We are gathered here today to say goodbye to some old friends. For the last seven years they have entertained us with their crazy overly-large axes, completely inappropriate phallic clubs, and fiery jazz hands. They have fuelled our imaginations with naked bat-winged lady-folk and helped us avoid trying to describe just what the hell a Grell really looks like.
We are here today to say goodbye to the production of Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures. But let us not forget what our future holds for us, a future of affordable and plentiful tokens included in the very adventures that call for them. It is a future where new dungeon masters won’t have to spend $150 to buy the right minis to run a $12 adventure. It might be a flatter future, but it will be a better one.
I will miss my thrice-yearly campaigns of convincing my wife that $200 for a box of miniatures is reasonable considering the price of my friends’ adamantium golf clubs, but I will get over it. I must just remember, the game is better for it.
A Longer Pontification
If you’re any sort of true D&D nerd, you recently learned that Wizards of the Coast ceased production of the random assortment of D&D miniatures, favoring the special editions they ran like the Beholder set and my beloved Gargantuan Orcus. They’ll henceforth focus on the PC and monster tokens included with the Dungeon Master’s Kit and the Monster Vault.
I’ve been a collector of D&D Miniatures for almost eight years. At last count, I have over a thousand of them. I have a six foot book shelf lined with plastic shoeboxes full of the things with an arcane taxonomy based on the number of miniatures within each category including “Orcs and Gnolls”, “Reptiles” and “Bad Humanoids”.
I love my minis. I have a hell of a collection and, as one player put it, I seem to have a Mary Poppins carpet bag where I might just pull out the right mini for any potential monster or NPC. It hasn’t been easy or cheap to have such a collection, but it is the result of my dysfunctional drive. I feel a constant urge to have the right miniature for the monsters my players will face. That single desire fueled a seven year obsession. When I bought a new D&D module, I’d spend eight times the cost getting the minis to fight the module.
There were also few other alternatives. It was either use minis or use Starbursts. I might use one mini to represent another but putting down one articulate painted figure that in no way represents the monster they are actually fighting actually makes it harder for the player to imagine it correctly.
The Business Model Rift
The biggest problem was that the way Wizards sold them never fit with the way I wanted to buy them. I don’t want random minis. I want specific minis for good prices. Luckily for me, the secondary market gave me exactly what I wanted. Out of nearly 1400 miniatures, I bet I purchased less than 50 from actual random packs. Nearly all of them came from Ebay or Troll and Toad or Cool Stuff Inc or Auggies. The prices fit a good curve of supply and demand. You can get lots and lots of little guys for as low as a quarter or a few nice big guys for a few bucks each. It worked well. But it also worked against WotC’s business model. I’m betting the delta between what we wanted to buy and what they wanted to sell was a core problem for their business.
While Wizards likely had one price per miniature in mind as they sold them, we ended up having another price in mind that was likely lower. The secondary market ended up lowering the cost per mini to make it much more palatable to me but less so to Wizards.
There were other production problems as well. From what I understand, it took nearly a year from initial design until we could get them in our hands. This meant it was nearly impossible for Wizards to release a set of miniatures that fit into the adventures they published. I remember getting a Skalmad miniature three months after my group finished the adventure in which he starred. I just could never get Wizards’s products to synch up at my table.
Long Live Tokens!
Times have changed. Where before we had a mix of disparate products that never worked that well together: adventures, dungeon tiles, and miniatures. Now we buy a single box that contains everything we need to run a game. The Dungeon Master’s Kit has adventures, tokens, and maps, all in a single box. Sure, the tokens don’t work as well or look as nice as pre-painted miniatures, but they represent monsters well and they are far more cost effective. New DMs stand a much better chance at running a good game with all the materials they need in a single box.
For the Rest, the Secondary Market
While we aren’t going to see any new random minis coming out of Wizards, the market itself is far from dead. With 1,300 different minis in production over the past seven years, there are a lot of minis out there in the world and a lot of ways to buy them. You can still pick up individual minis from a variety of gaming stores on the web or, if all else fails, on Ebay. If you’re lucky, you’ll find someone stepping away from the hobby and ready to unload garbage bags full of the stuff.
A Better Day for New Dungeon Masters
I’m glad I have the minis I have. I expect to stay in this hobby a long time and regardless of how the game changes, these minis will serve me well for many years. That said, it was painful and expensive getting to where I am. I wouldn’t wish it on any new DM. I’m glad Wizards finally figured out how to put everything one needs to run a great D&D game into a single box. I’m glad future DMs will have a better chance to run a seamless game than I did. I’m sad to see miniatures go, but I’m glad to see the hobby move in the right direction.