Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Behind the Screen Part 4: Miniatures

Continuing my behind the screen series on what I use for gaming at my table. The first 3 parts are linked at the bottom of this post.

I've talked about the pros and cons of using minis in your game session here and here. In a classic style game they're not really needed as the combats tend to be loose and fast. In fact, in our sessions we've gotten through some pretty mass combats without the aid of miniatures.

Still, there's something alluring about having minis a part of your play. Even if you don't actually use them, to have a tiny representation of your character that you spent time painting is part of the pleasure of the game.

I've tried to bring minis into the game off and on but they just haven't stuck. As a DM though, using minis on the tabletop does help when there is a lot of players (in our case 8) and folks are exploring rooms, heading off into different directions and battling hoards of grim crypt crawlers.

So I've come up with a couple of solutions.

So to save time on painting some minis such as hirelings, I go with a dry brushed silver over black. It gives the details some definition as well as makes the fully painted PC minis stand out more. Plus I think these look classy like chess pieces ("Mongo only pawn in game of life").
I picked up these guys with about 50 other minis for $5 at a yard sale!

Another problem with minis is that, as a DM, you usually have to supply all the monsters. That means there could be hundreds of possible creatures to choose from with multiple instances of these creatures; 20 orcs, 50 goblins, etc. I like to keep the game as inexpensive as possible and it occurred to me that minis are just simple representations of what is happening on the table top in just a brief moment of game time so why 'invest' a lot of time and money into buying and painting monster minis?

Moving on to the hoards of monsters and other creepy crawlies, I tried to use paper minis and you can find a bunch online but the issue with those is storage and durability. They tend to get...crushed.

I like the concept of tokens. They're compact and durable. You can place them on the table quickly and they're still abstract enough to not distract from the role-playing at the table. But I wanted to spice up my tokens a bit with an old school feel.

So I picked up some 1 inch wooden discs online, bought a 1 inch hold punch at a craft store, pulled out a bunch of my classic books (Monster Manual, modules, etc) and began scanning. And this is what I ended up with.

I like using the black and white images as I feel that it doesn't distract at the table. The black and white stands out enough for one to see what it is without having to focus on it. Black and white, IMO, lends itself open to one's imagination.

Now, since I used copyrighted images for my tokens, I can't give you the finished sheets but I can give you the photoshop / GIMP template file (see below) for you to make your own tokens.

  1. Just scan your artwork at 300 dpi greyscale
  2. Drag them into the template
  3. Size them to fit within the mask.
Make as many copies of the monsters as you need to. A sample of one of my sheets is below.

Once you fill your sheet, print them without any scaling.

Pop the paper tokens out with a 1" hole-punch then glue them to the wooden discs.

Your hordes of the Underworld will be ready to wreck havoc on your unsuspecting party.

To go along with the tokens and the minis I've made some custom dungeon tiles. Again, they are very simple, nothing too distracting from the focus of the game, the role-playing. The grid on the tiles are 1 1/4 inch squares (five feet game scale) which will work great with your based minis and tokens.

I bet these guys are thinking they should have stayed in the tavern!

To cap this all off, I picked up an unfinished wooden box and with a little work created a storage for the minis and the tiles.

Cheap hoards
Free tiles
Hours of gaming fun!


1" Wooden Discs
1" Paper Hole Punch
The Warlock's Dungeon Tiles
Token Template TIF File (about 9mb) Right click and save as onto your desktop. It's a layered TIFF file so it should open up in both Photoshop and GIMP.

Behind the Screen Part 1: Rules and Supplements
Behind the Screen Part 2: The Screen
Behind the Screen Part 3: Random Charts


  1. I love the old school tokens! The box looks great too. Very cool!

  2. I like your solution! For me, I would have a hard time NOT using minis or a system like yours to keep track of the action. Our group still uses a Chessex mat and water-soluable markers, along with the miniatures after all these years of gaming.

    One great thing about your token system is how efficient it is - you have all your supplies in the box, where I still lug around 4 large figure cases and the battlemat & markers. But then again, I like to paint & collect my own miniatures, so I guess I'm not ready to retire them in favor of tokens quite yet.

  3. All very cool. Have you considered going white primer, black stain, white drybrush for the quick and dirty paintjob on the miniatures? That way, they stand prepped and ready should you want to paint them in color later on.

  4. I'll keep that in mind, Roger. BTW, I use to love Deathmaze! Nice icon.

  5. Nice post Paul! I can't help but think that last pic looks like a very angry Female Vampire a certain party has been on the hunt for! Televon will make sure the stay outside of the magic circle!

  6. Roger stole my comment. I do nearly the same thing to quickly make minis look better. White primer (sprayed on, do a batch) and a thin black wash to creep into the crevices. Haven't found the need to do the white dry brush over.

    Mostly I've done this to reaper figs that have so much detail that I don't have the time (or the expertise?) to paint them at present. Love the figs, want to use them in the game and want them to stand out as they should. The details coming out from the black wash make them so much more recognizable then they are just out of the package.