So, one of the biggest issues with D&D, in my experience, is the difference in investment required by players compared to DM's. When you play extended campaigns with the same group and are all enjoying the game, the player typically needs to buy (at most) a book or two, while the DM buys another book or two on top of that, plus extra dice, pencils, maps, terrain tiles, food, and of course, miniatures. Now, there are solid arguments about not using minis, or about alternatives to minis, but I personally really like them and enjoy having them. But, as a DM, it can be really really hard to justify having them.
So, basically, this is a way to have a really unique D&D experience.
First and foremost, this system would fundamentally require the new edition of D&D. Not that it would be impossible for 4th or Pathfinder, but with those systems character creation takes longer, which is a significant hindrance. Being able to quickly build and run a character would be essential. I suppose if every player has access to Hero Lab, that could work, but...
Each player should have a Player's Handbook or, at the very least, a printed copy of the Basic Rules. And Dice. And a pencil.
The DM should have also have a Player's Handbook, mostly for rules clarification and spells. This would be less essential as system mastery increases. In addition, the DM should have the Monster Manual (which is available soon). And Dice. And a pencil. And probably index cards. (See? Already the investment level for this player is higher than the others!)
Finally, every person at the table should bring a brand new, unopened set of random miniatures from the new 5th edition line. (These boxes have 4 minis. The older boxes, if you found them online, typically have more. If you use these, you might want to alter the Draft to reflect that. Regardless, each player should have a box with the same number of random minis).
The Draft and Build
Each player (including the DM) rolls a D20. Break ties however you want - Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock is good. In order, each player opens their draft box and pulls out their four random minis, putting together anything in pieces (if necessary) and giving everyone ample opportunity to ooh and aah or tremble in terror. Once all the minis are on the table, they should be sorted into two rough piles: Playable Minis and Monster Minis.
You can reroll the D20 here, or keep the existing order, but personally I think rerolling would be better. No matter what he rolls, the DM goes last, though. Each player chooses a Playable Mini, which they will use to craft their character. The DM goes last, and chooses one which will become an NPC. The remaining Playable Minis are thrown in the pile with Monster Minis. Then, the order reverses, so the DM goes first and the guy who picked first goes last. The DM picks one miniature from the pile. The other players then pick one mini each, which will NOT be used by the DM (as a variant, you could allow the player to choose, either the DM can't use it or the DM MUST use it. So if you get a dragon, a player could choose that the DM has to use that monster somewhere). At the end, each player should have one PC mini and one bonus mini, and the DM should have one NPC mini and one monster mini. The remaining pile of minis, which should be two for each player, is given to the DM to use as monsters during the campaign.
Then everyone takes a break. The players draft characters, trying to build something which resembles their miniature. The DM sorts through their minis and tries to build some kind of rational campaign out of the chaos, and assigns a starting level, probably somewhere 1-3 (but if they end up with a large number of high level monsters it could conceivably start higher).
Then the DM runs their game. The draft and build should take an hour or two at most, with an emphasis on getting started right away. The DM runs a quick intro and plays out a combat or two and some RP, and they MUST use at least two of the minis they obtained. Then, each week, the DM should run additional encounters until they've used at least half of the minis they acquired, and until at least a month has passed. If they manage to build a story with a rational beginning, middle, and end all the better.
Finally, after the DM has run his adventure, the group as a whole decides: continue with their current character? Or Re-Draft and do it all over again, with new minis and new characters and new villians and new monsters. If the group wants, they can redistribute the minis to whoever they originally belonged to, or give them all to the DM, or keep the two they selected and let the DM keep their selections, or whatever they think is mutually acceptable.
Ideally, I think, you could let everyone keep their selection and rotate DM's. Maybe with a shared Monster Manual so everyone doesn't have to buy a copy.
ConclusionThis method of playing D&D would allow for a unique and interesting play experience, with fun character building and some anticipation of what your party is getting into. The costs of getting a decent number of miniatures are more evenly distributed through your gaming group, and the campaign would be relatively short and fast paced.
Potential downsides? You only get one Kobold, and need four or five for a reasonable encounter. Or you get five CR 1 monsters and everything else is CR 12. (Not likely). Creative DM skills would definitely be put to the test!