Designers' Roundtable
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D&D Chainmail
Designers' Roundtable

By Jesse Decker




D&D Chainmail is only months away from the gaming public, and here at Wizards of the Coast it's on everyone's mind. As the first parts of the game near the end of the design phase, we talked with Creative Director Chris Pramas, game designer Jonathan Tweet, and painter Jason Soles about the new game, their favorite units, and all things miniature!

Wizards of the Coast: What, in your opinion, defines a good miniatures game?

Jonathan Tweet: Like any other good game, it should play fast and reward tactical play. Plus, great-looking miniatures are a big part of the fun.

Chris Pramas: I like games that are fast-playing and tactical. Epic games certainly have their place, but most people don't have whole weekends they can set aside to run battles. I also like games with intuitive systems that require a minimum of page flipping. When I'm playing my game, I want to play my game.

And rules are only part of the equation. A good minis game must have good minis to go with it!

Wizards: Press releases and other company announcements have billed D&D Chainmail as a skirmish game. What's a skirmish game?

Jonathan: In a skirmish game, you control a small number of models, usually each with special abilities. That's different from a mass battle game, in which you have lots of combatants, most of whom are "standard."

Chris: What, you didn't read my essay explaining what a minis game is? I'm hurt.

A skirmish game recreates small-scale battles. We're talking a couple dozen combatants, not hundreds. Mass battle games often have a scale where one miniature represents 10 or more actual soldiers. In a skirmish game, each mini is actually one soldier or monster. Skirmish games are attractive because they play quickly and have a low buy-in cost.

Wizards: Why a skirmish game rather than larger-scale battles?

Jonathan: Since the D&D game is all about weird creatures and powerful individuals, a skirmish format is a good match. It's also easier to get started with a skirmish game because you have fewer models to get and prepare.

Chris: Mass battle games have a high barrier to entry. To really play, you must be willing to spend several hundred dollars right away. We're leading off our minis games effort with a skirmish game because we want to give people an affordable way to see what minis games have to offer.

Wizards: What were the main design goals for D&D Chainmail?

Jonathan: We had the same design goals that we had with the new D&D game, to make a fast, streamlined game that played up D&D's cool features. And as with our trading card games, we wanted a game that rewarded various strategies and styles of play.

Chris: D&D Chainmail is the D&D skirmish game, so first and foremost that game had to feel like D&D. That meant ensuring that signature spells and monsters appeared in the game and, of course, implementing the core d20 mechanic. That said, we were keenly aware that D&D Chainmail had to stand on its own as a great minis game.

Wizards: How did that affect design, development, and playtesting?

Chris: While we started with the new D&D rules as a baseline, there were many instances where we altered the rules to better suit miniatures play. For instance, hit points and weapon damage in D&D are divided by 5 in the minis game, so a D&D dwarf with 10 hit points and a short sword has 2 Health points and inflicts 1 damage point in D&D Chainmail. This makes combat flow faster and ensures you don't spend more time record-keeping than actually playing.

Wizards: What's your background in miniatures gaming?

Chris: Perhaps fittingly, my miniatures gaming career began with 1st edition Battlesystem in the early eighties. I had been collecting minis to use in my roleplaying games for several years, and the idea of running huge battles with them was exciting. When I was a kid, I had set up giant battles with Airfix HO scale figs, but we just made up rules on the fly. Battlesystem had the advantage of building off AD&D, which I was very familiar with. But since the rules didn't appeal to me, I didn't stick with it very long. I soon started to branch out and try other systems, and all the while I continued to expand my minis collection. My girlfriend loves to remind people that our first apartment together had boxes of minis in the kitchen cupboard. What can I say -- it was a small place!

Jason Soles: I have a pretty extensive background with minis gaming. Back in 1988, I purchased my first White Dwarf magazine and was hooked. After school I began painting demo models for a couple chain game stores. Later on, I was hired by Wizards to paint life-size statues for the Wizards game stores that were just starting to open up at the time. When we sent that work out of house, I was moved back to painting miniatures where I've been ever since. Over the years, I have also done some freelance painting, including a number of Demonblade's Gwar figures.

Wizards: What games have you played and enjoyed?

Chris: Oh, my -- quite a few. I played a lot of Warhammer Fantasy Battle in college, starting with 2nd edition. This led me to try most of Games Workshop’s games through the years: 40K, Space Hulk, Epic, Necromunda, Mordheim, and so on. The GW stuff taught me the importance of setting, especially the creation of engaging factions.

I've tried many of the other fantasy games that have come down the pipe as well, such as Grenadier's Fantasy Warriors, the Rules According to Ral, and later Chronopia. Fantasy Warriors isn't much remembered now, but it had some neat rules like pre-battle omens. It was also the first game I remember coming in a big box with a bunch of plastic minis, though unfortunately the minis weren't all that good.

Then, of course, you've got your giant robot games. I only dabble in these, but I've played Battletech, Adeptes Titanicus, and the like. There's a new game out called Ronin that looks pretty interesting, though, and I may give that a try.

I buy and read many historical minis games, but I don't actually play them very much (partly because I lack opponents and partly because there are so many different basing systems that it's hard to use the same figs for different games). Still, it's always good to see what different designers are doing with rules, so my shelf has a lot games like DBM, Brother Against Brother, Hack, Spearhead, and so on. I've been looking for a good WWII skirmish to go with the armies I've been building, but I haven't found a game to my taste yet. I may just have to design that some time.

Jason: When I was a lot younger, I started off playing microarmor tank-to-tank wargames. Later on I discovered Battletech. Those early games were a lot of fun, but they lacked something. The rules seemed clunky, and the models were usually terrible. Then I found that issue of White Dwarf and realized that this was more than a game, it was an art form. I saw those early beaked space marines and was instantly drawn in. I don't believe I've played Battletech since.

A small fortune later, I grew apart from Games Workshop. These days, I play a lot of Pagan Publishing's The Hills Rise Wild -- when I'm not playtesting D&D Chainmail.

Wizards: What's your favorite type of unit? How do you tend to play?

Chris: I've always been a fan of a well-balanced army, though I must admit I have a weakness for cavalry. There's just something about the mounted warrior that I find appealing. I imagine Tennyson had this same feeling, or he wouldn't have written "The Charge of the Light Brigade." Why else would he glorify a tactically moronic and suicidal charge made because of a command miscommunication? Anyway, I have a bad tendency to sit back and wait for my enemy to come to me, though I've been trying to change my ways of late.

Jason: I most enjoy extremely mobile units that are capable of a variety of tactical roles. I guess lightly armored cavalry would be my favorite type of unit. Throw in some missile weapons, and I'm there.

When I play, I prefer to exploit weaknesses in my opponents’ situations. I like to look for openings where they are not expecting to get hit. Some people claim that wargames are determined by a simple throw of the dice. I don't like to give people that excuse. I like to get competitive and believe it fosters a better environment. I like a good fight, win or lose.

Wizards: What's happening with D&D Chainmail now?

Chris: We are putting the finishing touches on the contents of the Starter Set. The rules are basically done, but we are still playtesting and tweaking point costs. I'm about to turn over the game's setting material and faction briefs. When we're done, we'll be moving ahead with the advanced rules. The hard work ahead is for Jon Schindehette, the minis art director. He's madly working on packaging, interior art, and the never-ending demand for new minis. He's the architect of the game's whole visual feel.

Jason: We are gearing up for some big releases over the next few months. This is the time when I get real busy...

Wizards: What's your role in the process?

Chris: I'm the creative director. My biggest contribution is D&D Chainmail's setting, the Sundered Empire, although I'm also a member of the rules team. I created the background, the story, and the factions. The setting is basically a never-ending process.

Jason: I am the staff painter and sometime model builder. I paint all the figures for advertising and demonstrations. Occasionally I also build dioramas to use as backdrops during photoshoots.

Wizards: What are you working on now -- more stuff for D&D Chainmail?

Chris: We'll be continuing to concept new models and sometimes new factions, and I have to make sure everything we do integrates well with the background.

Jason: Right now I am busy getting all the figures painted so that they can be photographed for the packaging of the initial releases.

Wizards: Are any of you getting ready to move on to new projects?

Jason: Move on from D&D Chainmail? No way! They keep me locked away with nothing but acrylic paint for sustenance. Mom, Dad . . . if you see this, I'm alive and well. I like it here.

Chris: I'll be working on D&D Chainmail for the foreseeable future.

Wizards: What's your favorite part of the new game?

Chris: I love seeing my setting brought to life, first in the great concept art by Sam Wood and Todd Lockwood, and later in the actual minis by people like Mike McVey and Will Hannah. I still remember the day we got in Mike's first batch of minis for Drazen's Horde. I was totally blown away.

Jason: The amazing models. Hands down we have some the best models I've ever seen. We have some very talented sculptors and concept artists working for us.

See some of these amazing artists’ work now in our D&D Miniatures Sketchbook!

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