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3E/3.5 Monsters in the Miniatures Handbook

The other day, I was looking up the nothic in the Miniatures Handbook (2003), and I was happy to be reminded of all the other worthwhile monsters we put in that book. Whereas the core three rulebooks were mostly devoted to translating traditional content into the new edition, the MH was a chance for us designers to add new things to the game that were worth including, such as the swift action and a martial class that buffs allies. The 3E Monster Manual was full of classic monsters, and even the less interesting monsters were important parts of the continuity. Does the game really need a bunch of evil humanoids of small to large size?

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With the Miniatures Handbook, instead of translating old monsters into the new system, as we’d done with giants, dragons, demons, etc, we could dream up new monsters for the game. These monsters served two masters, both the new lines of miniatures that could be played in competitive skirmish battles and the traditional roleplaying tabletop. Some served esthetic purposes, some served game play needs, and the best of them did both at once.

The best new monsters were the “aspects.” These were metaphysical “echoes” of deities or top-level outsiders, such as the aspects of Lolth and Demogorgon. These creatures looked like the originals but were less powerful, with a narrow range of attacks and special abilities. Their challenge ratings (CR) were around 10, so a 6th-level player group could to take one on. These monsters were a win all around. For the D&D Miniatures line, we were able to create large miniatures that looked like Kord, Asmodeus and Demogorgon. Who doesn’t want that? For player groups, they finally got “deities” they could fight. OK, they were pale shadows of the actual deities, but the aspect of Hextor looked like Hextor, six arms and all, and it had “Hextor” in the name, so it felt like Hextor.

In the previous year, Wizards had released Deities & Demigods. The gods had stats, just like in the old days, and they also had lower-power avatars so that player-characters could encounter “deities” without actually taking on the real deal. Unfortunately, these avatars were about half as powerful as the impossibly powerful deities, which meant that they were also impossibly powerful. To me, it seemed like a disservice to the fan to have them pay for a second set of unusable stats. One set of unusable stats was traditional, but two sets? The aspects in the Miniatures Handbook were an accessible alternative—thematically like avatars, but with playable stats.

Cave dinosaurs were basically the same story as aspects. They were smaller, less powerful versions of mighty creatures that are fun to look at on the game table. This conceit allowed us to do dinosaur miniatures on a reasonable scale and allowed adventurers to take them on at a reasonable level. Since full-size dinosaurs don’t have much for special abilities, they ill-suited to face off against high-level parties, so downgrading them makes a lot of sense.

Other monsters were meant to give DMs the minis they needed, as well as game-friendly stats. For example, DMs need ghost minis, so we made the cursed spirit. The miniature was a generic spook, so it’s usable as a ghost, wraith, specter, or any sort of apparition. In a pinch, it could be a beggar. In the randomized retail box of miniatures, the cursed spirit was a common so that DMs could get plenty of them. The simple color scheme was easy to paint in the factory, and that means the minis were cheap to produce in quantity. In terms of stats, it was relatively weak, not a level-drainer like old-school incorporeal undead.

The displacer snake was another utility monster. What DM doesn’t want snake minis? This was a low-level common figure that was cheap to paint. It was also a chance for low-level characters to fight a displacing monster. Also, the snake’s displacement power made it play differently but didn’t make it look any different, so the mini worked for a mundane snake, too.

The protectar was a low-level outsider that looked basically like an angel, another popular type of figure. The catfolk miniature was designed to appeal to all the fans that like cat people. The bright naga had the simplest possible spellcasting ability, useful for the skirmish game and in D&D. Higher-level spellcasting nagas were a real challenge for the DM to run.

In addition to the displacer serpent, a couple other monsters were there for the notable effects that they brought to the game table, especially at low to modest levels. The spark lasher, for example, is a CR 2 monster with a touch attack that dealt electrical damage. It was a pain for the heavily armored fighter but not that bad for the nimble, dodging rogue. Any spellcaster that could grant resistance to electricity also had a moment to shine. The classic rust monster is like the spark lasher in that the leather-armored rogue will fight it where the fighter in plate doesn’t want to. The rust monster, however, goes too far, and the spark lasher dials it back.

The Monster Manual had both basilisks and medusas, each with save-or-die gazes. The nothic (CR 3) introduced a gaze effect that dealt 1d6 damage (Will save negates). It’s often worth risking the damage in order to look at the monster straight and enjoy normal odds to hit it. The idea here is that averting your gaze was a plausible option, not a crap shoot with death. The nothic is an example of Andrew Finch influencing D&D design behind the scenes, but that story deserves its own telling.

Just as low-level D&D monsters have often had too few interesting abilities, the high-level ones have traditionally had too many. Demons, devils, and dragons had abilities like spells, teleportation, invisibility, flying, and massive area-effect attacks. In the MH, the shadow beasts were three bestial outsiders at CRs 7, 8, and 9, and they mostly hit you really hard, as well as paralyzing, grabbing, or stunning enemies.

Some miniatures had a strong visual component. More than most people, perhaps, I like weird-looking monsters. The one-eyed, spider-like mad slasher is a clear rip-off of a walking eyeball from Jonny Quest. The weirdly proportioned nothic with its one massive eyeball reflects the psychedelic art that my older brother introduced me to at a young age.

The horse-headed equiceph was basically back story for a cool skeletal mini. The skirmish game needed a large skeletal soldier, and all the giants and trolls look a lot alike once they’re skeletized. We invented the skeletal equiceph miniature to walk a fine line between weird and familiar. Horse-headed skeletons are rare in fantasy art, but everyone gets animal-headed people and animated skeletons.

There’s a lot to love in the Miniatures Handbook. My best friend Rob Heinsoo was a co-designer on the project, and some of this material ended up in 4E, where he was the lead designer. It’s often overlooked when people talk about the development history of D&D.
 
Jonathan Tweet

Comments

DMMike

Game Masticator
The other day, I was looking up the nothic in the Miniatures Handbook (2003), and I was happy to be reminded of all the other worthwhile monsters we put in that book. Whereas the core three rulebooks were mostly devoted to translating traditional content into the new edition, the MH was a chance for us designers to add new things to the game that were worth including, such as the swift action and a martial class that buffs allies.
There are monsters in the Miniatures Handbook?

Oh, hey, there are! I picked one up mostly for the Healer and Marshal classes. Some of the spells were enticing, too. Not so much the magic item, "field provisions box." I'll revisit those monsters, now that I've had a look behind the curtain. Thanks, Jonathan!
 


Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
Thanks for the trip down memory lane. When I first heard WotC was releasing a "Miniatures Handbook" I though I'd take a pass . . . . but that book was AMAZING. The classes, the monsters . . . good stuff!
 

I picked this up back in the day, despite never using miniatures, on the strength of the classes and monsters. I've always found it to be an underrated 3E book. Aspects in particular are something that are an obvious-in-retrospect great idea. I used the Aspect of Tiamat to cap off the initial arc of my long-running campaign.
 



Krachek

Adventurer
Those who want to take a look will have to look elsewhere.
It remind me of these old time of miniatures. It was a cool battle game, and definitively inspired 4ed.




Mod Note: EN World does not support distribution of copyright infringing materials. Please don't link to such on this site. ~Umbran.
 
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R_Chance

Explorer
I have it, and I thought it had some useful monsters and ideas. Essentially it was also correcting mistakes. Who knew :D
 

Chaderick

Explorer
I had to double back on this one, too. It really is a great book, with so many cool monsters.

It was the title that caused my delay. But after getting my hands on it, to quote Hellraiser II, "To think...I hesitated..."
 

Dungeonosophy

Adventurer
Very interesting. Keep 'em comin' JT and ENWorld!

In regard to the dialed-down Avatars and "cave dinosaurs", in "my 6th Edition" literally every monster comes in scalable versions from 1st through 20th level (or even up to 100th level). Each monster has its entire panoply of powers, from all editions, and significant fluff from all the monster lore is converted into playable crunch. But any particular representative of that monster may have only one of those powers (or twenty or a hundred of those powers), and may be any size (from tiny to gargantuan). A 1st level Avatar of Asmodeus or Demogorgon might just an impish little thing (a "mini-me" version) with just one low-level power which matches the theme. Likewise, all varieties of dinosaur are scalable from 1st level to 100th level. Same for all monsters. A DM can just pick the monster, pick its level, and choose from the table of graded powers (or roll randomly).

Of course all monsters in my 6th edition can be mixed and matched as well, as hybrid templates! Want a 3rd-level Nothic 1/Avatar of Asmodeus 1/Tyranosaurus Rex 1? No problem.

I can hardly wait till "my 6th edition" comes out! :)
 
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Li Shenron

Legend
Sounds like an awesome book... but also a marketing failure: when it came out, with such a title I hadn't even remotely considered buying it, as I wasn't into miniatures and it didn't sound like I would find anything useful in it.
 

humble minion

Adventurer
Have to admit - one of the very few generic sourcebooks for 3/3.5 that i didn't buy. I flicked through it in the shop, but the emphasis on miniatures really didn't give much to a group that wasn't into that. Which was a shame, I really liked the idea of the warlord, though i never saw one played. And the aspects were a great addition on the monster front too (though why are cave dinosaurs smaller than regular dinosaurs while cave bears are bigger than regular bears?? Inquiring minds want to know!!!)
 

JustinCase

the magical equivalent to the number zero
I love this. I actually got into D&D through the miniatures game, which I played with a friend often; unfortunately I never got this book. (It was out of print when I started playing, because a new edition had just come out.)
 

J-H

Explorer
I have to admit I only read it for the class options. The Healer is good if you make it a "full list known" caster and give it one or two other class features.
 


Voadam

Adventurer
I never had it but I knew of the classes and the aspects and thought they were great ideas and I was glad to see aspects continue in later products.

Interesting to hear about the other monsters, a lot of design I like. I found the 3e demons quite overloaded on the spell like abilities mechanically and conceptually so it was nice to see the more HD/fewer ability ones in 3.5 and I guess this was an interim step.
 

Rabulias

Adventurer
I too had low expectations for the book, but was pleasantly surprised! And I keep going back to the monsters. Displacer Serpents, Nothics, Mad Slashers, and Kruthiks are some of my faves. Thanks!
 


BB Shockwave

Explorer
Interesting stuff, thanks! I always wondered back then - never knowing this handbook existed - where these creatures came from. Pretty cool how some of them, like the Nothic, became mainstays in 5E.
 

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