Thursday, 17 March 2011

Colossican Ruber Draco - You can call him Big Red (Or Sir)

Just so you get an idea how big this bad boy is here is another picture of him with the Barbarian from Warhammer Quest standing next to him and the "Huge" Red Dragon from the Giants of Legend set released by Wizards of the Coast

The bad boy is, for those of you who don't know him, the Colossal Red Dragon which was released by Wizards of the Coast for their Dungeons and Dragons (D & D) skirmish game..........

As with a lot of projects, I sort of stumbled into the D & D Skirmish game. I think it must have been 2004 and for reasons I can't remember I gave Cammie a set of D & D figures from Wizards of the Coasts Collectible Miniatures series for his birthday. I don't know why, as Cammie hadn't played D & D (and still hasn't I think - is that correct Cammie?), but it was perhaps the fact that the minis were pre-painted, he would be able to game with them straight away as opposed to having to paint them himself.

Ok, those of you who have seen the D & D figures might regard the painting on some of the models pretty ropey and that is certainly very true but I thought they would be good enough for Cammie to play with. What I didn't realise at that time was that I had started on a very slippery slope which probably lasted for the best part of 3 years but during which time, I ended up spending a tidy sum on these toys.

The figures that I gave Cammie were from the Aberrations set that Wizards of the Coast had released the year before, for the skirmish game. It was at that time that a new edition of their rule book had been released with the set and as I read the rule book, I started thinking that this wasn't at all  a bad wee system, so started to look into more.

I had, of course, played D & D over the years - I still fondly recall getting the set of AD&D books for Xmas in 1982 and they were well used over the years as I ran a campaign for my pals Andy and Ian. But the figures we used for such roleplaying games were the models that I had bought, mainly from Citadel, and usually unpainted as I was so slow at painting. After University I drifted out of the Role-Playing scene partly because I didn't like the changes made to D & D by 2nd edition and partly because I now tended to play "proper" wargames. As a result I hadn't really kept tabs with what was happening in the D & D scene and by the time 3rd edition was released by Wizards, I didn't recognise it as being the same game I had played all those years ago. I knew vaguely that Wizards had started to produce their own line of figures but they had been universally panned (as were a lot of pre-painted ranges in those days) for being such dreadful paint jobs.

However, the premise of the game was pretty simple. You built a warband using models of any race as long as they were of one of the 4 alignments, Lawful Good, Chaotic Good, Choatic Evil or Lawful Evil. Each model had a point cost and usually you built a warband up to an agreed number of points - usually 200 and you could not normally include more than 8 figures in the warband. When the first edition of the rules came out, the board you played on was in fact a set of card tiles which you placed together to form your battleground, usually depicting some form of dungeon layout, but with the Aberrations set the system had moved to using pre-printed maps. The 2 warbands would fight it out on the map and the winner would be the first to score 200 points, either by wiping out the opponents war band and/or by occupying designated victory point areas on the map.

Each model came with a stat card upon which was given all the essential stats for movement (speed), hit points, Armour Class and the model's level - the higher the level the more powerful the model was deemed to be in the game. The card would also list the damage the model would do in combat (hand to hand and/or ranged and whether it also did magic damage) and also whether the model had any special abilites and spells. Little chits came with the starter set with which you could keep tabs of the damage the model had suffered until it lost all of it's hit points at which point it was removed from the game.

I must suffer from a compulsive disorder because once I started playing the game I was hooked and couldn't get enough of the game. My bro and I in November 2004 did a 10 hour overnight drive (me driving all the way as my bro can't drive) one Friday night from Arbroath to Bognor Regis so that we could attend Gencon UK on the Saturday morning and played D & D minis (DDM) all week end. And in 2006, my bro, Ruarok and I drove down to Birmingham to take part in the first ever European DDM Championships with about 60 players involved. Okay we didn't do very well but we did end up playing against people from various parts of Europe which was a great experience in itself.

I picked up the models, usually on Ebay, although my local friendly gaming store in Dundee - Highlander Games - did stock some boosters from time to time and I would pick up some there. And that, of course, was the big bugbear with the range - like many collectible games before and since, you were blind and had no idea  what was in a booster until you opened it, other than you would get 1 rare figure, 1 uncommon and 6 common figures. And like many other collectable/ tradeable systems the best pieces were usually (though not always) the rare ones.

Even though the game had only been out for a couple of years, models from the first set "Harbinger" (the one that had been so heavily criticised on it's release) were already out of production and difficult to get hold of. But from an early stage of getting into the game I decided that rather than trying to collect all of the figures - which would have been a quick way to the divorce courts, I would try and get, where possible all of the Dragon figures that Wizards released in the range.

Well it was a good effort but in the end even I had to admit defeat. With the release of the Dungeons of Dread set in March 2008 which was the 15th set that Wizards had released in just over 5 years, my enthusiasm had started to wane (too many Dragons!!) and with that release came another major change to the rules and the way the game played, in theory, to make it compatible with 4th Ed D & D which had just been released, so it was time to bow out. As it was, only a few sets later, Wizards then changed the format again and released the Dangerous Delves set in May 2009, which was the first open set, in that you could see the minis you were buying but no skirmish rules were released with that set as Wizards had announced that they were no longer supporting the skirmish side of the game. How much the game had fallen came home to me hard when at Game 09 in Manchester, when bro, Ruarok, Cammie and I went down to play Blood Bowl in the Tritex Blood Bowl challenge. The European DDM event was also being held there at the same time and I was sorry to see that there were probably less than 15 players taking part.

The final death knell for the game came in January this year when Wizards announced that were, with immediate effect, dropping their entire miniatures range. I admit to having a wee sentimental tear in my eye at the news.

Wizards, despite their announcement, have not totally abandoned the mini and with the release of their Wrath of Ashardalon  board game, which looks like a cross between Warhammer Quest and D & D, the figures in that game look very similar to some old departed friends

And yet, despite the Dragon Mania, the favourite D & D figure I have is in fact:-

Don't mess with the Eye Tyrant!!

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