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Miniatures Handbook (3.5)

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Cries of Battle Fill the Air 

Bold adventurers' tales are filled with harrowing combat punctuated by clashing swords and flashing spells. From minor scuffles to climactic battles, the conflicts between heroes, villains, monsters, and minions range across sweeping battle fields and verdant forests to dank caverns and treacherous dungeons. Victory awaits those well versed in the arts of war. 

This supplement for the D&D game provides expanded rules and guidelines for running dynamic combats and creating daunting combatants. Inside are new base classes and prestige classes, over 30 new feats, more than 65 new spells, new magic items, and weapon special abilities. Included are three dozen new monsters, including the formidable "aspects" of deities and archfiends. Along with complete rules for everything from fast-paced skirmishes and squad-based encounters to mass battles, random dungeons, and miniatures battle compaigns, theMiniatures Handbook assembles a legion of information, options, rules and guildelines to keep you fully engaged in every combat.

Product History

Miniatures Handbook (2003), by Michael Donais, Skaff Elias, Rob Heinsoo, and Jonathan Tweet, is a character splatbook for D&D 3.5e. It was published in October 2003.

Continuing the 3.5e Line. Following the July publication of D&D 3.5e (2003), Wizards took a few months off, then returned with two new core books in October: Book of Exalted Deeds (2003) and Miniatures Handbook (2003). The books were a clear continuation of Wizards' lines for D&D 3e (2000-2003), showing how minor they thought the transition was. To be specific, the first half of Miniatures Handbook looks a lot like the softcover character splatbooks that Wizards was publishing for 3e from Sword and Fist (2001) to Masters of the Wild (2002) — full of new classes and more.

However, that's just half the book. There were some miniatures to discuss too …

A Return to Miniatures. Given D&D's origins in historical miniatures, it's no surprise that the game has long supported miniatures play. Still, it took a while for TSR to dive into the medium whole-heartedly. That finally occurred with the release of the Battlesystem (1985) — a boxed set that detailed rules for mass fantasy battles, which could also be integrated into D&D.

Battlesystem was probably a reaction to GW's success with Warhammer Fantasy Battle (1983), but TSR was never able to match it. They constantly tried to popularize Battlesystem in the '80s and '90s through well-known supplements such as Bloodstone Pass (1985-1988), Dragonlance Chronicles (1984-1986), and Dark Sun (1991), but it never worked. In the late '90s, TSR let their Battlesystem fade away.

After the release of D&D 3e (2000), Wizards decided to try a miniatures game of their own. Their first attempt, Chainmail (2001-2002) was short-lived, but then Wizards revamped the system and rereleased it as the Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures Game (2003-2008). This new miniatures system was a d20-based game, simplifying the D&D 3e system to allow for quick skirmish-level play. D&D Miniatures kicked off with the Harbinger (2003) set of miniatures, available in starter and booster packs on September 26, 2003.

Three weeks later, Wizards released the D&D Miniatures Handbook, whose back half brought the new miniatures to the D&D game.

Sort of.

Expanding D&D. The first three chapters of Miniatures Handbook are all about warfare in D&D … but without any links to the D&D Miniatures Game. That starts with a set of warfare-related classes: the favored soul, the healer, the marshal, and the warmage. The favored soul is notable because it's a sorcerer-like cleric, with freely available spells. However, the marshal was the breakout success; as a war leader, he was the immediate precursor to the D&D 4e (2008) warlord.

D&D was also notably expanded with the introduction of the swift action — a free action that could only be used once a round. Though it missed the D&D 3.5e core by a few months, it would soon become a central part of the updated rule system.

Beyond that, the Miniatures Handbook contains warlike prestige classes, feats, spells, and magic items. There's also a fairly random assortment of new monsters that are only united by the fact that they were things that the designers "wanted to see in the miniatures line".

The only integration between D&D and the Miniatures Game comes in chapter 7, which which uses the D&D Miniatures monster stat cards as a random monster generator.

Expanding D&D Miniatures. Meanwhile, chapters 4-6 focus on the D&D Miniatures Game. Chapter 4 explains tat cards (and how to create new ones), while chapter 5 reprises the skirmish rules available with D&D Miniatures Starter Sets, while also minorly expanding them with new rules for terrain and on special abilities.

The major expansion to D&D Miniatures Games comes in chapter 6, which converts the skirmish-level play of the game into mass combat. Jonathan Tweet says that these new mass-combat rules came from "a set of mass battles rules independent from D&D" that Wizards had been working on previously. That likely means they were drawn from "The Military Order", a generic "capstone" book that Wizards had been developing in the early '90s … before the success of Magic: The Gathering (1993) caused them to set aside their early RPG work.

Unfortunately, the mass-combat rules are somewhat poorly suited for the collectible nature of D&D Miniatures Game. They require players to create units of between 5-36 copies of the same figure, something that was hard to do in a randomly collated game!

Monsters of Note. The most notable monsters in Miniatures Handbook are the aspects, which are "the embodiment of a small part of the life force" of a deity or archfiend. The idea was clearly a variant of avatars, which dated back to Greyhawk Adventures (1988).

These new aspects would receive extensive use in D&D 3.5e's later days. They were mostly used with archfiends in Dragon Magazine's "The Demonomicon of Iggwilv" and in the two Fiendish Codexes (2006). (Aspects of actual gods were less important, but aspects of archfiends gave players cool stuff to fight!)

About the Creators. Tweet was of course the lead designer of D&D 3e (2000) while Heinsoo would be the lead designer of D&D 4e (2008). Together, Elias, Heinsoo, and Tweet had also designed the Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures Game. That leaves just Donais: this was his only major roleplaying work. His main job at Wizards was developing board and card games like Dreamblade, Magic: The Gathering, and Risk.

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to shannon.appelcline@gmail.com.


 
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File Last Updated:
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This title was added to our catalog on December 15, 2015.