Thursday, December 31, 2009

Using World of Warcraft Miniatures to play D&D

Although this blog tends to focus on the more mechanical aspects of D&D, for today's post I'd like to cover a more mundane subject - the choice of miniatures. I am an avid fan of minis, and I can't think of running a 4E encounter without them, but getting a decent selection for your games isn't an easy task. Ages ago, I used to enjoy painting miniatures, but my Warhammer days are long gone. In theory, the official line of prepainted, semi-random D&D miniatures would be the perfect product for me... if they were any good, that is.

Let us face it: minis are not Wizards of the Coast's forte. I have tried really hard to like them, but a combination of mediocre quality, high prices and low proportion of exciting figures has turned me down once and again. To be fair, they have taken steps in the right direction with the PHB Heroes line (non-random minis for PCs) and the new monster collections (with boosters that show one big, cool monster, and have additional, hidden random monsters). However, despite the improvement, the fact remains that, for any given pack, there is a majority of miniatures I don't care about, due to ugliness, lack of usefulness, or both.

I had almost given up hope when the answer to my problems came from the most unexpected of places: the World of Warcraft.

The World of Warcraft Miniatures game is, unlike its D&D Miniatures counterpart, a fast-paced game that condenses the essence of the franchise and, most importantly, is really fun to play. But the relevant thing for today's topic are the actual game miniatures (If you are interested in a full-fledged game review, the good news is, I already wrote one. The bad news? It's for Spanish speakers only). These miniatures share a property that was conspicuously missing from the D&D line - they look good.

As miniatures that are also plastic, prepainted and random, with a price tag slightly higher but close to their D&D equivalent, and being based on a fantasy setting generic enough to fit in the D&D aesthetics (once you get used to the king-sized weapons and shoulder pads), the fact that they are so much more pleasing to the eye can't be overstated. Simply put, where a D&D booster pack would yield maybe one or two worthwhile figures plus a bunch of filler material, each of the three minis in a WoW box tends to be premium material.

What are the differences, you might ask? In the case of WoW, the scale is slightly larger, allowing for some more detail while still fitting in a D&D battlemap. But what really sets them apart is the outstanding paint job, with a richer color palette (I can usually identify 8 different colors per mini) and frequent use of transparencies.

There is one important catch, large and round - the excessive size of the miniature base. Designed to fit into an even larger detachable, Heroclix-like base, it's area is appropiate for Large D&D monsters occupying 2x2 squares, but grossly oversized for the majority of Medium-sized characters. I was lucky enough that a Warhammer-savvy player in our campaign took the time and effort to replace most bases in our collection with others of appropiate size (not hard to find in most Warhammer stores), greatly improving our gaming experience. You can still play without doing so, but it can get uncomfortable at times, particularly if most of your minis are WoW ones.

Nevertheless, there is another redeeming factor in these minis: the selection is good enough that you will, more often than not, find a use for each one of them in your D&D campaign. All figures in a given pack belong to one of three factions: Alliance, Horde, and Monsters. The first two are great for PCs and NPCs, and while the last doesn't cover the full range of D&D creatures, does a good enough job. Most 4E races and character concepts should find matches here (with the notable absence of Dragonborn), though you won't find the most epic or bizarre monsters, such as Dragons or Beholders.
I have compiled a gallery of the minis most frequenly used in our campaign, to give you an idea of what they look like. A very important point you should be aware of: these are all Common figures that can be found online for as little as $1 each, so gathering a similar collection is pretty inexpensive. Enjoy!

Gallery 1.
Minis for PCs: Warlock, Paladin, Rogue, Warlord, Fighter, Wizard, Ranger, Cleric.(click to enlarge)

Gallery 2.
Minis for monsters: orc, ogre, skeleton, elemental, tiger (click to enlarge)


  1. I just bought a few of Warcraft miniatures for similar reasons, and I found this while searching for any sort of guide on removing the figures from their bases so I could do as your friend and put them on more appropriately sized bases.

    Don't suppose you know how it's done at all? Any recommended tools or anything for that at all?

    Also, I picked up a box of 16 "Dreamblade" miniatures at a comic shop for $5 as well. It's still Wizards, but the minis look much nicer than the D&D minis and at a really cheap price, even if they all can't be as easily incorporated into a D&D game. They just have a similar issue of large bases that cover a 2x2 grid in D&D.

  2. Hi Nicholas,

    I'm the player who made the conversion. I think I could scrape enough free time this weekend to make a guest post for this blog. In it I will explain how to do the conversion (is very very easy, trust me) with a couple of photographs I already have.

  3. I do all my roleplaying online, using RPTool's Maptools product. It's simple and easy to use jpgs of monsters as tokens. Still I suppose even I do miss the days of physical figurines.

  4. We actually use the minis from the World of Warcraft boardgame for enemies a lot of the time. They're not painted, but they come in three solid colors, which gives us enough to differentiate groups of minions. We have painted PC miniatures we've collected over the years and plenty of monsters, but when it comes to fighting the city guard or a "bunch of gnolls" the plastics from the WOWBG work great. I've been trying to get a friend to bring his Descent BG minis for us to try...

  5. Well, that's interesting post on the World of warcraft game. I use to review the Leveling guides when I was new to the game.

  6. My group prefers D&D minis, and we only buy them as singles from online retailers. Buying in singles lets us pick specific minis for upcoming games. Buying the sealed packs holds no appeal to us, and I don't know why they are sold that way. Even the second-run heroclix brand, which uses clear, non-random packages, combines minis I want with minis I don't, so I'll probably never buy them (plus the paint jobs are really cheap, and that hurts pretty much every mini, excepting the clear ones, like the Ice Elemental or the Phantom Warriors). I don't think I'd ever put a Warcraft mini into a game, because the style would clash too greatly with our other minis, and the bright colors don't have the right tone for our settings. I am thinking of using a small number of the WotC Dreamblade minis.

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