The original tabletop gaming miniature manufacturer. Your Beckneard-fu is weak unless you can count at least one Ral Partha mini in your collection.
Ral Partha was formed when 16 year old Tom Meier got in touch with Glenn E. Kidd and Rich Smethurst, who wanted to help this young man realize his dream of making decent miniature sculpts. Meier did this by using Epoxy Putty that had normally been in use for mechanic repairs and quickly became an industry standard to the point that all initial model sculpts are called "Greens", and the epoxy was indeed the basis for Greenstuff. Initially done in Meier's garage, Ral Partha became known not just for their decent historical wargame models, but for their fantasy models, which included female character models as well as male models, selling out of their first entire run of models at Gen Con in 1976 after only a few minutes of being open. Inspired, they began to pick up deals to make limited edition runs of certain models for TSR, including for this little game called Dungeons and Dragons.
Emboldened by their runaway success, Meier decided to go pro.
Ral Partha joins Wolf's Dragoons, the Imperial Guard, and the Adventurer's League
By the dawn of the 80's, Meier had gone from snot-nosed kid pouring molten lead into homemade molds in his basement into a legitimate business man with Kidd and Smethurst, and decided to hire a couple of other modelers like Julie Guthrie and Dennis Mize to help him keep the flow going, and he more or less created line after line after line of fantasy critters and races, many of whom saw play in at least a couple of the burgeoning industries' many wargames and RPGs, some of whom his business partners contributed to, or wrote. But always, the focus was on the models, because that was the meal ticket. In '84, Mize and Guthrie got some work for the company in the gift market with unicorn sculptures in pewter, and that successful line ultimately gave them vital experience in not-lead based metals that would come in handy not a few years later. All of this came just in time for Ral Partha to get in touch with the guys over at FASA to help create a line for their upcoming game Battledroids, which they ended up making bank with when they changed the name to Battletech, as well as help the Citadel miniatures company break into the US by being their manufacturer.
They'd also by then become AD&D's sole model maker, which was a major stroke of luck in keeping the metal and money flowing. And they were doing so well that they decided "y'know, we've tried this once or twice and make bank making figures for other companies' games...why don't we try doing one of our own?"
The Ill-fated Chaos Wars
Now let it be said that Chaos Wars was hardly their first ever game. They'd published little modules here and there throughout the 70's that their historical figurines and fantasy models could play, but rarely any of them stuck around. This time however, was going to be different. They decided to put together their own little wargame to get into the burgeoning market of insular property wargames that Warhammer Fantasy Battle had made it big with. And in 1986 they went ahead and made Chaos Wars, which came with four armies; Elves, Humans, Chaos Warriors, and Beastmen. Regrettably, while their model-making skills meant that their armies definitely were unique in terms of look, they were also cribbing hard from what Warhammer was doing, and from their own lines as they allowed for certain things that were already listed in their catalog to be used. And in spite of it's faster, "pick-up-and-play" style, it was ultimately dropped because of poor reviews, and that the exclusive models for TSR were in far more demand, which meant they were making bank on that rather than worrying about keeping their already flagging game alive, and so it was mothballed in favor of pushing out more beholders and wizards. Everything was looking good...
...and then the decade shifted.
Running (into trouble) in the 90's
By '91, Ral Partha were rolling in it: Battletech was going wild with 100's of models, their earning potential in DnD was going through the roof due to the expansions, and even began making models for this new thing called Shadowrun, taking up the prize as the only official Shadowrun model producer...ever.
However, the first thing that might've been a sign of things to come was that the man who started it all, Tom Meier, had gone from exclusive artist to freelancer, and they had to hire almost twice as much staff to make up for the amount of stuff TSR was pumping out in the 90's, which was a bit of a drain. Then came the first big hitch: their lead models. Lead had became a non-starter as a metal for modelmaking thanks to it's side effects of "causing children dumb enough to stick something lead in their mouth to get nerve damage" and as a result getting legislated out of existence in a consumer market, and as a result they had to switch over to a white metal alloy they called Ralidium (which was probably just tin and Pewter mixed together), which if you're a collector, is extremely recognizable as a dating line for the company, assuming you didn't paint any of them. While it kept the courts and parents off their backs, it did mean that as a whole all of their models were now a little more expensive than they had been, and they took a bit of a financial dip for having to basically pull anything that was lead from shelves and liquidate it, which only drove up the cost of the stuff they couldn't get to into becoming collector's items in a market they had no stake in.
The biggest problem they could barely control was that by the mid-90's, the tabletops were not being run by figurines and miniatures anymore, they were being run by card games, specifically that of Magic: The Gathering and other such titles that began to creep up over and over into the game stores, and they simply didn't have an answer for something like that. The other issue they'd come up against was that they had long been overshadowed in the model-making market by the fact that models had been getting bigger and bigger from the little 15mm monopoly pieces that'd been molded back in the 70's, and while Ral Partha had a dedicated following of oldfags they could draw upon, they had a lot of trouble initially getting back into the market outside of DnD, as their models were still tiny in comparison to what GeeDubs and other such companies were doing at the time, and the models they made to accommodate to the changing tastes of gamers just weren't cutting it, since they still had a lot of the old-school charm/aesthetic that had long gone out of style.
But everything would be fine, so long as they kept their license to make DnD models, right?
Death by Wizard
Anyway Ral Partha lost their license to make DnD models.
By 1997, WotC had become one of, if not the biggest tabletop gaming company in the US, and solidified that particular claim by picking up TSR, and with it, the rights to Dungeons and Dragons. Ral Partha only got a year's extension, before Wizards told them they wouldn't be making anymore models for them after 1998. Collectors see the '97-'98 models as extremely valuable nowadays because it's been long rumored that the master moulds were destroyed. We wouldn't put it past this particular rumor being completely real because if there's one thing Wizards hates, it's money and fun.
But that license loss meant that Ral Partha basically went into a death spiral; they still had Battletech, but Battletech even at it's height was still not nearly enough to keep a single company going for years to come, and in 1998, the dream was gone. Ral Partha was bought out by FASA, where it would spend two years as a brand for their models before being picked up by WizKids, and even then they basically just decided to let them go while keeping the rights to the name before spinning their factories off into another brand, which still made Battletech stuff.
Thus ends the tale of Ral Partha...
Or does it?
Iron Wind Metals basically kept itself afloat by latching onto Battletech like a parasite, and eventually waited until an anniversary of the company to say that they still owned the trademarks and the moulds for most of their old shit, and revealed to the world their own special brand for these kinds of nostalgia-bait models: Ral Partha, back from the dead.
You can read more about Iron Wind's tale over here.
- The first Dungeons & Dragons miniatures. Suck it, WizKids.
- The only licensed Shadowrun miniatures (prior to the release of Shadowrun Returns: Hong Kong) were produced by Ral Partha.
- Battletech miniatures line which also contains some of the few plastic miniatures to come out of Ral Partha, specifically:
- BattleTech, Third Edition box set
- CityTech, Second Edition box set
- Their own paint line, which came in plastic screw bottles. Many an old timer will have fond memories of those pots.