Player Technology Part 4 – Making Minis

Like bringing your own dice (which you should always do), bringing your own miniature is a great way for players to get into the spirit of the game.  It gets players thinking about what their character looks like, gets them in the mindset of (literally) bringing something to the table and out of the mindset of expecting the game master to provide their fun.  But any player involved in several games – or not sure about a game – may not want to invest the bucks to buy expensive plastic miniatures.  What other options are there?  Make your own!

Author’s Note:  Some of you are thinking, “I’m not very crafty, I can’t do this!” Let me assure you that you can.  My 9 year old nephew can’t drive a nail into a board without breaking pottery three states over.  He got all of his grace and craftsmanship from my side of the family – but together, he and I managed to make him a set of miniatures to decorate a cardboard castle in his room.   Trust me, you can do this!

Most experienced game masters will have a collection of miniatures.  Good game shops often have a bin as well.  Whether digital, store bought or home made (or home made digital) most gamers wind up with a hodge-podge of little plastic or foam figures on the table at some point.  Those are not the focus of this entry.  In a future Thirdwalling series we will discuss in depth how game masters can create their own miniatures to fill this niche and further customize their game.  A good game master (hear that, GM?) will not mind players taking their pick of them before the game starts – but usually these generic monster minis do not do a great job of differentiating or really immersing the player when used as player pieces.  Why?  Because game masters are – correctly? – focused on bringing their game to life.  Generic pawns are best for this, as they can serve a variety of roles.  But player characters are not generic – or at least they shouldn’t be – and to really bring them alive, the player needs a unique one-of-a-kind miniature for their equally unique character.

So what is a player to do?

Well, if cash is not an object, miniatures can be purchased easily.  Amazon and eBay are full of them, and local game shops usually have shelves full of them.  There are even patterns online to 3d print custom miniatures for those that have 3d printers or access to them through a school or business.  Buying generic miniatures or printing them on 3d printers can yield great results that can be custom painted or… yeah.  That’s not why anyone is reading this blog entry.  Leg Up will likely have a future entry about 3d printing miniatures, as it is an interest of his.

To make custom miniatures without $5,000 printers and $300 worth of paint, a few things have to happen:

1.) Throw away any notion of what a miniature has to look like!  

Recently, Paizo released these cool Bestiary boxes.  It is the strong recommendation of the Thirdwalling staff that every person who runs a Fantasy RPG go buy one (or four) of these from their local game shop.  Most can be had in the $20-$30 range and they are well worth it, even for non-Pathfinder games.  The best part about them is the shape – here’s a picture from Paizo’s website on them:

Pathfinder Pawns

Image from – Pathfinder Pawns

 At the bottom right of the image are several examples what is in the box – cardstock pawns!  It is easy to see that they are not the typical idea of what most expect to see in a pawn.  They are not perfect little 3d statues with finely customized paint jobs.  They’re better.  Why?  Well, for starters – they are flat.  This means they’ll store better, they’re less likely to get damaged in storage and transport and players and game masters alike do not have to come up with inventive ways to keep them organized.  Ziplock bags will do the job – without the worry of those little weapons, claws and appendages ripping through the bag or getting torn off.  Another reason for their obvious superiority?  You can print your own!

So the first step to making your own miniature is to forget what they normally look like, and take a lesson from these – think flat.

2.) Make a character that is more than its class – then find a picture of it!

People are more than what they do.  Bob Thirdwaller is more than an IT Analyst and blogger, The Ginger is much, much more than a Technical Analyst, Leg Up is more than a… whatever Leg Up does.  So why think of Ugo da Orc as just an Orc Fighter?  Personalizing the character with a rich back story and a great personality goes a long way to helping players visualize their character, and once visualized it is easier to become immersed in its world!  Before creating a character, The Ginger spends hours or even days digging through online picture sites.  Sites like DeviantArt, Tumblr or even popular Wikis are great sources for fan-made images.  Even for players that don’t have a lot of time to dig through online sites, quick image searches on the internet can usually turn up some unique artwork with copyrights that allow for them to be printed and used for a non-commercial game.  It is not about artistic skill – it’s about Google-Fu.

The important part about the image is that it be unique – something other than the typical “Orc Adventurer” picture.  Maybe it is a bald dwarf – or an elf with a shotgun.  Obviously, extreme departures from the norm are going to be difficult to find, but it is surprising what can be found (yes, that’s a Rancor Jedi.  No, that’s not canon.) on a simple image search.

3.) Print the Miniature!

There are a myriad of resources online for making custom miniatures.  For the Thirdwalling table, we found some awesome instructions on RPG Hacker that turned out great!  We tried to make them fit into the Pathfinder bases, but that proved harder than it should have been with the materials we had on hand.  With some planning, some thick card stock and the tiniest smidgen of an 8 year old’s imagination, home printed miniatures can be had at a very low cost.  The article above mentions purchasing plastic bases (which turned into a bit of an ordeal) – but these can be made cheaply with craft foam.  Or, by printing them on heavy card stock they can simply be folded so the card stock forms the base, either in an inverted T shape or into triangles that stand on their own.

If game masters are making their own miniatures, they could offer this to their players – making four more when there’s already a few dozen (read: hundred) on the printer tray makes little difference.  Otherwwise, players could also consider doing it for their fellow players, if their game master doesn’t offer the service.

For some good templates, and great starter images, modifying a template found on this great site is an awesome way to start out.  There are pre-made miniatures of every possible design for almost any imaginable genre.  A few minutes in MS Paint (yes, that MS Paint) or a less-free image editing software is all it takes to produce custom miniatures with unique faces and weaponry.  Someone with some photoshop skills could yield hair color changes and more!

Another alternative is to use tokens – if the game master is good with it, there are some great software options out there to build custom tokens as well!

That’s all there is to it – making custom minis is a great way for players to show the table that they’re serious about the game, show the game master that they’re excited to play, and take the player involvement up a notch to better player immersion.

More pictures of custom minis made this way:

Some monster mini's in play.

Some monster minis, before the game.

Here's Leg Up's Dwarf (Bran, Left) standing beside a female dwarf NPC as they stand over the dead dwarf king - while the other players hang back in the hall.

Here’s Leg Up’s Dwarf (Bran, Left) standing beside a female dwarf NPC (Right) over the dead dwarf king – while the other players hang back in the hall.

Got questions?  Concerns?  A better way of doing it?  Pictures of your own miniatures?  Take it to the comments!

If you’re enjoying these types of series and you want to see the series on Game Masters making, organizing and customizing their own miniatures – please subscribe at!  Thank you!


One thought on “Player Technology Part 4 – Making Minis

  1. Pingback: Player Tip Series #1 – Technology at the Game Table | Thirdwalling

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