29 Minis Tips For The Frugal Gamer

Dragon mini

Photo courtesy of Nicolás Sanguinetti

Late last year RPT ran a contest for tips about minis and battlemats, with prizes graciously supplied by Gator Games. Response was tremendous!

Below is part one of a new series that presents the awesome tips RPT readers submitted for the contest. Part one and two will cover tips aimed at gamers on a budget. The other parts will focus on tips about:

  • Modding minis
  • Using minis better or more creatively in-game
  • Storage and organization
  • Battlemats – usage and substitutes

Minis Tips For Gamers On A Budget

  1. I use numbered tiles for my bad guys. The NPC marked #1 is always the leader of the group (if there is a leader). I typically have only one or two stat blocks for all the NPCs in my bad guy party. I reference the stat blocks during combat. On a sheet of scrap paper I just write the numbers #1 through #5, and beside those numbers record things such as HP, current penalties, current bonuses, and conditions until the NPC dies.
  2. Use minis and playdough to make casting molds for more playdough minis. Press the mini face down in a 3 inch thick brick of play-dough (or clay) then repeat on another brick with the back of the mini. Let the bricks dry (or bake’em in an oven) to create simple molds you can stick play-dough in, press together, and “clone” a destructible goblin army pretty much for free.
  3. Don’t be afraid to mix miniatures and paper counters and chits to maximize your spending dollars.
  4. Search thrift stores and second hand shops for old board games. Mine them for pieces to use for minis and table dressings.
  5. Don’t be afraid to shop around for bargains with miniatures. There are dozens of instances of people getting out of the hobby and you can get fantastic deals on large quantities. Better yet, sell the ones you have no use for after getting them.
  6. Keep up to date with Borders coupons. They can make buying the official D&D miniatures much cheaper with as much as 40% off coupons such as this one.
  7. Buy mixed lots of Heroclix, Mageknight, Dreamblade or Horrorclix on eBay. Break off the bottoms and super glue onto plastic or wooden circles.
  8. Use 1″ washers as tokens. Cut or punch out a picture of a monster and glue it to a washer. Easy way to get 46 kobolds.
  9. I have a tub of multi-colored craft clay (the kind that never dries out). When I need a set of faceless goons, I just make little balls of clay. If I have multiple types of goons, I use different colors. We can even etch numbers in with a pencil so I can keep track of which goblin has taken which damage. If I have a major villain, I’ll make a crude figure. Why have an elegant, painted mini if you’re going to kill him in the near future and never see him again? The absolute best part is the squishing. The player whose character kills a creature gets to physically squish the ball of clay with a vehemence proportionate to how frustrating the NPC was.
  10. When starting a mini collection, you can buy inexpensive singles (less than $1.00 each) to stand in for a variety of monster types, then expand your collection over time.
  11. Who needs minis – use paper! Find or create a template of the right size, then use your favorite graphics program to create your own custom minis. Just google the type of character you want and resize and paste that into the paper template. Then trifold and glue or tape. This allows players to use whatever exact photo they might want for their PC. For example, this pic.
  12. I collect bottle tops and caps from milk and soda. They come in a variety of colours and sizes, making them useful stand-ins for just about anything.
  13. Toy soldiers. A few hundred of them are $2-$5 at most stores, and work well as faceless minions in large scale battles, especially in modern day and sci-fi settings. A little model knife work will also quickly trim off the rifles and modern gear if one feels picky or creative for fantasy. As a plus, they can be used to hone painting techniques and style before working on a valued mini.
  14. Now that my son is older and no longer into Pokemon and the other kid-friendly CCGs, I’ve been digging into and removing all the little PVC figures that he’s collected and that seem RPG compatible. It’s a nice, fast way to fill out those battles when you don’t have a lot of the same type of monster.
  15. Star Wars minis crossovers. I keep a handful of Star Wars miniatures for use in my D&D games. Certain ones can pass well as D&D figures. Mon Motha in her white dress and Grand Mof Tarkin in his uniform are my go-to figures for noble woman and elder unarmed human.
  16. Print tokens to represent enemy NPCs. One useful tool can be found here.
  17. All my NPCs are nothing more than 1″ wooden discs with numbers written on them (typically numbered 1 through 5). The flip side (opposite the numbered side) has a big black “X” written on it. An NPC still alive lies with grid number side up. Dead NPCs get flipped over with the black X facing up.
  18. We use standard 30 mm plastic bases for small and medium sized characters, and 50 mm plastic bases for large characters. We built an Adobe Illustrator round template where we put character illustrations. Grey border for player characters, black border for enemies, and red border for elite and solo enemies. We print and glue the round pieces on the plastic bases.For monsters, we put a small area in the template where we can print the number (Orc #5) or names (Orc Chief Bar’khul). We use plastic transparent bases from hovering vehicles in Warhammer 40k for flying or jumping characters. We also use bingo tokens and painted bases.The painted bases are for permanent or semi-permanent effects forced on the characters (Warlock’s curse, Bloodied) and put them under the character’s token. The bingo tokens are put on the character’s token, and can mean a short-spanned effect (warrior’s mark, ongoing damage, etc.). We store bases and tokens in rolls for quarters and coins.
  19. I supplement my miniatures collection with cheap plastic dinosaurs you can get in toy sections or as party favors in other store sections. They’re typically small enough so all four feet fit in a 1″ square on the combat board, and they make great, generic, random encounter monsters that aren’t easily identified by meta-gaming players.
  20. Buy minis that are versatile and can be used for many concepts. Troglodyte minis can be used for lizardfolk, for example. There are many different human minis, so have a few for fighters, casters, clerics, scouts and you’ll have all your roles covered for any fight using humans. Now you’re spending less money and saving space in your minis container.
  21. The pre-painted D&D halfling miniatures make great stand-ins for children.
  22. To represent carts while gaming, we have used packs of playing cards, Altoids mint tins and packs of cigs.
  23. Wine corks work great for pillars and pedestals and work great with Dungeon Tiles as well.
  24. As a guy with very few minis, I often reuse the same minis over and over. My players have come to hate the fighter with the blue cloak (whom they have dubbed Captain Blue Cape) and will attack him no matter what he represents. I often place this mini in the most strategically advantageous location on the battle map. If the PCs want to kill him they have to do it on his terms.
  25. I don’t have a whole lot of miniatures, so I often use the wrong thing for the wrong person. But what my players care most about is having that one miniature that looks like their character. You can burn piles of money hoping you get something close, but it’s easier to drop 7 bucks online and get 5 or 6 minis that look similar to what the people you know like to play.If they change, drop another 75 cents and you’ve got their old mini as an NPC and the new mini for them. Unfortunately, this means you’ll end up with a lot of hero type minis.
  26. Go to a hobby shop and get different colored square or hex pieces of glass (they fit perfectly for the map) and use the different colors to represent effects – marked, prone, ongoing damage – much cheaper than a similar product out there.
  27. For horses, we take thicker paper like 3×5 cards or the cardboard backing from comic books and cut them down to 1″x2″ then hand draw a picture of a horse on it. Place your mini on the paper mini and now he’s ready to ride! You don’t have to worry about the mounted figs falling over like when you use mounted metal miniatures.
  28. Grab circular stickers such as what you use to label stuff at a garage sale. Write the names of the monsters on them, and apply them to quarters. You might feel apprehensive about wasting perfectly good coins, but the stickers can be removed easily, and 25 cent miniatures are the cheapest ones you’ll find. Bonus: different colored stickers can make it easy to distinguish monsters. “I attack the orange kobold!
  29. Glass markers. Go to a craft store and get a 2 pound bag of colored glass beads for $2.99. It’s about hundred of them. Way cheaper than getting 2 dozen glass beads from a gaming company.


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