When I started playing Dungeons & Dragons battles on a map, I used tokens and Cardboard Heroes instead of miniatures. Today’s gamers have similar inexpensive options ranging from tokens, to cardboard pawns on plastic bases, to printable paper minis, to flat-plastic miniatures.
When pre-painted plastic miniatures reached stores, I figured I would augment my cardboard with a few common monsters: orcs and skeletons and the lot. But the appeal of miniatures proved irresistible and my collection grew unchecked.
If you’re cheaper or more sensible than I am, you can still follow my original plan and collect a small group of broadly useful miniatures—the sort of figures I use so often that I never bother to file them away. Such common figures tend to come cheap too. This post features the most useful figures to buy on a budget. As of posting, I found all the pre-painted selections for sale at between $2 and $5 each. Unpainted picks often come a bit cheaper. To find these figures yourself, paste the figure caption into search and browse the listings that appear.
Typically, pre-painted figures come randomized in boxes, so if you buy a box, the you never know what you get. For maximum value on useful figures, buy singles from online vendors. For bargain hunters I recommend going the web site of a miniatures vendor, selecting all the D&D, Pathfinder, or D&D Miniatures and sorting by lowest cost first. Pages of bargains appear, many for broadly useful figures.
Unpainted figures bring the new hobby of painting miniatures. But the hobby of painting welcomes dabblers more than you may think. Even a beginner can paint figures with more appeal then some slapdash factory job. Just buy a painting starter set, put on headphones, and enjoy the almost meditative flow that comes from painting.
Bandits and thugs
The Bandit Knocker’s club and hodgepodge of armor makes the figure my favorite back-alley brawler.
Guards and soldiers
Zombies and corporeal undead
The Terror Wight figure serves as a wight, ghoul, or any other corporeal undead, making it one of the most versatile figures.
Translucent undead figures stand in for ghosts, wraiths, and more.
Not pictured: Boneyard #05: Ghost
Reaper makes a variety of skeletons for their Bones line.
The giant spider is large, while the other spiders are medium sized.
The wolf pack has medium figures, while the winter wolf is large.
Figures with full helms work best because they double as animated armor, helmed horrors, and the like.
Not pictured: Monster Menagerie 2 #19: Half-Orc Barbarian
Orcs see the table almost as often as goblins, but the smaller humanoids make better low-level foes, so their figures prove more useful.
Assassins and rogues
Not pictured: Kingmaker #10: Shadow Rogue