Making a D&D Icon is a lot like making a miniature … only bigger. A lot goes into producing such a monstrous mini, and making one illuminates a fact about the D&D RPG.
Making the 'Miniature'
The production process begins with a discussion of what D&D Icon we'll make. Given that we're talking about just one figure, you might think it wouldn't take long, but deciding the best Colossal or Gargantuan creature to release is a tricky business. Each D&D Icon is a different nut to crack, with its own new issues based on size, shape, and paint. We have to balance the popularity of the monster with what other miniatures we've made and the costs involved in making the creature. Which should we do next, a blue or a silver dragon? Or, should be branch out and do the tarrasque? How much will it cost to paint the miniature when it's over a foot tall and comes in more than a dozen pieces?
Once that's decided, we start the sketching process. Unlike for most miniatures, we get several simple drawings that indicate different possible poses. Then we analyze them for what pose looks the coolest. Once we've decided, the art director discusses the sketch with the artist to help make the miniature easier to manufacture. The artist then produces many sketches for the final, showing the miniature from several angles.
Making the Rules
Very early in our work on the Gargantuan Black Dragon, Steven Schubert and I realized that a miniature that large needed to be off the normal scale of miniature power, beyond even the normal epic range. We wanted to make the Black Dragon the equal of an epic warband. Of course, the Black Dragon wouldn't last long if it took a turn and then the opponent's whole epic warband got to attack en masse. Thus, Steve and I worked out a way for the dragon to take several turns. Because of its unique activation rules, the dragon acts much like a warband, taking turns with the opponent's warband and losing activations as its hit points are depleted.
The next design challenge was the creature's massive base. Huge creatures already have trouble moving about on maps -- so much so that we design separate epic maps that have more open passageways between obstacles to movement. Designing epic maps can be a chore because of their openness -- it provides more opportunity for long-range spells and attacks too early in the game (first-turn fireballs). We didn't want to make the D&D Icon maps even more open. To solve this problem, I created an ability that allows D&D Icons to move through impassable objects and even stand within them. Of course, I called it "Massive." The idea is that the dragon is so big, it just crashes through the tops of walls and treats them like you or I would treat moving through thick brush.
The final design challenge was dealing with the various instant death effects and effects based on activation, such as poison. I made up Indomitable to deal with instant elimination and the attached rule that activation abilities affect only the dragon's first activation.
Making the Scenarios
So the basic rules structures were in place, but it seemed that once you played out the fight a few times, you might get tired of a D&D Icon. Each scenario provides a new way to play besides a straight-up battle, and each D&D Icon comes with new scenarios. In addition, we provide ways with each to play the scenarios of the previous D&D Icons.
Big Monsters in the RPG
The difficulty of using Gargantuans and Colossals in the miniatures game illustrates a problem inherent in Dungeons & Dragons in general -- big monsters are hard to use.
After the Colossal Red Dragon came out, we fought one in the Wednesday night game that Chris Perkins runs. I knew that Gargantuan and Colossal monsters aren't easy to use in a game. I was aware that fitting them in dungeons is problematic, and that the placement of PCs and other obstructions can make it hard for them to move. When we used the mini in actual play, I learned one more thing about them. Big monsters don't need to move.
When a creature takes up most of the room on a map and it has a reach of 15 or more feet, it doesn't need to move, because it can usually reach all the PCs. It can make a full attack every round without 5-foot shifts. Unless the DM imposes special conditions, this can lead to uninteresting tactics for combat. The monster stands in one place, and so do the PCs. Everyone takes full attacks, and eventually one side or the other wins. Ultimately, fights with big monsters don't necessarily provide the big payoff I look for in such climactic battles. That's not a flaw in the miniatures game, it's just a facet of the way such situations play out. If anything, having a miniature to dress up the table improves things.
What Do You Think?
Have you used our D&D Icons for either the D&D Miniatures game or for roleplaying? If so, what did you think? Did the dragon move around in a tactically interesting way? Tell us about your experience using the D&D Icons by sending us an email.