Do you need to use miniatures to play D&D Third Edition?

In the year 2000, this was a big question for prospective players and Dungeon Masters. And with good reason. While miniatures were useful in prior editions of D&D, the rules didn’t explicitly require them.

But things changed when Thrid Edition came out.

First came the d20 boom. Gaming stores stocked up on published material. You’d go to your FLGS and see an entire wall dedicate to the d20 system, the books and modules organized according to the publisher.

Wizards of the Coast. Sword & Sorcery/White Wolf Publishing. Necromancer Games. Fiery Dragon. Alderac Entertainment Group. (And many, many, others which would come and go within a year).

Then you’d turn around and you’d see the Reaper Miniatures display, dozens and dozens of metal miniatures for your campaign. These were “heroic scale 25mm” (really they were 28/30mm). The old “true 25mm” manufacturers (Ral Partha, Grenadier) had gone by the wayside.

Wizards of the Coast had even launched its own official line of miniatures, including a boxed set of featuring monsters and characters from Diablo II.  Soon they released Chainmail, a skirmish wargame set in a previously undeveloped part of The World of Greyhawk. (We’ll talk about Chainmail next week).

It was a great time to collect miniatures. Overall, the sculpts were a lot better than what had come before.

The Dungeon Master’s Guide came with a battle mat folded up in the back, so did the D&D Adventure Game. I laminated both so I could them for my games. The D&D Adventure game came with small punch-out card stock counters, similar counters appeared in Dragon and Dungeon magazines.

Third party publishers put out sheets of these things for relatively cheap.

So, no, you didn’t need miniatures for Third Edition, but using something to represent your character was strongly encouraged.

Well… let me clarify that statement: a lot of players and DMs, myself included, tried the game without using counters or miniatures, but we soon ran against a major obstacle in combat:

The dreaded Attack of Opportunity.

The rule made sense, added a layer of tactics to combat, and kept characters (usually) from just running passed the monster to loot the treasure. Because characters and monsters generated “threatened area,” players and DM needed to know their exact location.

But there was a certain segment of the RPG population that absolutely refused to use miniatures. D&D is an RPG, not a wargame.

I was in the middle ground. On one hand I liked the tactical thinking Third Edition tried to get players to use. I also liked collecting miniatures.

But on the other hand I saw little need to draw the terrain layout for every single combat encounter. So I wouldn’t. And sometimes players didn’t like this.

Also, collecting and painting miniatures is another hobby in its own right, one that I don’t think many RPGers were quite ready to tackle, which is why Wizards of the Coast came out with its pre-painted miniature line with the release of D&D 3.5e in 2003.