by Mike Shea on 6 August 2012
This article updates the original "Four Tips for Buying D&D Miniatures" published 25 May 2009. Much has changed in the past three years since the writing of that article. Changes in global economics, additional products, and the upcoming release of D&D Next all change how we might shop for miniatures. Before we dig in, here are three quick recommendations:
With those recommendations in mind, let's look at the current miniature landscape.
For the past three years, global economic shifts pushed the cost to produce miniatures up. This resulted in Wizards of the Coast cancelling production of random miniature booster packs and focusing on collector's packs. Back a few years ago, we could load up on minis for 25 cents a piece. Now we're hard pressed to find any good useful mini for under two bucks. This makes it far more expensive to build a good stockpile of useful miniatures.
A bunch of new products have entered the market over the past couple of years, however, that helps alleviate the shortage of economically viable miniatures. The D&D miniature collectors sets, the Paizo Pathfinder minis, and the new Dungeon Command miniatures give us new options when shopping for minis. The secondary market continues to be a great place to pick up individual miniatures.
With the release of D&D Essentials, Wizards of the Coast gave us a new alternative: tokens. While not nearly as cool as true miniatures, you can get a complete collection of D&D monsters for thousands of dollars less than a complete collection of miniatures. The Monster Vault alone includes one or more tokens for every major D&D monster you could expect for $20 not even including the best monster sourcebook for 4e and the included adventure.
While previously we might spend hundreds of dollars on the minis required to run an adventure, newer adventures such as Gardmore Abbey, along with the tokens found in the Monster Vault, include all the tokens we need to run it.
Buy PC minis: Of all the minis you want to buy, start first with minis to represent your player characters. While we might be able to get away with tokens for monsters, tokens for PCs doesn't give players a very good feeling for their character in a battle. Luckily, between the D&D miniatures and the Pathfinder miniatures, we have a huge selection of reasonably priced minis for PCs. The Dungeon Command: Heart of Cormyr set also includes a good range of heroic miniatures and a bronze dragon as well.
Stick to the tokens in the DM Kit and Monster Vault: To fill out your entire monster collection, pick up the Dungeon Master's Kit and Monster Vault. These D&D Essentials products not only include tokens for just about every traditional D&D monster, but also the rulebooks, adventures, and poster maps needed to run some great games. This is the most economical way to play a full game of D&D without spending a mint on miniatures.
Buy on the secondary market focused on high value, cool, and re-usable minis: If you'd still like to fill out your miniature collection, stick to low cost, high cool-factor miniatures that you can see yourself re-using throughout your adventures. Undead, orcs, goblins, kobolds, and evil humans are all good bets. If you want to go the extra mile, pick up some good miniatures for bosses you expect your players to fight. If the bosses are humanoids, make sure the minis you choose would represent PCs or NPCs in future campaigns.
A good collection of miniatures isn't a bad investment over time. Though we sit in the transition between D&D 4th edition and D&D Next, we can rest assured that our minis will go with us. Though WOTC is designing D&D Next to run without the need for a battle map, I can speak first hand that miniatures still have a good place in our games. Unlike many of our rulebooks, miniatures transcend D&D editions very well and will aid you as long as you want to play. The same is true for the tokens, however, so they still end being the best value you can get.
The miniature landscape is chaotic indeed but if we navigate it right, we can get exactly the components we need to run a great D&D game.