Friday Figures: Swords & Spells Stand Sizes

I got started in the hobby at the point where the only ruleset for mass D&D combat that I could find in stores was the last supplement for original D&D: Gygax's Swords & Spells (1976). Looking at page 2, I saw numbers for scales and recommend size for miniature figure bases. To wit:

Figure Mounting sizes from Swords & Spells

Those fractional values looked odd, but I never questioned them, assuming that the author had some deeper reason for them. But looking back more critically today: Why 5/8" (instead of say, 1/2")? Why 1-3/8", or 1-5/8"? Why so complex?

Now, consider the following. We'll take a few key measurements in millimeters, in multiples of 5, and convert them to inches -- in each case rounding to the nearest eighth of an inch. We get:

Conversions rounded to eighth of an inch

That is, (noting 6/8" = 3/4") we get exactly the figures on display in the Swords & Spells table.

It occurred to me to check this when looking at Chainmail (1971), which gives the option of using either 30mm or 40mm scale figures for man-size (or in the fantasy section for others races, corresponding options such as 10mm, 20mm, 25mm, etc.). It should also be noted that the base sizes shown in Swords & Spells, and even the Chainmail suggestions for 30mm-scale goblins, orcs, ogres, etc., closely matched those provided by the Warhammer Fantasy product all the way up to 2015!

Theory: Gygax had miniatures that were originally based in metric measurements, which he mechanically converted to imperial figures (to the nearest eighth-of-an-inch) for the Swords & Spells publication.


  1. The inches don’t seem odd at all.

    25mm = 1 inch so all the conversions ought to be pretty easy.

    OTOH where were most minis being made? UK?

    1. If you were making a game from scratch, you don't think 5/8" would be a weird starting point to pick? Why not just 1/2"?

    2. Yes? No? I don’t know! Coming at it from the other end and working backward to CHAINMAIL, I don’t even know what I don’t know.

  2. If my memory serves correctly from playing Warhammer back in the day, they basically used four base sizes:

    20mm for men, elves, goblins, and other man-sized or smaller units
    25mm for orcs, chaos warriors, and other "beefy" types
    40mm for ogres, trolls, and other monsters
    25mm x 50mm rectangular for cavalry

    For Warhammer 40,000 and later for Age of Sigmar when they discontinued traditional Warhammer Fantasy, it's all circular bases... I think 32mm is the norm.

    1. *ouch*, I didn't realize that Warhammer Fantasy had been discontinued! (2015, I see now?) That smarts for me not to know that.

      Anyway, I do have a batch of Warhammer Fantasy figures here, and the base sizes are exactly as you recall.

    2. Yeah, it's a bit bittersweet. I can't legitimately complain too much since I hadn't played since 6th Edition, so if a lot of other people stopped spending money like I did then I can see the corporate reasoning for changing their strategy and product line... still the end of an era, though.