4th Edition D&D, being more tactical in focus, uses tokens, miniatures, and the battle map to great effect. The huge amount of tokens available in the Essentials DM Kit and Monster Vault is great, but I, like many other 4E fans, want to use miniatures in my campaign as often as possible.
The problem is, the D&D Minis line can be very, very expensive. Buying a booster and hoping you get what you need is impractical and a poor use of funds. It’s better to know exactly what you are getting, whether that means buying singles from a local shop or online store, or purchasing sets that include specific minis.
This guide is intended to help new DMs create a good collection of miniatures without breaking the bank. The focus will be on minis that are first of all inexpensive, but secondly those that can fill many roles throughout your campaign. Some consideration is given to minis that can be used in the first few adventures in the Essentials products: Reavers of Harkenwold and Cairn of the Winter King
D&D Board Game: Castle Ravenloft
There are 42 miniatures included in this game, which can be purchased for around $50. This is an excellent deal, especially when you consider the otherwise very expensive large minis, like the Dracolich, included. In addition to the minis, various tokens, tiles, and other bits useful in any D&D campaign are included. The only downside is that the minis are not painted, but rather cast in one-color plastic.
Most of the monsters come in groups of three. Here are the most useful minis from the Castle Ravenloft box.
- Skeletons – probably the most common opponents your PCs will face
- Zombies – not quite as common, but can stand in for ghouls, wights, other undead
- Wraiths – can be any ghostly undead, stand in for Yisarn the skeletal mage
- Spiders – widely useful in a variety of settings: jungles, caves, forests, etc.
- Gargoyles – can represent many monsters, demons, even the spined devil
- Wolves – very common in encounters, can also be hellhounds, iron defenders, etc.
- Kobolds – classic low level creatures, the Red Box adventure uses them
- Blazing Skeletons – look great, can represent fire elementals in a pinch
Additionally, there are several single minis that can represent PCs or important NPCs in the Essential adventures, such as Iron Circle Mages, Dark Adepts, Brutes, Bortek the barbarian, and the gnome illusionists. The zombie dragon can be used as the young white dragon in Cairn of the Winter King. The Castle Ravenloft set is a great value for the miniatures alone.
D&D Board Game: Wrath of Ashardalon
This set, too, is a good value. I think it is probably less useful for the standard campaign than its predecessor, due to the inclusion of strange creatures like grells and gibbering mouthers. However, it’s still a great deal, with many fantastic miniatures for a good price.
- Kobolds – you can never have enough of these critters
- Orcs – most campaigns use orcs, and you get both ranged and melee versions
- Duergar – probably most useful as regular dwarves
- Cultists – highly useful for enemy mages, adepts, and other spellcasters
- Legion Devils – can pass as tieflings
- Snakes – found in all sorts of settings, can represent many creatures
- Bears – moderately useful, can stand in for owlbears
The single minis in Wrath of Ashardalon are quite excellent. The otyugh and rage drake look great and each are included in the Essentials adventures. The unique orc, duergar, and kobold make good enemy bosses. Add in the tiles and other bits, and you really get lots of bang for your buck with this game.
D&D Minis Starter Set
If monocolor minis aren’t your thing, you’re going to pay a bit more for each mini. I found the D&D Minis Starter Set at Amazon.com for around $10. It comes with five painted minis, as well as two poster-sized battle maps. One side of one map was repeated in the Red Box, so keep that in mind. However, the jungle temple, flooded ruins, and dwarven outpost maps are very nice and add to the value of the set.
The five minis include dwarf and human armored males, as well as a female elf spellcaster. I used the human fighter as Nazin Redthorn in the Reavers of Harkenwold, and the elf as the illusionary form of the gnomes in Cairn of the Winter King. A large green dragon and a yuan-ti are also included. The dragon is very nicely sculpted. These two are not as useful, in my opinion. Still, five minis, including a normally expensive dragon, as well as the excellent maps make the D&D Minis Starter set a good purchase.
Buying Single Miniatures
As I said before, blind-buying booster boxes isn’t a very frugal idea. As long as you stick to common and uncommon rarities, the online prices for singles can be very reasonable. I recommend trollandtoad.com and coolstuffinc.com as well as Ebay. Here’s a list of some of the best values I found as I expanded my collection. Keep in mind I was trying to fill specific needs for the Essentials adventures, and also generic figures I could use often in the future.
- Frost Titan – a gorgeous sculpt, huge in size, with excellent transparency effects. It makes a fine Winter King, and as of this writing is available for a mere $6 at cool stuffinc.com.
- Doomdreamer – I used these for Ravide the Black, Iron Circle Dark Adepts, and of course they make great cultists of Orcus and that sort of thing as well.
- Sharn Redcloak – Can be used for Iron Circle minions with ranged weapons
- Orc Terrorblade – a very nice sculpt and reasonably priced
- Urthok the Vicious – A great mini, makes a nice champion for any monstrous race
- Wrackspawn – creepy aberrant or undead monsters, very gross and totally cheap
- Harmonium Guard – great Iron Circle thugs, generic enough for lots of future use
There are, of course, many other options out there. The key is to find minis that are generic enough to represent many specific types of creatures, or those that are very common in your campaign. It’s nice to have the perfect mini for every occasion, but you’ll be spending hundreds of dollars in a hurry if you take that route. Splurge and buy a $10 – $20 single every once in a while if you like, but spend most of your budget on generic bad guys, and you’ll have a larger, more useful collection that will serve your campaign needs well for a long time to come.