While the return to in-person TRPG sessions may be taking longer than many of us would like, there are still plenty of great accessories being produced for both Dungeon/Game Masters and the players at their table. If your group uses miniatures, odds are you’ve at least eyeballed some of the pre-painted figures available, in lieu of spending the considerable time and effort it takes to assemble and paint custom minis.
If your table plays D&D, this would be WizKids’ Icons of the Realms series – a collection inspired by adventures and stories set in the default Forgotten Realms setting. The sets aren’t limited to just FR games, of course, as plenty of monsters appear in other official realms and the only real limit of these creatures and characters is your own imagination.
That said, there’s a lot to consider when weighing the decision to invest in a collection of tabletop miniatures, and while the WizKids series mostly delivers on many fronts, there are also some drawbacks to taking the pre-painted path.
Overall Impressions (so far)
WizKids’ Icons of the Realms pre-painted D&D minis are a great option for players who may not have the time or desire to paint miniatures for themselves but still want to use them at their table. The 2021 sets include some of the most detailed models to date, though there are definitely some that will be more useful to invest in if you’re playing one of the official adventure modules rather than building a general collection of minis.
The biggest downside to WizKids’ pre-painted series is the blind-box sales model. While each pack contains a good variety of miniatures, and there’s no small amount of satisfaction in opening a pack to find you’ve added a particularly cool mini to your collection, if you’re looking for one specific pre-painted mini – say, the Displacer Beast Kitten or horrifying Elder Ooblex – the lack of a direct purchase option* can be frustrating (and expensive).
That said, the cost of each booster box, which typically contains four figures (three of them being Small or Medium-sized and then a Large mini, though this is sometimes two Small/Medium and one Huge) averages out to a little more than what you would pay for the same number of Medium-sized minis. And not only would you still have to paint those yourself – the variety of the Icons series is typically broader than the Nolzor's line, if slightly less detailed in their sculpts.
There are also more general creature minis available in smaller sets, from 2019's Village Raiders (a collection of orcs, goblins and other nasties that might prey upon hapless farmsteaders) and hero starter sets, to the still-releasing Warband series, which include Orcs, Goblins and more. While some of this year's sets are still highly versatile, players looking for a more generalist collection may also want to check out earlier sets, like 2020's Fangs and Talons or the Dungeon of the Mad Mage.
Ultimately it comes down to how you want to delegate your hobby resources. There are some minis in my collection that I'll insist on painting myself, but other times I'm just as happy to open a pack and see what shakes out. I know that while I may not love every mini that drops in each booster and the paint job likely won't be as precise as if I'd done it myself, but for the time it saves me to not have to detail every Kobold or bandit, I'm willing to risk getting a few random creatures in the mix, too – maybe it'll even give me a new idea for our next campaign.
Scroll down to get a look at what’s included in each series, as well as our review impressions of each set we’ve seen so far, and come back later this year for our thoughts on the next set, Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft.
The Wild Beyond the Witchlight (Q4 2021)
The Wild Beyond the Witchlight is a Fey-themed adventure, so it’s not surprising to see this set mostly comprised of more whimsical creatures.
Among the figures you might find in each booster box are Giant Snails, sentient mushrooms, and several variations on classic faerie folk (pixies, sprites, boggles, etc), all of which make for a smartly assembled roster of figures for any GM about to send their players into the Feywild. There are also a handful of Witchlight-specific characters to find in the set, though most of them could feasibly double as any number of creatures or characters – or even player character figures – in another adventure.
As with other entries in this year’s lineup, the Witchlight set shows yet another incremental step forward for the mold quality and paint job on each miniature, particularly on some of its humanoid characters. While every figure is hand-painted, meaning the elven acrobats Gleam & Glister in our sample packs will likely not match yours 100%, there was little discrepancy in the quality of the duplicate figures we collected.
The detail work on the premium figure sets is particularly good – the Witchlight Carnival set (which is admittedly very catered to the titular adventure) especially so, but the Valor’s Call and League of Malevolence starter sets also do justice to the classic D&D characters they’re based on.
The second Icons of the Realms set of 2021 provides a variety of (mostly) ice-themed figures, from polar bears to snow golems or the huge-sized premium mammoth and frost giant set.
There are also several inclusions (like gargoyles, frog-like Bullywugs, or the demonic Cambion) that seem a bit out of sorts from the “Snowbound” theme. Many of the more incongruous creatures in this set might be familiar to players who’ve run last year’s Rime of the Frostmaiden or are intimately familiar with the lore of the norther reaches of the Forgotten Realms, D&D’s default setting – which, considering the “Icons of the Realms” banner, definitely make sense – but if you’re looking to expand a more general collection of snow monsters, it can be disappointing to find a fairly plain Hill Giant in your booster pack.
The quality of the designs themselves – particularly on models like the Verbeeg or the delightfully grotesque Duergar Hammerer (whose hands have been replaced with blacksmith’s tools) are great, and the paint jobs on almost every item we unboxed were, while simple, hardly disappointing.
2021’s first Icons set is far and away my personal favorite of the year so far – but I tend to throw a lot of undead at my players so I may be biased.
It’s not exclusively comprised of undead horrors, though; all manner of aberrations and fiends make appearances as well, but nearly all of them feel like monsters that could feasibly show up in any campaign, either as a random encounter or a set-piece battle. There are a few exceptions, of course, like the memory-stealing Ooblex, the repulsive demonic Sibriex, or the titanic Atropal – the sentient remains of a literal god – although each of those creatures are, admittedly, great inspiration for their own campaigns (and the last two figures are vile but vague enough to really fill any DM’s need for an amorphous evil monstrosity).
Similarly, the two premium dracolich figures – one blue and one green – are excellent additions to any mini collection (and one of the rare instances where I’d consider them for both play or just for display). I think the Green is a bit more fearsome, since the non-removable lightning effect of the Blue is a bit distracting, but both are sure to elicit either an “ooh” or “uh-oh” from your players.
The detail work on these – as well as other larger figures in the boosters like the SIbriex or Zombie T-Rex – is great, both in terms of print quality and the paint job. Some medium and smaller figures are less detailed or had seemingly sloppier paint jobs than others, but this did little to detract from the quality of some, like the creepy uneven teeth poking out above a mummy’s bandage, though on others (like the Gnome skeleton, above) it was a bit distracting.
Still looking for another D&D/TRPG fix? Why not check out our thoughts on the latest addition to the D&D library, or take a look at WizKids’ biggest mini to date – the Dragon Queen Tiamat.
JR is a Senior Producer at IGN, you can follow him on Twitter for more video games and tabletop RPG shenanigans.
*II’s worth noting that there are individual pre-painted minis for sale, which are premium versions of the Nolzur’s line – but that selection is fairly limited compared to the creatures & characters featured in Icons of the Realms.