D&D Miniatures
Introduction to Design
What? No Preview?
by Stephen Schubert

What? No preview?

As an addition to your weekly dose of previews for the upcoming War of the Dragon Queen set (and sets beyond), DDM Designer Matt Sernett and I will fill you in on some of the behind-the-scenes action that takes place when designing and developing an expansion for the D&D Miniatures Game.

Who are you, you might ask, to be telling us such things? I'm the lead developer for the DDM game. I've been working with the D&D Miniatures team for nearly two years as part of my duties as a developer for RPG/Minis R&D. I've also worked on quite a few D&D products that have been released over the past year (the first was Heroes of Battle as a co-designer) plus a number of books still to come, including Monster Manual IV and Tome of Battle.

The Development Process

In its journey through R&D, a D&D Miniatures expansion goes through a design phase and a development phase (followed by editing). In the previous article in this series, Matt alluded to the general nature of the design step, which includes generating the initial set list, kicking off the art (sketch/sculpt/paint) process, coming up with new abilities, and so on. I'm involved to varying degrees during that design phase. The bulk of my involvement, however, happens during the dev' cycle, when I lead a team of developers in examining each new mini and new ability in the set.

During the dev' cycle, we

  • look at new rules being introduced in the set to examine their utility, and we discuss whether they capture the flavor of the mini or its faction;
  • set the point cost of each mini;
  • build warbands and look for synergies with other minis both within the set and in previous sets;
  • look at how minis relate to other minis of the same power level, and examine the faction balance within the set;
  • playtest the minis, and lead a wider playtesting effort involving other minis players from within R&D and the rest of the company.

Through the entire process, we work to refine each miniature. We create new skirmish abilities, delete existing ones, adjust the point costs, select spells, and modify the stats. Essentially, we work to make sure that each miniature becomes a reasonable game piece for the D&D Miniatures skirmish game. We also look at the language and rules effects of the spells and abilities in an effort to prevent confusion about how an ability might work.

Earth Shugenja sans sanctuaryOccasionally, a spell or ability may end up detracting from gameplay or be too powerful. For example, the Earth Shugenja from the Underdark set came into development with sanctuary as a 1st level spell and, as a sorcerer, could cast the spell up to seven times. With the typical tournament game expected to last around seven rounds, it meant that this mini could be key in point denial strategy and was a very cheap counter to the Marut -- an expected strong LG figure from the same set. Through the development cycle, after many games where sanctuary proved to be the difference between winning and losing, we eventually decided to cut the spell from the mini.

When working through all of these steps, I try to keep in mind how the minis will be played. I examine the optimal strategy for using a given mini or warband and how the new minis help evolve the game, considering not only the state of the game that people currently play but the game they will be playing one or two sets down the road.

Eventually we arrive at what we think are the 60 best minis for a set. These are the ones that the team believes best capture the set's theme, have the most interesting abilities, and are generally what we think are the coolest minis from the initial design turnover. The majority of these minis are the ones you see in an expansion, though occasionally a handful might slip out because of art-related issues.

As this article series continues, we'll shed more light on some of our processes, perhaps even sharing with you the nigh-Byzantine 'formulae' used to generate a mini's point cost. We'll talk about maps how we make them. We'll discuss the role of commander effects and other special abilities in the scope of the greater game. We'll answer some of your questions that have shown up on message boards or through our feedback email. We hope you'll find insight into the work we do on this game we love.

About the Author

Stephen Schubert is a Developer with RPG/Minis R&D and is the lead developer for D&D Miniatures starting with 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!

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