Monday, November 24, 2008

D&D Miniatures: Multipurpose molded midgets

I am a collector. While some people collect stamps or spoons or Danny Bonaduce memorabilia, I collect something far more practical.

I collect little plastic figurines.

Dungeons & Dragons miniatures achieve a perfect balance of form and function, and I collect them just as much to display them as to use them to represent the various entities appearing in my D&D campaigns.

D&D minis come in all shapes and sizes, their designs usually influenced by artwork found in the various rulebooks. The photo below represents a very small sampling of the different kinds of minis out there.

D&D Miniatures collection

D&D miniatures have come a long way since the first set was released in 2003. D&D minis have always been relatively durable, but the quality of the paint has improved over the years, and experimentation with different kinds of plastic has allowed for more complex and stylized miniatures.

Take, for example, the evolution of how fire and beings made of fire have been represented in miniature format. From older...

Older fire-themed D&D newer:

Newer fire-themed D&D Miniatures
Miniatures as a practical thing

These minis were originally designed as a part of the D&D Miniatures Game. All you need are rules, a playing map, and the statistic cards that come with each miniature (and a handful of minis, of course), to play. I've never played it, but you can go here for a tutorial and taste of what that's like.

However, it seems that most people don't use their minis to play the Miniatures Game.

When running a game of D&D, I like to draw a map of whatever dungeon, cave, or Ye Olde Shoppinge Malle the players happen to be exploring. I use the crude "marker on a whiteboard" mapmaking style, but there are far more sophisticated methods out there. Each player has a miniature to represent his or her character's location on the map; monsters and other characters that I control are also placed on the map.

D&D Miniatures in actionThough exact distances between characters is always a little fuzzy on the whiteboard, it's always fun to watch the players collectively smack their respective foreheads when they realize that their characters are now standing in a small clump as a wizard conjures a very large anvil in the air above them.

Of course, you could just use dice or Skittles to represent the characters (the latter is especially effective when characters tumble into the maw of a famished dragon), but miniatures actually look like the characters they represent, except when the only miniature you have that's big enough to represent beholders, giants, and gelatinous cubes is a big, funny bird.

Displaying and storing miniatures

Depending on how large your collection is and how often you use your miniatures for something other than decoration, storing your miniatures can be tricky. Here are a few different ways to display and store your minis:

Curio cabinet: This is probably the most ideal way to store any sizable collection. Not only can you have all of your beautiful (and hideous) minis on display at all times, but you can organize them by type (spellcasters, super-big monsters, etc.) and easily pick out the ones you need when involved in a campaign. Putting them back in the proper order afterwards can be a pain, but that's perhaps the only drawback of storing minis this way.

Shoebox: If you use your minis on a regular basis and don't want to be bothered carefully rearranging them every time you put them back, a shoebox is a perfect place to store everything. Minis are generally sturdy enough to handle being piled on top of one another and shuffled around, though this is somewhat impractical if you have a number of larger minis.

If your collection is big enough, consider expanding to multiple shoeboxes, possibly dividing your collections into themes. For example, I have a shoebox for minis such as knights and wizards that my players might use to represent themselves, and a shoebox for minis such as succubi and monitor lizards that usually represent the critters that are more often lit on fire and impaled in combat with my players' characters.

Bookshelf or table: If you don't have a curio cabinet or if your bigger minis especially don't fit comfortably into shoeboxes, placing your minis out in the open is always a viable option if you've got the space for it. The biggest trouble is that smaller minis can get knocked over and lost very easily this way, especially if you've got a cat or a rogue hamster on the loose.

Collecting miniatures

Wizards of the Coast continues to produce a new set of D&D minis every few months or so. A pack of 8 randomized minis costs about $15, and sets such as Against the Giants that instead have 7 randomized normal-sized minis and one oversized mini in a box cost around $22 or so. You can typically buy these at a bookstore such as Borders or Barnes & Noble, and possibly at your local hobby or comics shop.

However, due to the flagging popularity of the D&D Miniatures Game and the prevailing usage of minis as avatars in the D&D Roleplaying Game, mini packages will no longer be fully randomized, saving collectors a considerable amount of hassle to obtain complete sets or duplicates of particular miniatures necessary for a quest involving, say, a local uprising of dozens of farmers and their flat pigs.

Like everything else these days, you can also buy booster packs and individual minis from sets both new and old online. Depending on the age and rarity, a single miniature might run anywhere from $0.25 to $80.00, though most of the ones I've seen have gone for between $1.00 and $20.00.

You can check out the complete gallery of each miniatures set here so that you know exactly what's out there.

Lastly, there are a few "miniatures" that are available individually as part of the D&D Icons line for around $30 on the lower end and $130 on the absurd end. The gargantuan blue dragon in the photograph at the top of this post is part of this line, but perhaps the most impressive one is the colossal red dragon that, I kid you not, stands twice as tall as the blue dragon:

D&D Icons Colossal Red DragonNote the difference in size between the roughly one-foot-tall dragon and the two average-height thumb-sized minis in the picture. My girlfriend says this dragon isn't a miniature, preferring to call it a "scaled model."

Hur hur hur...

D&D Icons Colossal Red Dragon This is so much cooler than Danny Bonaduce memorabilia.

[Images of fire-related minis compiled from images at All other images by Flashman85.]


Scott said...

I have to say, I like the old-style fire more.

Back when I used to play Dungeons and Dragons with a friend in freshman year, we always used a Hero Quest board for layout; it was perfect for distances, but not so great for terrain.

One thing you could do is get a large (large!) whiteboard and draw a grid on it with permanent marker... then you could draw your terrain on it and have an idea of distance from the grid. And get those neat bar/circle/novelty magnets! Nothing says "UFO" like a Star Trek communicator magnet...

Flashman85 said...

Distances on the whiteboard aren't actually as bad as I made them out to be;the medium-sized miniatures occupy a 5x5 square, and I do have a 20x20 reference square helpful for area effects, so it's just that occasionally the distances get fudged a little bit, and sometimes characters move 31 feet instead of 30 feet in a round.

Still, the Star Trek communicator magnet is a big draw...

Anonymous said...

Nice post! I totally agree. Not only are the miniatures interesting to look at but, if you do play the game, they also bring a quality of nostalgia. Plus, like you commented, miniatures are something that you can actually use. Even if you grow tired of staring at them they will always be useful tools in when it comes time for gaming. rock on!