board games, D&D, DM Advice, Dungeons & Dragons, Roleplaying

In Praise of Dungeon Command

Dungeon-CommandThis is a very strange time for D&D as a product line. 4th Edition is all but finished with the announcement and public playtest of D&D Next. I’d guess that most groups are playing either 4th edition or Next, and for both of these editions, there are few or no products on local game store shelves. In the interim, Wizards of the Coast has dug deep within the vault of the past, releasing definitive premium versions of classic material from many editions, as well as re-entering the digital release realm at I never thought I’d see a “new” 1E Player’s Handbook sitting next to a fully updated 3.5 Player’s Handbook at my game store on the current release shelf, but that’s exactly the situation we are in right now.

Into this bizarre and rather random release landscape comes a unique series of games: Dungeon Command. I wasn’t too sure about this series when it was announced, but after playing several games with my Curse of the Undead set against almost all the other boxes, I have changed my mind. A dice-less tactical miniatures game with card driven combat is interesting, and the different factions are fun to play out of the box, even if you ignore the customization options available if you own multiple sets. If the large area dedicated to the game at my local store is any indicator, the game has been a success on its own merits.

images (1)For many of us, though, the real appeal of Dungeon Command is using the components at our role-playing tables. I began this blog just over two years ago, a few months after the final D&D Miniatures set, Lords of Madness, was released. It was a good time to buy these minis, with many sculpts available for $1 or less. Since then, however, the stock has dried up, and many of the cheap options I suggested in my first D&D minis post have gone out of stock or are several times more expensive. The Adventure System games are a good option, but unless you are willing to paint them yourself, they just don’t compare to prepainted minis. Thus, the release of the Dungeon Command sets is a godsend for gamers who want good looking painted minis without breaking the bank.

By far, the best part of Dungeon Command is the thematic nature of the sets. You know exactly what you are getting when you purchase a box. No more blind packs, where you really want more goblins and open a yuan-ti instead. Dungeon Command features groups of foes that would likely be used together in actual D&D adventures. You can tailor your purchases to match what you have planned in your campaign! Here are my recommendations.

heartofcormyrHeart of Cormyr – This would make a great first purchase for a new campaign. Almost all of the minis represent common player character races. They would be equally useful as NPCs. The earth guardian looks great, and there’s even a copper dragon which can fill many roles in a pinch.


stingoflolthSting of Lolth – if you ever plan to visit the Underdark, this set is a must. Spiders show up in many different environments, of course, and the Umber Hulk is one of the best looking minis in any of the sets. The drow can represent many different evil NPCs if you squint your eyes just right.


tyrannyofgoblinsTyranny of Goblins – a fantastic set that fills needs in most campaigns. Goblins and their kin are common at most D&D tables, and you can always use another wolf. The troll is magnificent, but the horned devil is the superstar, and could be used to represent all manner of nasty opponents.


curseofundeathCurse of Undeath – Probably the best value in the entire line. Zombies and skeletons are useful across all levels. Three minis in particular make great “boss” encounters: the lich necromancer, the disciple of Kyuss, and the dracolich. This was the first set I purchased, and I’ve already used most of the minis in my own campaign just a few months later.

bloodofgruumshBlood of Gruumsh – the latest set, unique in that it uses new sculpts, not those recycled from the previous line. The minis have a different look to them, based on concept art from D&D Next. They are gorgeous, and since orcs and ogres are iconic D&D monsters, it’s a great set to pick up. Plus, it has an Owl Bear, what’s not to like?

Perhaps the greatest part of Dungeon Command from the perspective of a DM is that the players are encouraged to purchase miniatures when they otherwise have little incentive to do so. There is a full fledged and very compelling tactical game experience inside, not just a pile of minis. I’ve only had to purchase one set myself, since my players have all the other sets between them. If I need spiders, orcs, or dwarves, I just let my players know and they bring their sets to D&D night. DMs typically spend much more than players in D&D, and anything that encourages that the costs can be shared is a good thing.

As of this writing, no more Dungeon Command sets have been announced. I must admit I find this perplexing and a bit disheartening. It’s easily one of the most versatile and valuable releases from Wizards in the past two years. For a reasonable price, you get a dozen miniatures in various sizes that are thematically similar. The tiles included in each set are quite useful, too, and can be mixed and matched in lots of ways. Quality miniatures like these are always useful, no matter what version of D&D you play. I am very hopeful that more Dungeon Command sets will come out this year, in the lull before D&D Next is officially released.

board games, D&D, DM Advice, Dungeons & Dragons, Roleplaying

What I Learned from Painting Miniatures (Part 2)

2013-04-01 14.11.22In my last post, we looked at the process of painting miniatures, mainly concerning ourselves with the mindset you need to develop (it won’t be perfect, and that’s okay) and some of the basic supplies needed to get started. Today, I’ve got a tutorial for painting a Castle Ravenloft miniature, the ranger hero, covering priming your mini and methods for base coating and dry brushing. Remember my disclaimer from last time: I am by no means an expert, and my minis aren’t perfect. I wanted them to compare to the prepainted D&D and Dungeon Command minis, and for the most part I think they do. If that’s acceptable to you, read on.

The first step is to use primer on your mini. It’s a good idea to carefully wash your mini in soap and water and let it dry before priming. There may be leftover dirt or oil from play or even the manufacturing process, and these can interfere with the paint job. I use masking tape to attach minis to a piece of cardboard, which I then take outside for priming and drying. Do be careful about the temperature when you prime outside: consult the can for more information.

Use light bursts of primer, from a distance of about six to eight inches. Spray from all directions to ensure even coverage. However, don’t use too much primer, or the mini will lose detail. The mini should dry for an hour or so minimum before painting. There are always parts of the mini that do not get coated with primer, like armpits, the bottoms of legs, etc. It’s a good idea to paint these areas first to get a solid color to build on. I always use black paint, thinned down with several drops of water, to paint these unprimed areas.

2013-04-01 14.11.22Next up is dry brushing. A good practice is to dry brush the mini first, because dry brushing is very messy and you will get paint into other areas than what you’d like. By painting this way first, you can simply paint over the sloppy parts later. Dry brushing is quite different than standard painting. Put a small amount of paint onto a brush, then wipe the brush back and forth on a napkin or paper towel until most of the paint is gone. It should look dry, not wet, thus, the name of the method. You’ll think the color won’t show up, but it will, trust me.

With your paint brush loaded with dry paint, press the bristles down with a good bit of force on the area you want to paint, and swipe back and forth. Do this vigorously, in order to get the almost-dry paint to cover the raised areas. In this case, the purpose of the dry brush was to bring out the detail in the scale armor that the ranger is wearing. I used copper paint, as I wanted a brown and green color scheme for this character. Metal armor should almost always be dry brushed, as it gives very good results. You will likely mess up your brush, so it’s a good idea to keep one brush you use only for dry brushing. We will revisit dry brushing later on.

2013-04-01 14.28.26Now we move on the base coats. For the ranger, I decided to do the cape next, using a forest green color for the base. Squeeze some paint into your mixing tray, and add a couple drops of clean water (this is especially important for the cheaper craft store paints which are mixed very thick). I use plastic school-quality brushes which only cost a few cents a piece for mixing my paints with water, as they are all but disposable. Mix the paint and water together until you have a nice smooth texture. You want the paint to flow easily, but not run. It’s better to use multiple thin coats of paint than a single thick coat to show detail.

Dip a good brush into the paint, until about half the bristles are covered. Remove, swipe excess off onto a napkin or even your mixing tray, then begin. Use long, smooth strokes as much as possible. Remember, you want even coverage, so don’t glob the paint on too thick. Spread it out like a thin coating. It’s a good idea to leave some areas of black primer showing as shadows. On the ranger, there are some deep folds in the cape that I left unpainted in this way. On the underside of the cloak, I used fewer coats, and only painted the areas closer to the edges. These dark areas make the mini look more realistic.

2013-04-01 14.36.19At this stage, I decided to highlight the cape. You don’t always need to highlight, especially if you plan to use a wash, but in this case, I wanted to go ahead and do it. Capes are very easy to highlight, and show good results. I simply chose a brighter shade of green, more grass-like, and used the same dry brush method as before. Instead of dry-brushing the entire cloak, though, I simply did the edges and tops of the folds. The brighter paint in these areas will make the cloak look more realistic, as if light is reflecting off the surface. While the brighter green paint was mixed, I painted the ranger’s bracers to make her more interesting visually. I didn’t dry brush on the bracers, instead base coating them like I did the cloak. A base coat of dark brown on the boots and belt helped to break up the armor a bit.

2013-04-01 14.45.32The next part was the toughest: the ranger’s skin. Since I will be using a brown wash later, I used a lighter skin tone than I normally would. She looks almost undead, I know, but the tone will be quite a bit less garish after the wash is applied. I used the smallest brush I had, mixed the paint and water very thin, and only dipped the tip of the brush in the paint. The key with this sort of thing is to go slowly, and do multiple coats. You will inevitably get some of this color where it shouldn’t be. That’s ok, once the wash is on, many of these errors will be hidden, and we can fix the worst later. I like to leave a bit of black in between one color of paint and the next, as you can see on the tops of the bracers. It’s another way to help prevent errors.

I used a metallic color next, in this case, P3 Pig Iron from my local game store. I base coated the swords, blades first in a heavier coat, then just a dab on the hilt and pommel. The transition from hand to sword isn’t very clean, but that’s acceptable, since the wash will really help tidy up areas like these. After some consideration, I decided to help break up the darkness of the color scheme with some careful dry brushing of this same color on the rangers mail tunic. The larger scales on the legs in copper contrast nicely with the steely surface of the tunic.

P2013-04-01 14.56.53ainting hair is difficult. I touched up the over-brushed green, copper, and flesh errors in the hair with black paint. For any type of brown, gray, or even red hair, I use a black base. For the ranger, to keep it simple, I dry brushed a bit of burgundy red just to show some highlights. It’s a little too red now, but when covered in brown ink, it will look more natural. The end result should be a dark, almost black color or hair. If you plan to paint blonde, I recommend a basecoat of brown. Yellow paint over black takes on a greenish tint that looks anything but blonde. Dry brushing is definitely the way to go for hair.

Finally, the hard part is done. You may be a bit disappointed in your miniature at this point. There will likely be small mistakes, lack of detail in the face and hands, and many more things that bug you. That’s okay! You are very close to having a great looking mini with just two more steps: an ink wash, and a spray of dullcote. Once these two things are done, your mini will look much, much nicer on the table. In the final portion of this series, we’ll go over these two steps in depth, and give some more general advice for getting your D&D minis looking great.

D&D, DM Advice, Dungeons & Dragons, Roleplaying

What I Learned from Painting Miniatures (Part 1)

2013-03-05_21-31-50_813Over the past year or so, I’ve been enjoying playing Warmachine, a tabletop miniatures game. Though the game itself is fun, most of the enjoyment I’ve gotten from Warmachine has been the hobby elements of the game, especially painting. With a little bit of practice and some common sense, you can get good results. I’ve also painted my Castle Ravenloft board game minis, and have used them in my D&D games. Like many others, I am looking forward to receiving my Reaper Miniatures Bones Kickstarter shipment soon. I thought it might be a good time to share some miniatures painting tips for other beginners like me. Today, we’ll discuss setting reasonable expectations for yourself, plus some supplies you’ll  need to purchase to get started.

At first, you won’t succeed, so keep trying
If you are like me, you will be disappointed by the results of painting your first minis. Like any other skill, you will get better and better the more you perform over time. The toughest mini to paint is always the first one, because you keep telling yourself you can’t do it. But you really can! Just keep at it, and over time your results will be more and more acceptable.

2013-03-05_21-31-31_149Let me just say right away that I know that I am not a great painter. I’m not even a good painter, but the quality I have achieved, such as it is, is acceptable to me. The Ravenloft minis I painted myself don’t look out of place next to standard D&D or Dungeon Command minis. That was the goal I set for myself, and it’s a good expectation in mind as you begin. Your minis may not win any painting contests, but with a little practice, they will work just fine for your tabletop.

Spend wisely on your basic tools
It would be very easy to walk into a game store and spend hundreds of dollars on paint bottles, high-quality brushes, expensive primer, and the like. Don’t do this. For the most part, avoid your local game store and head to a craft store like Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, or even Wal-Mart. You wouldn’t buy a Stradivarius violin for a novice, so don’t break the bank as a new painter.

513ZPQCDKALYou will want a set of brushes. Don’t go for the cheap plastic brushes kids use at school. I recommend a pack of a half dozen or so in various sizes. You can probably find a set like this one for $8 to $12 at most places. You’ll get the most mileage out of the smaller brushes, since miniatures are small (obviously). Don’t worry about a super fine brush at the moment. Details like teeth and eyes can be done with toothpicks for now, or just left undone. Over time you will develop brush control, and when you do, that’s the time to pick up better brushes.

Primer is a very important part of your starter tools. Primer allows the paint to bond better with your mini, making the process easier and the final result smoother. I recommend Dupli-color Sandable Primer. It’s intended for automotive use, and can be found at most auto parts stores, or the link above. It is very reasonably priced and has excellent coverage. I prefer to prime my minis in black, which gives good shadows but can require extra paint coats at times. Some people prefer gray or even white.

Your choice of paint will be the most important. There are many brands and types out there, ranging in price and quality. Obviously, you get what you pay for. Game store brands like Privateer Press P3 or Games Workshop are very good quality, but will run $3 to $4 for a small bottle. That can get very expensive, especially when you are starting from scratch and need lots of colors. These should be avoided from the start, with a few exceptions. I’d go ahead and spring for metallics from these brands, as the cheap metallics are noticeably harder to get good results with. If you use bright reds or yellows often, it also might be worthwhile to get better paints, which tend to have better coverage.

51hOcOeAM+L._SX450_Cheap paints from a craft store are your best value as a beginner. Brands like Apple Barrel, Folk Art, and Americana are fine. Be sure to get acrylic paint, as it is easy to use and cleans up with water. As far as color selection, it really depends on what you are painting. For the Ravenloft minis, I used lots of grey, black, brown, and other dark colors. Just buy what you need for your first few minis. A friend of mine had good results with an acrylic paint set like this one. In general, these cheaper paints are mixed very thick, so always blend in a drop or two of clean water when you use them.

You will want to pick up an ink to use as a wash. Ink acts differently than paint does, flowing naturally into crevices and details. Using an ink wash will cover a multitude of mistakes, which is great news for a beginner! I’d recommend a brown ink to begin. Black is too dark, but a blue ink can be useful if you plan to paint lots of armor and other metallic surfaces. I like P3 Brown Ink and Armor Wash, but you might be able to find less expensive inks at a hobby store.

2013-03-05_21-32-00_720To round out your collection of supplies, you’ll need a few more inexpensive items. A paint tray is good for mixing and thinning your paints. Two containers, for clean and dirty water, are needed; I use old baby food jars for this. Keep an eyedropper handy as well. Lastly, you’ll want a can of Testor’s Dullcote. When your minis are finished, a quick spray of this will lessen the gloss of the paint, making the fabric, metal, hair, and skin look far more realistic.

This post is already fairly long, and there is plenty more to cover, so I’ll wrap it up here. Painting miniatures can seem like a difficult thing, too much trouble to mess with. However, if you keep your expectations reasonable, and have the appropriate supplies for the job, you’ll be able to get results you can be happy with. In my next post, we’ll look at the process of painting a mini from start to finish.

board games, D&D, DM Advice, Dungeons & Dragons, Roleplaying

Using Descent: Journeys in the Dark in Your D&D Game

descentcoverAs my D&D group is meeting only on a monthly basis now, our weekly dedicated game night has been more focused on board and card games. I’m always looking for games that are fun on their own, but also provide bits and pieces I can use on my 4E D&D table. Due to a major discount at Amazon during the holiday sales, I decided to pick up the second edition version of Fantasy Flight’s Descent: Journeys in the Dark. Thematically very similar to classic D&D, almost all of the components in Descent are useful in 4E, providing a fantastic value even at the normal price.

Tokens are a functional way to represent your monsters in 4E, but I prefer minis if at all possible. You can never have enough of them! It seems like there is always some creature you want to feature that you have no miniature for. This new version of Descent gives a serious boost to your mini choices, including no less than 38 monsters in the box. Here’s a list of the Descent monsters, with a few comments for each.

2013-01-15 19.31.36Goblin archers – very useful for low level campaigns, or anytime you need humanoid minion archers.

Giant spiders – common to many settings and always creepy, though they don’t look very dynamic.

Zombies – overdone? Maybe. Probably my least favorite sculpt in the set, but they can represent so many types of undead they are still useful.

Barghests – an odd creature, would make an acceptable fill in for wolves or other four footed predatory animals.

Flesh Moulders – creepy aberrant spellcasters. Could represent diseased or Far Realm-touched humans. A bit niche for common use, though.

2013-01-15 19.30.13Elementals – a mix of all four elements. Very much unlike D&D style elementals but you could make do with a little reskinning of attacks and abilities.

Mirriods – my first thought was I no longer need to find hook horror minis. They are almost alien in appearance and could represent a variety of other weird monsters.

Ettins – An amazing sculpt, very imposing with the armored helmets. Ignore the second head when you need a normal hill giant or ogre.

Dragons – The sculpt is detailed, but the pose is a bit bland. They don’t have the distinctive look of chromatics in 4E but that doesn’t bother me too much; they’re still dragons after all!

There are a couple drawbacks to the monsters in Descent. They are molded in colored plastic, similar to the Ravenloft and Ashardalon minis. Unlike the latter games, the plastic color doesn’t match the mini in any way. Ravenloft had white skeletons, for example, that look nice even unpainted. Most of the Descent minis are an off-white color, with one “master” of each set molded in red. I think even a solid-color mini is preferable to a token, but some may disagree.

2013-01-15 19.29.13

Another issue is the bases. Some of the minis have oval bases that don’t follow the 4E pattern of a medium, large, and huge bases being square. The wolf creatures are 1×2, and the dragons are 2×3. I’d recommend using these minis as is, regardless of the non-standard base size. If you prefer not to do so, make it clear to your players exactly how many squares these oddly sized bases take up by using a paper template underneath them.

Descent has a selection of eight heroes, and each of these is represented by a miniature. I find these sculpts to be very well done, with interested poses and an exaggerated art style reminiscent of Blizzard’s Warcraft and Diablo PC games. The heroes are molded in gray plastic. The only real problem with the Descent hero minis is the size. They are sculpted slightly smaller than standard D&D minis. I personally don’t worry about scale too much, but for some, this might make the hero miniatures unusable. Otherwise, these heroes work well as PC minis, and are especially well suited to NPCs or villains. (Incidentally, the Descent monsters are in similar scale, but apart from the goblin archers and zombies, you’ll hardly notice in play.)

2013-01-15 19.33.07I’ve cooled off a bit on my urge to collect lots of Dungeon Tiles, preferring poster maps and those I draw by hand on Gaming Paper. Still, having access to lots of Dungeon Tiles is an advantage for any 4E DM. Descent uses the same 1 inch grid system for movement that 4E does, and includes several dozen sturdy cardboard tiles for use in encounters. Unlike the official Dungeon Tiles from Wizards, the Descent tiles interlock with one another and hold together quite well. You’ll be able to make maps quicker and without the need for poster board and sticky tack. The tiles are double sided, with an outdoor setting on one face, and a stone floor interior scene on the other. One of the neatest inclusions is a set of doors that stand up vertically in clear plastic stands. These are great for dressing up your maps. I like the Descent tiles quite a bit, and they should be especially useful for unplanned encounters due to the ease of assembly.

Less obvious than the physical components of Descent, the Campaign Book can be a good source of inspiration for your campaign. It would be a bit silly to run the Descent campaign story directly, especially if you play Descent and D&D with the same group. But there’s quite a lot of fluff that you can pick and choose bit and pieces from that could fit in. I always struggle with interesting NPC names, and there are plenty to be found here. It’s a minor advantage, but still worth mentioning.

There is a tremendous amount of bang for your buck when using a copy of Descent Second Edition in your 4E campaign. Dozens of monster and PC or NPC miniatures alone make it worth a purchase, and the tiles just give you that much more value. It retails for a steep $80, but can be purchased online for a significant discount. It compares very favorably to the D&D Adventure Series games like Castle Ravenloft from a components perspective. In addition, Descent is a pretty cool game on its own. I highly recommend it to any 4E DM who is looking to expand his collection of useful gaming bits.

D&D, DM Advice, Dungeons & Dragons, Roleplaying

Plastic Stands + Monster Tokens = Awesome

4E D&D is different from its forebears in many ways, perhaps none so much as the emphasis on tactical combat.  The battle map is a prerequisite for most combat encounters, and you need some way to keep track of player and monster movement.  For the Essentials products, which were my introduction to 4E, tokens are the primary method for doing this.  A huge variety of tokens are included in the Red Box, DM Kit, and Monster Vault.  You can easily run an entire campaign using only the tokens included in these boxed sets.

Though the tokens are great, I like to use miniatures whenever possible.  They are somewhat easier to use in battle, and they certainly add much to the game’s visual appeal.  The drawback is that they are far more expensive.  It would cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to purchase a collection of minis that could compete with the aforementioned set of tokens.  Most DMs don’t have the budget to do this, and so the typical D&D tabletop probably includes both miniatures and tokens.

This compromise is all well and good, but the fact is that the two don’t work together very well.  Minis are easiest to distinguish from the side, while tokens can be difficult to distinguish unless you look straight down at them.  Tokens can even be confused with small Dungeon Tiles features like braziers or barrels upon first glance.  If only there was a way to get those tokens standing upright so they were easily distinguished from map features and looked better standing next to miniatures…

Thankfully, there is.  I found a nifty little product at my friendly local game shop, the rather plainly titled “Plastic Stands” from Fantasy Flight Supply.

Included in this package are ten clear plastic stands that are the perfect size to hold your tokens upright.  The package cost around $4 at my game shop, which seems a bit expensive for what are, in essence, cheap little pieces of plastic.  On Amazon, they are a little more expensive. However, I found the cost well worth it, since the tokens look so much nicer when standing up this way.  The bases fit easily in a one inch square, just right for medium-sized tokens.

I used these stands in my last two sessions, and they were a big hit.  The art on the tokens looks great next to the miniatures.  I much prefer having a stand-up token representing a lizard man warrior instead of reusing the same miniatures that were, say, orcs last week.  We simply ignore the bloodied side of the tokens, and use the same mini hair clip condition markers we have for the miniatures.  The only drawback to the plastic stands is that the tokens don’t fit snugly on all of them, for whatever reason.  A bit of clear nail polish on the stand’s two tabs should solve this problem rather nicely (a good trick I picked up fixing loose joints on super hero action figures and Transformers).

You can, of course, fit in larger tokens if you wish.  Large sized tokens like the carrion crawler in the pictures are quite intimidating when standing upright.  The only issue with this is the stand doesn’t take up the full space of four squares.  Perhaps gluing a few of these clear stands to 2″ wooden disks from a craft supply store might be a good idea.  Huge tokens fit in the stands, too, but the base problem is even worse.  It seems most tokens I use regularly are medium sized, though, and the bases work perfectly for these.

I am very happy with using these clear plastic stands for tokens on my battlemaps.  It may seem like a small improvement, but it really makes a big difference in actual play.  The tokens are easier to move and blend in much nicer with standard miniatures.  If you can’t afford a huge library of miniatures, but want a more 3D appearance to your monsters and villains, tokens on plastic stands can work very nicely.

D&D, DM Advice, Dungeons & Dragons, Roleplaying

What I Learned from Collecting D&D Minis

4th Edition D&D, being more tactical in focus, uses tokens, miniatures, and the battle map to great effect.  The huge amount of tokens available in the Essentials DM Kit and Monster Vault is great, but I, like many other 4E fans, want to use miniatures in my campaign as often as possible.

The problem is, the D&D Minis line can be very, very expensive.  Buying a booster and hoping you get what you need is impractical and a poor use of funds.  It’s better to know exactly what you are getting, whether that means buying singles from a local shop or online store, or purchasing sets that include specific minis.

This guide is intended to help new DMs create a good collection of miniatures without breaking the bank.  The focus will be on minis that are first of all inexpensive, but secondly those that can fill many roles throughout your campaign.  Some consideration is given to minis that can be used in the first few adventures in the Essentials products: Reavers of Harkenwold and Cairn of the Winter King

D&D Board Game: Castle Ravenloft
There are 42 miniatures included in this game, which can be purchased for around $50.  This is an excellent deal, especially when you consider the otherwise very expensive large minis, like the Dracolich, included.  In addition to the minis, various tokens, tiles, and other bits useful in any D&D campaign are included.  The only downside is that the minis are not painted, but rather cast in one-color plastic.

Most of the monsters come in groups of three.  Here are the most useful minis from the Castle Ravenloft box.

  • Skeletons – probably the most common opponents your PCs will face
  • Zombies – not quite as common, but can stand in for ghouls, wights, other undead
  • Wraiths – can be any ghostly undead, stand in for Yisarn the skeletal mage
  • Spiders – widely useful in a variety of settings: jungles, caves, forests, etc.
  • Gargoyles – can represent many monsters, demons, even the spined devil
  • Wolves – very common in encounters, can also be hellhounds, iron defenders, etc.
  • Kobolds – classic low level creatures, the Red Box adventure uses them
  • Blazing Skeletons – look great, can represent fire elementals in a pinch

Additionally, there are several single minis that can represent PCs or important NPCs in the Essential adventures, such as Iron Circle Mages, Dark Adepts, Brutes, Bortek the barbarian, and the gnome illusionists.  The zombie dragon can be used as the young white dragon in Cairn of the Winter King. The Castle Ravenloft set is a great value for the miniatures alone.

D&D Board Game: Wrath of Ashardalon
This set, too, is a good value.  I think it is probably less useful for the standard campaign than its predecessor, due to the inclusion of strange creatures like grells and gibbering mouthers.  However, it’s still a great deal, with many fantastic miniatures for a good price.

  • Kobolds – you can never have enough of these critters
  • Orcs – most campaigns use orcs, and you get both ranged and melee versions
  • Duergar – probably most useful as regular dwarves
  • Cultists – highly useful for enemy mages, adepts, and other spellcasters
  • Legion Devils – can pass as tieflings
  • Snakes – found in all sorts of settings, can represent many creatures
  • Bears – moderately useful, can stand in for owlbears

The single minis in Wrath of Ashardalon are quite excellent.  The otyugh and rage drake look great and each are included in the Essentials adventures.  The unique orc, duergar, and kobold make good enemy bosses.  Add in the tiles and other bits, and you really get lots of bang for your buck with this game.

D&D Minis Starter Set
If monocolor minis aren’t your thing, you’re going to pay a bit more for each mini.  I found the D&D Minis Starter Set at for around $10.  It comes with five painted minis, as well as two poster-sized battle maps.  One side of one map was repeated in the Red Box, so keep that in mind.  However, the jungle temple, flooded ruins, and dwarven outpost maps are very nice and add to the value of the set.

The five minis include dwarf and human armored males, as well as a female elf spellcaster.  I used the human fighter as Nazin Redthorn in the Reavers of Harkenwold, and the elf as the illusionary form of the gnomes in Cairn of the Winter King.  A large green dragon and a yuan-ti are also included.  The dragon is very nicely sculpted.  These two are not as useful, in my opinion.  Still, five minis, including a normally expensive dragon, as well as the excellent maps make the D&D Minis Starter set a good purchase.

Buying Single Miniatures
As I said before, blind-buying booster boxes isn’t a very frugal idea.  As long as you stick to common and uncommon rarities, the online prices for singles can be very reasonable.  I recommend and as well as Ebay. Here’s a list of some of the best values I found as I expanded my collection.  Keep in mind I was trying to fill specific needs for the Essentials adventures, and also generic figures I could use often in the future.

  • Frost Titan – a gorgeous sculpt, huge in size, with excellent transparency effects.  It makes a fine Winter King, and as of this writing is available for a mere $6 at cool
  • Doomdreamer – I used these for Ravide the Black, Iron Circle Dark Adepts, and of course they make great cultists of Orcus and that sort of thing as well.
  • Sharn Redcloak – Can be used for Iron Circle minions with ranged weapons
  • Orc Terrorblade  – a very nice sculpt and reasonably priced
  • Urthok the Vicious – A great mini, makes a nice champion for any monstrous race
  • Wrackspawn – creepy aberrant or undead monsters, very gross and totally cheap
  • Harmonium Guard – great Iron Circle thugs, generic enough for lots of future use

There are, of course, many other options out there.  The key is to find minis that are generic enough to represent many specific types of creatures, or those that are very common in your campaign.  It’s nice to have the perfect mini for every occasion, but you’ll be spending hundreds of dollars in a hurry if you take that route.  Splurge and buy a $10 – $20 single every once in a while if you like, but spend most of your budget on generic bad guys, and you’ll have a larger, more useful collection that will serve your campaign needs well for a long time to come.