My search for the perfect D&D minis
Your players have their character sheets. The maps are laid out. You have enough snacks for a fortnight. And more dice than all the casinos in Marquet. But how are you going to best represent your characters? And where do you get those awesome customized D&D minis?
Playing Dungeons & Dragons is all about exploring vaults of the imagination and leaping into unknown fantasy worlds. Certainly the focus from popular streaming shows and creators is on a more roleplay-centric game. But if the friends sitting at your table are anything like those around mine, they’ll need a little helping hand to fuel their imaginations. A slight push in the right direction. Using maps and minis for combat encounters is a surefire way to get their creative juices flowing.
However, finding the right D&D minis to adequately represent your characters and NPCs is not always easy. I have written previously about my own forays into using LEGO maps and LEGO minifigures for my home sessions, but have found more recently that this is a large drain on my time and space and not ideal if the session is to be played away from my own home, which is now more often the case with a toddler running around.
Therefore I’ve had to explore the exciting realms of D&D minis.
Fair warning: The options for D&D mins are endless and now that I’ve started down this rabbit hole I fear I may never be able to satiate my desire for more. By continuing to read this article you accept that this may happen to you and that I cannot be held responsible for your own financial ruin.
My current adventuring party are in desperate need of adequate representation on our monthly game nights. Amongst their ranks they have a Half-Elf Ranger (Rupert “Cream” Slice), Dwarf Cleric (Morden), Human Druid (Aquarius Starshine), Dwarf Monk (BigMac), Tabaxi Cleric (Pamelala La Bouche), and Human Sorcerer (Ramash Vide). Each of these have their own special traits and characteristics which make them unique, so finding sufficiently appropriate representation could be difficult.
I set out with my mission. Luckily there are lots of options to choose from.
Paper minis are a great way of getting started with your collection. They require little to no financial outlay, are easy to reproduce and take up very little storage space. There are multiple places where you can find paper minis; PrintableHeroes are the ones that I have found most useful and easy to use, and their Patreon page has a whole bunch of free to download examples.
The quality and detail of PrintableHeroes D&D minis are fantastic, for each design they really go all out on getting the colors and shading just right and they include front and back designs which adds a whole new dimension to standard paper miniatures.
When it comes to printing, I have found that thin card is the best and it really helps if you have good quality printer, otherwise you might get smudging or poor print quality. The only drawback with using paper minis is that they just aren’t as durable as their plastic counterparts, but thankfully they cost almost nothing to replace.
Although I wasn’t able to find paper minis to suit our characters, I still often turn to them for NPCs or boss fights, where it is too expensive to justify purchasing individual figures. This was certainly the case when my players fought Orcus Demon Prince of Undeath as they attempted to flee the Underdark.
Icons of the Realms
As far as quality is concerned, Icons of the Realms miniatures just cannot be beaten. Nor can you beat the joy of opening a blind box and finding that rare or ultra-rare D&D mini. Each campaign book or event in the D&D calendar is usually accompanied by a new set of between 40-50 Icons of the Realms minis pre-painted and ready for play. Mostly these focus on monsters or NPCs that you might come across in the campaign; however, there are occasionally some which make the perfect avatar for a player character, such as the Tabaxi Minstrel from the Tomb of Annihilation set and the Human Warlock from Waterdeep Dragon Heist.
As well as the blind boxes, Icons of the Realms’ offerings include the Classic Creatures box set, Epic Level Heroes Set and the Starter Set. For me the Starter Set is the most useful. It contains six miniatures featuring the most iconic character, classes and races. These include: Human Ranger, Sun-Elf wizard, Northlands Fighter, Halfling Rogue, Elf Druid, and Dwarf Cleric. The last is a perfect fit for Morden the party’s surly but pious Dwarf Cleric of Moradin, so she will be the first of my assembled party. To make the players’ minis stand out from the monsters and NPCs they’ll be facing, I paint the bases a color linked to their character.
Nolzur’s Marvelous Miniatures
Also from Wizkids Toys, Nolzur’s Marvelous Miniatures are the unpainted version of the Icons of the Realms range of D&D minis. Just as hard-wearing and featuring as many of the classic monsters and heroes as the painted collection, Nolzur’s can be more cost-effective and you have far more choice in the figures you’ll end up with.
Currently there are 84 heroes and monsters from Nolzur’s Marvelous Miniatures to choose from, if you include the Pathfinder Deep Cuts range, also from Wizkids, this number increases to 166. So finding the right mini for your PC should be easy, although, admittedly they don’t have every race and class covered—there’s no Tabaxi Cleric here! However, most are here, including nine different wizards: genasi, dwarf, asamir, elf, human, and more.
But, what I’m after is a Human Druid. They have both male and female and each comes with two models. One of these is perfect for Aquarius Starshine, delusional human druid. And because she comes unpainted I can decorate in her favorite colors too.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Beholder from this range is excellent and has already been sent against the party twice. I love the fact that he comes with customizable eye rays and magical effects.
When it comes to variety, Reaper Bones are almost second to none. There is so much on offer that it can be difficult to sort through the options to find the D&D minis you’re after. What’s more, the price cannot be beaten. For a fraction of the cost of Icons of the Realms minis, but just as hard-wearing and durable, Reaper Bones deliver some of the best unpainted minis available.
Veterans of multiple Kickstarters, as fellow Geekdad Ryan Hiller can attest, Reaper Bones minis are ready to paint straight of out the box. Minis are available in boxed sets, monthly assorted packages, and singularly, and cover every type of tabletop trope from D&D and Pathfinder to modern warfare, sci-fi, and horror.
As well as having plenty of “classic” D&D heroes, Reaper Bones would be perfect for finding those less conventional D&D minis. With that in mind I went searching for our human sorcerer. Two things stand about this character: he is usually topless and he has an impressive afro. Eventually, after trawling the site I found “Horace” Action Jackson, and once I had removed the firearm he was a perfect fit for Ramash Vide the elemental sorcerer.
Hero Forge is the next stage in customizable mini evolution. On offer is a fully customizable mini available in four finishes—plastic, premium plastic, steel, and bronze—that all can come in over 29 different poses or be mounted on a horse, pony, warg, or motorcycle. If that wasn’t enough, there are five genres to choose from—fantasy, western, modern, sci-fi, and East-Asian—which provide a range of outfits, races, and weapons that make each model truly unique. And these options are increasing all the time!
When I first discovered Hero Forge I lost a whole day just creating and experimenting with characters. So far, there isn’t a character that I’ve tried to make that I couldn’t do. This, therefore, is the perfect was to create those unique and less-formulaic D&D minis.
Of course there is more than one way to do so. At this stage I had three characters left to make so decided to try different options. All three would be designed using the character builder.
First I created Rupert “Cream” Slice. He is a half-elf ranger, a keen hunter, and is often prowling ahead of the party, scouting out the way forward. Using the tools on the website, I was able to perfectly re-create his features including his magical Cape of Billowing (a useless magical item from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything), and crouched pose.
Once I was happy, I chose the material and my unique plastic 30mm model of Rupert “Cream” Slice was on its way. The only drawback was that it would take up to three weeks to ship and, at $19.99 before shipping costs, this was by far the most expensive D&D mini so far. It was also the best.
That just left two more minis to go. And thankfully there is a more cost-effective option available. Which I would be using for both Pamelala and BigMac.
First I had to build them on Hero Forge. Once again the builder came into its own. I was able to create a perfect Tabaxi Cleric, complete with cat features, large thighs, and a chicken wing. I also created BigMac the Dwarf Monk with his pirate garb, raised fists, and eye patch.
Once you have completed building your character on the website you have the option to purchase a digital download. This is a 3-D model file available in zipped .stl format and compatible with most 3-D printers.
Unfortunately I don’t have a 3-D printer, but thanks to the wonders of the internet you are never too far away from someone who has. A quick search of Etsy found two different sellers who were offering 3-D printing services at very competitive rates so I got in touch to see what they could do.
I was really impressed with the finished results. While not as refined or hardy as those from Hero Forge, the 3-D printed models worked perfectly as a more cost-effective option. Also, one of the Etsy sellers sent me the prototypes for the model, so I actually received three Pamelalas, which was great because it let me practice my painting.
My terrible painting skills aside, my players were all thrilled with their custom D&D minis. Although the quality differed among all of the options, the only time this mattered was in the second session using them, when our Tabaxi Cleric’s tail snapped off. Thankfully I had three versions of this model.
When it came to choosing my top pick, I couldn’t decide between them so asked my players to rate the models for five different categories, (ignoring final painting) and here is how they lined up:
- Attention to Detail: Rupert “Cream” Slice (Hero Forge)
- Character likeness: Pamelala la Bouche (Hero Forge, 3-D printed)
- Robustness: Morden (Icons of the Realms)
- Quality: BigMac (Hero Forge, 3-D printed)
- Value for money: Ramash (Reaper Bones)
So there you have it. If it’s value for money, Reaper Bones are great and they have plenty of variety to choose from. For robustness, pick Icons of the Realms (you don’t even have to paint these yourself!). And for a unique D&D mini, Hero Forge has options to suit every wallet.