Long before there was such a thing as Dungeons & Dragons, there was a game created by Gary Gygax (later co-creater of Dungeons & Dragons) and Jeff Perren known as Chainmail -- a fantasy miniatures combat system.
Chainmail originated from the days when historial wargaming was popular but some gamers wanted to add fantasy elements into the mix. Influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Gygax and Perren (developers of Chainmail) were two such gamers. After Chainmail had begun to gain popularity and supplemental rules for elves, dwarves and other fantasy-based creatures and races were added in 1971, a man named Dave Arneson, a Minnosota gamer, approached Gygax in the fall of 1972 with a character- and narrator-based game.
Gygax and Arneson collaborated on a set of rules for what they called The Fantasy Game to publishers. Alas, they could not get the concept sold.
In 1974, Gygax formed Tactical Studies Rules with Don Kaye and Brian Blume. They wanted to publish The Fantasy Game, now renamed Dungeons & Dragons. The company lasted two years and ended with the unexpected death of Kaye. Gygax and Blume reformed the company as TSR Hobbies, which published Blackmoor (Arneson's original world) and Greyhawk (Gygax's world).
The rules were rewritten in 1977 and TSR published the first D&D Basic Set. Thus, the legend was born.
Around 2000, Wizards of the Coast (current owner of Dungeons & Dragons) re-released Chainmail. It was a series of metal (pewter) miniatures like the classic version (which were lead-based) only using newer and better molds -- which resulted in better sculpts. Unfortunately, a company known as Wizkids released a series of pre-painted plastic miniatures with stats on the base as a game system called MageKnight. This system was quite popular for a year or two and most-likely cut into the possible sales for Chainmail. Sales weren't doing too well and the metal miniatures were discontinued.
Then in 2003, Dungeons & Dragons released Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures. The first set, Harbinger, was quite a success and has seen the birth of a great line of pre-painted plastic miniatures. This wise move by Wizards of the Coast put a kink in MageKnight which has been losing popularity ever since. Wizards decided not to do like two other systems that use either round or hex bases with dials or sliders to store the miniature's stats on its base. Harbinger consisted of 80 miniatures. This set has since been discontinued. Boxes were available in two types: Starter box with 20 miniatures (one rare), map, terrain cards, d20, checklist, rules booklet and counters; or in booster boxes with 8 miniatures (one rare). The starter retailed for $19.99 and the booster boxes retailed at $9.99. Release date for this set was about summer 2003.
Instead, Wizards included cards, the same size as collector cards, with statistics for each miniature. The cards started out black and white and have moved up to full-color printing in the later editions.
Harbinger HIGHLIGHTS: Minotaur, Troll, Ogre, Large Fire Elemental, Large Earth Elemental, Displacer Beast, Umber Hulk, Human Blackguard, Wraith, Vampire Aristocrat, Hound Archon, Mind Flayer, Centaur, Arcane Archer, and Evoker's Apprentice (uncommon).
Harbinger overall rating: B+
This set may not have the better paint job of the later releases or the improved sculpts but this set has a lot of the necessary pieces you need to run a D&D campaign and is a good mix of the various creatures and people that are standard in the D&D world. Not bad for an initial release -- it kicked many people of their MageKnight habbit.
The second release, Dragoneye, was released only as booster boxes with 8 miniatures (one rare). This set has been discontinued. These booster boxes were initially released at $9.99 retail but in the later production run became $12.99. Release date for this set was winter 2003. This set contains 60 miniatures.
Dragoneye HIGHLIGHTS: Large Red Dragon, Brass Dragon, Black Dragon, Orc Druid, Large Monstrous Spider, Cleric of Nerull (uncommon).
Dragoneye overall rating: A-
This set improved on what was presented in Harbinger with improved paint jobs and better scultps. It too offered a good mix of classic D&D heroes and adversaries -- and finally, DRAGONS!
Archfiends was the third release and was also released only as booster boxes with 8 miniatures (one rare). This set has been discontinued. These booster boxes were initially released at $9.99 retail but partway through the production run, retail increased to $12.99. Release date for this set was about spring 2004. This set contains 60 miniatures.
Archfiends HIGHLIGHTS: Aspect of Orcus, Aspect of Lolth, Large Silver Dragon, Aspect of Bane, Bone Devil, Vrock, Hill Giant, Red Wizard, Drizzt Drow Ranger, Human Cleric of Bane, Eye of Gruumsh, and Ragnara Psychic Warrior (uncommon).
Archfiends overall rating: A
This set has by far the best overall paint job of the first three releases and good sculpts as well. The addition of the ever-popular Drizzt made this set even more sought-after by fans of Forgotten Realms and R.A. Salvatore.
Just as had been done in the past with each generation of Dungeons & Dragons, Wizards decided to follow in the footsteps of tradition and release the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Game Box Set to coincide with the release of the 3.5 revision of the rules set. This was a wise way to blend the roleplaying game system with the miniatures system. The box set includes starter character sheets, large terrain cards, rules booklet, set of dice, 12 different miniatures (16 total) and their stat cards. The miniatures were the same ones as previously released but with the designation "D&DB" and the number in the set to identify them. None of these miniatures bear the symbol of the set they originated from. This box set retails at $24.99. This was released about summer 2004.
The next big miniatures endeavor by Wizards of the Coast was Giants of Legend which changed some things in the structure of the game by adding in huge sized creatures. These creatures have huge bases and a large point cost. With previous rules capping the point cost for a warband at 200, that would no longer suffice. Many of the huge creatures have a point cost that already exceeds 200. This truly opened up the path for epic-level battles and large-scale battles rather than just skirmish-based warbands.
Also with the release of Giants of Legend, a different packaging and system was used. Rather than having just one rare in a box, you were guaranteed one and had a chance of getting a second rare for your huge creature. The huge creatures only came in uncommon and rare. Each box is guaranteed one huge creature. In addition, you get one rare and the usual mix of commons and uncommons. Because of the additional huge creature, retail price jumped to $19.99 per box. This set is no longer in production; although, in early 2005 they were still on sale in many retail stores. This set was released sometime in early summer 2004. This set contains 72 miniatures.
Giants of Legend HIGHLIGHTS: Huge Red Dragon, Huge Gold Dragon, Warforged Titan, Mordenkainen the Mage, Fire Giant, Lord Soth, Manticore, Drider Sorcerer, Frost Giant, King Snurre, Behir, Bulette, Dire Wolf, Lich Necromancer, and Warforged Fighter (uncommon).
Giants of Legend overall rating:
This set is amazing, simply put. It includes a great many things missing from the earlier sets and things D&D fans greatly wanted -- like the Huge Red Dragon. This set was also a great idea overall, giving us larger minis for those epic battles in the minis game as well as in the pen-and-paper (plus minis) RPG. As with the previous set, the paint jobs were excellent and the sculpts were great.
It had been several sets since a starter box had been released and with the retirement of the Harbinger line, a new starter was necessary. With that in mind, Wizards released Aberrations. This was the first set to be released at the increased retail price (not counting Giants of Legend, which was packaged differently). Starter boxes are still $19.99 as they were before but instead of 20 miniatures, it includes 16. Booster boxes retail for $12.99, include 8 miniatures as before, and now come with full-color stat cards. On a personal note, Aberrations was my least favorite set to date. It did have some really nice sculpts and good paint work but the overall choice of the set included a lot of creatures I would not likely use as a DM in my campaigns. Most of the other sets included a great mix of usable and some oddball stuff. This set contains 60 miniatures. This set was previewed at GenCon 2004 in Indianapolis, Ind., where GenCon exclusive versions were released of at least two of the minis from the set.
Aberrations HIGHLIGHTS: Ice Troll, Warforged Hero, Wyvern, Green Dragon, Dragon Samurai, and Flesh Golem.
Aberrations overall rating:
This was my least favorite set ever. If Wizards had wanted to create a new starter, I believe they should have given us a better mix of D&D heroes and monsters to choose from. In addition, the monsters in the set should have been more popular ones to get new players into the game. Aberrations are great and all but it was missing some key elements that it needed. Paint jobs were great, though, and the addition of color to the cards was a nice bonus.
In March 2005, Wizards released Deathknell, the newest in its line of Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures. This set was released only as booster boxes with 8 miniatures and retailed for $12.99 just as with Aberrations. I like this set quite a bit as it includes one of my favorite D&D baddies of all time -- Beholder. Not to mention, there are many other very cool miniatures in this set. This set contains 60 miniatures.
Deathknell HIGHLIGHTS: Beholder, Large Blue Dragon, Gold Dragon, Couatl, Centaur Hero, Griffon, Aspect of Nerull, Death Knight, Thaskor, Mummy Lord, Fiendish Monstrous Scorpion, Ettin Skirmisher, Zombie White Dragon, Spectre, Ravenous Vampire, Burning Skeleton (uncommon), Renegade Warlock (uncommon), and Warforged Wizard (uncommon).
Deathknell overall rating: A
Another great set by Wizards. The addition of the Beholder brought this set back up in line with previous sets that had more to offer. I enjoyed this set a lot. Paint jobs continue to improve and sculpts continue to improve.
In July 2005, Wizards released Angelfire, next in line
for the Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures throne. This set was released
as booster boxes only with 8 miniatures and retailed at $12.99 the same as the
past couple sets. This is your chance to get a bunch of good guys or holy warriors
for your armies. This set contains 60 miniatures.
Angelfire overall rating: A-
Overall, a pretty good set -- literally. The addition of holy characters was well, for lack of a better word, good. This set had a little less appeal to me than the previous set -- but still offered a lot of good minis and a pretty good variety.
In November 2005, Wizards released Underdark, which previewed at GenCon 2005 in Indianapolis, Ind. At least three of the miniatures from this set were available as GenCon exlusives. Another mini was given out at the Worldwide D&D Game Day the first Saturday in November 2005.
Underdark HIGHLIGHTS: Elminster, Balor, Guenhwyvar (uncommon), Dire Bat (uncommon), Mounted Drow Patrol, Iron Golem, Large Deep Dragon, Medium Silver Dragon, and more.
Underdark overall rating: A+
Wow. Another great set with a great theme by Wizards. Finally, the biggest, baddest wizard in all of Faerun (the Forgotten Realms) is yours to play with -- Elminster (straight from the mind of Ed Greenwood). What a great set! All the drow, wow! Excellent set -- one of the best yet.
Hasta la vista,
T. Rob Brown
(a.k.a. Chokra Broodslayer)
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