Miniatures are a fun part of any tabletop roleplaying or wargame, and D&D minis have a rich history. Following on from part 1 where we explored the absolute minimum you need to get started with Dungeons and Dragons, in this part we will explore how to get started with D&D miniatures.
While Dungeons and Dragons is famous for incorporating imagination into the mechanics, often referred to as “theatre of the mind“, you might be surprised to learn that miniatures were part of the game from the very beginning.
The father of D&D, Gary Gygax, was a massive miniature wargaming fan, and he and his friends concocted a ruleset called Chainmail. This became one of the foundations that D&D was built upon.
Why use miniatures?
So if theatre of the mind is so popular, why even use miniatures?
First of all, it helps visualize the state of play and contextualizes the elements in an encounter. This is especially useful in combat (the traditional purpose), where distances and line of sight can be critical for tactics, but also puzzles and dungeons, where placement and relationships between objects can be the difference between success and failure.
Secondly, it’s fun. The painting of miniatures has long been a huge part of the hobby, and in fact, there are a great many people who collect and paint minis exclusively, they don’t play the games at all. As well as painting, there are a lot of people who are even more creative with their minis, sculpting, casting, customizing and “kit-bashing” (taking parts from other models and combining them into new creations), and most recently 3D-printing, which we will explore later.
But for me, the main reason is they just look cool!
Where to get miniatures for D&D
There are official lines of pre-painted miniatures for many of the popular roleplaying game brands, and D&D is no exception.
These are a good way to get started, and from arms-length they look pretty decent, but for me, a lot of the fun is in the painting. Fortunately, there are also unpainted miniatures available to buy, including some starter-sets that contain paints and brushes as well as the unpainted minis.
You do not need to stick to the official merchandise, however, as there are many companies ready and willing to sell you a monster army or a close-enough representation of your player character for a small fee!
One of the most popular third-party sellers of miniatures is Reaper, who are massive on Kickstarter, as well as selling online via their website.
Where it is really at for getting the perfect representation of your character, however, is 3D printing. Using a system like Heroforge you can build an absolutely unique miniature that is precisely how you want your character to look, right down to their heroic pose and accessories.
Here you can see I included a picture of my main player character, a Drow wizard, coffee-cup in hand!
There are two main options for 3D printing, filament and resin. Check out my post all about 3D printing options here, but TL;DR for minis you will want to go with resin when possible.
While I do 3D print my miniatures at home (this guy was printed on my Elegoo Mars resin printer, the demon guy above on my Prusa Mk3s), you don’t need to own a 3D printer to get a 3D printed miniature. Heroforge allows you to order your character printed from them, many maker spaces and libraries now feature 3D printer resources, and you are sure to have someone locally only too happy to sell you 3D printing services.
Which miniature paints are best?
While there are all kinds of miniatures out there, in D&D we tend to stick to 28mm scale (for human-sized characters, measured from feet to eyes), and occasionally 32mm. Of course, your halflings will be smaller and your giants will be much larger! This means your minis might be extremely mini, so you will want details to show up and you will need fine brushes.
In terms of material, historically the miniatures were metal (pewter hopefully rather than lead), but it is more likely now that your miniatures will be resin or plastic, as technologies improved, and for cost-savings. Your paints will need to adhere well to these materials, and not peel or chip easily.
For paints, I go for acrylic modeling paints. While many cheap craft paints will work, and for priming, you can often get away with generic primer out of a rattle can, if you are just getting started you will not want to frustrate yourself with bad materials and fight against peeling, globby, paint coverage.
Personally, I stick to the pricey but trusty brands of Citadel, Army Painter, Vallejo.
We’ll go deeper into painting in a future article. There’s a lot to it!
What if you are not a very good painter?
Mini-painting is something that takes practice, and there are quite a few techniques involved. This can discourage some folks from even starting, or from hiding their minis from public viewing.
Fear-not! Very few of us are Golden Demon award standard, and even if we were, the goal is to have fun and achieve “tabletop standard” (meaning they only need to look good enough when viewed at a distance).
You will get better over time. Enjoy the practice!
The miniature part of the TTRPG hobby can be fun, satisfying, and even relaxing (if you let go of perfectionism!), and having a collection of minis can really add to your D&D campaigns.
I encourage everyone to at least take a look and see if collecting and painting minis would be enjoyable for you.