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Dungeons & Dragons miniatures: everything you need to know!

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Donjons and Dragons, published by Wizards of the Coast, is an exciting role-playing game that is played by millions of people around the world and is a licence that has developed a cult following over the decades. As proof of this, the new film Donjons and Dragons, Honor of Thieves has just been released at the cinema! Miniatures are, of course, a key element of the game, allowing players to bring to life their characters and enemies during games (and particularly during combat). In this article, we’re going to give you a comprehensive overview of Dungeons and Dragons miniatures, including their history, their use in the game, as well as tips on choosing the best miniatures for your collection. Let’s get started!

I. The history of Dungeons and Dragons miniatures

A. The first miniatures

The Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game has an obvious historical link with the world of miniature games: when, in the 1970s, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson wanted to evolve the wargame called Chainmail, they followed a path that led them to imagine a game where players would directly embody the heroes of their favourite wargames, and experience personal adventures between military campaigns. The use of miniatures in role-playing games, although optional, is therefore also closely linked to the use of miniatures in war games. The miniatures of the time were in lead, and mostly represented historical characters but more rarely fantasy characters (from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings universe, for example) such as dwarves, elves and trolls. The miniatures were produced by companies that specialised in making scale models for war games. It was Minifigs that became the first official producer of D&D miniatures in 1977, followed by Heritage, with its products entitled “Dungeon Dwellers” between 1979 and 1982. Then came Grenadier, between 1980 and 1982 for the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (ADD) range, followed by several other companies, including TSR itself, Citadel and Ral Partha until 1997. Wizards of the Coast began producing its own line of miniatures in 1999, shortly after acquiring TSR. WOTC has produced three distinct lines of D&D figures:

  • TSR 25th Anniversary miniatures
  • Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition miniatures
  • The Chainmail line of D&D skirmish game miniatures

B. The evolution of miniatures

Throughout a parallel period, the use of cardboard miniatures was also very popular, to replace lead miniatures which were not necessarily easy to find, but also sometimes had to be transported, and above all painted, which was not easy for everyone. Over the years, lead figurines evolved to become plastic. It was in 2003 with the Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures Game that the first official plastic, pre-painted Wizards of the Coast D&D miniatures saw the light of day. Over the years, the figurines have become sculpted in increasingly precise detail. Characters have also been expanded to include more varied races and character classes, as well as increasingly formidable enemies to take them on.

Paper or cardboard figurines make excellent substitutes at a lower cost… and a considerable space saving. But they’re also a little less immersive.

Today, if you want to go for official D&D figures, you need to take a look at Wizkids minis, which may or may not be pre-painted. But there are a good number of manufacturers of fantasy miniatures today that are perfectly usable in your Dungeons and Dragons games, such as Dark Alliance, Reaper Miniatures or Steamforged Games and their “Epic Encounters”. We could also mention the Dungeons & Lasers range, which offers packs of miniatures around the same theme (NPCs, Townsfolk…). This great variety of choice is a godsend for gamers and collectors alike.

II. The use of miniatures in the game

A. The different uses of miniatures

Dungeons and Dragons miniatures are used to bring characters to life during role-playing games. The miniatures represent the player characters (PJs) as well as their enemies, and allow everyone, players and GM alike, to visualise the actions taking place during the game.

Figures can also be accompanied by game maps or mats, objects, furniture, trees, doors, walls or other scenery and terrain elements. These sets and maps will create a detailed representation of the environment in which the game takes place and greatly encourage immersion. It’s a whole world of hobbies in its own right to create your own dungeons and terrains for your next adventures.

B. The benefits of using miniatures in the game

As we said earlier, however, the use of Dungeons and Dragons miniatures is optional. It’s primarily a matter of taste: some prefer a more simulationist approach to the game, and will have a compelling need to see their character evolve on a map with squares to better picture the combat situation. Others prefer to use their pure imagination so as not to feel “limited”. Some like to vary the pleasures and decide on one or the other depending on the battle. Let’s be clear: there’s no one way of practising that’s better than another. It’s really up to you, as GM and/or player, to choose according to your preferences. But what are the advantages of playing with miniatures, in this case?

Playing with miniatures has many advantages for players. Firstly, miniatures allow players to visualise characters and enemies, making it easier to immerse themselves in the game world. Miniatures also allow players to better understand the position, distance and movements of characters, which is crucial during combat or action scenes.

Figures can also help to create a more social gaming experience, as they facilitate interaction between players and make the game more engaging. Miniatures can be used to describe complex scenes or situations that are difficult to understand verbally, allowing players to better collaborate and understand each other. This is especially true for beginner players.

On the other hand, it is true that the use of thumbnails may require more work upstream for the GM, depending on the degree of rendering quality he wants from his battlemap. Of course, some ready-made maps exist, with different levels of realism. You can use a generic map with boxes on which you draw the terrain with an erasable marker. Or you may want an extremely elaborate set, totally unique and made for the occasion. Above all, it’s a matter of time and motivation on the part of the GM. With the new online tools available today, such as Dungeon map Doodler or Dungeon Alchemist, it’s possible to generate printable maps and terrain quickly and easily. 3D printers are also a great way for budding designers to create customised scenery. Of course, there’s also pre-painted terrain available for purchase, like this one for example, which will make it really easy for you to liven up your battles! Finally, if you’re playing online, most virtual tabletop apps support plenty of features for battles, but you won’t have the fun of pushing miniatures around the game board.

In short, the use of Dungeons and Dragons miniatures can greatly enhance the gaming experience and make role-playing more exciting and immersive for players. But let’s remember once again: everyone plays as they see fit!

III. The different types of miniatures

A. Player character miniatures

Player character miniatures are the miniatures that represent the characters created by players for their role-playing game. These miniatures can be purchased ready-made or customized by players to reflect their character’s physical characteristics and skills. My advice as a GM: let your player choose a miniature that they like and that fits the idea of their character. But there’s nothing to stop you making a pre-selection! I’ve also sometimes used an existing miniature and repainted it to fit a character more closely.

The pleasure of getting together with friends around a role-playing table…. What a joy!

B. Enemy figures

Enemy miniatures are used to represent opponents that player characters must face. Enemies can be fantastical creatures such as dragons, trolls or orcs, or non-player characters such as enemy guards or soldiers. Enemy miniatures can be used to help players visualise their opponents, and can also be used to help plan strategies and tactics during combat. My GM tip: prepare enough in advance of your game to be able to pick up the monsters you’re interested in. And if the player characters don’t need to fight after all? Save them for next time: after all, your players aren’t supposed to know in advance what kind of creatures they’re going to fight, or when…. It’s perfectly acceptable to recycle fights that didn’t happen after all. Also, don’t hesitate to look into “warbands” or boxes containing several miniatures, like this one on skeletons. Having diversity is always nice and will add a really cool touch to your game board!

Tokens, or tokens, are a great replacement for figurines. Very practical to make yourself too!

C. Non-player character figurines

There are also figurines of non-player characters, such as merchants or important characters from the game’s history. These figurines can help players remember certain key characters and better understand the interactions between characters. This is the case, for example, with Legends of Barovia Premium Box Set, which allows you to find a number of the NPCs from the Ravenloft campaign in the same box.

Feel free to take a look at our “Role-playing miniatures” category, where you’re sure to find something to your liking. All that’s left for me to do now is wish you a great adventure!

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