One of my favorite parts of tabletop gaming is combat. I know that it’s a less and less popular opinion nowadays when game after game is coming out emphasizing roleplay and improv over rulesets and tactics. But I still love a good session of action and strategy. Plus, it allows me to make use of the dozens of minis I’ve collected over the years. If I’ve got a combat session, they do more than sit around and wait to be painted.
I also like to get creative with my enemies when I’m DMing. That means, while I do have a good assortment of miniatures to use, they aren’t always exactly what I need. Luckily, there are a few options that I (and you!) can use in place of typical minis if you don’t have enough.
Snacks and Food Items
If you want a replacement that is sure to be popular with your players, using various snack and food items is the perfect choice. I used this replacement quite a lot when I DMed in high school, and it was always a favorite. After all, “you kill it, you eat it” always adds an extra layer of incentive to stay engaged!
Bite-sized candies like Hershey’s Kisses and table mints are exactly the right size for medium creatures (most player characters, humanoids, and beats fit in this size). Oreos are perfect for large creatures, while bigger candy bars and bread rolls fit even bigger monsters like dragons or giant snakes or tarrasques. You can even manage small and tiny creatures with individual M&Ms or Skittles!
Toys, Action Figures, and Army Men
For adventurers and party members, the traditional ‘little green army man’ is the perfect fit. Most craft stores sell small animal figures and toys for larger, more monstrous enemies. And, if you already have action figures around the house (I wouldn’t recommend buying them new, since action figures can be a little expensive), they make perfect giants.
If local stores around you charge a little more than you’d like to pay, you can usually scavenge through the children’s section of your local thrift store to find loose small toys.
Dice (of various sizes)
Another option is to make use of the various dice that you’ve likely already collected. A standard dice set (like most that we sell here at D20Collective) fit perfectly for medium-sized creatures and characters. Smaller sets (like these here) are also good for small characters, like halflings, goblins, and gnomes.
Larger creatures are a little tricky, unless you’ve actively collected larger dice. Still, dice make perfect replacements for when you don’t have quite enough figures, and need one or two to stand in.
I like to code mine when I use this trick. All blue dice for enemies, for instance, or all d6s. Then I can use different colors or types for allies or neutral characters and keep things simple in everyone’s mind.
(Make Your Own) Paper Cutout Miniatures
If you decide you want to get creative, you can also make your own miniature paper cutouts. This method takes a little time, but you end up with minis that look exactly like the creatures and characters that you imagine. You could even make an event out of it, or use it to fill some of the extra time during a session 0, having your players make ones for their own characters.
The method goes as follows (for a medium-sized adventurer mini):
Take a blank piece of paper and cut out a piece that is approximately 4 inches long and 1 inch wide.
Fold the cut piece of paper in half
Draw a line across the paper, ½ inch from the unfolded edge (this edge being the bottom edge) on each side.
Draw the character in the space above the drawn line, and again on the back side of the paper. Optionally, you can draw the back of the character on the back side.
Layer clear tape on each side of the paper, again starting at the drawn line, and cut away any excess tape around the edges (this will reinforce the miniature and help keep it from falling over).
Fold the bottom edges of the paper outwardly, along the drawn lines.
Place a piece of tape along the bottom side of the folded-out paper, again cutting away any excess.
And you’re done!
You can change the height and width of the paper for larger or small miniatures (keeping in mind that taller minis will need larger bases).
Have you used any of these replacements for tabletop miniatures? How did they work out? Have you used any other methods? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below!