I’m a big fan of using miniatures in RPGs. I know that theater-of-the-mind is a popular alternative, but there’s just something about seeing a table filled with heroes and villains and creatures and chests. I don’t care if the miniatures are plastic, metal, or paper, either; when DMs and players come to a table and work together to create a physical representation of the night’s action, I can overlook differences in scale or a mix of unpainted and painted minis.
I used to collect the occasional Ral Partha miniature back when I started playing D&D in the early 80s, but they were so expensive that my collection never grew beyond maybe a dozen or so. Today, players have dozens and dozens of manufacturers to choose from when it comes to miniatures, including pre-painted versions and even customer-created one-offs where you can customize the pose, equipment, and even facial expression and then have it 3D printed and delivered to your door in just a few weeks. I’ve seen miniature collections in the thousands, and I’m constantly amazed at how far the gaming miniature market has come since those early wargame days where a single lead figure on a table could represent a platoon or even a battalion of soldiers.
I have a friend named Sebastian who paints miniatures he uses as both player and DM. His painting skills are outstanding (and he gave me a painted fighter last year for DM Appreciation Day that my young boys are always asking to hold and examine – thanks, Sebastian!) and I know his players enjoy seeing what new miniatures he pulls out for a night’s adventure. When I see folks like Anthony Karcz painting his Imperial Assault minis, I shake my head and smile because, for me, finger painting was the pinnacle of my artistic skills.
While hand-painted miniatures aren’t my strong suit, I’ve managed to cope. Thinking back to my early days of gaming, I had a tendency to always use paper in one form or another. Paper chits were a favorite for a long time, and I have fond memories of playing the Star Trek: RPG (by FASA) and using small cardboard chits for space combat and for hand-to-hand combat scenes. At some point I even recall having an artist friend of mine named Daryl draw me a bunch of small heroes and creatures on 1/2″ blank chits to use in a D&D game. (I so wish I could find those, but I’ve looked high and low and believe them to be gone for good.)
Google Images opened up a ton of opportunity by allowing me to search for keywords (bugbear!) and downloading images I could scale down to create flat 2D minis. A friend named Chris showed me an easy method for creating two-sided minis with a darker side to represent the backside. And a 3D printer allowed me to start printing my own little bases. Combining these 2D minis with a mix of my own hand-drawn terrains and third party offerings, I’m hoping my players have had as much as I’ve had DMing.
As I’ve continued to search for new and inexpensive papercraft methods to make minis and terrain, I’ve discovered a number of websites and comrades-in-arms who also enjoy papercraft with their gaming, and I’d like to share some of these resources with you below — many of these folks are geek parents, so I’ve also asked a few of them for a little background on their hobbies and their kids. (And if you’ve got any you’d like to share, please do so in the comments section.)
The Cardboard Warriors Forum is an outstanding source for papercraft. The site offers up commentary and reviews of sellers of papercraft models, terrain, and figures, but also has plenty of freebies that are uploaded by forum members for sharing with the community. The site is a real rabbit hole; you can spend hours clicking on link after link, looking through all the photos and reading the discussions. I’m particularly fond of the diversity of styles when it comes to the miniatures, from hand-drawn sketches to manga-style to life-like artwork, you’ll likely find a particular artist whose art grabs you and sends you on numerous searches in the forum.
Going back to 2011, the Cardboard Warriors forum also has a yearly contest called the Papercut Awards where creators can submit their paper miniatures, terrain, and models for consideration. The contest for 2016 hasn’t been announced yet (end of summer 2016, I believe), but definitely bookmark the page so you can come back and see what the participants have submitted or maybe even submit your own entry.
The owner of Cardboard Warriors, Eric Brown, also sells his own papercraft minis over at OneMonk.com. Users have him to thank for the free minis available (from forum members) in the special Cardboard Warriors forum section titled Hoards and he also heads up the forums annual Papercut Awards. And in 2015, two charity campaigns with Cardboard Warriors publishers each raised around $5000 for Doctors Without Borders and CARE! The goodwill is great, and I’m sure that these won’t be the last charity fundraisers that are conducted by bundling various creators’ content from Cardboard Warriors.
When I moved to Japan a few years ago, I discovered the Cardboard Warriors community. Because I move so often, I’ve downsized a lot. For a long time, I didn’t own more than what I could fit into a suitcase. So, the idea of using paper miniatures for gaming was hugely attractive to me. Traditional miniatures require a lot of time, space and money to buy, paint and store. But paper miniatures are fast and cheap, and you can fit an army into a ziplock bag. Plus, they look surprisingly good on the table! I was sold.
I recently read a GeekDad article about the benefits of creative world play on child development. When I was a kid, believe it or not, I did this with paper miniatures. Some of my first miniatures were Sonic and Tails from the Sega Genesis games. I made them when I was 5 and kept them in a shoebox until I was a teenager. Now I’m a new dad, and when my son is a little older I’m looking forward to playing games with him and building things together with paper-craft. A lot of the people on the Cardboard Warriors forum are parents, and their stories and experiences inspire me as a father.
David Okum is a Canadian teacher who also creates his own games as well as papercraft minis. He raised funds for his game-specific minis with successful Kickstarters. Like Ryan’s paper minis, David’s artwork is eye-catching. Just look at the quality of his dwarves, for example.
Many of David’s paper miniature offerings are specific to his Darkfast and Save the Day games (such as the Ducks class or the Panicked Civilians), but there are others that are generic and can be easily used in any fantasy or scifi setting. I particularly like his (free) Basic Adventure minis and the inexpensive Dungeon Explorers set. He’s got over 60 different listings on RPGNow.com, so check them out and I’ll bet you can find something that will be useful to your next game or campaign.
As with Ryan, David is also a gaming parent, so I asked him about his background and his experiences as a gaming parent:
I have played tabletop RPGs since 1981. I’ve been writing and illustrating for them since 1999. I started making my own paper minis when I decided to run an old school Star Trek campaign. There was no way I could find, buy and paint a crew fast enough. I just started drawing and before I knew it, I had a crew ready to go. I combined the paper minis with some terrain by World Works Games and Fat Dragon Games, eventually I even made my own terrain. Before I made the Star Trek sets I used paper minis to play a game called Space Station DK with my daughters in the early 2000s. It eventually became Katana Schoolgirls vs Zombie Furries and eventually, Darkfast Dungeons. My kids were always my play testers, although they had varying degrees of interest in the projects. I am very fortunate to have a group of gaming friends that have met up once a week for over 30 years to play games as diverse as Gamma World, Traveller, Champions and D&D. They are my best guinea pigs and have been very supportive of my minis and writing over the years. My stepkids (3 boys aged 10-13) love playing Table top games and we have used paper minis for many years. They are the best playtesters because they are so honest. We’ve also done some game design together. They are working to have their own game night with their friends.
My current papercraft miniatures are to help promote Darkfast Dungeons (a simplified old school style dungeon crawl print and play game) and Save the Day (an original superhero RPG). Both games were made with new or younger players in mind and were run as Kickstarters. The Kickstarters have been great motivators to focus my work, though I have explored genres where I haven’t found many minis handy such as Wild West, Pulp Sci Fi, Spy Fi Swinging London and martial arts/ samurai genres. I sell my paper minis on RPGNow and similar sites. People download the files and modify them as they wish, print them out and build the figures. Paper minis are a cost effective way to fill the table with minis quickly. I can often print off and build a set of 12 minis in the time it takes me to paint one 3d figure, for a fraction of the cost. The industry is incredibly supportive and collegial. Everyone helps everyone else, whether it is fundraising for a new computer or giving art and marketing advice. Everyone is very welcoming and friendly.
David Wears also wears many hats as the operator of Grey Matter Games. In addition to his papercraft miniatures, he’s also a game developer and is hard at work on his own game called Deadly Missions. He describes himself as “Game Designer, BETA Tester, Model Designer, Figure Designer” as well as “father of four, and work a 50 hour a week job. No moss growing here.” His screen name on Cardboard Warriors is kiladecus, and he’s created quite a library of papercraft minis and games that are all available at RPGNow.com.
My biggest complaint with the Cardboard Warriors forum is that I could easily spend hours each day reading the tutorials and discussions and I don’t think I’d ever catch up. There are years of discussions in the forums, and so many links and videos and downloads that I’m just overwhelmed. The above individuals are just a tiny fraction of the user base and contributors that can be found in the forum, and I’m just amazed at the talent that is collected here.
I’d like to thank Ryan, Eric, David W. and David O. for taking the time to share some of their hobbies with me, and I highly encourage anyone interested in using miniatures in their games to check out Cardboard Warriors for some outstanding stuff. Some of it’s free, some of it isn’t, but since we’re talking about papercraft, the costs in building up your collection of paper miniatures is much lower than a plastic or metal one. (Plus paper miniatures are often designed to be disassembled and flattened for easier storage and portability.)
Now, if you’ll excuse me… I have a few hours of browsing to do to find the perfect paper minis for an upcoming Adventurers League session where my players will encounter some big, bad horrible… somethings.