Eulogy for D&D Miniatures

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.

Comments

  1. Seriously? Tokens?

    I’m disapointed, Deeply disapointed.

  2. Tokens? You mean like the pennies, candy wrappers, and Post-it notes I used to use in a pinch? I guess this means the pewter miniature market will have a rebirth.

  3. Castlemaster says:

    In my campaign, we use both tokens and mini’s to a great effect. Important players, like PC’s and big bad villians get mini’s but everything else gets tokens. The ability to show a monster is bloodied by flipping over the token is great, and if there are multiple tokens, they are numbered, which takes a load off the DM. So I save mini’s for important bad guys.

    Oh yeah, Monster Vault has a few hundred tokens, an adventure with map, and revamped monsters for $30. Will I miss mini’s? Some. Will I miss dropping that amount on just mini’s that may only be used in one adventure? Not at all.

  4. I think the biggest motivation for the change is the pending launch of the virtual table. If VT becomes the preferred method for running a session, then the entire market for minis disappears.

    What will I do with my current absurd collection of toy soldiers and monsters. I hate to see all my horrors just sit in a box.

  5. Erik Nowak says:

    I totally agree, Mike! Well said. Like you, I have a very sizable collection of minis, and I pride myself on always having the right guys on the table for each encounter. But it was difficult to acquire this collection – and quite expensive. I will always have my minis, and I will continue to buy individual pieces on Ebay if and when I need them. But for a new DM, or even an old DM who’s not as anal about “perfect” (Or at least “almost perfect”) miniature representation as I am, the tokens are an excellent and affordable alternative. My brother-in-law just got into DMing, and I gave him all the tokens from my Monster Vault. I’ve already got all those guys in full miniature form, but he could certainly use the tokens as a start-up DM. Sure, tokens aren’t as impressive to see on a battle mat, but that’s okay. I’ll miss the thrill of looking at the visual spoiler list before a new set of miniatures comes out, and will lament all the minis that could have been, but never were… But then I have to remember that this decision is indeed good for the game, and helps the hobby remain accessible and sustainable.

  6. I’ll miss having new miniatures to salivate over.

  7. Tokens will never do it for me, alas. But like 3.x moving on to Pathfinder, I’m sure something will step in to fill the ready-to-play miniature slack. WizKids has the rights to Lord of the Rings now, I hear…

    -The Gneech

  8. I’m sad to see the passing of minis out of production. There can be no doubt that 4E is entirely combat-centric. Minis provide the best way to bring these combats to life. Nothing draws a player, especially new players, in more than seeing a physical representation of the evil at hand.
    I fully agree that the marketing model for the minis was not at all appropriate. When they were initially used to the minis standalone game, they were packaged randomly, much like MTG cards, as WoTC was well established with that model. But once they ended the standalone game, they never fully adjusted the marketing model. They made attempts, such as the PHB heroes visible packs, but the cost of visibility was much too high. Three plastic minis for $9+?!
    Packaging up groups of related minis would have been the sensible thing to do. Even eBay resellers have caught onto this. Sell a group of goblins, or a pack of wolves for a reasonable price. Or wait to publish an adventure until the minis were finished and put out an adventure with optional mini package.
    Still I fear this will not be the end of the physical cutbacks as Wizards marches us toward online play. What’s cheaper than plastic minis? Cardboard tokens. What’s cheaper than cardboard tokens? Virtual ones. And what about books? The printing, binding, shipping and stocking of books in third-party retailers must be quite a burden. An online download of a PDF does not require any of these things, no printing, no shipping, no middle-man, all profit.
    While the virtual table is a compelling concept, it will be all to easy to make it the only way to play. The temptation for WoTC to make D&D a subscription only affair will be very real. Want to play D&D? Join the D&D Insider for a monthly fee.
    In the meanwhile I’ll hold on to my bookshelf of minis and continue to delight my players by always having just the right mini.

  9. What I find interesting is the implications this has for 4e, which was clearly designed with miniatures sales in mind, being a tactical position-based skirmish game.

    Now it has been demonstrated that no matter what the requirements of the game, players just aren’t willing or able to buy that many models and greatly prefer less attractive tokens. Goodbye tabletop miniatures game that looks for photos – we’re back to using our imaginations!

    I doubt there’s much money to be made in the sale of tokens. So is there enough justification for keeping D&D as a tactical position-based skirmish game without the minis? Or will we see an eventual return to combat that doesn’t need a grid at all, a mode of play that so many players have sought for themselves? Will D&D leap from the battlemap back into our minds’ eye?

  10. I think if you look at how quickly 3d printing is moving forward the writing was on the wall for minis anyway. In a few years we are looking at any mini you can get a model file for printed out for under a dollar with prices declining rapidly as the tech improves. Probably not printed in color at first but it won’t be long.

  11. I always thought minis should be sold with adventures. It just makes more sense. I’m not a big fan of tokens though.

  12. Heavy metal, baby, heavy metal!

  13. Man, I feel sorry for Dwarven Forge.

  14. I’ll never buy a set of tokens. No sir. On the flipside, I will probably pick up more on the secondary market…& if Wizards makes an appealing set, I’ll be there, too. I liked randoms…I liked drafting with friends, & being surprised. Heck, I like how it informed the game! “Huh. I got two neogi. Looks like I’ll be throwing a little Spelljammer in next session…”

    Maybe I’ll learn to paint. Or better yet, maybe someone else will start making plastic minis that are pre-painted.

  15. (editor’s note: there’s no reason to insult someone you disagree with- state your opinion without resorting to tired insults)

    3-D minis are the reason Dungeons & Dragons exists. Let us not forget our roots, dear friends! This hobby grew out of historical wargaming. You know, with miniatures! And now we finally have a very tactical ruleset that works well with minis. I certainly hope someone steps into the void and begins producing (maybe better) plastic minis. Or we all start painting again. Which is fine with me but as the RPG audience grays it gets harder and harder to find the time for that.

    I think Ethan is correct. This is a way to wean us away from miniatures towards two dimensional tokens. The next logical step is the virtual tabletop where we will all be paying $3 for a virtual pog. Ugh.

  16. Like Mike, I am sad to see the minis go. I was unable to get my mini collection to the point I wanted, and now that day may or may not come.

    I like the tokens as a secondary option, but I don’t think they have the visual “punch” of a good mini. I lament that WotC was never able to find a viable marketing strategy for the minis to succeed. I echo the desire to see someone step into the gap and fill the void that some of us feel with the abandonment of the D&D miniatures line.

  17. Why not cardboard heroes? They really are the perfect compromise between tokens and miniatures.

  18. So now we cannot get tiles or tokens (if we actually want tokens) without buying one of WotC’s many adventures?

    Meaning that we are required to run their adventures, or pay for a bunch of stuff that we don’t want?

    WotC seems very much to make me stop buying their products on principle.

  19. “I’m betting the delta between what we wanted to buy and what they wanted to sell was a core problem for their business.”

    This hits the nail on the head – and underscores the core problem with how Wizards approaches all of their business. Instead of working backward from the customer, they come up with something that’s fun to design then try to find a way to sell it.

    They cited all kinds of reasons why selling the exact minis that players wanted wasn’t viable. I remember one particularly condescending podcast where they told the player base that “they just didn’t understand the complexities of the mini business model.” The truth is, WotC just wasn’t any good at the mini business. It wasn’t that they couldn’t sell sets of minis to match adventures, it was that they didn’t know how. It wasn’t that they couldn’t produce different packaging and combos to meet different price points, they just didn’t know how. The list of things they couldn’t figure out was huge, and they presented them all as facts of the market instead of challenges to be overcome. Someone, somewhere in Hasbro, has the knowledge and contacts to run a real mini business. Not getting them together with WotC speaks more of bureaucratic gridlock than a “reality of the market”.

    When a company turns away customers who are standing in line with money in hand because they can’t figure out how to price and package a product they want, maybe it’s for the best they just get out of the business. My biggest concern now is that they’ll also try to kill the secondary mini market with a restrictive GSL. If they can’t sell us minis, then no one will…

  20. “I’m betting the delta between what we wanted to buy and what they wanted to sell was a core problem for their business.”

    This hits the nail on the head – and underscores the core problem with how Wizards approaches all of their business. Instead of working backward from the customer, they come up with something that’s fun to design then try to find a way to sell it.

    They cited all kinds of reasons why selling the exact minis that players wanted wasn’t viable. I remember one particularly condescending podcast where they told the player base that “they just didn’t understand the complexities of the mini business model.” The truth is, WotC just wasn’t any good at the mini business. It wasn’t that they couldn’t sell sets of minis to match adventures, it was that they didn’t know how. It wasn’t that they couldn’t produce different packaging and combos to meet different price points, they just didn’t know how. The list of things they couldn’t figure out was huge, and they presented them all as facts of the market instead of challenges to be overcome. Someone, somewhere in Hasbro, has the knowledge and contacts to run a real mini business. Not getting them together with WotC speaks more of bureaucratic gridlock than a “reality of the market”.

    When a company turns away customers who are standing in line with money in hand because they can’t figure out how to price and package a product they want, maybe it’s for the best they just get out of the business. My biggest concern now is that they’ll also try to kill the secondary mini market with a restrictive GSL. If they can’t sell us minis, then no one will…

  21. Miniatures were around long before D&D … “restrictive GSL” doesn’t mean anything in this context. 🙂 If you mean nobody could produce minis of D&D-brand monsters (like beholders), that’s always been true but easy enough to work around. Reaper has made excellent miniatures of both beholders and mind flayers, with the serial numbers filed off. That genie’s out of the bottle already.

    -The Gneech

  22. I’ve been mostly using Disposable Heroes (from Precis Intermedia) anyway… Print on cardstock the “minis” you need, if you pay a few extra bucks for them up front, they’re customizable, and you can number them when you generate them. You can print out as many of whatever you need.

    I then fold them and put them in a binder clip (which I remove the “arms” from) and then (optionally) stick on a magnetic base (I use Alea tools, but anything, I suspect would do… and binder clips are fine on their own without a magnet).

    I have neither the time nor the budget to spend on getting “just the right mini”, and the Disposable Heroes have fit my needs pretty well.

    And, honestly, I’d be super happy if, instead of the flat tokens, they gave me sheets of “cut out yourself” Disposable Heroes style “minis”.

  23. There are so many ways to make “flat” miniatures it’s hard to imagine Wizards thinks there’s actually a market to sell cardboard chips – one free method… use an excel spreadsheet setup to the correct printed dimensions (1″x1″, 2″x2″, etc.) – copy/paste picture and print – then cut and use on gaming table – or tape onto a plastic base or piece of card for more durability – those are really cheap.

    Therefore, the metal miniature market will prosper from this and for those wanting cheap plastic – Reaper Miniatures has you covered there as well – they have both pre-painted plastic minis as well as their stunning lines of metal.

    There are a couple of well thought out posts and I agree with all of them. Wizards frankly doesn’t understand the miniature market well enough or doesn’t figure that the market bears the profit margin they need. They see the game going to an on-line, subscription based virtual table just like Fantasy Grounds (which they’ve completely copied with their Virtual Table).

    Taking your game online using Fantasy Grounds/Virtual Table is ok when you can’t find a local gaming group. I’ve used it when our gaming group had folks from New York to North Carolina. However, there is nothing more fun then gaming around the table and bringing out the minis be they plastic or metal and throwing down real dice.

    I believe that the division of D&D and Pathfinder will deepen – D&D will go on-line and essentially be a software subscription – a player/dm controlled WOW – whereas Pathfinder will stick to the pen, paper, and miniature platform – the latest Reaper/Paizo miniatures are outrageously awesome.

    Keep me out of the computer – I much rather play with a bunch of friends, eating pizza, spilling snacks, throwing dice, and pushing around little metal men.

  24. *sniffle sniffle* … I hope another manufacturer is able to fill the void in our hearts. 🙁

  25. I’m not sad to see the minis go. The business model was not only poor for getting what you wanted the range was badly thought out. How hard is it to get a dragonborn mini, let alone one for each role? I’m not a huge fan of tokens either, mostly because I can paint minis quite well and have a lot of Warhammer ones. With the DnD product line shifting so much I am tempted by WHFRP, but I am weary of buying into another system of expensive books.

  26. My suspicion is that this may presage the reemergence of D&D Insider’s virtual tabletop that was abandoned some while ago.

    If they are abandoning the minis, I should think that they have an alternate revenue stream in mind. Tokens aren’t going to cover the losses of a minis line, but a subscription virtual tabletop might go some way towards doing so.

  27. ZoeMaster says:

    Hi folks…other options….Reaper…Megaminiaturas…..Hasslfere…Coolmint….great, great miniatures!!!!!
    Don´t be

  28. ZoeMaster says:

    Hey…the others options is so great!
    Megaminiatures
    HAsselfere
    and..logic Reaper!!!
    Great post!

  29. Kinda stopped reading when you claimed that Tokens were better than Miniatures to be completely honest… If it’s about whats cheapest then we’d all be using coins and scraps of paper, don’t need Hasbro making round bits of cardboard!

    Buying miniatures you actually need, instead of randomly packaged cheap bendy plastic ones painted by chinese wage slaves works out a lot cheaper 😀

Trackbacks

  1. Eulogy for D&D Miniatures http://t.co/UJ1KehH via @SlyFlourish

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Gato, CH News Robot, SlyFlourish, R…A…M, Bellator Cardinalis, Thadeous Cooper and others. Thadeous Cooper said: RT @SlyFlourish: My eulogy for #dnd Miniatures was just posted to @criticalhits : http://j.mp/hKU8aR […]

  3. Eulogy for D&D Miniatures http://t.co/uHwsIhs via @criticalhits

  4. […] Mike Shea over at Critical Hits offers some final thoughts for the death of the D&D Miniatures products… […]

  5. […] after my last post on my Beholder’s Collector Set, Mike Shea provided a very moving eulogy for D&D Miniatures over at Critical-Hits.  As I have said in numerous articles, I am conflicted about this news.  […]

  6. […] recent post over at Critical Hits, an eloquent eulogy for the soon-to-be-defunct Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures line, echoed the […]

  7. […] many of you, I was dismayed at the cancellation of the D&D minis line. I had been collecting (and playing the miniatures game) since the very beginning. Even before […]