Set Recommendations: Summer 2017

As always, the lineup of Lego sets has changed in the year since my last recommendation post. All sets here are available on shop.lego.com, which means that they are also in most stores, although you can usually get a 10-20% discount by going to amazon.com or walmart.com. Within each section, they are listed in roughly descending order of how much I recommend then.

If you are just starting to use Lego bricks and minis to run a fantasy RPG, see my Starter Guide.

Temporary Deals 

These are my top recommendations while the price lasts, but you should not expect them to be available at this price (or at all in standard stores) for much longer:

Water Dragon Adventure: For some reason, this very nice $20 set has been available for under $13 on the Amazon, Walmart, and Target websites for months now. As always with Elves sets, the terrain is really good, perfect to be dropped into a D&D game, but the dragon is the main attraction. It is way too cute for non-evil parties to kill, but you can easily fix that by replacing its head with something meaner-looking:



Each set usually comes with a spare dragon wing, so grab two. Make one according to the instructions, modify the other to make something a little different, and then use the extra pair of wings to make something completely new.

The Kryptarium Prison Breakout gives you five useful minis, including a four-armed one, and terrain with good play features that can easily be a fantasy dungeon after you take off the phone and security camera. It would be a good value for the list price of $20, and it is currently being sold for $14 on the Amazon, Walmart, and Target websites. This is a good one to grab in multiples, especially if you need more minis and dungeon terrain.

The Lighthouse Siege is the best traditional-castle-like thing in the current lineup. This $70 set, currently marked down to $54 on Amazon and Target, gives you get a nice solid stone-and-brick tower full of good play features. It is relatively easy to take off the oriental-styled elements and make it more like a basic medieval castle tower, and the modularity of the build allows you to make it a flat series of dungeon rooms. It also has a good selection of minis, both heroes and monsters.

The Classic Creative Supplement is another $20 set that is on sale for $14 in several places, and it is the best deal for basic bricks suitable for a fantasy game. As I showed in an earlier post, you can make a lot of good terrain with it.

New Sets

Goblin Village


This is my pick for the year's best Lego D&D set. All of the Elves sets are really nice, but this is the best. It is absolutely fantastic, in several senses of the word, and is perfect for a gnome, halfling, or fae village hidden in a mystic forest. In addition to looking great, this set is absolutely packed with really nice little features that invite all kinds of exploration and interaction. The 'boy' sets are focused mainly on combat, and tend to have little play value beyond that, but the 'girl' sets are designed to have dollhouse-like features, and to look and feel like real places that people might actually live in.

The Vermillion Attack is probably the best value for the money at list price. For $10 you get three useful minis and a very nice terrain piece. I almost never buy Lego at full price, but I got this one when it appeared on the shelves. For best results, add a circular plate to the technic axle in the bottom of the egg so that the snakes fly out when you open it:



The Goblin King's Fortress is loaded with new and interesting pieces, including greenish walls and red leaves. It makes a very good plant-infested mystic fae dungeon/castle in a way that is almost impossible to duplicate with past Lego sets.

Mighty Dinosaurs: This $15 set includes instructions for three giant creatures to fight, all of which are well-designed and teach you good techniques for integrating Technic and Lego parts in a large-creature build. Normally I'd recommend it highly, but it can't compete with the $13 water dragon set, which has a similarly good creature and also a mini and terrain.

Moana's Island Adventure: Licensed sets cost a bit more, but variety in settings and people is valuable for running games. This is the only set in the current lineup that will give you a native/islander/wood elf style encampment.

Ruina's Lock & Roller: Even though I gladly add airships and other magitech to my games, I consider most of the Nexo Knights sets to be basically unusable in a fantasy game, with their techno aesthetic and focus on giant vehicles. I picked up a few of the Ultimates when they were marked down to $5 at my local Target, but aside from that I have stayed away. This is the only recent Nexo set that I would consider getting. For $20, there are three good minis, two of them female, and if you took the wheels off the vehicle and turned the big gray ones into static terrain pieces, you would get some good dungeon terrain.

Heartlake Riding Club: This is the closest we are going to get to a realistic medieval-village building in the current lineup of Lego sets.

Still Recommended

Treehouse Adventures and/or Lakeside Lodge: All of this year's 3-in-1 Creator location sets are too modern to use, but last year's are still good. Each one has instructions to be rebuilt into three good adventure locations, and once you have experience building these from the instructions, you should be confident in your ability to make similar things from a pile of loose bricks.

Raid Zeppelin: This $30 airship packed with awesomeness may be a bit too much magitech for some fantasy games, but Spelljammer or Planescape fans will love it.


Classic Creative Supplement

Recently I decided to see what terrain I could make using only the Classic Creative Supplement, a box of basic bricks that lists for $20 but is usually available for $14 online.
I chose this set because it looked like the best way to buy new bricks suitable for fantasy terrain. Many of the other basic brick sets have a lot of unwanted wheels or glass doors.

Here are the sorted bricks. There are a lot, about twice as many as a typical $15 set with minifigs, and they are mostly bigger bricks suitable for making good-sized terrain features:

The terrain building went really well. I quickly ended up with many good terrain segments, capable of setting up a wide variety of scenes. I wouldn't want to try to run a whole campaign with just this box, but it gives a solid foundation to add to. Here are some example setups, with a grid cloth and minifig from my collection:




Here is everything I built all together:


I made the outdoor terrain first, a grassy hill and a rocky cliff face. There are enough slopes in the set to make a very nice natural effect.



Next came a giant stone skull, surrounded by magical flames:


Then the creatures. This set contains mainly bricks, with no plates or advanced elements aside from a few headlight bricks, so they are not up to modern standards of brick-built creatures, but they would work as animated statues.


Then I made brick walls and fountains:



Marble-and-gold temple wall and columns:



A torii gate:


And then the leftovers got mashed into a decorated facade:


Not pictured individually are a set of tables and chairs, a decorated gray pillar, two more animated statues, and the other red-brick water fountain.

I ended up with a lot of terrain for $14 and a couple hours of enjoyable building. My initial guess was correct, this box of bricks is a great way to build good Lego RPG terrain.

History of Lego D&D

After surveying the Facebook group, I found that people have been using Lego to play D&D since 1980. It is possible that someone else started even earlier. Let's take a trip through the past, to see what real and/or plausible games of D&D would have looked like using the Lego available at the time. Here are the best Lego sets available for running a D&D game, when various editions of D&D were first released:


Original D&D

When the very first version of the game was released in 1974, there were no Lego minifigs. The first proto-minifigs were released in 1975, the year that Greyhawk was released and the game became independent of Chainmail rules:

That is basically the entire catalog of minifigs, and of sets other than basic bricks that might be useful in a D&D game, in 1975. There was nothing medieval, and no fantasy elements, but you could have made it work. All you need for castles and dungeon walls is basic bricks, and cowboy hats are always a good way to represent adventurers. All of the monsters would have been brick-built, with no advanced building techniques, because they did not have any pieces other than wheels and fences to make studs go sideways. Here is a humanoid enemy build that one of the people used:
There was, however, a ready supply of giants with articulated arms:

Depending on the desired tone of the game, you could leave those faces or replace them with something brick-built. You could also use them to make four-limbed things.


Advanced D&D

In 1978, the year that the AD&D PHB was released, Lego started selling its first actual minifigs, and a Castle set with medieval weapons and armor:

There were a few other options for equipping minifigs for dungeon-delving. Here are some guys with pick, shovel, handaxe, and a different helmet style:

And that is basically it. Any game would have to use those minis and tools, plus brick-built things. But people were already running games with Lego. Creative children will use whatever they can get their hands on.


2nd Edition

When AD&D 2nd edition was released in 1989, Lego Classic Castle had been going for several years. There were more realistic castle/dungeon walls, a better variety of equipment, elements like barrels and treasure chests, and even minifigs suitable for elves:



Also in 1989, Lego introduced Pirates, giving more elements and clothing options, and minifigs with faces:



Also, by this time, most of the elements for modern building techniques, like clips, bars, hinges, and headlight bricks, had been introduced, as well as tubes and other elements needed to make things like a Beholder (although it would have used a colored radar dish for the central eye). You could easily make most of what you needed for a D&D game, and it would have looked right. By this time, Lego was already better for running games than pewter figurines, even though there were no obvious fantasy elements.


3rd Edition

By the time 3rd Edition was released on 2000, Lego had been producing fantasy-themed Castle sets for years:



There were skeletons, ghosts, dragons, witch and wizard minifigs, and a huge variety of specialized weapons and armor. There were also oriental-themed sets:


and the Adventurers sets:



At this point, Lego sets are practically begging to be used in a D&D game.

Everything produced since then is just icing on the cake. All of the new minifigs and accessories are nice, but not essential. The only things that I would really miss if I was limited to 20th century Lego are the click hinges, technic friction pegs, and mixel ball joints that let you make much better customized brick-built monsters.

Build Guide: Modrons

I like Modrons, and I am glad they came back for 5th edition:
 These goofy clownlike relentless alien creatures of law and clockwork make for interesting encounters:


These builds are all based on their appearance in the 5th edition Monster Manual, but with one change. I do not have any appropriate Lego face tiles (Nixels do not have the right tone, but some of the new kryptomite faces might work), so I emphasized their goofiness by using ski pieces to give them clown feet.

Monodrone


This is a simple build focusing on the circular body and wings. With my emphasis on the feet, I made it a monopod to match the theme.

Duodrone


 Another simple build, start with a 2x3 plate and add the limbs and eyes:



Tridrone


These are very similar to my Xorn build. Make three segments with clips, and roll them up:

 


 



Quadrone


Returning to a cube shape makes for another easy build:


Pentadrone


This is another clip-and-roll build, but with the addition of a dome on top.



 


The dome is not connected to the rest of the build, but the axle just fits in the hole in the middle, and a gear on the bottom holds it in place: