Middle Earth Strategy Battle Game Profile Generator

Writing down some numbers

gaming wargame

Wargaming and, to a lesser extent, tabletop RPG poses an interesting data management problem when it comes to miniatures. The challenge is that your imaginary player character can have an infinite variety of weapons and adventuring gear, but the little plastic miniature (or paper token, or whatever you choose to use to represent your character on a physical game board) is depicted with exactly one set of gear that cannot change. I've come up with a way to adapt my wargame army specs to my models, but before I present that to you, I think it's important to understand the challenge of gaming in a physical space and the various options gamers have to handle that.

Imaginary stats for a physical mini

Not all tabletop roleplaying games use miniatures, and even those that do usually regard it as optional. In an RPG, you tend to play exactly one character. Your character might be carrying 20 pounds worth of stuff around, and lots of different skills and abilities and maybe some spells or feats, but it all gets written down on your character sheet. If you use a miniature on a dungeon map for combat or even exploration, it doesn't usually matter whether your miniature is carrying around a sword even though your character has equipped a crossbow. You can remember to override the weapon you see in the physical world for the weapon you're imagining, because you're only playing one character. You have lots of data on your character sheet, but it all applies to only one physical model.

In a wargame, you're rarely dealing with just one model. In the smallest common format, a skirmish game, you're likely to have 5 to 8 models on the board. Luckily, characters don't tend to pick up everything they encounter in a wargame, so there's not as much data in each soldier's stats as there is in an RPG character sheet. There's still multiple data for each model, though, including skill attributes, weapons, weapon stats, maybe some special abilities, and so on. That's a considerable amount of data for 8 miniatures, and that's the smallest common format.

Abstraction and army books

There's no way around it. When you have 10 or 20 or 50 models in an army, you have to have stats for all the options available. Luckily, in an army you can usually assume that sets of some number of soldiers share certain attributes. For instance, you might have a squad of archers, all of whom are using the same gear and therefore share the same stat block.

As a player, you can designate any set of miniatures to a known stat. If you have 5 orc miniatures, two of which are wielding clubs and three of which are archers, you can decide that they're all archers. As long as your opponent understands and remembers that shorthand, it's an acceptable abstraction. The more abstraction you and your opponent implement, though, the greater the mental strain as you force yourself to recall stats that are wholly contrary to what your eyes are seeing on the board.

The alternative is a game system that demands specific models armed with exactly the weapons you have on your stat sheet. Because the game developers must create stats compatible with the game rules, there's often an army book sold separately, or if you're lucky there's a stat sheet included with the miniatures. Because new miniatures are released every so often, and game rules are updated or thrown out for a new edition, and because not all players need stats for all possible armies, it seems to make the most sense to put model stats in a separate physical book, often called an army book or a force list or similar. By keeping the stats modular and physically separated from the rules, a wargame company can provide rules to all players, and specific stats to the people who need them.

Besides that, imaginary armies can be surprisingly complex. First of all, players might want to know what the imaginary army is all about. What are they fighting for? Where do they come from? Also, a few select members of an imaginary army might have special rules-breaking abilities, or even magical powers. An army together might have a special tactical move they can make, unique to their culture or training. Designing stats for an army isn't always as simple as making a table of weapons and damage values. It can easily fill a full volume.

So to summarise:

  • You need numbers assigned to your toy soldiers
  • Game designers make up numbers and put them in a book
  • When new rules are released, or you find a new game you want to play, even though your toy soldiers don't change, the numbers might have to change to work with the rules

State of independence

The current stat solution seems to work pretty well. Personally, I'd rather the magic numbers come in the box of the miniatures they belong to, or at least they ought to be downloadable. I understand that people need to get paid, though, so selling the magic numbers in books or card decks makes sense.

And yet there's a sense of freedom to abstraction. When you accept that a miniature is just a toy soldier, and that you can put any number onto it, then you're left with just the rules. One book, maybe in 30 or 40 pages, can easily describe a robust wargame, and it's playable as long as you have numbers assigned to your models. The rules for the tenth edition of Warhammer 40,000 (2023) are about 60 pages. The rules manual for Middle Earth Strategy Battle Game is about 100 pages, ignoring the stuff in the back about army compatibility and modes of play, but also including several niche rules about siege engines and so on. The rules for a game like Space Station Zero are 10 pages plus 10 for crew building.

It feels great when a game is self-contained, fitting into just one book. You can grab a handful of miniatures and play straight away, no need to coördinate going out and buying stats. If you buy the book second-hand without any army roster books included, you can still use it because the numbers are pre-set regardless of what physical miniature you happen to have on hand.

Luckily, with just a little effort you can make any wargame self-contained. I enjoy Game Workshops's Middle Earth Strategy Battle Game, but there's a surprise concealed in the rulebook. Despite what it says on its back cover, the rulebook isn't all you need to play the game. You need miniatures (arguably self-evident, but then again to a newcomer I wouldn't take anything for granted, especially having been a newcomer myself just a year ago) and the stats for those miniatures. Although the book promises to explain how to build an army, it doesn't actually do that. It hints at it, but you cannot build an army with stats with this book alone. You also need an army book.

I'm happy to buy the army books (plural, because you need one for Lord of the Rings and one for The Hobbit to fully cover the miniature line) but I also really just happen to like the MESBG rules. They're good general-purpose combat rules. I've played MEBSG using the Fellowship and Goblins of Moria, generic dwarves and orcs from my stash of D&D miniatures, and even Romans against Egyptians. An army book can be useful as a template for stat-alikes, but it's a whole other book to carry around, flip through, reference, and get lost in. Sometimes, it's nice to have a simple table of numbers you can use for your Midde Earth army or for all the other armies you think could be fun to use.

Custom profile generator

I've developed a system to generate custom stats for miniatures you want to use in Middle Earth Strategy Battle Game. You can use any fantasy miniature you want, whether it's an official Citadel miniature or just a handful of Wizkids or Reaper miniatures. The more complex stats you want, the more referencing the rulebook you have to do, so you're in control of how crunchy the game is.

A few disclaimers apply.

  • This isn't tournament legal. You can take your custom stats to a gaming club or a game event and use them.
  • This doesn't use a point system. You won't know how powerful a miniature is by "cost" (I don't believe you know that from official Profiles either, to be honest). This system assumes you and your opponent are collaborating, or that you're playing solo.
  • This is an alternative, not a companion, to using an official army book. Custom profiles tend to be weaker than official ones, and that's by design. From an official army book, you can end up with a lot of hero models, and they have heaps of Special Rules to manage.

Unlike using an official army book, creating your own custom stats does take extra work. You have to sit down and roll stats for each miniature. It's potentially easier to just by an army book and ignore the stats that seem like too much work for the style of game you want to play. The benefit for me is that I don't have to flip through the army book and try to find the most appropriate profile for an unofficial miniature. In other words, this isn't a proxy system but an expansion for generic miniatures.

It's only 6 pages of rules, and you can download it for $0 (free) here:


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