In late 2004, the designers and developers of the Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures Game began looking for ways to improve it beyond simply adding new figures with each set. We studied every aspect of the game, from the way it was played at a high level during the 2004 championships to the way new players approached the game in focus groups.
Our investigation revealed several key points. For instance, some aspects of the game were difficult for newcomers to understand, and these detracted from the initial experience. In other cases, certain aspects of the rules decreased the amount of time spent actually playing the game (moving figures and rolling dice) during timed tournament matches, and their negative effect outweighed their contribution.
In response, we modified the core rules of the game to better suit the needs of both the novice player and the tournament competitor. The following changes are incorporated into the D&D Miniatures Game Advanced Rules booklet which will be packed in the War Drums Starter Set (or you can download it here).
The new rulebook incorporates errata from the previous rulebook. It's been cleaned up and clarified, and some abilities have been simplified. For example, Incorporeal now calls on the attacking player to roll 11+ to hit an incorporeal creature -- the same procedure that's used for Conceal and Spell Resistance. A creature with Vulnerable ENERGY now simply takes double damage from that energy type.
Assault format is now the standard format for the D&D Miniatures Game. It serves its purpose well, encouraging early engagement while providing tactical goals beyond simply killing the opposing force. In this format, you gain victory points each round if you occupy a designated victory area.
War Drums introduces pre-printed battlemaps as the default terrain type. In reviewing tournament matches, we found that skilled players might spend ten to fifteen minutes optimally placing their tiles. Many players were quite good at doing so, and in some cases, the game could be lost by a mistake during tile placement. While we appreciate the skill needed to master tile placement, we'd rather have tournament games focus on maneuvering and attacking with your warband. By using battlemaps, setup can be completed within a few minutes, increasing the average length of a timed game by one round or more.
In addition, maps remove a barrier for new players, who can focus on learning how to best use their minis instead of spending time learning to do something that, while important, isn't nearly as exciting as moving and fighting with the miniatures.
Finally, maps just looks better on the table. Increasing the visual appeal of the game can only lead to more players and thus a stronger tournament scene.
The new Starter Set comes with four maps (two map sheets), and maps from the Fantastic Locations products are also usable in skirmish play.
Another significant change is the reduction of the maximum warband size from 12 to 8. Our observations indicated that in tournament games, many players were filling out their warbands with four to six minis costing just 3 to 5 points. Their primary purpose was controlling activations. Fodder would usually attack fodder or act as a screen for more powerful figures. Those small battles took time away from the 'meat' without significantly affecting the outcome one way or another. This increased the length of time a round took to complete. By reducing activations to eight, warband builders have more freedom to build interesting warbands because they aren't forced to spend 12-20 points just getting sufficient activations. This change also makes low-activation warbands more competitive, which increases the variety of effective warbands. Together with potentially adding an additional round's worth of play in a timed game, the warband size limit reduction is a definite improvement.
Difficulty Rushing at Speed 2
Finally, some rules weren't changed so much as omitted. These were rules that confused new players without adding much to the game. The culprits -- speed 2 when out of command, the Difficult ability, and the rushing rules.
The Speed 2 rule didn't make sense to new players, unnecessarily slowed the game, and made commander assassination followed by a full retreat a winning strategy (not much fun, in our eyes). Starting with War Drums, that rule is eliminated. Out-of-command creatures retain their full speed.
The Difficult special ability is still in the glossary but no longer works the way it used to. The rules now state, "This creature can be put under command only by a commander whose Commander rating is equal to or greater than this creature's Difficult rating." No more forced rushing. Which brings us to Rushing -- with the change to Difficult and the removal of the Speed 2 rule, there's no need for the Rush rule to exist anymore. If you don't know what the Rush rule was, it doesn't matter, because it doesn't exist anymore!
We're confident that that these changes will make it easier for new players to join in the fun and will encourage more action at tournaments and league nights. We've been working with these rules internally for quite a while, and we all agree that they represent a change for the better. I'll be at Winter Fantasy as you read this, but please feel free to discuss these changes on our message boards. I may chime in after I get back.
Next week, the last War Drums preview will pull the shroud away from your last sneak peek before the release.
About the Author
Stephen Schubert is a Developer with RPG/Minis R&D and is the lead developer for D&D Miniatures starting with next July's War of the Dragon Queen. He's also helped develop many exciting upcoming D&D products, including Player's Handbook II, Monster Manual IV, Tome of Magic, and Tome of Battle!