Ten Years of DDM: The Decade in Retrospect. Part I
This year marks the 10th anniversary for the Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures (DDM) game. I felt it was appropriate to have a compiled history of the game, and since I have been around for the entire run of the line, I thought I would be a good candidate to attempt to write it...
I started playing DDM Harbinger first came out, and I've played consistently every since. I am the only DDM player to have played in every GenCon Championship since the first one in 2004, which might hopefully give me a unique perspective on the game.
The Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures game was introduced in late 2003. Prior to that, miniatures had been used for decades as an adjunct to the Dungeons and Dragons role playing game or had been used for other miniatures wargames. The DDM line was the first prepainted line of plastic miniatures. The overwhelming majority of miniatures prior to that were made from metal. An early metal predecessor for the DDM game (also produced by WotC) was a miniatures game called Chainmail. While this history starts with DDM, many of the Chainmail figures are still compatible with DDM.
What will follow over then next days is a brief overview of the history of the Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures game. As with any history, some information is selected and some is left out. If any information is excluded which the reader feels should have been included, I give my apologies in advance. Likewise, while a few specific individuals are named, there are many more people who have contributed to the DDM game than can be easily mentioned here. My apologies to all of the many people who have worked on this game over the years, but who are not mentioned, from the creators, administrators, the players and collectors, and to the current membership and administration of the DDM Guild, without whom we would not still have this incredible game.
Each installment we publish here will be ordered chronologically (by year, of course) and then divided within the year into Product Releases, GenCon summaries, and the Metagame. At the end of the document is some ancillary information on products related to the DDM game (Tiles and Maps).
I also want to give special recognition to the initial creators and developers of the game: Rob Heinsoo, Skaff Elias, Jonathan Tweet, Michael Donais, and David Eckelberry as well as Guy Fullerton who for the early years monitored the WotC boards keeping us all informed about the rules.
Some of these kind folks will be featured in interviews here on the DDM site in the coming weeks.
And so, we start with the beginning...
Product Releases for 2003
Harbinger, the first set, was released. Harbinger was available in either a Starter box which had 16 random miniatures (containing 10 Commons, 5 Uncommons, and 1 Rare figure) or a Booster pack with 8 random miniatures (containing 4 Commons, 3 Uncommons and 1 Rare). There were a total of 80 figures in the set, including a total of 20 Commons, 33 Uncommons, and 27 Rares. The cards that came with the figures were in black and white. When the game was released, a booster pack retailed for $9.99.
Dragoneye, the second expansion set, was released. Dragoneye was released in booster packs which contained 8 figures (4 Commons, 3 Uncommons, and 1 Rare). There were a total of 60 figures in the set, including a total of 16 Commons, 24 Uncommons and 20 Rares. One of the more sought after miniatures from this set was the Large Red Dragon.
The Metagame for 2003
In the very first version of the Original Edition (OE) the primary environment was 100 point assault. Since there were only a limited number of figures available, there were not many options for competitive warbands, but two major warbands emerged.
The first was Lawful Good and featured a Gold Champion, Sword of Heironeous and multiple Man-at-arms to fill out the band. The Gold Champion had the highest AC in the game, coupled with the Sword’s commander boost, it became a hard piece to take down in a 100 point environment.
The second major warband to start this era was called “displaced aggression” and was a low activation, Lawful Evil warband containing a Human Blackguard and 2 Displacer Beasts. The hard to hit Displacer Beasts with their conceal, and the high moral saves from the Blackguard made this a formidable warband given the limited number of miniatures available.
Extra tiles were starting to be published by WotC both online and in print form. Dragon Magazine, for example, contained 4 extra tiles (only two of which were legal for tournament play) in issue #313 (November, 2003). One of the most popular tiles not originally contained in a Starter box which was used competitively was the Mushroom Tangle.
Product Releases for 2004
Archfiends was released in booster packs which contained 8 figures (4 Commons, 3 Uncommons, and 1 Rare). There were a total of 60 figures in the set, including a total of 16 Commons, 24 Uncommons and 20 Rares. This set contained the first sculpt of the highly anticipated Drizz't Drow Ranger figure. The price for a non-huge booster pack rose to an MSRP of $12.99
Giants of Legend was released in booster packs which contained 8 figures (4 Commons, 3 Uncommons, and 1 Rare). This was the first set to contain Huge figures (which had a 3" base) and also the first Tiny figure (Quasit). There were a total of 72 figures in the set, including a total of 16 Commons, 21 non-huge Uncommons, non-huge 23 Rares, 6 huge Uncommons and 6 huge Rares. This was the last set to be printed with black and white cards.
Aberrations was released in booster packs which contained 8 figures (4 Commons, 3 Uncommons, and 1 Rare). Aberrations was also released in Starter boxes which contained 8 new tiles. There were a total of 60 figures in the set, including a total of 16 Commons, 24 Uncommons and 20 Rares. The poster for the set incorrectly listed the Dragon Samurai as an Uncommon, when it was in fact a Rare. This was the first set to be printed using color cards. Alignment factions from this point forward were identified by color as well as symbol (LG was yellow, CG was green, LE was red, and CE was black). Another interesting factoid is that the Gibbering Mouther had the highest number of paint steps involved in the production of any miniature (except for the Colossal Red Dragon).
This was the first World Championship for DnD minis. Entry was by invitation only. A player could be invited based on having a high enough DCI ranking (in the top 25 players worldwide), by placing in the top 4 at a qualifying event, or by placing in the top 16 in the Championship Series Open (the Grinder). There were 65 players who received invitations. Around 40 players participated.
The Championship was played on the original blank map included in the starter box, using the tiles to create the battlemap. The most commonly used tiles were the Assembly Tile with walls, Treasure Room, and Mushroom Tangle. Rounds alternated play between three formats; Standard, Quickstrike and Cave of Pain, which then repeated through round 6. For participation, each player received one of the blank grid starting maps printed on leather.
The only expansions that were available at the time were the first 4 (up through Giants of Legend). There were more Drider Sorcerers in play than there were players. The Drider Sorcerer was later the only figure to receive the banned status in the Original Edition of the game. The winning band was by Brian Mackey (aka Kiddoc) and was called Trifecta. The warband was Chaotic Evil and featured a Tiefling Captain, two Ogre Ravagers, an Orc Champion, the Drider Sorcerer and a squad of Orc Warriors
The winner was then invited to be involved in the creation of a mini for later release. In this case the mini was Rikka, Angelic Avenger, which appeared in the set Angelfire. The sculpt for Rikka was loosely based on the wife of the winner.
Personally, in the first ever Championship, I played a wizard themed band for fun. The warband was built around the Red Wizard, one of my favorite pieces. Other figures in my band were a Drider Sorcerer, a Githyanki Fighter, Salamander, and Goblin Skirmishers. I did rather poorly, but had a good time playing.
The Metagame for 2004
The metagame for 2004 was still young since there were not at this point very many sets from which to build. The environment quickly shifted from 100 points to a 200 point assault format going into the year. A few variations of format from the first rule book saw some use, but dropped out of favor within the year and were not used very much. These included Quick Strike (in which a player could win by destroying either 75% of the enemy warband or all but one creature), Cave of Pain (all melee attacks did extra damage) and Contested Ground (in which a player with the only creatures on the central tile after 5 rounds won the game).
With the introduction of Archfiends, two figures changed the metagame dramatically: the Drider Sorcerer and the Graycloak Ranger. The Drider was capable of transposing two creature's positions on the board and slowed down game play as players evaluated the possible creature positions. The slow game play was the official reason for the Drider Sorcerer being banned (although many in the community thought the piece was overpowered for its cost). The Graycloak Ranger was able to bring a free Wolf into play as a minion. By using multiple Graycloaks, a player could easily have more than the maximum 12 activations allowed at the time in the Chaotic Good faction. Snig the Axe could perform a similar function in Lawful Evil, but did not have quite the same impact on the metagame going into 2005.
The Orc Champion in Chaotic Evil became the standard melee hitter against which all later creatures were compared (in the Original Edition). Using some combination of the Orc Champion, the Ogre Ravager, and the Red Samurai, and using a Tiefling Captain as a commander, Chaotic Evil dominated the metagame for the year until the Frenzied Berserker was introduced in Aberrations.
The Frenzied Berserker (in multiples), coupled with the Inspiring Marshal from Giants of Legend, and the Graycloak Ranger for activations, became the dominant warband (called "Inspired Frenzy") in late 2004 and into 2005. It became a viable warband theme for the next few years in various incarnations (for example, using Goliath Barbarians in place of one or more of the Berserkers to increase the number of points devoted to support and fodder creatures, or by changing the Commander or support creatures).
One counter strategy to the hard hitting Chaotic warbands was the development of "turtling" warbands which revolved around a single hard-to-take-down titan creature like the Large Silver Dragon. The strategy quickly became controversial, as some players would take large amounts of game time placing tiles and then hiding the Silver Dragon (usually with a creature that could heal or boost the already strong Large Silver Dragon like the Cleric of Order or Cleric of Lathander), until late in the match. The Dragon would then sweep out and kill a few enemy creatures for enough points to win the game in a timed environment. Games of this sort became annoying to many players and formats were changed into the next year. The perennial suggestion to use chess clocks started in this era.
Coming Next: 2005 Brings Gencon, more cool sets and more slow play.
Moraturi is James Prather. You can say hi to him this year at Gencon, where he will again be playing in the DDM Championships.