Category Archives: Miniatures

Secrets to storing and retrieving D&D miniatures

As I’ve written before, I always attempt to use suitable miniatures for the creatures in my game. I collected a lot of the pre-painted D&D miniatures. Early on, I heaped the minis in a storage tub, but that quickly became unworkable. Finding the proper figures for a game took way too much time.

To solve the storage problem, I went to the discount store after the back-to-school supplies reached the clearance shelves. I purchased a cart-load of plastic pencil cases at $0.54 each. I printed sticky, address labels with the names of sets and ranges of numbers within the set. For example, “Blood War 11-20.” Now I could organize the miniatures by set and figure number in the little boxes. In the picture, you can see some of my collection sorted into a larger cardboard box.

To solve the retrieval problem I rely on the wonderful, online miniature database at The database includes all the pre-painted D&D miniatures along with their pictures and, for most, their card images. You can search by name, or by tags such as ‘female’, ‘crossbow’, or ‘insect.’ If you sign up for a free user account, you can track the number of each figure present in your collection.

With, I can run a few quick searches to find the miniatures I need from among the ones in my collection, and then I jot down the set names and numbers. This lets me quickly locate the correct figures in the pencil boxes.

Now if only I could find a better way to manage my dungeon tiles. Does anyone have a system?

Next: Picturing the dungeon – boxed text

The 11 Most Useful Types of Miniatures

Top miniatures gallery

When the Harbinger set of pre-painted miniatures arrived in 2003, I mainly used tokens, cardboard heroes, and similar items to stand in for miniatures. Unpainted miniature barely tempted me. I lacked enough time for the pastimes I already had, so I could hardly add miniature painting to the slate. But the new pre-painted miniatures seemed affordable and appealing. I figured I would augment my cardboard with a few common monsters, orcs and skeletons and the lot.

And so I began sliding down a slippery slope.  Wizards of the Coast closed the local Gamekeeper store and marked down the Harbinger boxes, so I snapped them up. New sets came, and I decided I might as well get enough boosters to collect a nice set of commons.  When 3.5 arrived, I looked at my shelf of 3.0 edition books that I had not read yet, and decided to budget more money toward edition-proof miniatures and less on books. Soon, I had a big collection. Now I feel compelled to gather the best possible figures for an encounter.

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. I use some figures so often that I never bother to file them away. Based on my experience running organized play events, I present the 10 most useful types of miniatures.





Bloodseeker Drake, Crested Felldrake, Guard Drake

For some reason, adventure authors love adding spiders and small drakes as critters and pets to round out encounters. With few low-level options, who can blame the authors? Nobody wants to fight lovable beasts like wolves.


Deathjump Spider, Spider of Lolth


Medium Earth Elemental, Loyal Earth Elemental, Medium Fire Elemental

Medium sized elementals appear frequently in adventures of all levels. Earth elementals nose ahead of fire as the most common. You can skip the water elemental figures.

Sadly, Wizards never produced a translucent, medium-sized air elemental. The dirty Shardstorm Vortex stands as the best alternative. The solid-plastic air elemental in Harbinger may rank as the worst figure ever to appear in a D&D miniature set.


Human Thug

Thugs, especially armed with clubs, appear frequently in heroic-tier adventures.

Guards with pole arms

Human Town Guard, Royal Guard, Phalanx Soldier

For some reason, town and palace guards always carry spears or halberds.


Free League Ranger, Graycloak Ranger, Militia Archer

Most encounters call for an enemy capable of ranged attacks. In urban encounters, bowmen appear all the time.

Overall, too few humanoid miniatures sport ranged weapons.

Elf Warmage

Elf Warmage

I always carry a few miniatures suitable for player characters that I can loan out. Players borrow this elf warmage more than any other figure. Plus, she often finds work as a patron, bystander, or fey villain.


Animated Statue, Earth Element Gargoyle

I love to toy with players’ metagame expectations. Every D&D player knows that statues invariable come to life and attack─at least when they have a miniature on the map. So whenever a statue appears on a map, I drop a statue or gargoyle figure on top of it. Inevitably, the players edge nervously around the potential hazard. It never ceases to amuse me. Does that make me a mean DM?

Of course, sometimes, the statues really do attack.

Skeletons and zombies

Boneshard Skeleton, Skeleton, Warrior Skeleton, Zombie, Zombie

In the early days of the hobby, dungeon designers could put living creatures in a remote and unexplored dungeon without a source of food, and no one would care. Now days, that sort of design will get your DM card suspended. This surrender to logic makes undead more useful than ever.  (This also holds true for the elementals, above.) In my opinion, the unarmored, boneshard skeleton ranks as the best. The need for ranged undead means blazing skeletons and skeletal archers also see tons of use


Lurking Wraith

I think the Lurking Wraith ranks as the single best D&D miniature figure ever produced. Not only does the translucent figure look great, but it works in numerous encounters at every level. Unfortunately, I’m not the only one who loves this figure. Miniature vendors charge about $9 each, much more than the typical price of a medium-sized, uncommon figure. You can get unpainted, blue versions in the Castle Ravenloft board game. I hope a painted version reappears in the upcoming, undead-themed, Dungeon Command set.


Goblin Sharpshooter, Goblin Cutter, Goblin Skullcleaver

The ubiquitous opponent for beginning characters. Many different goblins appeared in the D&D miniatures run, but the best came in the last few sets. Get a bunch with melee weapons and bunch with ranged weapons. They’re cheap.


Lair Assault: Kill the Wizard – notes and miniatures

I’ve run every Lair Assault except for Spiderkiller. I’ve enjoyed them all, but all the past Lair Assaults suffered from oversights that seemed to show insufficient blind playtesting.

For example, Attack of the Tyrantclaw failed to note whether the T-Rex would attack the other dinosaurs. The whole encounter turned on that huge detail. And then we had the Pixie Music Box problem.…

In Talon of Umberlee, if the players camped below decks, the Kraken could not attack and the sahuagin boss could barely move without squeezing. The module never accounted for this strategy. Can the bad guys start tearing down the masts and rigging to coax the characters out? Can they set the ship on fire? If I were the sea god, I would have sunk the ship first, and then seen how the thieving characters fared against my warriors, but that hardly seems sporting.

Kill the Wizard raised only one minor question, which I’ll mention later. So in my experience, the challenge ranks as both the best constructed and difficult Lair Assault. I’ve run it once, so far, at Dean’s Dugout in Naperville Illinois.

I loved having the players land in random places in the dungeon. The divided party adds a new strategic dimension to the challenge. When players suddenly find themselves alone, facing monsters, they feel a real sense of peril. Plus, the random element adds extra uncertainty to replays. I wanted to conceal the landing spots of players who could not see each other. However, to keep things moving, I simply placed all the characters in a room the first time initiative came up for any character in the room.

The scenario ran very long. In the store, neither of the two tables came close to finishing after 6 hours. We simply ran out of time. Perhaps if the players adopted a stealth strategy, the event could come closer to the advertised 3-4 hour running time. As it stands, I recommend doing everything possible to speed play and encourage fast turns. Next time I run this one, I may resort to extreme measures. If players start their turn by examining the map and mulling over what they want to do, I may just hand them their initiative card and tell them they’re delaying until ready.

Kill the Wizard explicitly forbids taking a short rest. The challenge presents no game-world explanation for this, but the dungeon master can invent a source of time pressure. Perhaps Variel’s key is magically linked to her life force. As soon as she loses possession of it, its power to open the gates begins to fade.

Without a short rest, the players cannot recharge encounter powers. The challenge does not spell out whether until-end-of-encounter effects survive the trip through the gate and carry on into the dungeon. Because the encounter never describes any delays that would cause effects to exceed their five minute time limit, I say that effects last. Bottom  line, the characters need all the help they can get. The Drowslayer lives up to its name.

By the way, I notice all the Lair Assaults except Talon of Umberlee reward players for loading their characters with powers that buff until the end of the encounter. This makes powers like Wizard’s Fury very potent. I’m not fond of how the single-encounter design overvalues a class of powers. I liked how Talon of Umberlee rewarded more traditional character design.

I have a lot of miniatures and prefer using them over the tokens. I used the following miniatures:

  • Variel – the Elf Warlock from the 2008 starter set
  • Iron Defenders – Dungeons of Dread 36
  • Etherik – Eladrin Pyromancer, Against the Giants 45
  • Arcane Students – Tiefling Warlock, Dungeons of Dread 47
  • Bar-lgura – Desert of Desolation 44
  • Owlbear – Against the Giants 35 or Blood War 57.
  • Flesh Golem – Aberrations 45 or Night Below 46

I created my own Drowslayer and black pudding figures, as you can see in my last post.

Lair Assault: Kill the Wizard – I made a Drowslayer

As a Dungeon Master, I enjoy representing the action on the table with the correct miniatures. No battles against Starburst candies at my table. I typically judge public-play events, so I don’t pick the monsters in the adventures I run. When I lack miniatures to match the creatures in an adventure, I happily seize the excuse to go shopping for more miniatures.

My collection included figures for most of the creatures in the Kill the Wizard Lair Assault. I wanted a second Barlgura figure, so I purchased one. The adventure’s random monster table calls for a third Barlgura with a roll of 1 on a d6. Oddly enough, at my table, the odds of that outcome stand at none in 6.


When I must run monsters that lack any suitable miniatures, I’m annoyed. So the Drowslayer construct posed a problem.

Fortunately, another Dungeon Master at my friendly neighborhood game store seems even more bloody minded than me about fining appropriate figures. He showed off a Drowslayer figure that he sculpted from oven-bake clay, and that his wife painted. I was unfamiliar with oven-bake clay, so the discovery sparked my imagination.

Inspired, I created my own Drowslayer. I cut a maw into a ping-pong ball, threaded some arms made of thick, black wire, and then impaled the ball on a dowel for a stand. I used Sculpey to make a base and some eyes, baked and glued, and then painted.Drowslayer miniature figure

I also made some black pudding figures.Black pudding miniature figures