D&D Miniatures01/17/2008


D&D Miniatures Battle Rules
A Designer's Overview on the New Rulebook




This week, I'm proud to provide you with a first look at the new Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures Game. We've reworked the game from the ground up, building on the solid core while updating play to bring it in line with the upcoming D&D 4th Edition rules.

We didn't sit in our ivory tower and make "our" game without external feedback. The D&D Miniatures rulebook was effectively the first 4th Edition product to go to print, which prevented us from using an extensive list of external playtesters. Nevertheless, I was able to get an early copy of the rulebook into the hands of two small groups of avid DDM players and judges, so they could look for issues or inconsistencies. I'd like to point out and thank those individuals who helped -- Guy Fullerton, Mike Derry, Louis Sacha, Dwayne Stupack, Jason Lioi, and Paul Grasshoff. At GenCon last August, I sequestered these fine gentlemen (and Jason) and provided them with a hardcopy of an early rulebook draft. Through discussion and playtest, they were able to help make the rulebook the best it could be.

We started putting together the new rules well over a year ago, revising the faction makeup and evaluating each rule of the War Drums-era D&D Miniatures game. The first cut of the rulebook is nearly a year old. It has continued to evolve since then as we honed the rules (and as the rules of D&D 4th Edition evolved).

When I first tried to teach my D&D players how to play the DDM game, I kept running into hurdles. There were points in teaching the game where I felt a bit like the kid who is making up rules as he goes along or keeping key rules from opponents until it is least beneficial to remind them. "Now for morale saves" … "you have to shoot at the closest guy" … "there's no 5-foot step in minis" … "your wizard can only cast touch spells now." Each rule was unexpected by the player who was otherwise familiar with how D&D combat works. We streamlined some of the rules to smooth the learning curve for existing D&D players and to make the game easier to learn for brand new players.

We also wanted the game to run even more smoothly in the tournament environment, whether that's the casual round-robin played at home or at your LGS, or when it's the National Championship at GenCon. We wanted more cool creatures on the board, but more minis meant we needed ways to speed up the game. We focused on the concept of "player control" -- when it's a player's turn, he shouldn't need to wait for his opponent to resolve an action. That meant reducing the instances where the game's focus shifts to the opponent during a player's turn. We wanted to reduce the overall effect of one random die roll in a game but retain the element of luck that is part of D&D combat.

With all of that in mind, here are some highlights of the changes:

Initiative

Many games come down to a final die roll, especially between evenly matched players. Too often, this roll in the old DDM game was the initiative roll on the final round. The players spend turn after turn generating points at relatively equal rates, until the round arrives in which the final points will be scored. Whoever goes first in that round will likely win the game, making the last initiative roll the most significant die roll of the match. That's primarily because the player who acts first can immediately bring two creatures to bear on his opponent.

In the new game, the first player to act in a round can activate only one creature on his first turn. Then the players alternate with the familiar two activations per player turn. Winning initiative and going first can still provide a winning advantage, but it isn't as powerful as it once was. This also subtly changes activation control. Now, a player who wants to have the final activation of an early round may actually want to win initiative and go first, assuming equal numbers of activations between sides.

We've also shaken up the value of having a high champion rating (champions occupy the space previously held by commanders). You'll no longer add anything to your initiative roll. Instead, it's a straight d20 roll. The player with the highest active champion rating gets to roll twice for initiative and take the best result.

Morale/Routing

One of the biggest disconnects between the D&D game and the D&D Minis game has been the element of command and routing. These are fine wargame concepts, but they don't quite align with typical D&D combat. Sure, opponents might become afraid or run away, but morale checks and immediate moves were rules that didn't sit well with prospective minis players who were otherwise familiar with D&D combat. Of course, I remember when every monster entry had a Morale entry -- 2nd Edition AD&D contained morale rules, but I don't remember any game where we actually used them.

Not only was morale hard for new players to grasp (primarily players familiar with D&D but not wargames), it also led to another key roll that could throw even a seasoned player's game. When 100 points of a warband routs off the table in an early round because it failed a morale save (that required a roll of only 3 or better!), it affects the game in a negative way. I've watched games where a player wanted his creature to rout because that would ensure a win -- if the creature stood its ground, it would be attacked again and eliminated. This sort of backward approach to winning isn't what we want the game to be about.

Now, all your creatures will stay and fight as long as they live or you want them to, because we've removed the morale rules entirely from the game. The half-hit point threshold is still relevant, as a creature at half hit points or lower gains the "bloodied" state. That might make it more vulnerable to certain attacks, but it also might recharge some of the creature's abilities or give it access to a special attack or defense.

Movement and Shifting

Like D&D, we've added the Shift option for movement. When a creature shifts, it moves one square and doesn't provoke opportunity attacks. It's handy when your ranged attacker gets based by a big beater, because you can use one move action to shift away, and then use your attack to shoot the beater or even trade your attack action for a move action and move further away. As a result, fights become much more mobile, with a lot of tactical movement and jockeying for position.

Attack Actions

On its turn, each creature gets an attack action and a move action. Each creature has a list of attacks that require an attack action. Sometimes, an attack action might involve multiple attacks, as in the following example:

Cascade of Steel: +14 vs AC; 25 Damage AND immediately make this attack again (maximum 4 per turn)

At other times, that attack action could also include other effects, such as movement:

Death from Above: Move up to 6 squares as if with Flight and then attack adjacent target, +11 vs AC; 10 Damage AND ongoing 10 poison damage

In both cases, the entire effect is encapsulated within the attack action -- the creature can still use its move action to move its speed or shift, before or after the attack action.

We're using icons for the different types of attacks, to indicate the type of attack:

Melee Ranged Close Area

In addition, when your creature uses an offensive ability, it usually makes an attack roll instead of requiring the opponent to make a saving throw. This means that, when its your turn, you no longer need to wait for your opponent to roll a save and add a level stat and then ask you what the DC was. Instead, you roll your attack and compare it to the target's defense or AC number. It's a minor change but one that will have a positive impact on speed of play.

Ranged Attacks While Threatened

In the previous game, a spellcaster or ranged attacker couldn't cast a spell or make a ranged attack if based by an enemy. We've changed this as well. In the new rules, a creature with a Ranged or Area power provokes opportunity attacks for using those powers but can still use them anyway.

Targeting

Targeting is also relaxed. If you don't want your champion to be hit by a fireball or a wayward arrow, then he'd better stay out of line of sight. There's no longer a general rule stating that only the nearest opponent can be targeted. Instead, each ranged power indicates its range, and only powers that say "nearest" have the nearest-enemy restriction. Area powers that drop radius-bursts can originate from any square in range and line of sight.

It's a careful balance to make sure that ranged attacks don't dominate the game, but without morale rules, even the infamous first-turn fireball isn't nearly as game-changing as it once was.

Champion Powers

Commander effects have been replaced with champion powers. Some creatures still have aura-like special powers reminiscent of commander effects, such as:

Aura of Radiance: Allies within 5 squares get +5 radiant damage to attacks.

Champion powers are where we can put "meta" game effects. These are rules elements which recognize that this is a game between two humans pushing around pieces. Some champion powers allow simple effects, such as giving +2 to attack some enemy, but they can also allow rerolls, grant bonus damage on an attack that just hit, or mess around with victory points. Here are some samples from Dungeons of Dread:

  • Spend 10 VP, this creature heals 40 HP
  • Use when any creature's attack roll is natural 16+. For the rest of that round, your warband gets +4 attack.
  • Use before you roll for initiative. This round, Evil allies score criticals against Bloodied targets on attack rolls of natural 16+
  • Use before taking your first turn of a round. The player whose warband destroys the highest cost enemy this round scores +15 VP.

It's On the Card

We've encapsulated the rules for each mini on its own card. There are no hidden resistances or special abilities (aside from undead and constructs not being "living" creatures); it's all on the card. There's no obscure targeting; it's all on the card. If you wonder when you can use certain abilities; it's -- well, you get the idea. You'll still need the rulebook to remind yourself the first few times what each of the conditions might do, but we've tried to make each card as self-contained as possible. This also means that the complexity of individual cards has been reduced. I'm sure at some point we'll do another Beholder, and its card might be a tad more complex, but in general, each game piece should be pretty easy to understand and play.

I'm excited about the new game. It'll be out soon. The new rulebook is now available online, and soon you'll be able to download brand-new stat cards for all of the creatures in the Desert of Desolation set from last November. The new starter will be available in April. It includes new maps as well as the rulebook, and it's in a clear plastic package, so you can see exactly what minis you are getting (all starter sets have the same five minis). Stay tuned here, because we'll be showing off minis from the Dungeons of Dread expansion soon. I'm sure plenty of reports will filter back from the D&D Experience convention in March, where we're holding a Prerelease (or two) for the new set.

And remember, all Desert of Desolation creatures will appear in the 4th edition D&D Monster Manual, and you'll be able to download their updated stats for the new D&D Miniatures rules in January 2008! Get More at D&D Insider!

About the Author
Stephen Schubert works in RPG/Minis R&D as Lead Developer for the D&D Miniatures game and as Developer on the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons.
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