Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Few Words About Figmentia

Hello, my name is (insert name here) and I have Figmentia.  Figmentia as I originally heard of it was an obsession with collecting and painting (mostly) metal miniatures for tabletop roleplaying games such as D&D and Warhammer.  My googling of the term has revealed that in the intervening years, the term has come to be used by those obsessed with collecting Lego figures as well.  I like Legos, but I'm not as obsessed with them as I am with miniatures.

I don't know how many miniatures I have in my current collection.  In recent years I've dramatically cut down on purchasing them for budgetary and space reasons, but there was a time when I bought every figure I found interesting, whether I had any plans of ever using it or not.  I wanted to paint them all and have my own collecting of figures to offer up during our games when we needed a particular NPC.  I wanted to paint terrain pieces too, walls and buildings and such, although I never got far with that ambition. 

I also have an obsession with elves.  I just love them.  I don't buy every elf mini I see - some of them are just not my cup of elven wine - but I do have quite a large selection of them, some 3 or 4 mini cases full.  Since my mini cases tend to have each compartment stacked 2 or 3 figures deep packed into them, that means I've got roughly 200 elf figures. 

Although my health in recent years has made it difficult to paint them - I have TMJ, which affects my shoulders, and tendonitis in one of my thumbs, and my vision has changed so it's harder to see, and of course recently there's been cancer - I still love to use minis in games.  Fortunately most of my gaming friends feel the same way.  A couple of them have quite large collections of minis and props to use in our games, which I find delightful.  The advent of pre-painted plastic D&D minis means we can have all kinds of monsters, and no one has to assemble them (usually a necessity with metal miniatures) or paint them.  We also use figures from various minaitures games like Heroclix, Monsterclix, Mage Knight, and HeroScape to augment our supplies.  This means we don't really need all those minis I was planning to paint up, but that's okay.  I was never going to finish them anyway, not when it takes me 6 hours to paint one figure.  And as soon as I find a figure I like for my character, someone releases another figure that even more closely represents my character.  In some cases I've painted four or five different figures for one character, rather than painting all those random "just in case" figures I bought.

I just like having props on the table to represent what's going on.  If I was a bit younger and a bit less self-conscious, I might get involved in LARPing (for the uninitiated, that's Live-Action Roleplaying).  I like dressing up and pretending to be someone else, but for a LARP you don't have to memorize your lines or your stage blocking, and you have a certain amount of control over the direction of the story.  But as I said, I'm too self-conscious to feel entirely comfortable in that situation. I'll stick with tabletop RPGs, where I can have some distance from my character and control her from the comfort of a chair.

I like the props because they give me a sense of scale and fire my imagination.  Put a big monster on the table next to the miniature representing my PC, and now I can visualize the exciting combat.  Telling me that I'm fighting an umber hulk, even if you show me an illustration, just isn't the same.  It has no sense of scale for me.  When we play we put trees and rocks on the table so we have obstacles, and walls and fountains, and chairs and tables when we're in a tavern.  It all gives a sense of ambiance.  We also use a gaming mat with a grid of one-inch squares printed on it.  Most of the games we play use an inch to represent 5 feet.  That way I now know that the umber hulk who's 5 squares away from me is 25 feet away and well within range of my bow - in fact, just to be safe I might want to back up a bit before shooting him.  I might even be able to smell his stench from here.

I have other friends who aren't into miniatures as much.  These friends sometimes prefer to use just verbal descriptions, occasionally augmented with a few squiggles on a dry-erase board.  For me that just isn't enough.  Where are the trees and rocks in relation to my character?  What's my spacial relationship to the other PCs?  The enemy is 100 feet away.  How far is that?  If you told me in real life to walk a 100 feet I'd have no idea how far to go.  But if you put a mini on a mat and set him 20 squares away, I have a reference.

Unfortunately my obsession with minis has made me a bit of a mini snob.  I want all the minis on the table to be nicely painted.  Not everyone is into painting miniatures, or paints at the same level of skill.  I want them to be proportionately sized, which is often difficult when players can be using miniatures from several different manufacturers who use different scale in sculpting their products.  One of my biggest pet peeves is that D&D and its spinoffs have determined halflings and gnomes to be quite tiny, 3 feet or less in height, and almost no one makes proportionately sized halfling miniatures, at least not paintable metal ones.  D&D made some painted plastic halflings that are the right size, but they don't come in the right variety to suit every player's need.  What if you're playing a halfling assassin who dual-wields daggers?  Has a plastic mini been produced for that?  Painted plastic minis are great for NPCs and monsters, not so much for player-characters.

My obsession with perfect painted and proportionate miniatures sometimes takes me out of my enjoyment of the game.  Recently one of my friends who doesn't have a lot of interest in minis except as props has been using a very old, ugly and badly painted mini from his collection to represent his character.  I can't stop staring with distaste at his figure every time he puts it on the table.  Sometimes I think he'd probably be just as happy with a Sorry piece.  I've offered to paint a mini for him, but I'm not sure he'll use it, and I'm a little frustrated that the mini I've chosen - one from my own collection - is disproportionately large.  I'm considering purchasing some 15mm wargaming minis, if I can find some acceptable ones, just to get past this size problem. In the meantime I've still got a ridiculous collection of stuff that I'll never use, and my issues with shoulder pain and eyesight mean that painting 15mm figures may not be the wisest choice for me.

Truly, I am a sad case.  I'm a mini hoarder.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Don't Blame the Messenger

Recently I saw an ad from AARP flogging the life insurance plan offered through their organization (but - and this is important - it is not offered by AARP itself). The ads mention that applicants need only complete "3 simple health question".  As I work for a company that offers life insurance, and I have extensive knowledge of the terms and conditions of our policies, I was curious what the questions are. 

A Google search yielded a result I found interesting at this site.  Sadly, on reading some of the complaints, I found that most of the complainants were clearly people who had not read their insurance policies and knew little or nothing about how insurance works. 

Several of them seem to think that if they terminated their policies, they would be refunded all the premiums they had paid.  If you find an insurance company that offers to refund your premiums when you cancel the policy, that company is either a) lying; or b) about to go out of business because they're not making enough money to cover their benefit payouts.  Insurance companies make money by charging premiums.  They have to charge enough to cover their reserves, the amount of money they set aside to cover insurance claims.  Their are state and federal regulations about how large these reserves must be.  But insurance companies also have to pay overhead: office space and equipment, salaries and benefits for their employees, advertising, etc.  If they are publicly-traded companies, they have to earn dividends for their stockholders.  To do all this, they have to charge enough premiums to earn more than what they need for reserves and overhead.  They have to balance the risk that they will earn more in premiums than they pay out in claims.  But they know that if premiums are too high, they won't get any new customers and their old customers will leave. 

One way life insurers manage this balancing act is by charging higher premiums to older policyholders, or to people who have dangerous health conditions.  These are the people who are mostly likely to die and incur a claim.  All of this is normal insurance industry practice, not anything illegal or immoral.  If the insurance companies never raised premiums for older insureds, they would have to charge all of their customers exorbitantly high rates. Others complainants on the site were incensed that premiums increased commensurate with the age of the insured person.  There were a few who blamed AARP for the perceived flaws in the plan, failing to recognize that AARP is not the insurer. I explained above why the rates go up.  AARP is not responsible for what's in the insurance policies, which are often by New York Life.  New York Life isn't preying on the elderly; it's just doing what it has to do to offer inexpensive life insurance to older people. 

The saddest part of all this for me was seeing that these unhappy people didn't read their insurance policies to learn the terms and conditions. Other ways that insurance companies can reduce premiums is by putting certain requirements in the policy.  For example, some policies require that if you are put in a care facility, there must be a resident physician on duty.  If there is not, and you die in such a facility, the policy will not pay any benefits.  It's important to know this stuff.  Not all insurance policies make this kind of requirement.  But having a requirement like this is another way the insurance company can save money, both for you and for the company.  They're not doing it just to be horrible to your relatives.  If you're aware of these limitations, you won't get an awful surprise when Grandpa dies in a nursing home (which don't usually have on-site doctors), and the insurance company declines to pay the claim. 

Seriously, people. read your insurance policy.  If you don't understand what it means, call the insurance company and make them explain it to you.  If they don't do that, then you have grounds to complain.  But be sure you're complaining about the right company.