Wizards getting back into the miniatures game – sort of


While this may already be common knowledge across cyberspace, I hadn’t heard about this product release yet, so I’ll mention it here in case any readers live under rocks adjacent to mine.

Contained in this summary of events planned for the upcoming Origins Game Fair is an entry for a demonstration of Dungeon Command, a new miniatures skirmish game Wizards of the Coast will release in a few months.

A brief search on the product title yielded this page, which gives more detail about the product. Apparently, WotC will be selling miniatures in groups of 12 called factions; these minis will be packaged with dungeon tiles, stat cards and game rules, and will retail for $39.99. While a quick start version of the game will enable two people to play from the same box, each player will need his or her own box to play the full game.

The miniatures will be compatible with other WotC products, including D&D and WotC’s Adventure System Board Games.

A bit more digging around the WotC site led to a product release schedule. Two faction sets are slated for release July 17: Heart of Cormyr and Sting of Lloth. Amazon.com is offering pre sale copies of a third faction set, Tyranny of Goblins, although I didn’t see this product listed on the WotC release schedule page.

The folks over at Board Game Geek were kind enough to provide a link to this video from Pax East, in which Chris Dupuis describes it as a combination board game/skirmish game. The miniatures depicted in the video look very similar to previous D&D Miniatures releases. The Board Game Geeks also posted several product images here.

Geeks Playing Games was present for the play test, and drafted a pretty thorough review of play, which is posted here.

While it seems that this product will contain far fewer sculpts than prior DDM releases – and therefore be of reduced use for a dungeon master – it is better than nothing. And at least a DM will know which figures are in which box, a welcome change from the random packaging of yesteryear.

Should ‘townsfolk’ be synonymous with ‘weak’ in D&D?


Not all townsfolk in a D&D setting should be as helpless as this fellow.

From the earliest days of Dungeons & Dragons, there have been townsfolk in need of heroic rescue.

From an adventure design standpoint, their presence and relative weakness force the heroes into the spotlight; since the townsfolk cannot help themselves, only the valiant heroes can save the day and, since the game is about players being heroes, players jump at the chance to get into character and the game when the townsfolk are in danger.

But townsfolk being in need of rescue also sets an expectation in players’ minds that townsfolk are weak, since these country bumpkins apparently can’t fend for themselves. Thus, in the best of cases, heroes look upon townsfolk as defenseless sheep; in the worst of cases, they bully or otherwise take advantage of the townsfolk, based upon their relative weakness. But should townsfolk be so weak?

That question must be answered in a balanced way. After all, the player characters are supposed to be the heroes, and making them weaker than the village scribe detracts from the fun considerably. But at the same time, townsfolk – especially in frontier areas – have probably had more combat experience than many heroic tier player characters, and wouldn’t necessarily genuflect just because a third-level paladin has arrived in town.

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Own any D&D Minis? Now might be a good time to review their value


All kobolds are not created equal - the figure on the left (Kobold Archer #41 from the Dungeons of Dread set) is valued at about $3.50 U.S.; the one on the right (a World Game Day promotional figure of the same sculpt) is valued at about $22.

The now-defunct D&D Miniatures (DDM) line was useful in many ways: the figures from the line were pre-painted, saving the dungeon master valuable preparation time; they were made from a nigh-indestructible, rubberized plastic; the figures depicted actual game monsters, having either been taken directly from the books or introduced into the D&D roleplaying game by virtue of a stat card; and the cost per figure was competitive, even if the randomized packaging sometimes made it difficult to get enough of a certain monster type for an encounter.

In preparation for a game I plan to run in a couple of weeks (the first in months, and likely the only one for the next few months – how disappointing), I visited Miniature Market to check availability for a few figures I needed. While I could always use TokenTool or a graphics program to make tokens for the session, it would make for a better game if I could obtain the required miniatures at reasonable cost.

Even though I knew the minis have been discontinued for quite some time, I was astonished at the prices at which some of the figures I own were marked.

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Medieval Professions V: more NPCs you won’t find in published adventures


Pilgrims, like the famous band described in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, were a common sight in the Middle Ages.

While it isn’t necessary to conduct extensive research into Medieval daily life to create an exciting Dungeons & Dragons game, bringing real-world history and anthropology to the game can bring a level of “background realism” that players will appreciate. To that end, the RPG Athenaeum has thus far outlined 12 important Medieval occupations, which never seem to appear in the pages of published D&D modules.

The first posting in this series, describing the vocations of messenger, gravedigger and rat catcher, can be viewed here.

The second posting, detailing the livelihoods of the chandler, crier, and dragoman, can be found here.

The third posting, describing the duties of the alewife, friar, and plague doctor, can be viewed here.

The fourth part in this series, detailing the vocations of barber, falconer and miller, can be found here.

Today’s post will discuss the rag and bone man, the chantry priest, and pilgrim.

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Game Night Blog Carnival: Memoir ’44


Memoir '44 divides the D-Day Campaign into several smaller scenarios, playable on a two-sided board that can be modified with cardboard terrain hexes.

This post represents the Athenaeum’s participation in Game Night Blog Carnival, through which RPG Bloggers post a review of a non-RPG game once each month.

Memoir ’44

Memoir ’44 is a two-player board/war game which uses the Command and Colors mechanics developed by Richard Borg; the game was named the official game of the 60th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion. The game was published in 2004 by Days of Wonder.

Supplements enabling the recreation of the War in the Pacific and for aviation combat have also been released, but are not reviewed here.

The mechanics behind the Command and Colors system – which have been adapted to other conflicts for other game titles -  are simple. There is a game board, marked with hexagons and divided into left, center and right sections; cardboard terrain hexes, which are placed over board hexes to recreate the terrain of a historical battle; a deck of cards containing order cards for units in different sections and tactic cards that can be played in special situations; a lot of little plastic infantry, artillery and cavalry/armor; plastic battlefield features such as barbed wire, sand bags and “hedgehog” tank obstacles; a set of battle dice; and a scenario book explaining how to lay out the terrain and deploy the units to recreate a battle.

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Keeping civil order in D&D – without heroes or magic


This manuscript page from the Yale Law Library details part of a Medieval law, but such laws were enforced in ways that differed greatly from the typical D&D setting. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The fact that most Dungeons & Dragons campaigns are loosely based upon Medieval history and culture is both a benefit and a liability.

The benefit can be found in relying upon player expectations in order to enhance suspension of disbelief; since most players aren’t medievalists (which is a pity), telling them that there are knights and castles and dragons around is enough to get the game rolling, and the players will mentally fill in missing details as play progresses.

The liability emerges from that same circumstance. Since dungeon masters (DMs) and players – including professional designers - typically don’t know a great deal about Medieval daily life, they tend to place a Medieval veneer on 21st Century social systems when designing communities for D&D settings. While such anachronisms don’t affect game mechanics, it does forsake an opportunity for a DM to provide a more accurate picture of how things were, thereby providing a more immersive experience for players.

One aspect of D&D setting design that routinely gets the “veneer treatment” is law enforcement. Typically, the city or town watch is the staple of public safety, sometimes supplemented with a peasant militia, providing what basically amounts to a modern police force equipped with chainmail. Historically, the closest pre-Renaissance society gets to such a thing is the office of wait, or night watchman, who shouts out the time on the hour each night and keeps an eye out for trouble or fire, but these fellows weren’t organized into bands responsible for public safety until the 15th Century.

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Creating an RPG campaign for children, Part III


The lad's intrepid band of heroes is crossing the peak of a snow-capped mountain, where they are outnumbered by frost zombies.

This is the third installment in a series about designing and playing an RPG campaign with my 7-year-old son, from setting design to playing out battles. The first article in the series can be found here, while the second is here.

After three sessions of play using the free Dungeon Squad! rules, the lad’s campaign is starting to take shape. His character was approached in his home town of Tiny Village by the village elder, a fellow named Sedgewick; the elder asked if the hero would deliver a message to the tower of the wizard Snevlin, which is located across the mountains. Sedgewick warned that it would be a dangerous trip, and that the hero should round up a few friends to help him fight off the dangers. After recruiting an adventuring party, with members named after the lad, his favorite stuffed animals and Mom the Deadly (playing herself in this drama), the group set off for the mountains.

At the outset of this project, one of my goals was to keep the lad involved in the creative process, and so I allowed him to select foes from my miniature collection. Using the figures as a guide, I crunched up combat statistics for the beasties using other Dungeon Squad! monsters as a template.

While we did play one battle on a printed poster map from a D&D module, I found that the lad had more fun when he had an active role in designing the battlefield. We used D&D Dungeon Tiles, particularly from the Wilderness Master Set and the Witchlight Fens supplement. Usually, my son had as much fun creating the battlefields as he did playing the game. The only exception was when the party was crossing the mountain’s snow-capped peak, and we used the Caverns of Icewind Dale; he enjoyed the tiles even more than the battle on that occasion.

Time for an important note to self: the greater my son’s role in creating the game, the more he seems to enjoy it. At this point, I don’t know if that is true for most children, or if my son is a born gamemaster and inclines toward that side of the screen (chip of the old block and all that).

At this point, the lad seems more interested preparation for and playing battles, an interest I’ll feed by asking his help in determining combat abilities for monsters, which have all been homebrewed thus far. I’ll try adding more story elements before the next report.