By now, you’ve probably already heard that Paizo Publishing (Pathfinder, GameMastery accessories) and WizKids (MageKnight, HeroClix) will work together to “resurrect pre-painted plastic fantasy miniatures.” (I first heard about it from NewbieDM on Twitter.) The preview figure looks great, and even though I don’t play Pathfinder, I love Paizo’s GameMastery line and HeroClix by WizKids, so I look forward to high-quality results.
However, the press release headline, with its reference to “resurrecting” pre-painted plastic fantasy miniatures, and the flurry of hype that I’ve already seen on Twitter, blogs, and message boards bug me a bit. If you want to know why, keep reading. If not, just follow the link above to the actual press release.
First, let’s talk about the use of the term “resurrection.” I’m a religious person (and biblical studies is my profession, in fact), but that’s not the issue. My problem is that the term “resurrection” implies that pre-painted plastic fantasy miniatures are “dead.” Balderdash! This announcement comes barely 40 days after the news broke that Wizards of the Coast will release a new collection of five pre-painted chromatic dragons (three old sculpts, two new sculpts) and less than a year after WotC’s beholders collector’s set and ginormous Orcus figure. Within the last two months, Asylum Miniatures has expanded the Reaper Legendary Encounters line with two single minis (a dwarf warrior and a gnoll warrior) and two three-packs (kobolds and giant rats). The Paizo/WizKid announcement of one set of prepainted plastic miniatures representing a small number—possibly as few as four, based on the contents of the Pathfinder RPG: Beginner Box for which the minis are a tie-in—does not represent “resurrecting” a dead product line. It is one small entry in a niche-within-a-niche-within-a-niche market that is currently characterized by small, periodic entries. The total number of pre-painted plastic miniatures offered by Paizo/WizKids in 2011 may very well be lower than the total number offered by Wizards of the Coast, which we already know to be lower than the total number that will be offered by Asylum/Reaper. The only sense in which the announced product is a “resurrection” is in the sense that WizKids is getting back into fantasy miniatures, which it hasn’t produced since MageKnight.
A number of forum posters, bloggers, and tweeters have expressed hopes that success with this product will prompt Paizo and WizKids to produce more such sets. I share those hopes, but I want to temper the hype with a touch of realism. At this stage, Paizo and WizKids have committed to one product which may well contain nothing more than four PC miniatures for the pregenerated characters that come in the Pathfinder beginner’s box. (Please note that the miniatures box is a separate product from the beginner’s box.) We have, as yet, no reason to believe that there will be more than one product in this line. I hope there will be, but we have to wait and see. Certainly, this announcement does not herald a return to the halcyon days of 120 new D&D miniatures per year, nor does it herald a new golden age where you can walk into your FLGS and pluck any PC type or monster you want off the shelf in glorious pre-painted plastic.
I am glad that Paizo is dipping its toe into the waters of pre-painted plastic miniatures. I’m glad they’ve chosen to team up with WizKids for the production of the miniatures. I’m planning to support their efforts by buying one copy of the product. I hope they succeed at a level that leads them to produce more—but I’m not going to act as if that will happen until Paizo announces it. This is good news for the RPG industry—but rapturous rhetoric treating the announcement as the second coming of pre-painted plastic fantasy miniatures is both misleading and premature.
Update (June 17, 2011): It is now clear that the Pathfinder Beginner Box Heroes Miniatures Set consists of four miniatures representing four PC classes: one female human cleric, one male human fighter, one female elf rogue, and one male human wizard. The paint masters for all four have now been displayed on the Paizo website, and they look great—but four miniatures does not a “product line” make.