Behind the Screen: Concerning Miniatures…

2007 October 8
by Dante

Our recent discussion on battle mats has led me to my next topic: miniatures.

Isn’t the miniatures discussion the same as the battle mat discussion?

Well, yes and no. Because of my previous distaste for battle mats, I never really had much of an opportunity to embrace miniatures in any meaningful way. Unlike battle mats, I can see the lure: being visual creatures, most guys really enjoy having a physical representation of their Good Guy to wave around. I, for one, loved action figures as a kid, and loved being able to make-believe that G.I. Joe or He-Man was kickin’ butt and taking names and I can see that carrying over to the world of minis. I have always had a small desire to get into incorporating miniatures into my gaming sessions, but many factors have been preventing me from diving in head first.

I have a hard time with several aspects of the miniature world. On several occasions I have considered using them in my campaigns, however cost was always the limiting factor. As a DM, I feel like I would need a lot of miniatures to illustrate my battles and scenarios appropriately (which is probably the point, from a marketing perspective) and that would cost more money than I’m willing to spend.

Also, I’m somewhat of a perfectionist and because of this I tend to be on a constant hunt to find “just the right thing.” After frequenting the many miniature booths at GenCon, I was struck with the feeling that finding the right miniatures for my campaign would be like finding a needle in a haystack. I imagine that this holds doubly true when shopping for a mini to represent your PC… I seemed to find the right character/pose with the wrong weapon/armor and this irritates my inner perfectionist. I ended up purchasing a handful of minis that were close, but not quite right, and we used them lightly before we fell out of the habit.

So what options have I?

I know they make many miniature kits, with plots and storylines built around that set of minis. I have never tried using these, as I like to have more artistic control over my campaign plots and have had some bad experiences with modules.

I know that the WotC miniatures are a game in and of themselves, and I have been intrigued by that however this doesn’t really help solve my problem of being able to leverage miniatures in my existing D&D sessions.

I have considered opening up the issue to our gaming group, and sharing the load of selecting the perfect minis to represent the characters that are playing. Each player could bring their own mini that they would hunt down, and I would be in charge of providing the “campaign setting” ones that would illustrate my side of the game.

How do you incorporate miniatures into your games, and mitigate the cost and necessity of accurate minis?

10 Responses leave one →
  1. David permalink
    October 8, 2007

    I began purchasing D&D Miniatures primarily for the skirmish game. As a result of that I found my way back into traditional D&D with a large assortment of miniatures to play with.

    My regular gaming group has several individuals who collect or collected the miniatures. You won’t always have the exact fit, but something close and a little imagination will go a long way for us. I should also add that our group is heavy on combat tactics and somewhat pride ourselves on effecient use of area and technique. Using miniatures really helps with this.

  2. TMan permalink
    October 8, 2007

    I have always used minis because they really make all combat much much easier, especially now with Attacks of Opportunity. But most of the time they were always unpainted because painting them was time consuming and a hassle.

    I have had a lot of success with products from Ocho Games.

    The ’tiles’ they produce are high quality, pre-painted, sized appropriately for D&D 3/3.5. I got 2 sets of the Master GM pack and then used a sharpie to number the duplicates (Orc 1, Orc 2, etc). They all fit into a flat medium sized tackle box.

  3. Dave The Game permalink
    October 8, 2007

    Between battlemaps and minis, battlemaps are way more important to me (for D&D.) As someone spatially stupid, I can’t keep track of exactly how far everything is away from each other in my head, and so I do a really poor job of describing a character’s options in combat, unless I totally fudge it (which makes a lot of stuff in D&D worthless.)

    By having a map, everyone can see exact distances, and know their options. By adding minis, though, the whole scene really starts to come alive, as compared to using flat tokens. I mainly use the D&D Minis set (and have probably dropped a few hundred on them over the lifespan of the game) with some old minis from Warhammer and dungeon crawl board games.

    Watch out though, because players get used to them. Last night when I ran, I got a lot of “is that what he really looks like?” and “what is this?” and then looking at the bottom of the mini for the name.

  4. Dave The Game permalink
    October 8, 2007

    Also, if your group decides that D&DM are for you, there are places online that offer cheap packages of lots of commons and uncommons. You can also pick up some good deals on those on Ebay. I’ll see if I can find some links.

  5. Yax permalink
    October 8, 2007

    I have been known to look at available miniatures and plan a session or adventure around them. That way we had all the right minis!

  6. Tom permalink
    October 8, 2007

    We use exactly correct mini’s about 90% of the time for every game. Each Player is expected to come up with a good mini to represent his hero. If he needs help, I am glad to help him out.

    When I don’t have the right mini for something, I convert up another mini with spare parts or I just sculpt one from scratch.

    All the minis are painted as well, with very rare exceptions.

    I should note that Players get XP rewards for providing and painting their own mini.

    Having exact and well-done minis has enhanced our games tremendously, espescially in D20 games and Savage Worlds, which both rely on minis and tactics heavily.

    It’s a lot of work (mostly for me, the GM) but it’s always been worth it so far.

    As for a battle-mat, we play on a custom-built game table that has a 1×1″ gridded dry erase board as it’s surface. It’s pretty convenient. 🙂

  7. Jonathan Drain's D20 Source permalink
    October 8, 2007

    This is a valid point! On one hand, in the games where I’ve used physical miniatures it’s been a positive experience. Combat takes slightly longer due to the extra tactical options, but overall these are an improvement to any combat-based D&D game.

    On the other hand, you’re right, they are expensive. I saw an adventure recently that featured a green slaad. How often do you fight green slaad – often enough to warrant several dollars on a miniature?

    Ocho Games’ “tile” minis linked above seem to be a potentially cheaper alternative to minis. I’ve heard of cheapskate players buying tiny bathroom tiles and drawing the monsters on in board marker. I know of a clever soldier stationed in Iraq who drew his monsters on pebbles.

  8. Vanir permalink
    October 8, 2007

    I think D&D Minis are neat and all, but I still think this game is all about using one’s imagination.

    A detailed zombie figure will look awesome and all, but I’d much prefer that my DM puts down a d4 in its place and tells me it’s a zombie. What my mind superimposes over that die is way scarier and smells like death.

    And it’s free. 🙂

  9. ChattyDM permalink
    October 9, 2007

    I bought 2 boxes of each D&D set since the 1st one and I’ve built quite a collection since then.

    We all love playing with full color battle maps and painted mini… it has an undeniable coolness factor.

    I slightly disagree about the imagination part, some players love handling physical props (dice, minis, Magic Item cards) and it actually can help visualization in some players.

    Question of playing style I think.

    One huge issue is for fights against numerous mooks.

    Pre-painted miniatures are too expensive to allow for a full set of 12 identical mooks of each type (orcs, Kobolds, goblins, etc)

    That’s why I use Zombie unpainted plastic minis from the Zombies!! game… there are perfect for mooks who don’t hang around for long anyway.

  10. Norman permalink
    October 12, 2007

    Prepainted miniatures are the way to go.

    Buy commons and uncommons lots off of ebay. Can get them fairly cheap if you word at it.

    But know that Mageknights are on larger than 1″ bases. I bought many before this and now I’m slowly rebasing them. Which is more of a pain than I care to think about.

    Instead of minis there are lots of paper tokens and it’s easy to make your own from internet found images. I use paper for mooks, insect swarms, other minor actors.

    I rarely have the correct mini. It ‘s not a problem in my games. I just use whatever I have that is close, orcs and kobolds stand in for just about any humanoid nasty. I use a few wolfs for all sorts of animals. I just describe the creatures then bring out the minis.

    Mini’s are tools speed combat and allow players to quickly visualize the situation. They aren’t a substitute for storytelling.

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