D&D Miniatures11/16/2006

The Power Box
Introduction to Design 07

As you might expect, the Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures Game encompasses all of D&D, from the weakest kobold to the most powerful dragon. Yet achieving that range can be a tricky business.

In the D&D ropleplaying game, it doesn't matter that the weakest kobold is absolutely no threat to the aspect of Vecna. Indeed, the game benefits from the player characters' ability to gain power and leave opponents in the dust. That aspect of D&D presents a problem for miniatures. We don't want a whole host of miniatures to be rendered worthless as soon as a powerful mini hits the table. Thus, D&D miniatures fall into what I call the power box.

Horned DevilThe power box is the range that a miniature's statistics must fall into in order to be a playable piece in the game. In a non-epic game, AC rarely exceeds 25, few figures have more than 125 hit points, and damage rarely gets up to 25. That means that D&D's enormous range of power has to be squished together. Creatures like kobolds set the bottom of the range, and thus they also set the top of the range that more powerful creatures must get pushed under to fit.

Perhaps the simplest way to understand the concept is looking at the issue through point cost. If the game is played with 200 points and no miniature in your army can be more than 140 points, that means the range of points is 1 to 140. When the 140-point miniature hits the table, we want most miniatures in the game to be viably able to hit it or make the saves for its abilities. A 20 being an automatic success relieves some of the pressure, but the game is better off if as few miniatures as possible are forced into such situations. Epic play also loosens the constraints by opening up the range to higher numbers, but it accomplishes this at the expense of making a huge number of miniatures not worth bringing to an Epic game.

Ice DevilThe power box problem reared its head during the design of Blood Wars. The set contains both the Ice Devil and the Horned Devil. Their RPG stats are fairly dissimilar -- so much so that one is CR 13 and the other is CR 16 -- but their skirmish stats ended up nearly identical before development. To understand the root of the power-box problem in this case, I need to digress a bit to discuss the Balor.

The Balor had been designed in Underdark to fit in the power box in a particular manner. Of course, the Balor is a demon, but the Pit Fiend (the most powerful devil in the Monster Manual) is also in Blood Wars. The Balor and the Pit Fiend have the same CR and should be comparable in the minis game (and also, we just thought it would be neat if the Pit Fiend and Balor could go toe-toe), which means the Balor is effectively setting the bar for the Ice Devil and Horned Devil at the top end. The existence of the Barbed Devil from Angelfire further hems in the beleaguered infernals, setting the lower limits of the box because it is a weaker devil than both the Ice Devil and Horned Devil.

So let's see how big a range the power box gave me:

Level 10 10
Hit Points 125 125
AC 23 20
Melee Attack +18 +16/+16
Melee Damage 15 20 magic + Vicious Attack/ 10 magic + 5 fire

As you can see, there's barely any room between the statistics at all, and in one respect, the Barbed Devil is better than the Balor. So I did my best to tinker with the numbers for the Pit Fiend, Ice Devil, and Horned Devil and get something of the right power range for the creatures.

Barbed DevilWhen the rubber hit the road, the development team looked at their similarity and pulled them apart. Keenly aware of both the power box and the statistics of the minis already in the game, the developers decided (rightly so) that mimicking the power of creatures in the RPG was less important than providing for interesting options and play in the skirmish game. In addition to game play being more important than mimicry, the Pit Fiend, Ice Devil, and Horned Devil all have epic cards with statistics that allow for greater range, allowing for better mimicry of the RPG.

Tell Me What You Think

I sometimes feel as if working within the power box to mimic RPG power levels causes more problems than it's worth. I wonder if it would be better if we could treat miniatures more abstractly, trying to capture the spirit of the D&D creature but ignoring its specific RPG statistics. Then, if we wanted to make a kobold that was a threat to a beholder, it would be easy.

What do you think? How much does it matter to you to have the skirmish statistics of a miniature match its RPG statistics? Let me know!

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