This past weekend I spent some time cleaning up and repairing an old army of mine. The army in question are Oldhammer Orcs & Goblins (I will post some pictures later), but this particular detail is irrelevant for this post.
I almost never repaint miniatures - except visible damage - but I do rework the bases. More than the paint-job of the figure itself, it is often the base that provides a common look-and-feel of all the figures in an army. If all the bases are visually similar, it provides a much larger visual cohesion on the battlefield.
The bases for the models in this particular army were in a dire state. Initially, figures were based individually (most are Citadel slottabase figures, but not all), and the bases were painted black. Then, grey flock was added. Later on, figures were based in groups of 4 on 6cm by 6cm bases to adjust to a particular ruleset that we were using at the time. Since I thought this was the best ruleset ever, the bases were superglued to cardboard and given another layer of paint. When that ruleset fell out of favour (duh!), I removed the figures again, but now leaving glue marks on the slottabases, and some of the flock came loose in the process.
So, I redid the bases this weekend, all figures were left individually based. The bases were again covered in grey flock (not what I would today, but no choice given the history of these figures), and adorned by rocks, tufts of grass, etc. At last these figures are "showable" again on the tabletop.
What I realized (once again) is that if you are a long-time wargamer, rules do not really matter, but figures do.
As a starting wargamer, it is quite natural that you acquire figure that go with your ruleset of choice. Your budget might be limited, and you don't always know where to start. Hence, following the recommendations made by the ruleset, or buying the figures that are sold specifically for the ruleset, is the best course of action.
But of course, rulesets lose their popularity due to a myriad of reasons. Some of these are external: the ruleset is no longer "supported". As a wargamer, one develops different preferences over the years. Rules that seemed so clever and fun, might feel like a pure random engine several years later. Social reasons might also play a part. There's no use in clinging to a ruleset if all your friends hate it. And lastly, there is also innovation in the design of wargames themselves. Rulesets do become better over the years (but not always! :).
The turnover frequency of rulesets is often not matched by the turnover frequency of figures. It is quite easy to change rulesets; it is much harder to buy and paint a completely new set of figures. Hence, the figures in a collection often outlive the use of any particular ruleset, and it makes no sense to adapt the basing of figures to a particular ruleset.
I have been wargaming for over 30 years, and I have come to realize that the constant factor during all these gaming years is a good and solid collection of figures, not any particular ruleset. 10 years from now, I might use rules that don't even exist yet. But very likely, I will use figures of which a large fraction are already in my collection today.