My friend Matt Clark, who works at Reaper, has been a little frustrated by my obessive desire to collect the pre-painted plastic minis from WOTC. We've had lots of conversations about why I collect them, especially if the paint jobs are not always that great and the minis frequently are bent, out of scale, and disappointing.
Here are some of the main justifications I've given him--ranked roughly in order.
1) I am obsessive compulsive. Nobody can really do anything about that.
2) As a DM who runs a figure based role playing campaign world, I need lots and lots of monsters in order to keep it interesting. It takes only as long as the line at the counter or the wait for delivery to get a metal mini, but it can take hours to paint it even well enough to use as a game piece, let alone a display mini. The plastic ones can be used right out of the box and minor painted details make repaints distinguishable from the factory version.
3) If you buy them first run, in bulk, and sell the duplicates on eBay, getting large numbers of usable monsters is very inexpensive, averaging around a dollar a mini or less where as metal minis are closer to $3 a piece.
4) Because WOTC agressively protects its trademarks and copyrights (if you don't believe me, as someone who worked at Ral Partha when they took TSR over), only the WOTC figures are going to be similar to the official artwork and game materials I'm using. This isn't a plus, it is just a reason to choose WOTC when I need a specific monster. In fact, it is closer to a minus.
Now, all that being said, I have some major complaints about WOTC as well.
1) It is frustrating that their collectibility means that if you don't buy in bulk when they are released, you are screwed in terms of that inexpenive plus. I didn't start buying until Abberrations, and I've seen a Harbinger umberhulk go for $125 on eBay.
2) It is maddening that WOTC reserves the right to reprint their collectible minis, as they recently did with Underdark, so you don't know if paying huge dollars for a "retired" mini is going to be wasted because at any time they could reprint that series. Once a set is retired and until they decide to secretly reprint, those monsters are unavailable to you except at high secondary market costs.
3) The paint jobs are not always very good or consistent, and you don't want to reprint for fear of ruining the collectibility of that mini--but then they might reprint anyway, so who cares? Unless they don't. See what I mean?
4) The 3E artwork on which they are based is not as close to my heart as the 2E and 1E artwork I prefer. Which is even more frustrating because WOTC also owns those copyrights and isn't going to release minis that look like them.
5) The WOTC minis are made in China, and I am morally opposed to sending so much manufacturing to China where labor conditions are almost uniformly terrible, wages are awful, and the only reason to send manufacturing jobs out of the USA is because you think that Americans won't do the job for the wage you think you have to offer to make the price low enough for people to buy the product, thereby passing blame (as well as the savings) on to the consumer. For myself, I'm willing to pay a little more to employ Americans and not support wage slavery in other nations. I don't know what the working conditions are in the Chinese factory WOTC uses, but it is in China, and that bothers me.
So, these complaints and arguments for were duly noted by my friend. I don't know if they trickled up, but he recently wrote me to check out the Reaper website
for news that would gladden my heart.
Reaper is releasing a series of Prepainted Plastic Miniatures
!This new product line will be released under the brand name Legendary Encounters™.
Offered in an open, non-blind, non-random format, Legendary Encounters™ prepainted plastic miniatures will be packaged using Reaper's standard blister card. Both single and multiple piece packs will be offered.
Unlike the several existing blind-sale prepainted plastic miniature lines currently available, Legendary Encounters™ will not be produced on a limited edition basis and will be available at any time.
I don't know for sure if they are correct that their minis will quickly become the most popular prepainted plastic miniatures on the market, but if the paint jobs are consistently better than WOTC, and Reaper really cares about paint, they stand a chance. They won't be "tournament legal" for WOTC D&D mini gaming, but not everyone plays in official tournaments. If they came up with some sort of easily convertable system of stat cards, it could really be a nice way to expand the D&D gaming kids are already doing with their WOTC minis.
I hope they concentrate on monsters, rather than PCs, that way they will be catering to the underserved DM crowd who need large numbers of monsters...all a player needs to buy is one metal mini. (Don't you wish players would occaisionally donate to the monster fund? But I guess that isn't in their best interest...)
Personally, I would love it if the Legendary Encounters™ would have a lot of minis (close enough to avoid infringement) based on the artwork from the old TSR MM, MMII, and Fiend Folio, as well as the art from the 2E compediums. Much of that artwork WOTC is never going to use. (Click on the Wish List link in the sidebar if you want some specific suggestions)
The initial release in June will include: Undead and Orc warriors of various types, an Ogre, Troll and Minotaur. Not the kind of list that will immediately scream "I need that monster in plastic!" but they are the kinds of monsters that DMs need a lot of.
There is an old maxim in minis, called Merric's Law of Miniatures
. "Non-Random Packaging, Cheap Prices, and a Large Range of Figures: Choose two."
Hopefully Reaper will prove this maxim false, but it doesn't sound like they will be doing 60-80 figs at a time. I'm fine with that so long as the ones they do release are useful. It might be interesting if they were to do something that would make the figures customizable as they do with many of their metal figs--multiple head choices or something. That way a limited range becomes a larger one.
Perhaps the best idea for them would be to check out which of the "retired" WOTC minis are selling for the most on eBay and to make a similar miniautre for which the free downloadable stat cards from the WOTC website could be used. This would be true of especially the rares and Epics. I'd love to have balors and pit fiends that were inexpensive to buy and anyone who plays the DDM game could just use the free stat cards from WOTC to play them instead of dropping $30 a mini to get the "official" figure.
I hope that this venture by Reaper is successful, and that it creates more interplay rather than rivalry between the two companies.
I also hope that, like their metal minis, Reaper makes their plastic line in the USA.