Miniatures Handbook

A Walk Through the Planes – Part 91: Miniatures Handbook




Of all the random books and articles to end up as part of this series, I never expected to include the Miniatures Handbook, a work I’d never so much as glanced through previously. I’m totally fine with miniatures, and tend to use them when playing nowadays, but at the time this book was released that simply wasn’t how my friends played the game. Miniatures are expensive, painting them well is difficult (and something I am notoriously terrible at), and to a large extent they’re kind of their own hobby distinct from D&D. Plus, as with my feelings with D&D battle in general, I always felt like if you want to play a miniatures war game then a better source for that is something like Warhammer, which by virtue of not being an adaptation but instead a fully devoted work you’re going to end up with something stronger. But when I was perusing the weirdly incomplete “Index of Celestials” at the back of the Book of Exalted Deeds (it didn’t even contain the very first thing I looked for, leonals), I noticed it listed monsters pulled from the Miniatures Handbook. “That’s weird,” I thought. “Why are there any monsters there?” Turns out there’s a whole lot in that handbook, and rules for miniatures take up only the back half of its pages.

Strangely enough, “Skirmish Rules” and then “Mass Battle Rules” don’t appear in the book until page 83, and as such much of the Miniatures Handbook consists of a random assortment of D&D additions. That’s right, it’s your typical smattering of new feats, classes, prestige classes, and spells, plus more than 25 pages of new monster entries. While reading through its pages, I was stunned to learn that this is the origin of swift actions, which since then have been a huge part of pretty much every iteration of the game. Co-designer Jonathan Tweet explained the existence of this first half of the book, which is quite good regardless of your level of interest in miniatures, by saying, “We created characters, creatures, and other elements that we wanted to see in the miniatures line.” And so, with this shrug of half-assed reasoning, we were left with a strange new bit of planar lore. 


I’m actually not talking here about the handful of monsters I learned about from the Book of Exalted Deeds. This is the protector and ramadan, neither of which are interesting, feel at all necessary, or as far as I’m aware ever made another appearance in the game. Likewise, the abyssal eviscerator (who’s not a demon for some reason) is equally dull and forgotten, the magma hurler, stonechild, and walking wall are weirdly uncreative, and the three types of shadow beasts included here are difficult to keep straight even moments after reading. Let’s face it, there’s a reason why the game kept returning to the iconic AD&D monsters, and it’s that a lot of these later creations are exceptionally uninspired. 

Not really how I pictured Asmodeus. At all. But, umm, I guess this is what his aspect is like.

However, this section on monsters also devotes almost 10 pages to a new creation known as “aspects,” who are akin to the avatars of Powers, but much easier to beat up. Here’s how the book describes them:


While the gods usually send creatures from the Outer Planes to assist their clerics, sometimes a patron will send some small portion of its own power instead. These living embodiments of the gods’ life force carry on crusades for good or evil.

An aspect looks like the archfiend or deity from which it springs (known as the aspect’s “original”). It is only a pale shadow of the original archfiend or deity. Still, a pale shadow of such a mighty being is formidable indeed.

An aspect is the embodiment of a small portion of an archfiend’s or deity’s life force. The original’s power is so great that this shred of life force is actually able to take shape as a living creature (or an undead creature, as in the case of an aspect of Vecna).

Rarely, aspects arise spontaneously on the planes where their originals reside, rather like naturally occurring echoes of the original’s powerful presence. More often, aspects are called forth by magic of some kind. In any case, they are short-lived, usually fading back into nonexistence within a day. The life force that manifested as the aspect returns to the original, dissipates, or lurks in the area, ready to manifest as an aspect again if the conditions are right.

Most importantly, “Unlike avatars … aspects are not extensions of the original. The original can’t see through the aspect’s eyes and doesn’t know what the aspect learns.” So these aspects aren’t replacing avatars, rather, they’re a way for designers to use, say, a miniature of Tiamat or Orcus in a battle (and thus sell them at retail) without requiring an epic-level campaign, which would be necessary for facing even an avatar under any sane dungeon master. 

Demogorgon’s aspect, on the other hand, isn’t so surprising.

As a result of what I suspect was the marketing-influenced reasoning for their existence, avatars aren’t actually that strong. They tend to be around challenge rating 8-10, and while they resemble their respective powers, the designers specifically wrote that they can’t command forces, making them into weird one-off encounters. Their listings includes statistics and a super-short (often just a brief sentence or less) description of 11 of these aspects, thought it’s also noted that DM’s should feel free to make their own as they see fit, or even create more aspects for the Powers already listed. 


Overall, I find the entire concept lacking. While I do understand the desire to plunk down a Tiamat miniature and have players fight her, the reasoning surrounding them feels half-baked. That being said, like with swift actions, they did return quite a bit later in the game. To quote Shannon Appelcline, “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!).” So while they don’t fit well into the overall cosmology, and have debatable usage even within campaigns, they do give characters a way to stab something that looks a lot like the Demogorgon, which is why they ended up having some staying power. 

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