Size Matters: Figure Scale

Posted: 10 November 2009 in Reflections

Now, this one used to drive me bonkers in the 1970s and 1980s. Let us consider figure scale for a moment. Common figure sizes are:

  • 6mm, which is roughly 1/300th scale – microarmour territory.
  • 10mm, which is about 1/180th scale and used for Games Workshop mass battle games such as Epic or Warmaster. This is roughly the same as N Gauge railway models.
  • 15mm, roughly 1/120th scale. I have a weakness for this scale because the Traveller RPG used it back in the day, and I used to play a lot of Traveller.
  • 20mm (1/90th or thereabouts). Both 15mm and 20mm are in the same ballpark as model railway HO Gauge (1/87th) or OO Gauge (1/76th). I’ve heard that 20mm was originally chosen so that it would match the most popular railway models and scenery, so this makes sense. Certainly it would explain Roco’s choice of 1/87th for its tanks, which always puzzled me.
  • 25mm is close to 1/72nd and really ought to match all those aeroplane kits, but somehow never does; metal figures always look somehow bigger than their actual scale would suggest.
  • 28mm is about 1/64th, but visually looks closer to 1/43rd, which is a common size for toy cars. Possibly because most “28mm” figures are actually 30mm or bigger – my Tau Ethereal is somewhere in the region of 35mm tall.
  • 30mm is about 1/60th.
  • 54mm is 1/32nd scale, and more often used for toys or painting competitions, although Inquisitor and a few other games use it.
  • 90mm is nearly 1/20th and we’re into action figure territory now, so I’ll stop before the air gets too thin to breathe.

Let us pause for a moment to consider that the 98th percentile in humanoid height is around 8% variation from the average. Let’s be generous and say it’s 10%, because it makes the maths easier. Your 28mm figure, then, could reasonably claim to be that scale if it were between say 25mm and 31mm.

Why did this bug me? Because the wretched figures are getting bigger all the time. I started in 20mm, the old Airfix soft plastic infantry. And it served me well, a week’s pocket money would get me a platoon of infantry or a tank. Company level actions with simple rules across the living room carpet. Good times. Although the casualties from adult feet passing by were horrific.

Then I moved to University, and the figures were metal, and 25mm high. And in those days, not terribly well detailed. Gradually, they got bigger, and bigger, until manufacturers abandoned any pretence that they were actually 25mm, and started calling them 28mm – although by then they were generally 30mm in reality.

Now, manufacturers are starting to call their figures 30mm, and they are actually bigger than that. I haven’t weakened and bought any AT-43 troops yet, but from the looks of them they are nearly 40mm, which is starting to creep in as the scale for skirmish wargames.

D&D miniatures are about 30mm, but that works, because they are used on a square grid where one 25mm square is five feet. The Star Wars ones from the same company are a little bigger; mine seem to average 32mm, but they may not be representative as they come in random booster packs.

Soon we’ll be back to 54mm, where H G Wells started it all. Mind you, he was playing in his back garden, and we would have to as well.

Did I say it used to bug me? It sounds like it still does, a bit. Why? Because I don’t feel I can use different makes together – it doesn’t look right to me, and if I were not interested in the visual look of the game, I’d be playing with card counters. Except possibly 28mm Space Marines with my old 25mm figures; Space Marines are supposed to be seven feet tall, after all, which would mean they are in scale. I wonder if that’s where 28mm came from? If so, all the other GW figures are overscale.

Anyway: Today’s rant is brought to you courtesy of my wondering what figure scale would go best with the prepainted terrain in the local railway modelling shop. And this takes me into a whole new topic, Gaming on the Run, soon to have its own category on this very blog.

  1. Glassboy says:

    Tuesday night I put a Reaper Chronoscope human next to an old Heartbreaker half ogre anti-hero. The human mini was taller. I specifically looked at the Reaper blister to see what the scale was. It was 25mm. Obviously my half-ogre has shrunk with age.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s