Of Minis, Tokens, and Chits

I’m busy prepping an adventure for Saturday, and I learned that that I don’t own any minis that resemble any of the monster or NPCs that I want to run. This is in part due to my (a) small collection of minis, and (b) use of monsters that haven’t been in D&D for a few editions. Without the minis at my disposal I have following options. I’ve sorted them from most-realistic/least-reusable to cheapest.

  1. Buy mini singles. There are plenty of websites out there (Auggie’s, Troll and Toad, etc) that sell D&D miniatures singles. Unfortunately these tend to run $3 – 12, and that’s for easily available ones (not rares or from older sets). While this is cheaper and easier than finding a nice metal mini and painting it, it can be a huge cost for one a shot. And if you’re playing with minions, it can really add up. I easily got up to $70 for my game, which is way more than I want to spend. It might be worth it if I reused the same types of monsters over and over again, but alas that is not the case.
  2. Make tokens. I have tons of 1″ discs from Alea tools, so I just need to repurpose some old magic cards or scale some artwork from the web and print it out. Unfortunately I don’t have any of the 2″ discs for the large-sized monsters. The downside to these is they don’t stir up the imagination the way miniatures do, and because they’re all flat and the same size, it requires a larger cognitive load to distinguish between the monsters. When I played in the PHB 3 game day, the DM had prepared tokens and it worked out well, but I think mini’s would have drawn me more into the experience.
  3. Banagrams, scrabble tiles, or other < 1″ marked tokens. Unlike home-made tokens (#2) these require little effort. In addition tiles with letters makes it easy to match them with a published adventure map. With a big sans-serif letter they are easier to disambiguate than colorful tokens, but they are even more removed from fantasy. This is what we use primarily in my weekly game, and I’ve gotten used to them. The nice thing is that they are cheap an easy.
  4. Beads or coins. Especially for minions, and other faceless masses, colored beads (like the Chessex stone counters) or coins of various denominations and nationalities make a great way to mark a creature’s position on the table. The downside to these is that they are hard to differentiate or you need to equate some abstract characteristic (color or size) to the monster type.  However these are easy and cheap, and require no preparation.
  5. M&Ms and other foodstuffs. These are pretty much like the beads, except you get to eat the enemies once you kill them (bonus!). M&Ms, skittles, jelly beans come in a wide variety of colors and flavors.

So there’s the spectrum of stuff. I left off lead minis or even sculpting my own since that’s even more time and money I don’t have and requires artistic aptitude. I really like using the D&D miniatures and wish I had the right kinds or even reasonable facsimiles for my game, but it’s just too cost-prohibitive. I appreciate when I play in a game and the DM has prepared with representative minis because that makes it so easy to get into the mindset and enjoy the battle, but I’d rather take an interesting combat, or one that makes sense in context of the current adventure than have accurate minis.

What else do people use to represent their characters and NPCs? Does anyone go gridless? Any suggestions that I can pull off in the next four days for my adventure?

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19 thoughts on “Of Minis, Tokens, and Chits

  1. @Smerg,

    Ooh free paper minis. I had a bad experience with them once. Have you used them? Do they feel like a good compromise between minis and tokens?

  2. I have a pretty small collection of minis, and I tend to save my minis for the big important villains and monsters that I want to draw extra attention to.

    For the rest, I put together a Photoshop file full of custom-made counters with images that I scour from the web, or from PDFs of various books I have. I print these out on card stock for extra sturdiness and weight. Since I use this method (http://www.gamecrafters.net/archives/625) for initiative tracking, I make sure that the images on the counters match up with the images on the initiative cards, so the players can easily reference who is where and what conditions are on which creatures.

    In addition, the players each have their own mini. Most encounters feature the player minis and a bunch of card stock counters, which has the advantage of allowing the PCs to stand out and be easy to find. Like I said, major villains usually have a mini devoted to them, as do large brutes or elite meat shields that I want to draw attention to.

    This method tends to work pretty well, allows me to use a lot of evocative art, and is cost-effective.

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  4. For medium-size monsters, chess pieces work great and you can move them and knock them prone to boot. Pick some up when someone’s selling on Craigslist

  5. I have one lone mini for my druid. It’s hard to find minis for what you want. My mini, for example, is an elf, and my druid is a human, but she works fine. She’s so tiny, anyway, so I don’t notice even the ears. :)

    I love the M&M idea. Usually, what we do is use dice to represent other characters because my boyfriend has so many. And then he’ll turn them on different faces (Bad Guy #1 will have the 1 dot facing up, Bad Guy 2 has 2 dots facing up etc), that way we can keep track of them.

  6. You could use technology. A combination of laptop and software (e.g. rptools free) and a monitor if you happen to have them kicking about and you can project your map and grid onto a screen the players can see.

  7. I can’t praise One Monk Miniatures (http://onemonk.com/) enough, and they’re now available for free download. Just base them on pennies/cents with a dab of glue to give them a touch more stability, and they’re done.

    Ditto for http://www.pigames.net/ – their Disposable Heroes line are excellent quality, and the customizable Army Builder app alone is worth the cost.

    For anything else, we use Jelly Babies (gummi bears I guess are the US equivalent) they’re colour-coded, stand up just fine and taste delicious when killed :D

  8. Wow, lots of great comments. This was very helpful. I didn’t even think of paper minis. Thanks for the link @Smerg, @greywulf. Here is my proof-of-concept attempt using an Ogre from One Monk:

    I think I’ll get better at these with some practice and better scissors. It’s a lot more work than the minis, and this guy is more cartoony than the feel of the adventure I put together, but overall I like it. In particular these are scaled well so it it will give a good sense for the players with their mediums up against a large.

  9. @Spring, the nice thing about letter tiles (scrabble, bananagrams, etc) is that the letter can be used to keep track particular monsters as well.

    @Ian,
    I’ve always wanted something like a mounted projector, but have neither the space or money. A D&D surfacescapes would be boss too.

  10. You can paint the border of the paper mini (black) to have a better result and a stilleto could be better than scissors.

    You can see some examples here:
    http://www.roleplayer.com.br/site/tag/miniaturas-de-papel/

    A Friend of mine uses the images os D&D minis to craft his paper minis here:

    http://newtonrocha.wordpress.com/2009/01/26/download-de-miniaturas-de-papel-para-dungeons-and-dragons-nitrodungeon/

    Gnome Stew made a PDF that you can insert any image you want to make a paper mini, it’s nice.

    Brazil – Rio de Janeiro

  11. @Spring,

    You can use M&Ms as status indicators. That way you can get more in per combat!

    @Urathander,

    That’s a good idea, or a black marker. One thing I’ve since figured out is that I should have folded and pasted the mini first before cutting it. In that case I cut out the whole outline, so it didn’t line up that great. It also looks like the One Monk ones have a fatter outline on the backside to cover up alignment issues. But for my one-shot these should be fine.

    I like the image of mini’s paper minis. Very meta.

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  13. We are big on using minis for PC’s and NPC’s (buy in bulk lots on eBay or singles from DandDminis.com, which is cheaper than eBay or any online site we have found for singles). However, we also have a projector we use, from time to time, as a power-point sort of deal as needed, or sometimes I create something using Photoshop and print it out.

  14. @Michael. The projector (small table-top) has been used for maps, monsters, NPC’s and treasure items (like a sentient sword that I created to resemble a dragon so the grip was the neck, the pommel was the head with an enchanted jewel for the eye and the guard shaped like wings). We use all sorts of things in our gaming, for effect, including having the room lit by candlelight, etc.

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