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Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Grenadier: The Fine Art of Ugly...

The old Grenadier line, the official AD&D miniatures from the 1980s. Love 'em or hate 'em, there were undeniably better products on offer (Ral Partha comes to mind), so you'd be forgiven regardless of where you stand. No one's accusing Grenadier of being anything close to conventionally attractive - but dammit, I loved those things. But it was decades before I finally understood why. Even as late as last week, I wrote my appreciation off as an alchemy of nostalgia and my love of all things amateur. Turns out there was more...  

At first glance, the Grenadier miniatures were just awful. Really. I wondered how they got the job in the same universe where Ral Partha existed. It was the early 80s, when Tom Meier was making gorgeous, photorealistic creations anyone would want to paint and take to their gaming table. Grenadier, with its fat, pipe-cleaner arms and Mister Potato Head aesthetic seemed a strange choice for the world's leading RPG, but here we were, reading the ads in Dragon Magazine and drooling over colorful displays at the local hobby shop.

It didn't take long for me to warm to them, though. And don't blame nostalgia. Fourteen year olds aren't generally known for that. No, I found them strangely charming; but it would be another four decades before I could mount an objective defense. It seems their figures were beautifully stylized. Art is more than lines and angles. Good art is impressionistic on some level, even the realistic stuff. And if fantasy can't draw from that subjective, emotional side of ourselves, nothing can. Anyway, Grenadier's abstract figures nailed the magic.

But there's more; and here's the new revelation: those Grenadier miniatures did a good job capturing the game's source material. At this point, D&D still had one foot in its amateur origins, a fact reflected by its then-official artwork. So much of the Monster Manual's stuff was semi-amateur, with its grainy black lines and imperfect proportions. Deliberate or not, the official miniatures were nothing less than three-dimensional renderings of Otus, Sutherland, and Trampier, among others, which was a big reveal when it finally dawned on me...

Sure, some things are just crap, and I'm not sure we should elevate every warts-and-all effort to the status of Da Vinci. But sometimes, ugliness succeeds where beauty fails, especially when it's earnest and channels enough emotion to compensate for skill. We can't bottle this, at least not reliably; but when it happens, the chemistry is clear. Looks-wise, early D&D wouldn't pass muster in today's watermarked environment. But the early stuff carries on for good reason; and for a brief while, the game had a set of miniatures to match its charm.


  1. What a nice bugbear" i am googling grenadier 1980s minis and they are all awesome. The masked bugbears are terryfiyng

  2. This post reminds me of why I still like the first version (and incomplete) of the Lord of the Rings best. It felt more human with all its rough edges. I could feel the emotions more than millions spent on special effects, cgi, music, and all that glitter. It is the same reason I prefer the a singer-songwriter indie musician to say an international pop star who sounds over polished, overproduced, and says little in their songs. And who in the world really likes 3D anime? Yes, I'm looking at you Disney and Pixar! You folks murdered 2D, and Snow White with your inhuman play dough-like renderings of humans...

  3. Grenadier also wins in the details, look at the bottle swigging henchman and the perspiring face of the guy lugging the chest. They DO things where most ral figures just pose for magazine covers.

  4. My buddy just "gifted" me with several boxes of Grenadier minis he was tired of storing/moving around. They are pretty darn fantastic AND ugly. Every time I look at them, I want to design an adventure specifically for the models...they have so much CHARACTER.

    One of these days....

  5. Grenadier minis for better or worse are my favorite figs to paint, and game with. Why? Nostalgia, I suppose, as I could never afford many as a kid. I guess there's just this warm place in my heart for them as they are full of character. It elps to get good clean castings that were early runs as they are easier to clean up and paint!