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Reviews of 'Miniatures Handbook'

Miniatures Handbook

by Jonathan Tweet, Michael Donais, Rob Heinsoo, Skaff Elias
D&D Miniatures, Volume 1

Reviews of 'Miniatures Handbook'

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Reviewer: Matt

Rating: Stars

With all the hype surrounding the new D&D Miniatures line of figures from Wizards of the Coast, it seems natural to release a handbook detailing the rules for mass battles involving the same figures. However, despite its title, the Miniatures Handbook contains a lot of good information that can easily be applied to a traditional D&D game, as well as rules and guidelines specific to the skirmishes rules that the book also presents.

Since this review will focus specifically on how the Miniatures Handbook can be used in your Dragonlance campaign, I will focus on the first third of the book and the chapters that are directly applicable to the D&D game. Those buying the book for purposes of obtaining the skirmish and mass battle rules will find them to be inventive and worth a look independent of the "classic" rules.

The Miniatures Handbook opens with a chapter on Classes, and introduces four new core classes to the Dungeons & Dragons game: the Favored Soul, the Healer, the Marshal and the War Mage. My personal favorites are the Favored Soul and the War Mage; the Marshal seems to be more of a glorified fighter class with some class abilities specifically suited to improving his troops' and his own combat abilities several times per day thrown in, while the Healer can best be described as a cleric-like class with just about every healing special ability as a class feature. Neither should be dismissed as a simple knock-offs of the more archetypal classes, but when compared with the other two classes neither of these really stood out in my mind.

The Favored Soul is most like the Mystic from the Dragonlance Campaign Setting—a divine spellcasting class that has the Sorcerer-like ability to cast any number of spells of a single level. Unlike the Mystic and the Sorcerer, however, the Favored Soul has some other interesting class features like energy resistance and damage reduction at higher levels, as well as the ability to sprout wings at 17th level. The War Mage also looks like an exciting option for players as well. If you like wizards that wade into the thick of battle throwing fireball spells left and right, this is definitely an option for you. Like a Sorcerer, the War Mage can spontaneously cast spells, but the spell list is limited to those spells largely within the school of evocation. They gain several excellent class feats, such as Sudden Empower and Sudden Maximize, which server to do further damage to those who happen to stand in their way.

Following classes are new prestige classes. The Bonded Summoner is a magic-using class that specializes in summoning elementals and gains elemental-like abilities over the course of the class. Like the Bonded Summoner, the Dragon Samurai prestige class allows for a character to become closely associated with and gain some of the abilities of the dragon type they associate themselves with, which might be an interesting option for a character in a Dragonlance campaign. The other prestige classes (Havoc Mage and Skullclan Hunter, Tactical Soldier, War Hulk, War Chief) all present interesting options as well, though none of them stand out particularly much from the others, though some players and DMs will certainly find good uses for them in their campaigns.

The Miniatures Handbook naturally introduces new feats as well. I particularly like Double Hit and the Sudden Metamagic feats, which allow you to apply the traditional metamagic feats to a spell as you cast it without incurring the typical level-based penalties for the modified spell.

One of the biggest additions to the Miniatures Handbook is the addition of the "swift" action, a new type of action that expands on those that are already presented in the Player's Handbook. Swift actions are similar to free actions, but are generally only usable by magic-using characters. Additionally, a new spell type, the legion spell, is introduced. This style of spell allows for spells of approximately medium range to affect allies or enemies as appropriate. However, both of these new features are really footnotes in the second chapter, as the vast majority is devoted to new spells and magic items introduced in the book.

There are a number of slight variations on classic spells, such as Bigby's Slapping Hand and Mordenkainen's Buzzing Bee, as well as new spells like Fireburst—useful when you're surrounded by enemies but don't want to injure yourself with a fireball spell centered on you. New magic items are also included. Most notable include the Belt of Magnificence which adds a bonus to each of the wearer's ability scores, or a Magic Sleeping Bag, which speeds the healing process.

No sourcebook would be complete without a chapter on monsters, and the Miniatures Handbook doesn't disappoint. One of the interesting variations included in the monsters chapter are all of the Aspects, which confer some of the qualities of a deity on an otherwise ordinary monster. For example, an Aspect of Bahamut or Tiamat (Paladine or Takhisis in Dragonlance circles) can serve to present the party with an interesting challenge without pitting the hopelessly outmatched adventurers against the full might of a deity. Unfortunately, the remainder of the sample Aspects are focused on iconic D&D deities like those from the Greyhawk campaign, but with a bit of work can be adapted to Dragonlance.

In addition to Aspects, there are some other unique creatures as well, such as the Catfolk, a Cave Dinosaur, Cursed Spirit, Magma Hurler and Shadow Beast. I like the Equiceph, as it provides a horse-like man which is the perfect foil for the traditional minotaur. The Ramadeen follows that same line of thinking, combining a ram and a man, but is lawful good extraplanar instead of the typically evil minotaur or Equiceph. The Walking Wall is also another interesting addition that could surprise and quickly change the outcome of a battle with an unsuspecting or unprepared party.

On the whole, the Miniatures Handbook presents a lot of good information for players and DMs looking to expand their campaigns. Even without the additional miniature-specific information, which comprises the latter two thirds of the book, the Miniatures Handbook adds some interesting options to the mix and can easily be integrated into a Dragonlance campaign. Simply for use in a traditional campaign, the Miniatures Handbook seems like its price is a bit too high for the typical player. However, if you plan to use the D&D Miniatures in mass battles or skirmishes, the rules in the latter half of the Miniatures Handbook will definitely come in handy, and more than justify the price of the book.

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