Monthly Archives: February 2014

The most useful Pathfinder Battles miniatures for any fantasy game

A year or so ago, I posted my list of the 11 most useful types of miniatures. This list remains one of the most popular posts on this site. However, since that post, those old D&D miniature figures have continued to grow scarcer and their secondary-market prices higher. This summer, WizKids will sell a new line of pre-painted, plastic Dungeons & Dragons miniatures, so we will finally see some new D&D figures to buy.

After the end of the last D&D miniatures line, Paizo and WizKids entered the market with their Pathfinder Battles line. These sets focus on figures unique to Pathfinder and the game’s adventure paths, producing many creatures and personalities that cannot come from anywhere else. Because I don’t run the adventure paths, the Pathfinder line includes too many figures that I won’t use, so I seldom buy the randomized boxes.

Still, the Pathfinder Battles line does include figures useful to any game master, so I’ve cherry-picked many figures on the secondary market. For an excellent gallery of Pathfinder Battles figures, refer to

Chimera Pathfinder Battles miniature
Succubus Pathfinder Battles miniature
Lich Pathfinder Battles miniature

The Heroes & Monsters set ranks as most useful set of random miniatures ever released by any vendor. The commons seem torn from my list of most useful miniatures. The rares feature cool and iconic monsters from the Chimera to the Succubus, plus the best Lich ever.

Watch Officer Pathfinder Battles miniature
Watch Guard Pathfinder Battles miniature
Rogue Pathfinder Battles miniature

I stocked up on the Watch Officer and Watch Guard, the Human Rogue, the Gargoyle, and the Mummy. I like that the Skeleton omits the shining armor found on most of the D&D skeletons—shining armor seems like an odd accessory for bones rising from a graveyard or crypt.

Gargoyle Pathfinder Battles miniature
Mummy Pathfinder Battles miniature

Skull & Shackles ranks as my second-favorite Pathfinder set for one reason: pirates. If I update my list of most useful miniatures, pirates will leap ahead of some other types.

Pirate Sailor Pathfinder Battles miniature
Pirate Smuggler Pathfinder Battles miniature
Tessa Fairwind Pathfinder Battles miniature

I’ve purchased at least one copy of every pirate in Skull & Shackles. Plus, I love the Bloodbug (pronounced “stirge”).

Bloodbug Pathfinder Battles miniature
Wererat Pathfinder Battles miniature

Urban adventures always seem to include wererats, so the Wererat figure will also get a lot of time on the table. I like the sharks too, but you know my hang-ups about underwater adventures. Use them for Arduin air sharks.

Earth Elemental Pathfinder Battles miniature
Air Elemental Pathfinder Battles miniature

Third place goes to Shattered Star for a full range of elementals ready for heavy rotation at any game table.

Fire Elemental Pathfinder Battles miniature
Water Elemental Pathfinder Battles miniature

I also like the Tower Girl as a PC, the Cleric of Zon-Kuthon as an undead mastermind, and Sheila Heidmarch as a non-fighting noble.

Tower Girl Pathfinder Battles miniature
Cleric of Xon-Kuthon Pathfinder Battles miniature
Shiela Heidmarch Pathfinder Battles miniature

The new Reign of Winter set includes some good animal companions and familiars, such as the Owl, Falcon, and Goat. No player has yet chosen a spirit goat companion for their PC, but I hope to see one soon.

The new D&D miniatures line should add these figures that have never been done before

Drizzt Do'Urden D&D Miniature

Drizzt Do’Urden D&D Miniature

Last week, Wizards of the Coast announced a deal with WizKids to produce pre-painted, plastic miniatures for Dungeons & Dragons. These new figures will accompany the D&D Next release this summer. As with the Pathfinder Battles miniatures, also from WizKids, the line will include both blind, randomly-assorted boosters and visible starter packs. The visible Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures Heroes starter packs include 6-figures priced at $19.95, and will reach stores in July.  In August, the Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Miniatures: Set One Boosters go on sale. These packs will include 4 figures drawn from a set of around 54 figures, likely priced at $15.99. The same sculptors who do HeroClix and Pathfinder Battles will sculpt the D&D line, so the quality will rank just as high. The sample photos show Drizzt Do’Urden as one upcoming figure.

I loved the original D&D miniatures, so when rising costs forced WotC out of the miniatures market, I felt dismayed. No alternatives suited me as well. I have boxes full of Reaper Bones, and while I’ve painted a few, I’m not ready to make painting another hobby. The Pathfinder Battles line boasts quality, pre-painted figures, but the line includes too many figures specific to the adventure paths and to the Pathfinder bestiary.

If I had the ear of someone planning a D&D miniature release, I would give my list of useful miniatures that have never appeared in plastic.

  • cave fisher wind-upCave fisher – I realize that this odd monster seems like it would hardly see use as a miniature, but I keep running published adventures that include cave fishers. Obviously, adventure authors fancy cave fishers because of their interesting mode of attack and because they can fit logically into the caverns where adventures happen.

  • Pixie – When Heroes of the Feywild added pixies as an available race, they became a surprisingly popular choice at my tables. But no pixie figures exist. We need a tiny pixie on a clear plastic flight stand similar to all the bats, birds, and stirges in earlier sets.

  • City guard with crossbow – I listed city guards among my 11 most useful types of miniatures, but none of the available figures hold a bow. Just about every type of humanoid needs to be represented with more figures with bows.

  • Medium displacer beast – Many folks love complimenting their character with pets, and in fourth edition, the displacer beast ranks as a most popular choice. Too bad no medium-sized displacer beast figure exists.

  • Mushroom – Towards the end of the original run of D&D plastic miniatures, each set seemed to include an inanimate object such as a ballista, treasure chest, or magic portal. I want to see this theme continued with a giant mushroom ready to be added to my collection of dungeon decor.

    Update: A mushroom figure escaped my notice. Thanks Shawn!

  • Ulder Ravengard card from Murder in Baldur's Gate

    Ulder Ravengard card from Murder in Baldur’s Gate

  • Dark-skinned, armored fighter – When I ran Murder in Baldur’s Gate, I looked for a figure to represent the brown-skinned Ulder Ravengard, but I discovered that nothing suitable existed.

  • Translucent green slime – Another monster that adds easily to an encounter, I want a green slime miniature sculpted from translucent plastic.

  • Goblin spellcaster – Every low-level D&D adventure includes a battle with goblins or kobolds–encounters that typically include a shaman or spellcaster of some sort. Kobolds have spellcaster figures, but no suitable goblin exists.

What figure would you like to see?

A role-playing game player’s obligation

Always seek to contribute the most to the team’s success. From the players’ and the PCs’ standpoint any role-playing game is a group endeavor. Individual success is secondary to the success of the group, for only through group achievements can the quality of the campaign be measured.” – Gary Gygax, Role-Playing Mastery

Role-Playing Mastery by Gary Gygax

Role-Playing Mastery by Gary Gygax

As I stated in “Why second edition Dungeons & Dragons dropped thieves and assassins,” I no longer see “I’m just playing my character” as an excuse for disruptive play.

As a player, your first role-playing obligation is to imagine a character who can cooperate with rest of the party to achieve the common goals of the game.

Your rogue can be the king of thieves, but you must find a reason not to pick the rest of the party’s pockets. Your assassin can be the prince of murder, but you bear responsibility to find a motivation that enables him to cooperate with the do-gooders in the party. And if you maintain a darker nature, please be discrete enough to avoid forcing the paladin into the uncomfortable position of playing dumb and oblivious. Finally, if you do find your agent of chaos confronted by the party’s do-gooders, find a way out—withdraw your character for the good of the game rather than bringing the game down for the sake of playing your character. If cannot meet this role-playing challenge, then you must create a different character.

Dungeon magazine issue 132

Dungeon magazine issue 132

In the Dungeoncraft column in Dungeon issue 132, Monte Cook supported my perspective. “It’s a player’s responsibility to bring to the first session (or create in the first session) a character that fits into the DM’s world. The character has to be one that could conceivably work with the other PCs. The player should no more create a character that doesn’t want to work with the other PCs than the DM should force the PCs to fight a dragon with a CR of 15 higher than their average level in the first session. Neither would be fair, and either lends itself to a good roleplaying game experience.”

Your obligation as a player does not limit you to playing paladins and other milquetoasts, but it does challenge you to imagine and role play a character who can work with the party. If you need help imagining why your werecat might cooperate with the other players’ weremice, you can draw inspiration from this list of motivations:

  • A common enemy, cause, or goal
  • Loyalty to family, friends, or an organization
  • Fear of retribution from a greater force such as a powerful patron or a dangerous organization
  • An unbreakable oath
  • A magical compulsion

The Book of Vile Darkness offers more advice on finding ways for an evil characters to play nice.

Whatever your motivation to cooperate, you may not reveal your true nature at some climactic moment and deny the other players and dungeon master a satisfying conclusion. However, you can plan for a change of heart or a tragic end at that climatic moment. Such finales show the kind of hard-core role playing that enables you to win at D&D!

Gary Gygax may have had an impish streak, but he (mostly) met the challenge of taking a difficult character and contributing to the party. On EN World, Gary wrote, “When I played a barbarian, I would indeed attempt to get at the newly discovered magic items and rid the world their bane, and if some mage was foolish enough to flaunt such an object before the character, and he could lay hands on it then… Because the Barbarian was otherwise cooperative and put the overall interest of the party first he survived quite a few adventures and his demise was not at the hands of a fellow PC. Some monster got him, which I don’t recall but it seems to me it was a basilisk. No cleric or mage in the group was much interested in helping the poor chap return to life.”

Why second-edition Dungeons & Dragons dropped thieves and assassins

I have only run an evil-themed D&D campaign once, and only because Wizards of the Coast cornered me. They released the Drow Treachery cards and the Menzoberranzan campaign book and promoted the products with the Council of Spiders season of Dungeons & Dragons Encounters. I’ve served as a dungeon master for every season of Encounters and never considered skipping Council of Spiders, but I questioned the wisdom of promoting an evil, backstabbing campaign, especially in a program geared for new and returning players. My concerns proved valid. Two of the regulars at my table seemed uncomfortable with the evil theme, and one player, call him Benedict, embraced the spirit of the treachery too well.

Lloth and Drow at Gen Con

Lloth and Drow at Gen Con

In the final encounter, Benedict joined the season’s villain and killed the rest of the party. “It’s not personal. I’m just playing my character,” he apologized. Over the years, when someone excuses their character’s actions with “I’m just playing my character,” I’d grown to expect trouble. This time, two regular players from my table never came to encounters again. Maybe they had other obligations, but I suspect the unsatisfactory season contributed to them moving on.

I cannot blame Benedict. Like him, I started in the early years of the hobby, an era that celebrated a character’s ability to attempt any action, and where simulation dominated role playing. How better to simulate an imaginary world than to portray characters of all stripes? By this early ethos, total immersion in character trumped everything. If you failed to play your character to the hilt, then you did the game a disservice. Any game master who interfered with a player’s freedom of action was guilty of an abuse of power. If the player’s actions defied her alignment, penalties might be in order, but if not, anything goes.

And the Council of Spiders Encounters season encouraged treachery.

Still, I should have discouraged Benedict’s betrayal. Some players relish in-party conflict, but unless everyone at the table welcomes such conflict, in-party feuding just encourages hard feelings and lost friends. Folks who welcome treachery should play Paranoia, a game invented for the play style.

Before second edition, D&D promoted classes that fostered party conflict. With thieves and assassins, the trouble begins with class names that encourage bad behavior. What sort of thief fails to steal, and who presents richer targets than the rest of the party? What sort of assassin fails to murder?

As soon as thieves and assassins reached playtesting in 1974, Gary Gygax’s Greyhawk campaign saw trouble. On the EN World forums Gary reminisced, “One or two assassin PCs were played, but the party was always chary about them. Minor pilfering of party treasure was tolerated but having a PC offed by an assassin was most annoying. That happened once, maybe twice, with the offending PC then leaving the game, the player returning as a different character.”

Even as late as 1985’s Unearthed Arcana, the original barbarian class provoked trouble: “Barbarians in general detest magic and those who use it. They will often seek to destroy magic items, and if successful, they receive an experience point award as if they possessed the destroyed items.” What could possibly go wrong?

The designers of D&D’s second edition started moving away from  classes with names that encouraged trouble. In a podcast recalling second-edition’s design, Steve Winter says, “The assassin went away because we had seen through letters from customers and talking to people so many cases of assassins ruining campaigns. People who played assassins felt like that was carte blanche to murder their fellow player characters. We got all the time letters from people asking what do I do with this player? He wants to play an assassin, but he keeps assassinating the other PCs.”

In third edition, “thieves” became “rogues” to discourage similar mischief. Steve Winter explains, “When you’re sitting around the table and the thief player is getting a little bored, and there is another PC standing right in front of him… I can’t count the times that I was at the table and somebody was like, ‘I’m going to pick his pocket.’ And right away everyone is like, ‘Oh don’t, please don’t,’ because everyone knows it’s just going to cause problems within the party.”

Of course, you don’t have to play a thief or assassin to “just play your character,” and to instigate fights among the party. In the Legacy of the Crystal Shard Encounters season, one player embraced the corruption of the black ice and seemed tempted to disrupt the party. This time, I felt willing to forbid any action that would make the players war amongst themselves. But first, I set in-game events that challenged the character to choose between the black ice and his other loyalties, and to the player’s credit, he chose to cast aside the corruption.

Games of Paranoia aside, I no longer see “I’m just playing my character” as an excuse for disruptive play.

[February 15, 2014: Updated to indicate that “thief” became “rogue” in third edition.]

Next: A role-playing game player’s obligation

How D&D Next almost made knowledge count (and then backtracked)

Have you ever seen the Antiques Roadshow on television? Folks bring in curios from grandma’s attic, and then an expert explains the history of each piece and assesses the item’s value. If the real world worked by the rules of Dungeons & Dragons, the show could dispense with the experts. The producers could simply round up a panel of yahoos from the Jerry Springer audience in the next studio, show them an 19th century jardinière (a flower pot holder, for those of you who just whiffed your knowledge check), and let some knucklehead roll a 19 or 20. “The distinctive crosshatching shows a genuine example of 1890s, New Orleans Art Pottery by George Ohr,” he would say before asking another panelist to flash her boobs.

In every D&D game, this pattern repeats with each check that allows the whole party to participate.

Edwaert Collier - Vanitas - Still Life with Books and Manuscripts and a Skull

I did not write this post to gripe about lack of realism; I’ve praised unrealistic game mechanics before.

I want the game to reward players who invest in knowledge skills. Instead, the moment the dungeon master asks for something like a history check, everyone at the table jumps in to roll. More often that not, the player who invested in history rolls too low to determine the nature of the ancient battle standard, while some bozo with an intelligence-8 dump stat rolls a 19 and starts reciting the history of the old empire’s vanished legion. Once again, the party’s scholar feels like a chump for staying in school.

If everyone in the party can attempt a knowledge check, the five or so rolls ensure that someone in the party will luck into all but the most difficult checks. Why bother investing in knowledge skills? Someone will hit anyway.

You could bar party members without training in an area of knowledge from making checks. Third edition imposed such rules, but I favor the fourth edition approach of allowing everyone to participate, even if they stand little chance of success.

The August 2, 2013 playtest packet included a Lore rule that offered a solution: Characters who knew some field of lore gained a +10 to intelligence checks rather than the +5 advantage typical for similar checks in 4E. The +10 bonus reaches high enough to grant the scholar a significant boost over the rest of the party. The rule yields two advantages:

  • The party’s expert stands a better chance of making a knowledge check than the rest of the party.

  • Knowledge checks can be hard enough to reward knowledgeable players with information that would otherwise be out of the party’s reach.

Despite these advantages, the published version of D&D Next will probably omit Lore for two reasons:

  • The designers favor a simple scale of difficulty classes that applies at every level, throughout the system. When characters gain a +10 for lore rather than the small bonuses for skill proficiency, the difficulty of knowledge checks must be set higher than suggested by the universal DC scale. If I wrote the Dungeon Masters Guide, I would simply coach DMs to favor harder DCs for knowledge checks.

  • The designers seem enchanted with the notion of using as few types of bonuses as possible. I suspect they would see a different lore bonus as clutter, not worth its benefits. The final playtest packet aggressively pushed all skill bonuses into a single proficiency bonus, while eliminating lore from the game. See “Proficiency and bounded accuracy” for more.

Assuming the design goes as I expect, and knowledge skills deliver the same, small bonuses as other skills, I plan to run knowledge checks using the following procedure:

  1. Allow everyone in the party to make the knowledge check.

  2. Give the players some minimal amount on information based on the (probable) success of someone’s roll.

  3. Ask for the check results from anyone with the applicable knowledge skill.

  4. If any experts succeeded on their rolls, give deeper information.

This method rewards players who invest in knowledge skills with an advantage, even though the rules as written rarely offer a benefit.