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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?