Tuesday, January 17, 2017

D&D: Miniatures on the Cheap

Beaky, the unoffical mascot for
Raging Owlbear was acquired for a cool $5.
One of the more commonly asked questions I see on social media is, "How do I add miniatures to my game inexpensively?"

That's a bit of a loaded question. Miniatures are generally not cheap... but there are ways you can add some pizzazz to your games without completely breaking the bank.

If you know me, or read enough of my blog, you may know I am a bit of a miniatures fiend. What you probably don't know is that I've spent well over $1000 on miniatures alone... probably much more. Between Reaper  Bones Kickstarters, D&D Miniatures and Pathfinder Battles random boxes, and countless lots on Ebay, it all adds up to a sum that I don't actually want to calculate (and I'm not even counting the Dwarven Forge). I've got an absurd amount of miniatures... but I always find more I'd like to get. Let my addiction be a wake-up call for you.

So how can you do it on the cheap?

Paper Craft Miniatures

Townsfolk battle the invading Iron Circle
mercenaries in Harkenwold.

My first suggestion is to find some free or cheap paper miniatures. These add a lot to the game and are relatively easy to assemble and base. 

One of my favorites is One Monk. In addition to his high quality paper miniatures, he has several hundred "Imperfect" paper miniatures in his free downloads section. When I needed a bunch of NPC townsfolk for a big battle I was planning, One Monk came to the rescue. Another favorite is Okum Arts who also offers some free samples in his inventory. 

But these are not the only guys (or gals) in town. There are literally dozens of paper craft miniature publishers with free to download products available. You will need to invest some time to find the ones that are to your tastes.

I will also quickly note, though it is outside of the scope of this post, I also enjoy 3D paper terrain from Dave Graffam and Fat Dragon Games. I briefly discussed their offerings in a prior post (which also features paper miniatures from One Monk).

There are two things I'd like to note: find the thickest cardstock you printer can handle. For most inkjets that do not have a straight through feed, 110 lb cardstock might be the thickest that will print without problems. Second, paper printing is not without its cost. Inkjet toner also isn't cheap, but if you are just printing a few sheets from time to time, it should not be a problem.

Cardboard tokens from Wizards of the Coast

Paper Tokens


Like paper craft miniatures, paper tokens are even simpler to put together. Just buy a 1-inch hole punch, print out some artwork or images you like on cardstock, and punch away. To base, you can glue them to cut cardboard or even to metal washers for a bit of weight.

Cardboard tokens were also available during the D&D 4th Edition period and some of the high quality PDF and JPEG images of those token in the Monster Vault are available for purchase.

I'm not as crazy about tokens, because I like stand-ups... but that's just my personal preference. Punch tokens are cheap and take very little work to make bunches.

Cardboard Stand Ups


Pathfinder Pawns
While slightly more expensive than the prior two options, I think stand ups (also known as "pawns") are some of the best visuals for a lower cost. For about $80, you can get pawns that will cover 80% - 90% of your gaming needs. Start with two boxes: Pathfinder Pawns: Bestiary Box and Pathfinder Pawns: NPC Codex. 

If you absolutely need more Orcs, Goblins, Hobgoblins, Giants, Ogres, Trolls etc, there is also the Pathfinder Pawns: Monster Codex, but it isn't needed unless you need a whole bunch of the more common demi-humans. I'd skip the Bestiary 2 or Bestiary 3 pawns unless you need specific odd monsters... but you can always fall back on paper craft miniatures or tape/glue artwork over blank cardboard to make a custom pawn. Note if you pick up the pawn boxes, you will probably want to add extra bases to your shopping cart.

ArcKnight flat plastic miniatures

Flat Plastic Miniatures


A new company, Arcknight, has also jumped into the accessories market with their clear plastic miniatures. The clear plastic is a bit more expensive than cardboard pawns, but at roughly $0.40 - $0.50 per miniature (depending upon quantity purchased), they are still significantly cheaper than regular plastic or metal mold miniatures. The artwork is fantastic and they do look terrific on the table. Check them out and let them know Raging Owlbear sent you. (I have no affiliation with Arcknight other than being a fan of the work). I also just found out they are in the middle of their second Kickstarter.

D&D Board Games


Miniatures included in Wrath of Ashardalon
Facebook user Chuck Ocenasek reminded me that you can also pick up a good variety of miniatures from the D&D Board Games. The board games themselves are a little "meh", but you end up getting about 40 miniatures for around $50 depending upon the game. Wrath of Ashardalon, in particular, is probably the most popular one as it comes with an Orcs, Kobolds, an Otyough, a Gauth, a Rage Drake, and an awesome Red Dragon. The Temple of Elemental Evil comes with elementals (well, yeah), cultists, Gnolls, Hobgoblins, an Ettin and Black Dragon in flight. All the sets have a good selection of minis, but those are probably the two best.

 3D Printing


This is not exactly a cheap option, but I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention this news. If you have a 3D printer, you probably already know... But if you don't, a number of artists have released 3D figure files for use with 3D printers for free. So one could print their own miniatures "as needed". There are also numerous files for Dwarven Forge-like terrain. You can search sites like Thingiverse.com or on Shapeways.com. Google around and you can find several other free resources for 3D printer files. Update: +Brent Newhall sent me a link with hundreds of STL files you can download.

Secondary Markets


All that said, sometimes you just want that one particular miniature that just looks so awesome (Beaky!). Sometimes, it pays off to watch Ebay for lots of the more common miniatures. In general, Ebay is not cost effective unless you buy a large lot or multiple small lots from the same seller (due to postage). However, sometimes you find sellers that have a lot of inventory you like and will only charge around $3 for shipping even on larger lots. Expect to pay $2 to $3 per common miniature (including postage) when buying larger lots. Also check online stores like Troll and Toad, Noble Knight or Miniatures Market. You have to really hunt down bargains and Your Mileage May Vary...  Significantly.

Ok, so he's pretty awesome for a small dragon... but $15?!?
You might be better off looking at the FLGS to see if they have a deal on commons. Lastly, you can also order Reaper Bones miniatures direct from Reaper or at your FLGS. Many of their minis are also in the $2 to $3 range. Kobold and Goblins are available cheaply on Amazon through Prime.

Keep in mind that secondary markets are crazy volatile price-wise (in ways that are often illogical). For instance, you can't get the new D&D Red Dragon Wyrmling for less than $15 right now... and yet the Pathfinder Battles "Young Red Dragon" is only $5, older versions of the Red Wyrmling are between $6 - $9 and the Red Dragon Evolution box which includes the Young, Adult and Elder Red Dragons (medium, large and huge) is only about $40 from Amazon. Sure, the new mini has a really striking pose... but $15 for a medium size mini?  F--- that.


Final Thoughts


Miniatures are one of the more expensive game collectibles, but they are a lot of fun! Even if your budget is constrained, hopefully I've given a few options that will spice up the gaming table without spending a lot of money... and if you are looking for more 3D gaming options, take a look at my previous article on paper terrain options. Post in the comments any other ideas for gaming on the cheap side.
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