Team Interview with Jonathan Tweet, Michael Donais, Rob Heinsoo, Stacy Longstreet, and Mary Elizabeth Allen
In this exclusive interview, the team behind the latest Miniatures expansion set, Giants of Legend, discuss what it takes to make the game Huge and how fans have helped get it to the size it is today.
Wizards of the Coast: Bringing twelve Huge creatures to the table must have required a certain amount of debate about which ones to include and which ones to leave for future sets. How did you decide what goes in?
Jonathan Tweet: We wanted to give players a range of Huge creatures from the classic and recognizable to the new and unusual.
Michael Donais: And we weren't sure how long it would be before we could do another Huge set, so we tried to put a lot of really cool minis in this set. The two dragons and the two giants are creatures that all GMs want. We also included a lot of the Huges that really say D&D, like the Treant, Bullette, and Glabrezu.
Rob Heinsoo: As Mike and Jonathan have suggested, we wanted to start by givingpeople some of the classic D&D monsters, particularly since we've been thinking of Giants of Legend as D&D's 30th anniversary set.
Mary Elizabeth Allen: Exactly. So while folks will recognize some of the tried-and-true D&D monsters such as dragons and giants, they also get a taste of the all-new Eberron setting in the Warforged Titan. By including both the classic and the new, it celebrates the 30th anniversary milestone while showing that D&D will always have more to offer.
Wizards of the Coast: What do each of you bring to the table as a new set comes to life? What are your roles, what's the process, what's the schedule like? Who else is involved bringing it all together?
Jonathan: I helped define how the Huge packs are configured and what goes into them. As a design manager, I balance business realities with the needs of the game. I also support Rob and the other people working directly on the set. I help them get the time and resources they need to do all the cool things they do. For example, I make a point of answering questions for online interviews so that Rob can spend less time on his own answers and more time finishing art orders.
Rob: Well, I just finished the art order. As lead designer, I set the tone for each expansion's theme by choosing the set lists, with an eye toward supporting both skirmish battles and the RPG. I write the art order describing each mini, which goes over to the art director, Stacy Longstreet. Then I design the minis, either by starting with D&D RPG stats and evoking them for the skirmish or starting with special abilities and effects we want in the skirmish system and tailoring creatures to match. I usually start by figuring out the commander effects and playable warband types that will be supported by the new set, aiming to make fun and powerful creatures and warband twists for every faction. On many sets, Rob Watkins, the Star Wars minis designer, helps by statting out some of the class-level player character types. Sometimes the initial design works out, other times it has to be redone, either because the art is cool and different from what we expected, or because the development process run by Mike Donais uncovers problems or comes up with better ways to keep factions distinct and gameplay interesting. I usually help develop the sets as a half-member of Mike's development team, coming up with some of the solutions for questions I got wrong the first time. And when the development team is satisfied with what we've got, Rob Watkins, Jonathan Tweet, and Jennifer Clarke-Wilkes help finish off the details of the RPG cards, checking or completing the D&D RPG stats before the set leaves development to go to Jennifer when she's wearing her editor hat.
Michael: I am the lead developer on the set. That means I and my team of developers go over all of the minis and tune them to be more understandable and to play smoothly. We make sure it appeals to each type of audience and that each faction is represented. We also cost all of the minis and make sure that enough of them have cool stuff going on.
Mary Elizabeth: As brand manager, I'm tasked with setting the strategic direction of each expansion set (and the Miniatures line as a whole). To do so, I work with every team involved in the process of creating and selling a miniature, from R&D and Production to Finance and Sales, to pull together their feedback and set a course of action. I'm a touchpoint for information, for both the entire Miniatures team as well as upper management. I work with outside business partners and our PR team to further the market breadth of the product line, and I'm responsible for writing and executing marketing plans for every set. All this while keeping us under budget and helping wherever I can to make sure our fans get the best product they can!
Stacy Longstreet: As the art director, it is my job to assign various artists to sketch the miniature, both front side and back. Based on the character/monster, I decide which artists will do the best job capturing the "essence" of that particular creature. The artists usually have about eight weeks to present first a rough sketch and then a final sketch based on feedback.
The final sketches are sent to our sculptors, who turn the two-dimentional art into 3-D sculpts. I work closely with the sculptors, fine-tuning the sculpts, which are then tooled and molded for final plastic production.
After we approve the initial sculpts, I receive samples that I give to various painters to create the paint master that the production house will follow. The painters usually have only ten to fourteen days to complete the painted samples. And that is doing two of each model! One will get sent out for production and one is kept in-house as a reference.
Wizards of the Coast: I'm sure each of you has favorite figures from Giants of Legend -- there are some true classics in here, and the designs are spectacular. What figures are each of you especially fond of?
Jonathan: The Huge Red Dragon has a special place in my heart. In my D&D campaign, I used it for the PCs' nemesis, and it handed the party one of its very few defeats.
Rob: I love the Young Master, because the sculpt is wonderful and because his commander effect creates a fun, new warband type, all monks.I also like the wonkiness of the Lich Necromancer, and its sculpt turned out well. All the Huges are great, but I'm particularly fond of the two dragons and the Fomorian. The Frost Giant and the Fire Giant are great sculpts. I'm really happy with the fourcommanders that we drew from many appearances in various incarnations of the D&D game: Lord Soth, Mordenkainen, Lareth the Beautiful, and King Snurre. They're good-looking minis, and between them they've got everything from raw power to chaotic randomness. As commanders, they're each capable of defining a warband.
Mary Elizabeth: My favorites are: 1) the Behir, because it literally took my breath away seeing that something so complicated can also look that good, and that we used such brilliant shades of blue; 2) the Bullette--that metallic paint is so striking; and 3) I agree with Rob that the Fire Giant came off really well overall.
Michael: Of the huges, I like the Gold Dragon the best. Of the non-Huges I was very happy to see Lord Soth because of his history. He turned out great. The Quasit is also a favorite of mine because he is our first Tiny-size mini.
Stacy: My favorites in this set are the Huge Gold Dragon and the Behir. They just look really COOL!
Wizards of the Coast: Does this set introduce any new rules or rules concepts? How about creature abilities? The Lich Necromancer seems to have required some special attention.
Michael: Each set introduces something new, either new commander effects or new spells or some creatures that cannot be captured without creating a new ability. These are the abilities that we have to test the most during development, and they often change so that we end up with something that is both fun and interesting to play.
Rob: Like Mike said, we bring new abilities into every set. This time around, I'm fond of the humble Dire Rat. It's not only a common mini that RPG players are going to want lots of, it's a common mini with a Pack Hunter ability that lets it operate without a commander if it has a lot of other Dire Rats with it.
Jonathan: The Otyugh introduces the Constrict ability. The Otyugh can make enemy creatures lose their next turns when it hits them, and anything that gives me an excuse to put an Otyugh on the table is a good thing.
Wizards of the Coast:Amidst all these Huge creatures comes one Tiny one, a Quasit. What was the design philosophy behind including the Quasit in this particular expansion?
Jonathan: The quasit is a classic monster, and we wanted good, classic monsters and characters in this set.
Michael: We also wanted something that people could use to represent various Tiny-size creatures. And we wanted to know how Tiny-size creatures would turn out. This set was particularly well suited to including a Tiny creature because when you get a Huge in every pack you won't feel bad about getting something small. Now that we know we can do Tiny miniatures, it gives us more options in the future.
Wizards of the Coast: I see on the checklist that there are some restrictions in Organized Play as to the use of Huge creatures. Can you outline the specifics of these restrictions and the reasoning behind them?
Jonathan: The Huges operate on a power level that puts them in a league of their own. We wanted to release mega-powerful miniatures because those are part of the D&D universe, but we didn't want skirmish players to have their leagues and tournaments redefined by the arrival of Huges. For example, 100-point and 200-point warbands are standard in tournaments, but many of the Huges are over 200 points themselves. Even for Huges that are theoretically playable in standard tournaments, their size alone means that they don't interact well with the terrain that's designed for creatures of size Large and smaller.
To give players a way to play Huges while keeping the standard tournaments on their own scale, we created a parallel tournament format with 500-point warbands and special terrain rules.
Michael: Huge creatures have two problems in organized play. One is that they cannot manuever well on the battlefield. Terrain hinders them too much. The game was designed for Large minis but not Huges. We are printing up a full-color poster map for use with Huge minis. People playing in certain OP leagues or in one of our Giants of Legends release events will get one at the event. The second problem is that Huges are way more powerful than normal miniatures. There is no place on the battlefield for a 300-point mini when you have minis that cost 3 points. We set their costs carefully but that doesn't really solve the problem. They are fun to play because of their sheer might, but I have been sticking to games with no Huges for the most part, and I expect many other people will, too.
Wizards of the Coast: What's been fan reaction to the miniatures expansions in the past? Does fan feedback help determine where you go next, what you include or don't include in a particular set, or how often you schedule releases? Are there particular creatures, Huge or otherwise, that fans clamor for?
Jonathan: We constantly read the boards here on the Wizards website as well as meeting fans at tournaments and conventions. We take fan feedback seriously, and some upcoming miniatures are entirely the result of specific fan suggestions. The two creatures I've seen the most demand for are the gelatinous cube and Meepo, the kobold from Sunless Citadel.
Rob: Happily, a lot of the time fans want things that we already have in the works, since we're working on releases that are many months away. It's hard to keep quiet in these cases -- you want to say, "Hey, good news, we're doing it!" Other times, fans suggest things we haven't thought of already. I can think of at least five times that a fan suggestion made me take a mini out of an art order and replace it with something closer to the fan's idea.
Mary Elizabeth: Just to echo what Rob and Jonathan stated, yes, fan feedback is key. There will always be a fan looking for that one particular mini that we haven't released yet! Overall, feedback on D&D minis has been very positive. It's particularly cool that as we've been working to improve the quality of our miniatures with each set, our fans have noticed and let us know about it.
Michael: We read the forums and we often talk about what the fans want. Fan feedback effects what goes in a set. Sometimes fans just give ideas of what they like or don't like but in one or two cases they created a long petition to get a certain mini into the game!
Wizards of the Coast: What's the next expansion on the horizon that players can look forward to? And are there more Huge creatures in design?
Mary Elizabeth: The next expansion set is Aberrations, which as you can infer from the name will have very cool, bizarre creatures -- and some awesome new heroes -- from all parts of D&D, Forgotten Realms, and Eberron. That expansion releases in October.