! A DM that isn’t confident about their organizer is more likely to quit if there are problems. A DM that trusts their organizer will go to their organizer for help first instead of trying to solve it (perhaps incorrectly) by themselves. Be ready for those problems, at least try to anticipate the most likely ones.  What’s your plan if a DM calls out sick? Having a backup plan will help.  What will you do if a DM reports a player is harassing them or another player?  Make sure you are prepared to enforce a Code of Conduct. What happens if the players complain about the DM? You have to consider every complaint cautiously, and not cause backlash between players. Be prepared to evaluate your own DMs. For truly atrocious complaints, you might want to read my earlier post about disruptive players and remember: DMs are players too, in every meaning of the word.

Recruiting New DMs

I’ve heard reasons, excuses, complaints. “No one’s volunteered to DM Encounters for us!”  or “Someone offered, but they never showed up!” I’ve also heard “We only have one DM, no one else has offered to run,” from a weary, burned-out, but devoted volunteer DM.

A lack of raised hands is not necessarily a lack of Dungeon Masters, its only a lack of volunteers and sometimes potential volunteers need to know they’re wanted first.  On the flip side of that, never assume that just because they’re willing to volunteer means you’re obligated to accept them or keep them as your DM. If you believe they’re not a good fit for your program, you’re doing yourself more harm by keeping them instead of replacing them with a more compatible volunteer.  Some potential DMs will obviously identify themselves to you, others you may have to extend an invitation. Either way, the criteria you need to look for is generally the same.

Experience vs. Eagerness

You might think I’d say “More experience is better!”  Well, not exactly, at least it should not automatically qualify someone anymore than anything else. As we are in the fledgling year of  D&D 5th Edition, experience only goes so far – in fact I would be wary of any DM who seems exceedingly proud of their experience with previous editions or their many years of DMing at home.  Adventurers League DMs are required run the rules as written. A DM who too eagerly praises Edition X, Houserule Y, or Optional Varient Z  is often tempted to break AL rules. They choose their way because they feel entitled to do so by merit of their many years in the hobby.  This is not good for us, it is not good for your players. It alters the expectations of the current D&D ruleset, which sets them up for failure anywhere outside of that DM’s table. I’m not saying I’d refuse an experienced DM, but I would make sure they understand and accept Adventurers League rules.

A total lack of experience can be made up with a little wisdom and an eagerness to learn. A newbie DM is a blank slate, a sponge ready to absorb rules and good DMing skills, if mentored properly.  Spotting a potential DM should be on the radar of every organizer. Watch for players that seem like they have a understanding of basic rules and how to resolve disagreements without being disagreeable. Watch them play, if you can. Do they seem like someone constantly trying to manipulate the rules to their own advantage, or do they help other players instead? Do they constantly obstruct the DM’s goals, or do they anticipate the DMs needs and try to urge their fellow players to respond? The latter could be signs of a DM-in-the-making. If they haven’t already expressed interest, you could inquire politely if they’re interested. Sometimes a vote of confidence is all a player needs to know that its an option for them.

Mentor All the DMs

Mentoring at our store is a lot like an apprenticeship. First, they get to sit next to one of our established DMs, observe and learn.  Then they trade seats and their mentor will actively assist them while they learn to run their table. As time goes on, the mentor will do less and less, sitting back and letting them handle everything on their own.  Eventually their mentor won’t sit with them at all, and the time might come when we sit some other budding DM at their table and advise them: “Watch her, she knows what she’s doing!”

Its a good system for teaching new DMs, and its part of the reason we have over a dozen DMs in rotation at our store.  We also put experienced DMs through the same process, before we let them run a table on their own.  Partly to verify their claim, and partly because we are not a DM matchmaking service. It is an odd expectation, but we have experienced it. Some DMs come in hoping to get matched up to a tableful of perfect players that they can then do whatever they want with, as if we were some sort of concierge service for D&D. We’re here for Adventurers League and, as a matter of pride, we want our DMs to represent our program and our store with a consistent level of quality. So we mentor everyone, even if only for a single session.

Mentoring is easy for the established DMs teaching a new volunteer. In the beginning, it’s a lot like getting a personal assistant. The hardest part is the midpoint – when the new DM needs to learn but is still often uncertain or under-prepared. The mentor DM keeps the players from taking advantage of the new DM’s inexperience, and serves as a back-up when the newbie DM can’t rise to the task of managing an unusual problem. To be a mentor a DM simply needs to have a willingness to answer questions, confidence in the rules, and plenty of patience – all of which an Organized Play DM should have anyway!

Grow No More

Okay, maybe you don’t have space for another table, or not enough players show up to fill a new table. Why go through all the bother of mentoring when you already have a perfectly great DM who’s happy to keep DMing until the end of days?  Many reasons!

First, if you really think your current DM(s) will be there forever, you’re kidding yourself. Life happens, DMs get sick, or move, change jobs, have kids, start school, graduate, or fall down stairs and break both their ankles. Maybe you just cancel the game then, but you wouldn’t have to if you had a back-up DM – and if you really need me to explain this, I question your qualities as an organizer!  Furthermore, part of the support most DMs appreciate is the chance to step away, so having a spare DM or two to rotate behind the DM screen keeps your DMs from getting burned-out.  It also freshens things up with the players.  Every DM has their own style and players can benefit from experiencing different play styles.

Last and most importantly, remember when I said “If there were no Dungeon Masters, there would be no Dungeons & Dragons” earlier?  Running a program that teaches people how to play D&D should include teaching people about DMing.  As an organizer, it’s as much your responsibility to find and teach new DMs how to run a table as it is to teach new players how to build and level up a character. Quite frankly, if you’re not mentally evaluating every player that walks in the door as a potential future DM, you’re not doing your players justice.  More than anything, sparking that love of Dungeon Mastering in a player is how we grow our hobby – don’t neglect it!


I am a four-year veteran of D&D Encounters, currently coordinating for the largest gaming store in the Far West Region, along with my husband and a team of volunteers. Do you have a question about coordinating events or organized play in general? Ask in the comments or email me: