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Fistful of Lead: All the Monsters on a Budget

Fistful of Lead: All the Monsters on a Budget

toy soldiersSome gamers prefer to play using miniatures, but cost can be prohibitive. Not even hardcore collectors have every miniature they need. Including multiples, it’s easy to buy 800 miniatures at a cost of thousands of dollars and still not own the exact minis for every occasion.

There is, however, a way to own almost every miniature you’ll need for several years of play, and all for a modest outlay of around $100. Your players will thank you…

Substitution is your friend

The first secret of doing miniatures on the cheap is that from a distance, humans and elves look a lot alike. An unpainted orc will pass as an unpainted human bandit, town guard, bugbear, or tiefling cultist. A giant can stand in for an ogre as easily as a troll.

In other words, you don’t need to own one of everything, only close-enough substitutes. Miniatures can be repainted, redecorated, or left unpainted where necessary. To begin, then, a good base of general, broadly applicable miniatures is essential.

Your shopping list

55 Assorted Humanoids Although cheap generic minis are notoriously hard to find, wargaming manufacturer Caesar Miniatures sells a line of basic fantasy miniatures that covers all the basics. A set of 19 adventurers plus a set of 35 orcs or dwarves will cover you for a surprising amount of creatures.
Used for—PCs, NPCs, all humanoids, humanoid-form outsiders, lycanthropes, and some humanoid undead
Available from—Michigan Toy Soldier Co. (US), Hannants (UK and Europe)
Price—$23.98 / £9.76

37 Skeletons or Zombies Caesar Miniatures again sell a set of 37 skeleton minis.
Used for—Skeletons, zombies, humanoid-form undead, some demons and devils
Available from—Michigan Toy Soldier Co. (US), Hannants (UK and Europe)
Price—$11.99 / £4.88

12 Mounted Horsemen Again from Caesar Miniatures, a historically accurate Mediaeval Knights (Crusaders) set provides 12 horses with riders. The horses themselves can be used without the riders to represent any Large-size quadruped.
Used for—Mounted PCs, mounted NPCs, cavalry, horses, nightmares, wild animals, all Large quadrupeds including displacer beasts, hellcats, lamia and sphinxes
Available from—Michigan Toy Soldier Co. (US), Hannants (UK and Europe)
Price—$11.99 / £4.88

100 Dogs Twilight Creations produces a board game called Zombies!!!. The game has an expansion called Zombies!!! bag o’ Dogs!!!, which is literally just a bag of a hundred feral dog miniatures.
Used for—Dogs, rats, animal familiars, animal companion, any small or medium animal or quadruped
Available from—Warehouse 23 (US), Maddison Games (UK), but at time of writing both suppliers are out of stock.
Price—$10 / £7.50

30-60 Cheap Giants Where the official figurines run around $8 for a 2-inch giant mini, there’s a cheaper alternative. Mediaeval-style toy soldiers are available in huge bags that cost less than a single official mini.
Used for—Ogres, trolls, giants, golems, inevitables, minotaurs, Large humanoid undead
Available from—Toy suppliers, Amazon
Price—$8.99 / £4.99, or less

5 Demons/Devils Fiends are sufficiently monstrous to warrant their own minis. A careful selection might include two green slaad, two shadow demons, and a Pathfinder horned demon. You can omit these if you’re on a budget, but a change from painted army men is worth a small investment.
Used for—Demons, devils, fiends, slaad, trolls, incorporeal undead, minotaurs, gray renders.
Available from—Paizo.com, any D&D Miniatures singles supplier
Price—$32.95 / £28

10-12 Insects Toyshops sell 2-inch plastic spiders very cheaply, and applied to a base, these can make adequate miniatures.
Used for—Monstrous spiders, giant insects, driders, amorphous and tentacled creatures including otyughs, tendriculos, and chaos beasts.
Available from—Amazon
Price—$3.39 / £2.36

1 Huge Dragon Although most monsters can take substitutes, dragons should not be neglected. Own at least one dragon miniature of Huge size, which can be repainted as necessary. A kid’s toy of a dragon can work surprisingly well, but something like Paizo’s black dragon looks much more authentic. Figures sold as toys are a reasonable budget option for larger minis, as even an inexpensive 4-inch dragon model equates to D&D’s expensive Gargantuan size class.
Used for—Dragons, almost exclusively
Available from—Paizo.com
Price—$14.95 / £12

Miscellaneous Of the creatures not covered by this selection, it helps to get creative. Empty dice boxes are popular as gelatinous cubes that can “engulf” other minis, and small vines or plants can serve as treants or other plant creatures. Use rocks as earth elementals. Keep an eye out for inexpensive toys or other items that can serve as D&D miniatures. Buy or make a few extra mini bases to attach these to. As a last resort, paper miniatures will work for any monster you can find a picture of: simply print it out, fold it over, and attach it to a spare base.

What’s the total cost?
Total cost—$118.24 / £74.37
Total miniatures—266
Average price per mini—$0.44 / £0.28

If this still sounds expensive, see if your gaming group can go in on you with this. Split between five players, a group can have a functionally complete miniatures set for only $23.65 or £14.87 each—less than the price of a class splatbook.

Where to find cheap miniatures

UK-based company em4miniatures sells incredibly cheap unpainted orcs and dwarves, 20p each or £7.50 for fifty. You can also buy mini bases, including slotted bases suitable for paper miniatures.

Caesar Miniatures (see “humanoids,” above) also produces elves, goblins, and a handy array of historically accurate mediaeval, ancient, and modern miniatures.

German company Revell produces the Epixx Fantasy line of figurines, which includes some rather excellent looking dragons. At around 4 inches high on average, these make for fine Gargantuan D&D creatures, and they’re surprisingly well-painted. The only drawback is that with the exception of dragons, the figurines may be too large for D&D scale.

Lego produces a range of fantasy mediaeval men, including knights, horses, orcs, siege weaponry, dwarves, and skeletons. If you don’t mind using Lego in your D&D game, this may be an option.

Old board games such as Battle Masters are full of cheap unpainted minis. If you can find a copy on Ebay, a full set contains over a 100 minis, including infantry, cavalry, archers, orcs, goblins, beastmen, an ogre, and a cannon.

Stikfas figures stand around 3 inches, so they fit naturally as Huge giants such as titans. They’re available for about $5 each from the Stikfas website, and elsewhere.

Official D&D minis are reliable but expensive. They’re perfect for when you absolutely need a particular monster, but using these exclusively is impossible on a budget. Likewise, Warhammer minis cover the fantasy staples very well but are expensive. You can find both them on Paizo’s online minis store.

Appendix: Links


Player: I get into flanking position with the bottle cap.
GM: Sure. The potted plant takes its attack of opportunity.
Player: Whuh?
GM: It has reach.
Player: Harsh.

Drop us a comment. We use them for minis in our koboldy games.

26 thoughts on “Fistful of Lead: All the Monsters on a Budget”

  1. My main source of minis for D&D play happen to be the old Mage Knight minis that I had just lying around. Tons of appropriate D&D archetypes, and all I have to do is a quick rebasing on to a 1″ washer and they are ready to play.

  2. Good to see Mr. Drain’s name again!

    countingku, that’s an interesting idea. What do you use to rebase them? Super Glue? Modle Glue?


  3. What’s funny is the Michigan Toy Soldier store is literally about 1/8 of a mile from my house. I drive past it every day but have never been in there. I just assumed it was all ummm toy soldiers…? I had no idea I could pick up cheap plastic fantasy mini’s in there. Thanks Jonathan for letting me know they carry more than just toy soldiers, now I’m going to have to check them out. I see they’re open till 9pm tonight….. guess I know what I’m doing after work!

  4. Now that Dreamblade is out of print you can find booster of Dreamblade minis on sale for next to nothing. Sure, some of the minis are a little too weird to use, and some are on the large size but there are definitely some useable minis in there (especially considering how cheap they are).

    Olaf the Stout

  5. The Caesar Miniatures look great, and they are a great price, but, being 1/72 scale, they seem a little small. Does anyone have experience using these in conjunction with a standard 1-inch battle map? How do they look?

  6. 1/72 scale (25mm) used to be the standard, but there seems to have been some size creep over the years, with many companies now putting out 28mm, 32mm, even 35mm figures.

    Dreamblade is a good source for strange monsters, but rebasing them can be a pain. The manufacturer made sure they were Really Thoroughly glued down, and I haven’t found a solvent that works. So rebasing requires a heat gun or powerful hair dryer (to soften the plastic for easier cutting), a set of strong tinsnips to chop away the colored plastic edges, and an Xacto knife to slice the black soft plastic of the actual mini base free of the remaining hard colored plastic shell. If the mini has small feet you may be able to dig away the black plastic around the feet enough that you can then slice the knife blade under them, without having to chop away the outer base.

  7. I have had great success with using Legos© and even set out 3-d dungeons long before Dwarven Forge . Just wish I knew what the exact scale they used.

  8. I dont want to be out of subject. But I have renounced to 3D miniatures except for characters. For my monsters, I use Fiery dragon’s counter sheets, they are available in PDF or in program for about 25$. With cardstock, a printer and bases you can get an unlimited amount of figures of any creature. For the bases, I use a piece of plastic or old warhammer bases(about 2$ for a hundread on ebay) and I glue a folded paperclip on it with hot glue. Then I simply insert the printed counter in the clip.

  9. I also use tokens for monsters. Makes the PCs 3D, while everyone else in the world is flat & cardboard (except key NPCs). If the players focus on an NPC long enough, he gains depth after a few sessions.

    I was gluing the tokens to washers, until one of my players pointed out an even cheaper base option: pennies! Come 100 to the dollar, and everyone already has a bunch of them. Just glue the paper token on top (model glue works well).

  10. I can’t recommend 1/72 plastics strongly enough. Another great source is the Age of Mythology game pieces, avalaible separately from eagle games, which has (small) 1/72 monsters of many varieties as well as civilians for townspeople.

    You can see some I’ve painted here: http://mikemonaco.wordpress.com/mythology-games/

    I will be using them on 1″ dungeon maps.

    Caesar plastics and the aforementioned mythology figures can be seen here, towards the bottom of the list:


  11. This is a really good article, I mean, these things actually are affordable. But the links should be inline with the text. When you have me interested in Caesar’s basic fantasy miniatures, and there’s no link, my curiosity subsides and I figure they must not be for sale online. When there is a link I instantly click and see if they’re right for me. (And in fact, they are — how awesome the adventurer figures would be for NPCs — unique, yet in “black and white” so they don’t stand out next to the heroes!)

  12. Thanks for this! I might pick up a bunch of these, as the official D&D minitures are nice but just too expensive for my budget. For now I’m making do with a lot of pieces from various board games, and I agree substitution can do wonders!

  13. Another trick for miniatures of smaller critters is to get 15mm look-a-likes. 15mm elves are great gnomes or halflings. 15mm orcs make passable goblinoids. I wish I could recall the make of the 15mm elves I got, but they were WAY cheaper than my at-scale alternatives.

  14. The Caesar Miniatures look great, and they are a great price, but, being 1/72 scale, they seem a little small. Does anyone have experience using these in conjunction with a standard 1-inch battle map? How do they look?

    Can anyone confirm this? The Caesar minis are basically as tall as a regular mini’s base is wide? That would make them too short next to D&D minis, I would think.

    Sadly, the bag o’ knights to use for giants is out of stock and basically not available on the Internet any more.

    I mainly use the Fiery Dragon Counter Collection. I rotate two to face each other and print them on 3×5 card stock. They stand up like an easel and don’t blow away, and look awesome! I’ll mail a Word doc to anyone who wants to try it.

  15. @Noumenon, I have the Adventurer pack of the Caesar minis and they’re 1:72 scale. They’re in scale with the original D&D minis made by Grenadier, but smaller than Reaper minis if that helps.

    I use Papo and Safari figures to stand in for monsters and giants and they work beautifully!

    I too was hoping to see the other sets, because if I can pick up orcs, dwarves, and elves–well then I can convert everything over quite nicely and inexpensively.

    Alas, as the previous post cites, the links are dead.

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