Back in the eighties my schoolchum Dave would occasionally paint up some figures for our D&D and BattleTech games. He had a real talent for it. Nowadays I mostly use prepainted plastic thanks to the official collectible D&D minis line, supplemented by some MageKnight and HeroScape figures. Sometimes I really wish I could paint worth a darn so I could add some Reaper figures to the mix. I love those sculpts. My friend Pat almost has me convinced that I just need to get some supplies and paint a whole bunch of guys. My first figure will look like ass, but my twentieth or hundredth might not suck as much. I dunno.
Anyway, as I was brooding over this situation for the zillionth time I recalled a couple of figure lines from back in the day that I really liked. The first was a little run called Custom Characters, from the nice people at Rafm. There were maybe ten or twenty figures in the line. Each figure came with empty hands and a gaping hole where there head should be. Packed with the figure proper were three choices of head and a bunch of weapons and equipment. Even better, most of the stuff in one pack would fit on the body of another figure in the line. Here's a bad scan of a photo from an old Dragon ad for the line, showing the different things you could accomplish with just one pack:
I especially like the non-weapon stuff available in the sets: backpacks, torches, wineskines, etc. Rafm is still in business, with a website here, but I don't see any Custom Character packs for sale there. Ebay doesn't have any for sale at the moment, either.
Ral Partha also had a nifty little line called 3 Stage Characters. Each pack had three figures representing the same character at low, middle, and high level. I thought some of these guys were wicked awesome. Check out this cleric:
See how his armor and weapons improve as he goes up in levels, but the ankh-like motif remains the same? Pretty cool. I've been a big fan of ankh holy symbols ever since I got Ultima IV for my Commodore 64.
I'm also very fond of this 3 stage wizard:(The middle wizard is not in scale to the others.) See how his staff, hat, and robes become more elaborate? And his beard gets bigger, too. I imagine him painted with a black beard in the low-level version, greying at mid level, and white-haired at high level. Keep the robe color scheme the same in all three versions and you end up with a trio of figures that highlight both the changes and the continuities as the character grows in might.
I found one of the 3 stage packs on eBay.
Ral Partha has been reincarnated as Iron Wind Metals. They don't sell the 3 Stage packs, but many of the figures are sold individually. There's a lot of neat stuff for sale over at the Iron Wind site. Ebay has a 3 Stage barbarian dude for sale here.