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Conversion Points in Painting Scores: Why They Should Pass Into History

Good morning, class.  In today’s “History of Miniature Wargaming” lesson we’re going to talk about a concept called, “Conversion Points” and how they factored into painting scores, why this approach was introduced, and how some forward thinking event organizers led the charge to make the conversion points a thing of the past.

Much like the fossil fuels used in the 20th and 21st centuries, conversion points were added into painting scores for a number of really great reasons but as miniature model technology improved the need for them to be present was eventually phased out.

To extend the metaphor, Zero Point technology made oil based industry obsolete.  And like ZPT and the Oil Wars, conversion points led to massive conflicts before their use was deemed obsolete.  For the next eight hours (Solar Standard) we’ll be discussing this topic and the impact it had on the history of competitive play in relation to miniature wargaming…

I jest, of course. There probably won’t be a war. But this blog post really is about how conversion points in painting scores is an obsolete rule set.

Conversion Points - an Outdated System by Rob

Rob, from iToySoldiers, joins us to discuss his thoughts on painting scores using conversions as a modifier.

But first: What exactly am I talking about?

So, in a fair number of competitive formats, there’s a score for “Painting.”  The idea is to reward players for putting gorgeous models on the table during an event. Some events even award a prize for the best-painted army.

I am ALL FOR THIS. Painted models made for a better game, says I. What we are talking about is this one category that I keep seeing popping up and it looks like this:

Conversions/Theme

2 – The Army has a single cohesive theme (i.e. it doesn’t look like you borrowed your buddy’s army to ally it in)
2 – The army has a few conversions
1 – The army has many conversions

Or perhaps, gods forbid, this:

0-10 CONVERSIONS

0 – No conversions or contains conversions which do not enhance the appearance of the army.
1 – A few minor conversions. (Weapons, Heads, repositioning of arms, etc.)
3 – Minor conversion with one or more extensively converted models.
6 – Many extensively converted models. (Body alterations, additional greenstuff work, etc.)
8 – Majority of the army is converted with many extensive conversions throughout.
10 – Majority of the army is strikingly converted.

Now before we go into what’s problematic with these and why they’re obsolete I’d like to state that I’m pretty sure I know why they came into being.  It’s twofold:

Why Conversion Score Exist

First, we’re gamers and we’re playing competitively (i.e. a tournament) and there needs to be some standard system for assigning points in various categories.

Battle is easy. If you win, you usually get more points than your opponent. Easy peasy.

For more subjective things, like painting, some rubric needs to exist for the event organizers to assign a score fairly and so there’s usually some point based system – be it votes or the rubrics shown above.

For the second reason, conversion points exist we need to gaze into the distant past at the models that were available.  Once upon a time, miniature wargaming models were pretty static.

Companies like Games Workshop and Ral Partha released a handful of poses for each model and they tended to look fairly similar.  Additionally, the models themselves were usually made in a single piece or (hopefully) you had arms you could attach.  Observe:

Old school GW models

Models taken from Rob’s collection: http://itoysoldiers.com/users/sizzly

These four models are from the Games Workshop line for Warhammer 40K back in the day (not sure when but I picked them up for Third Edition).  As you can see they pretty much share a similar pose no matter what range they were from.

In order to have a dynamic looking army – with a variation on poses, weapon load-outs, etc. one was forced to convert.  You didn’t have much choice if you didn’t want a unit to look like it was made up of frozen clones.

Sure, there was nothing wrong with using the base poses and models but there was a clear reason to break out the saw and greenstuff and make the models your own – otherwise your army would look like the guy’s next to you, and that’s not fun.

So, of course, there was a reason to put a conversion score in with painting. It was a clear (and necessary?) way to differentiate the appearance of an army on the table.

Conversion Points Don’t Accomplish the Goal of Rating Army Appearance

So what’s the problem?

If the original rationale for conversion points being included in a painting score were well intentioned, why would I suggest that they be obsolete now? I have three main arguments to support the removal of conversion points, and I’ll chat about each in depth but here’s the short version:

  1. The models we have available to us today are fantastic and offer up modelling opportunities with just the base kits that render the need to extensively convert moot.
  2. Simply having conversions doesn’t make the models better.
  3. Thought dictates form, or if you’re a fan of the aesthetic as is, you shouldn’t have to convert models just to get points.

Models now have options

So the first bit is the quality of models that are available today.

We’re spoiled for choice these days and companies such as Games Workshop and Privateer Press are producing kits that not only have a ridiculous number of options but also are modular.

Yep!  You can take pieces from one kit and apply them seamlessly to another.  This is cool because you can create varied and dynamic models without the need for sculpting.  Simple conversions – conversions that using the conversion point system don’t generate many points – look amazing.

Just take a look at this stunning conversion from the folks at Tabletoptactics:

Dark Eldar Archon

A superb Dark Eldar Archon from Tabletoptactics (https://www.instagram.com/tabletoptactics/)

What’s really cool about this conversion is it makes use of the modular elements of the Dark Eldar range of models to craft a really unique archon. I can see at least four different kits in use and I have the sneaking suspicion that they all fit together with minimal conversion skills.

This is what we’re aiming for, isn’t it? Beautiful armies that look great on the table. We want to give a score to reflect how good the models look.

Conversions != Better

Ultimately it’s about the appearance, and so the scores should reflect that rather than arbitrary criteria that doesn’t necessarily reflect an improvement in appearance.

Case in point: These two models are from my collection.

Models to compare army appearance

Two models from my collection (http://itoysoldiers.com/users/sizzly). Demonstrates that conversions alone aren’t all there is to army appearance.

I think it can be said that the Harlequin Death Jester is clearly the better looking model.  But the Chaos Space Marine has a conversion (granted, a pretty pedestrian one). I’d have a hard time justifying the CSM as the better looking model just because of that conversion.

Here’s something you don’t want to hear: When asked how one could get a better score, a tournament organizer responded with, “Ah, well. Your army is amazing, but it didn’t have conversions.  You should just stick some stuff like skulls or something on to the base.  That’d get you another two points.

Ugh.

I get it. Those points are on the sheet and so contribute to the score. If you don’t have them then you don’t get the points. Which brings me to the crux of the argument against points for conversions for the sake of conversions:

Conversions don’t necessarily make the model better and so giving points for checking off a box doesn’t accurately gauge the appearance of the army.  Thought should dictate form and the aesthetics of an army should be judged based on the overall effect of the models as a whole and not whether a specific task was completed.

The last thing you want is for folks to just say, “I’m not going to bother with the painting thing ‘cause I can’t convert.”

Over to You

What are your thoughts on conversion scores in competitions? Are they outdated or do they push competitors to take it up a notch? Leave your comments below, and we can start a conversation.

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Rob is the founder of iToysoldiers.com, a website dedicated to chronicling the glory of your miniature wargaming exploits. He's been active in the hobby for more years than he'd like to admit and takes pride in being a Dark Eldar snob.