With the growing popularity of web servers like Roll20 there is something to be said concerning the use of visuals in some tabletop RPGs; especially focused on the use of miniatures.  Games that were traditionally pen and paper are blending with games of miniature armies.  I’m not going to attempt to discuss the merits of that evolution in this article; however, what I am going to talk about is this: if you choose to use miniatures in your tabletop game, should you use plastic miniatures or paper miniatures?

I’m of the opinion that the deciding factor in your choice will come down to one thing: cost; the cost of the miniatures, the cost of supplies, and the cost of time.  The cost of plastic miniatures amounts to price of the miniature (which can range anywhere between a few dollars and a little time to most of your paycheck and a week’s time) versus paper miniatures which amounts to the cost of cardstock and something to weigh the miniature down like a washer.

You may choose plastic miniatures because paper miniatures may be good for your home but aren’t allowed in most public tournaments; keep that in mind.  When starting out, consider buying pre-painted plastic miniatures.  You can buy new miniatures with a fair amount of ease but the cost of a handful could be well over $10.  I recommend buying them used; they might not be current but they’re still legal for most public use.  You can also get a lot of miniatures for the same price you would have just been able to get a few.

If you’re experienced in the art of painting on such a small scale consider buying an unpainted miniature or a miniature from a different game and rebasing it.  There are plenty of videos online regarding painting miniatures and rebasing miniatures from other games, so I won’t get into it here; just know that if you choose to paint miniatures, you will be able to customize them as you need (in the event that you’re building a small army, this might be appealing).  Unpainted miniatures are available at various price points, plastic cheaper than metal.

If you’re building a large force to use at home, or the miniature you’re looking for is too expensive to justify, consider paper miniatures.  Unless blessed with extreme artistic talent and an enormous amount of free time you’ll be limited in what you can create by the imagination of others.  I won’t go into the details concerning how to make paper miniatures (suffice it to say you need a good printer), there are videos available on Youtube for that; the overall cost is minimal.  If you’re on a strict budget, and you already possess the essential items needed to make paper miniatures, this is the way to go.

In the end, do what suits you best.  If you don’t want miniatures anywhere near your gaming table, don’t bother with either option; but if you do want miniatures, cost will determine what route you take.  If you want my advice, consider plastic miniatures (that you’ve painted, if you can invest the time) for important characters like PCs and often-used NPCs; make paper miniatures for bulk usage like filler NPCs and low-level enemies.  There’s no rule saying that you must choose one over the other, do whatever suits you best and works best for you.


This article is part of a series I’ll be writing concerning what other approaches to take to role playing games; if you have any ideas or things that I should look at, let me know on Twitter (and if you do some of your own crafts related to gaming, feel free to share photos): @mbertolini


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