Dwarven Forge makes great, super-sturdy terrain. It’s the best combination of aesthetics and durability out there. It will last, so it’s a good investment as a gamemaster who wants to liven up their play table (whether in person or when playing remotely), but it isn’t cheap.
If you are a person with good self-control who is willing to wait a long time for the goods to arrive, backing their Kickstarters is a great way to get pieces at a better price. Backers pay less than they would later in the store.
Their current Kickstarter, Wildlands, closes on September 2, 2020. I will use it to illustrate some general things that you may want to consider when deciding where to invest your gaming money. Dwarven Forge is fortunately so experienced at this that the big question to ask before backing any Kickstarter project—”Will they deliver on their promises?”—is a firm Yes. (There’s a good overview of their history in the campaign video.) What else should you be considering?
- Can you wait?
Kickstarters take a long time to deliver, even if you do get the benefit as a backer of getting it before the rest of the world. The estimated delivery for Wildlands pieces is June 2021. These new pieces won’t be available in their online shop until all the backers get theirs, and even then they usually sell out quickly. (As an example, their Caverns Deep Kickstarter had delivery to backers in late 2018, but only the second largest set from it and a small number of other items aren’t sold out when I look in their shop today. Their mighty reputation makes it mighty hard to keep inventory in stock.)
- Can you hold to your budget?
Their stuff is glorious and they provide so much detail in their supporting content that you may want it all. If you aren’t able to keep a firm hand on your wallet, avoid the Kickstarters and just shop with restraint in their store. (Tip: when they aren’t running an active Kickstarter, things quiet down and they get a chance to do more restocks. Also you can register to receive an email when that particular item you want comes back in stock.)
- Is this Kickstarter making terrain that supports the stories you plan to be telling in your games next year and beyond?
I found the last Kickstarter, Hellscape, easy to resist (mostly) because I don’t run games in a world with a Hell. I’ve no volcanos on my map and no plans for diabolical torturers to whisk the players off to a terrible plane of torment. Instead of going in for big pledges, I just grabbed some add-ons that could work with my existing cavern pieces. Only get pieces that help you tell your stories.
- Do you have somewhere to store it?
Fortunately it’s sturdy, so you can stack it and box all together, but it is also heavy. Again, Dwarven Forge terrain is an investment. You’ll probably need to account in your will for who gets it. Make sure you have a place to keep it where you’ll be able to get good use out of it month after month. (I’ll have a post about storage soon, but there are also good threads on this in the excellent Dwarven Forge Forums.)
If the answer to all those questions is YES, then venture forth brave GM and back that Kickstarter!
Unless you love painting terrain as much as you do gamemastering and already have a full setup for that, I strongly advise getting painted pieces if you can budget it. Yes, they cost more. Yes, they’re gorgeous and worth it.
- Decide your budget, using their pledge calculator tool for estimating shipping to where you live so you don’t get a nasty shock later. (I recommend backing at no more than 80-90% of your budget, so you have room for add-ons that tempt you later.) Pay attention to when you’ll be charged; it’s usually the end of the Kickstarter for your pledge and then 4-6 weeks later you’ll pay shipping and additional amounts if you increase your pledge in the Pledge Manager to fine-tune your order and go for some add-ons.
- Think about the stories you’ll be telling now and in the next few years, and look at how your existing table terrain and props support them. Where are the gaps?
- Look through the pledge levels and think about what you need for your collection and what piece you’ve fallen in love with and want to build a campaign around.
- Return to that 80-90% budget number and see what that will get you from your wishlist in step 3.
- If you’re a “dive into the deep end” rather than a “toe dip” person, you’ll find the spreadsheets created by Dwarven Forge superfans and linked in the Dwarven Forge forums to be absolutely essential to planning your pledge. However, they often include information useful to someone dipping their toes, particularly the ones that list the cheapest set or add-on in which a given piece is available. Dwarven Forge makes modular terrain AND modular Kickstarters, so there are many ways to mix and match.
Let’s randomize some names and look at how different people might approach the Wildlands.
Amil is an experienced GM on a tight budget. They’ve got an erasable vinyl mat with a grid on it but they’re really tired of using dice to indicate everything that isn’t the players’ minis. They want bread-and-butter pieces they can use many different ways. Their budget before tax and shipping is $100.
Betty is a new GM. She loves watching streams and someday wants to lay out huge sets as a stage for her players’ miniatures. She feels like she’s going to go deep into this hobby over time, so she wants to start her collection with a highly flexible foundation. Her budget before tax and shipping is $250.
Coryell is leaning deeper into gamemastering and wants to run lots of low-level campaigns to introduce more people to playing. He isn’t worried about re-using the same pieces a lot since the players will be different. He has a big budget, but limited storage space, so each piece will need to bring a lot to the table. His budget before tax and shipping is $500.
Here’s how each of them might make the best use of Wildlands.
Amil is planning to pledge $80-90. Their group loves good old-fashioned dungeon crawls, but Amil gets a little tired of stone tunnels and likes to throw the party into dramatic underground landscapes woven around the characters with verbal descriptions.
Amil’s budget is tight, so though they love the look of the painted pieces, they know they can get almost twice as much terrain going unpainted. Plus, their group is used to theater of the mind, so they’ll be using these more as indicators in combat layouts.
They don’t need trees since their adventures are mostly underground. That means in Wildlands, it’s the mountain stuff they’re most excited about.
Amil sees that the best pledge level they can budget is the Mountain Starter (at $49 unpainted). They could go entirely “add-ons” using the Pack for Battle pledge level, but that doesn’t include any of the bonus pieces of the stretch goals.
After picking that as the core of their pledge, Amil has $31-41 left. Scrolling further down the mountain page, they reject the Escarpment – Winding Stairs Pack and the various Trifecta sets as not underground enough. The Escarpments – Advanced Builder (at $34 unpainted) is tempting; good scatter pieces which would make cave layouts more complicated and fun for combat. The Mountain Driftstone Pack (at $37 unpainted) is very tempting since each can either hang in the air or be flipped to project from the ground.
Or there’s the Wyverstone Scatter Pack (at $18 unpainted). The Planar Pylon (a.k.a. the Illuminated Objectives Pack, at $17 unpainted) is very tempting since it can change color, but Amil wants less distinctive so it can be used lots of different ways. Ditto for the Ruins — Archaean Accessories and the Oracle Pool — Pack.
Now the Thematic Objectives Pack (at $18 unpainted) has a lot of bang for the buck, with four bread-and-butter pieces and two each of four distinctive items. That could go a long way story-wise. (Amil lingers over the lovely Wyvern mini, but resists something like that which would only get a use or two with their steady group of players.)
Feeling pretty confident about the selections so far, Amil quickly scans through the field guide to all the pieces to confirm there isn’t anything else from another biome that fits their needs and their budget. They note the Burrow Hole Teardrop Insert as a possibility if there’s an add-on at the right price with it. (They wind up needing to look at one of the fancy spreadsheets from the forums to confirm the cheapest set with which it is included, but the Teardrop Inserts Pack it is in has too much overground stuff to be of interest to them.)
Amil pledges for the Mountain Starter ($49 unpainted) and adjusts their pledge up to $85 to cover the Wyverstone Scatter Pack and the Thematic Objectives Pack (each $18 unpainted). They’ll be getting 32 unpainted pieces plus probably one more piece as a coming stretch goal. They’ll be able to lay out a big cavescape on their battlemat with all of it and have lots of handy bits to use over and over.
Amil could also decide to just go for the Mountain Starter in the Kickstarter and to buy from the store the Burrows Elevation (at $36 unpainted) which has a surface transition hole very like that Burrow Hole Teardrop insert along with other tunnel shapes. If they don’t wind up getting any add-ons in the Kickstarter Pledge Manager, they’ll have enough left to add a nice Two-Headed Alligator or a Mimic onto their store order.
Betty is planning to pledge $200-225 and she wants painted pieces, planning to save her crafting time for making simple buildings. She is planning that her next campaign will be set in a city in the mountains, with a long story arc of adventures that range between the lost caverns below, the city streets, and the wild mountains above.
She decides to use the Kickstarter as a chance to get things which will make the surface of her settings look more the part, along with getting a few things to dress up the city or the mountain scenes.
Betty pledges at the Pack for Battle level, since she’ll be leaning into add-on sets. Her first add-on is the Erinthor Mountain Terrain Tray Multi-Pack ($48), which will work either for the city streets or the mountain ground.
She likes the Escarpments – Advanced Builder ($54) for the wall-like 1×3 escarpment she can use in a city and the other pieces which can serve either as scatter terrain or as particularly attractive parts of the bigger builds she’s dreaming of having someday.
The Escarpment – Caves ($95) gives her a couple fun adventure spots and the Cutout Escarpment she can use as a stone entranceway in the city.
Betty’s total pledge is $197 and she’s planning to pick up one more thing in the Pledge Manager once she sees the final list of available pieces.
She has her eye on the Escarpment – Winding Stair Pack ($38).
Coryell is planning to pledge $400-450 and to buy painted pieces. He likes to run short adventures set in the countryside, where local folk become heroes to save the area’s villagers from terrible monsters.
Coryell wants pieces which will wow his players and increase their excitement about his games.
He’s looking for the most exciting pieces and the Swamp Starter’s Slinkroot tree is just the sort of monster that will be perfect for his games, so he pledges for the Swamp Starter ($82).
The first add-ons he knows he wants are the Floor Fogger ($35) and the Illuminated Objectives Pack ($29). He’s not sure what piece he’ll use with the Floor Fogger, but saw teasers that there’ll be a couple choices, so he’s expecting something in the $80-100 range and plans for that expense.
Coryell uses dramatic minis for his boss monsters and Titanstooth ($81) is a great stage for them.
The Oracle Pool Pack ($39) is super cool too and there’ll be some sort of “light puck” coming, price t.b.d. so he sets aside $35 toward that. [Wow! The light puck has been unveiled and is even cooler than expected, by a lot. This is totally up Coryell’s alley and even though it’s $99, he’s all over it. This is where it’s important to stay flexible during a Dwarven Forge Kickstarter and know that you’ll be locking down your order in the Pledge Manager after all the surprises have been revealed and the Kickstarter ends. I’ll update Coryell’s example once the unknowns are known.]
He rounds out his plan with the Dreadhollow Forest Terrain Tray Multipack ($48); it’s a bit mundane for his taste, but it’s a good base for the settings he’s normally working with.
Coryell’s total pledge is $449 (which includes $135 fudge factor toward two things to be revealed late in the Kickstarter campaign).
If he ends up with an extra $59 at the end, he’ll pop over to the Dwarven Forge store for the bizarre and wonderful assortment of minis that is the Empire Grab Bag.
Dwarven Forge has added some sample pledge builds that are helpful.