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Miniatures traditionally are expensive and time-consuming to paint. Plus, most of us aren't great artists. If I'm playing a game that requires miniatures of some kind, but people aren't sticklers for them actually being miniatures, what other options are there?

Clarification: I'm not looking for other sources of cheap miniatures. I'm looking for other approaches, like pogs, cut-outs, tokens, and such.

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locked by SevenSidedDie Jun 22 at 18:32

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closed as too broad by SevenSidedDie Jun 22 at 18:32

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22 Answers 22

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There's a tutorial on how to make DIY tokens at Gnome Stew.

Essentially:

  1. Find a picture of the monster you want to make into a token

  2. Import that picture into TokenTool (free Java app linked from the above link) to resize and put a nice token border on the image.

  3. Import the resulting token image into a Paint.NET or GIMP drawing (again free apps linked from the above link, and a useful base drawing can also be downloaded from the site) to get a drawing suitable for printing a small army onto a 8.5"×11" page.

  4. Print and cut out the tokens (Scrapbooking and Art supply stores may be able to sell you 1", 2" and other diameter hole punches that will make cutting out easier).

  5. Glue onto washers or other correctly sized objects to give some weight and durability.

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For our D&D game, the players bought minis for their PCs, but everything else is dice. We have a lot of matched sets of d10s from our White Wolf games. For a given fight, all the green d10s are goblins and all the black d10s are kobolds, etc. Less immersive, sure, but very cheap. As a bonus, you can put a different face up on each of the baddies, which makes it easy for the DM track HP and easy for the PCs to distinguish who they're attacking.

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This works really well for our group as well. We don't need to ask "How does the monster look?" to get a feel for if it's close to dead. Even if you have minis, it works for token monsters that are summoned only for a short time – Premier Bromanov Jun 22 at 17:29

LEGO: You can build the 'critter' to the right size and shape. We had fun building our 'mini' fig or used the LEGO scaled mini-fig. Another thing we did is we got some different colored pieces and wrote numbers on them. THe great thing is a small box of LEGO's can cover a lot of situations and give you something to keep your hands busy when someone splits the party... :)

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How about paper miniatures? You print them out and then fold and stick with a bit of sticky tape. I listed a load of free ones on my blog.

[edit] Best thing about paper miniatures is that you get to dramatically squish them with a fist. Try that with lead and you're going to do yourself a nasty!

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Yeah, our gaming group has hundreds of D&D Miniatures between them but we still use paper ones for custom PCs and to fill in the gaps (like we are doing a pirate campaign and need way more pirates than we could ever afford in pewter or plastic). More "mini-like" than tokens, but way cheaper than minis and easier than painting pewter. – mxyzplk Sep 6 '10 at 5:30

Color-print flat tokens onto laser transparencies. They look great, and can easily overlap drawn or flat printed terrain and each other without obscuring anything. They easily pack in a folder, and you can easily expand your collection as needed.

A minis battle using laser transparency tokens, shot from above

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D&D blog Newbie DM has a great tutorial on making monster counters from metal washers. I can't recommend this enough. It's extremely cost-effective, and the tokens have a satisfying heft.

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I've been doing this for my game, and I totally agree. Gnome Stew also has a tutorial, and a couple of additional resource files that can help getting started at gnomestew.com/tools-for-gms/not-just-a-token-gift. – Simon Withers Sep 10 '10 at 1:28
    
Awesome. At first I thought he was using PhotoShop and I thought "great, so I only have to own a $500 program to make cheap tokens" but then I saw that it was a free program. Great find! – SladeWeston Sep 10 '10 at 16:48

Fiery Dragon and several other companies make flat tokens that can be used, and have illustrations on them. Fiery Dragon also sells them electronically, and you can then print them on uncut label sheet, and stick them to better materials (like wooden disks or poker chips) for more durable tokens.

Several RPGs of old made extensive use of them; The Fantasy Trip, GURPS 1E (via the Man to Man boardgame using GURPS 1E rules), DragonQuest... D&D 3 & 4 both suggest such tokens and illustrate using them instead of minis.

Stealing counters from old board games is an 'ancient and honorable practice'... it's actually implied strongly in the whitebox D&D rules to do so with Avalon Hill's Outdoor Survival... which has a number of animals and people.

Any material bit that's small enough to fit your battle grid can be used in a pinch. Dice, boardgame bits, coins, scraps of paper, buttons.

Paper miniatures, either print your own from the image files or PDFs, or preprinted ala SJG and PI Games' offerings, are a very viable compromise. Light, inexpensive, nice to look at, and (for print-at-home) readily replaced if lost. When I make them, I print on 110# card, have the player color them, then I laminate them with Con-Tac clear non-glare laminate or with clear tape (front and back, BTW), then cut and fold them, and use rubber cement to attach a penny or washer as a base weight.

If you have the motivation, heavier card (like posterboard for school) can readily be used; print on good bright white paper, and glue it on. Then laminate and cut.

Various toys also are not uncommon. I have used Lego minifigs, Playmobile knights, Action Figures, Micromachine figures, toy soldiers, and other such options.

If you have a good cold-ink inkjet, you can also make VERY nice stand-ups using the blank Shrinky-dink sheets. Print on them, color them, then shrink them in the oven. Or tape it over a picture, trace the lines in black, color it in, cut it out, and shrink it. You can even order the stands to make them stand up from the manufacturer.

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Just to be clear- this is about using some form of miniatures, but not having much of a collection? I suspect you'll get a lot of answers. Here's one.

I recommend colored art foam cut up in squares and notated with numbers (for monsters) and names (for PCs). Cheap and portable.

You can get Art foam at any Target, Wal-mart, or Michaels.

This stuff: Art Foam

It fits in a plastic baggie. Just cut it up into the right shape.

A lot of people will suggest small toys (if you remember the early days of D&D3, we didn't have a cheap plastic miniatures solution, exactly). Jon Tweet would carry around this big plastic jug of plastic dinosaurs and what-have-you to do demos with, and you might end up fighting a stegosaurus that was meant to represent a dragon.

I also use this for quarry, marked, bloodied, etc markers. It stacks up and you can read the colors for multiple conditions. Lighter than magnets, and it doesn't try to magnetize to other markers unexpectedly.

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I also use this for quarry, marked, bloodied, etc markers. It stacks up and you can read the colors for multiple conditions. Lighter than magnets, and it doesn't try to magnetize to other markers unexpectedly. – Peter Seckler Sep 2 '10 at 15:09

To have the right minis at the right time in a D&D 4e campaign, I used Gnome Stew's Print-and-Fold Gnome Miniatures. I'd find exactly the right picture online and print as many miniatures of it as I needed. If I wanted them to be more durable, I'd use better paper and maybe tape a coin into the base as they suggest.

I let my players choose their PC's picture, and my printer is black and white so they got to colour it in however they like; the coloured PCs stood out nicely against the black and white NPCs on the map. (We had a running joke that colouring provides better stats, but you have to choose to colour for offence or defence.)

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I've used dice, chess pieces, checkers. A quick and dirty alternative might be to use a cheap poker chip set with some circular Avery labels with printed names on them. It might look wierd to have a poker chip with the word "ORC" printed on it but it gets the message across and avoids ambiguity when using unlabeled items like dice or checkers. You can probably pick up some cheap poker chips for a few bucks at your local wal-mart or supercenter and circular avery labels from any office supply store. Microsoft Word has a built in template for using such labels and you can print whatever you want on them.

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Candy.

Hershey's Kisses, Hershey's Miniatures, M&Ms, whatever your favorites are. Then, when the PC's kill something, they get to eat their 'conquest'.

The only downside is that they 'minis' dont have numbers, which can make it tough to track for the GM. That, and if you have a combat heavy game, you'll leave every game feeling sick to your stomach :-)

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The best thing I have done for my campaign was to go to Home Depot and buy glass tiles. They come as 1" squares on a 12×12 sheet. They peel off the mesh backing really easily and then I mark numbers or write names or draw faces on them using either a dry erase marker or (for things I want to stay on there longer) a wet-erase marker like Expo Vis-à-Vis brand markers, and then my players get the satisfaction of erasing them as they have been slain. It may seem a little silly, but it has been extremely effective and easy. Plus, one sheet gets you over 100 tiles in 3 shades for around $5.00!

My friend has a campaign where they do everything on a giant whiteboard — not the table — so we glued magnets to the back of some of these and I can say they work just as well!

These are the exact glass tiles I buy:

Gray tone tile set

I hope you try this and find it useful — it's been awesome for me!

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You might look at table top games that had plastic or wooden pieces you could scavenge. I long used plastic fantasy figs from Milton Bradley's old HeroQuest, e.g.

I also had substantial success with older wooden Diplomacy and Risk pieces, which are in bright colors. They're effective enough for opponents, and with an ID sticker, also represent PCs. I rather liked the abstraction, especially when used for RPG on Standard Games' hex-patterned "boards," like Dark Blades and Cry Havoc.

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Empty thread spools usually go for less than quarter apiece. They're about the right size and shape, and stack easily. You can write letters or numbers on them using a Sharpie or other permanent marker and reuse them.

Another option is to simply use a whiteboard as your battlemat. My group does and uses miniatures, but it's quite feasible to simply draw "X"s on the mat instead of placing minis on it.

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I like to make cheap custom tokens by gluing printed character portraits onto the bottoms of these flattened marble things.

alt text

Yes, these were for a Spirit of the Century game.

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Fiery Dragon has a lot of cardboard tokens available that are reasonably priced. Here is a link to their Heroic collection. $60 will get you through the entire Heroic tier.

They are also available as digital downloads. $20 for the same set that you can print yourself.

I like these as they come double sided, the back side is that same token bloodied.

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I make my own counters by printing colour images from various art-sources, and découpaging the printouts onto plywood mini-bases; a fuller explanation is in my answer on this question-thread.

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OneMonk has all kinds of printable minis available for free. I also use Scrabble Tiles -- the letters make it easy "I hit Orc J"

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An alternative is to forego the miniatures and instead use a "Terrain Roll" (similar to a Reflex save/Dex check) to model the action. Everyone imagines the story in their head, and the DM assigns a difficulty to the action based on your character's general location in the scene. To run through the crowd requires a moderately good roll; to run through the melee and approach a central enemy close enough to attack requires a harder roll; to run through the melee, attack, leap backward and dodge an attack of opportunity requires a high roll.

Of course this will require some house rules on the subject. One system that uses this mechanic is The Riddle of Steel (TROS).

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Kitchen sponges are cheap and you can cut them into fancy shapes or simple cubes and they come in different colors, you can draw on then with Sharpies or paint them if you really wanted, can cram a dozen into an altoids tin and thousands into a shoebox, or just stuff them in your pockets and not worry about them scratching or breaking or creasing.

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Is the fact that they're light weight an issue? I know if I were to use something like this at my table they'd probably be knocked all over the place – Wibbs Jun 22 at 15:52

Being the cheap DM I am, I typically use Dice as tokens. I have a small collection of tokens that are typically used for the players, and some of my players have their own tokens, but I also have a bag of about 200 dice that I bought pretty cheaply in bulk. I use different dice to represent different monsters and put a specific number up to represent that monster in a "group."

For example, the battle consists of 4 PCs (each with a real mini), 4 standard orcs, 1 Orog, and 1 Orc Eye of Gruumsh. I use D6's for the orcs (1-4), a d8 for the Orc Eye of Gruumsh (5) and a d10 for the Orog (6).

The best part about this is that I have 10 complete sets of colored dice in this, so I can have d20's colored for each of the dice I use. It is very easy to tell what d20 roll is for what monster if I need to do a batch of saves or something.

I also tend to use D6's for status markers, like raging, charmed, hunters marked, etc by placing the mini or the die on top of it. It can get ridiculous if there's 4-5 effects, but it looks neat.

I should add I bought some dry erase dungeon tiles that I set out as a mat that works great with this.

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Paper dolls/figures/models

Similar trick is used in miniature wargames.

There are lots of this stuff on the internet. Probably you will find what you want without a problem. Just search for paper models/figures.

You can just print them on paper and glue it to appropriate size base, but I would recommend you to use game stands, which are very cheap and can be bought not only in wargaming shops, but in larger supermarkets as well.

If you would like to create your own paper figure you would have to use a graphic editor. I'd recommend GIMP, as it is free and has all needed features.

All you need to do is to copy the image and flip it vertically, optionally adding some space, if you want to just fold and glue the figure.

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