Miniatures of a mage, dragonborn, and chromatic dragons on a fantasy map

Digital gaming during the pandemic has changed me a lot. One of the more extreme changes is the mindset that I don’t think I’m ever going back to miniatures when we go back to in-person gaming. Well, at least I’m not fully going back to the extravagant, over the top scenarios I had previously done. Throughout the #$&#%$*… character builder… that was 2020, I had to make a lot of changes to my gaming paradigms. No longer being in person meant we had to move online. Moving online meant my large collection of miniatures and scenery to create “WOW” moments and effects weren’t really necessary anymore. Moving many of my household spaces around to accommodate working from home for my day job, working from home for gaming projects, finding new spaces to exist in so the perpetual purgatory of my living room as an enjoyment space didn’t drive me mad meant that a lot of my things had to go into storage or get compressed into new spaces.

As all these changes overran my life, I began to realize that the little pieces of representative plastic I’ve been using for gaming for the past few years..last decade…decades... lets just say I’ve been doing this a while and have collected a lot of stuff, and I’ve realized that technology improvements are going to negate the need to use these physical pieces to help bolster truly compelling play spaces.

Being Forced To Move Away From Physical Stuff

Long before pandemic 2020 hit I had been using a digital map solution with a tv built into a wooden frame. My portable video map gave me a lot of flexibility in creating scenery and terrain without having to have a perfectly tailored map or an imperfectly scribbled doodle for every scenario. I’d become addicted to subreddits for battlemaps and mapmaking and had a large collection of maps I’d use through some local virtual tabletop or animated map solution. This combined with my handful… overabundance of miniatures (mostly unpainted) gave me a pretty good setup. As all of my gaming moved completely online I was forced to build up everything digitally. Token packs, characters generated through Hero Forge or other online avatar platforms, more digital maps, images pulled from the fly during games… in the online arena my games were more colorful and visually represented than ever before, and digital creation and tools made preparing even easier.

Pulling a Marie Kondo on My Collection

This is a very small percentage of my collection from back in the day

About 6 months in and no end in sight, I had the epiphany that the genie was out of the bottle and I was probably never going to do my in-person gaming the same way. The digital tools were too good and the variety of options available to me was never going to be replicated by my physical collection. It was time to think forward and begin a purge of my miniatures and scenery collection. What to purge? What to keep? How to organize it all?


For my miniatures, I decided to group them into categories that I could more easily make broad decisions on.

  • Unpainted – I had a loooot of these and most of them where never really going to get painted until they were needed.
  • Painted and Unique – I pulled aside all of the painted, pre-painted, and fairly unique miniatures that had a “wow” factor to them. Those may have some utility when I go back to in-person gaming.
  • Nostalgic – Some miniatures and scenery just had big memories attached to them and I didn’t want to get rid of them.
  • Big – There are a couple of really big show pieces I use. The Tarrasque miniatures I have (of course), a few steampunk tanks, a few modified toy sailing ships to turn into airships… Some of these I kept, some I ditched because they fit the next category.
  • Unique, but represented in a better way – There were some really cool miniatures and scenery that I could probably replicate better with digital means or less bulky means. Printed paper miniatures, tokens on a digital map, a paper deck plan rather than a full airship model that wasn’t quite right…
  • Common – The multitude of unpainted mob style miniatures, common D&D enemies, fairly generic soldiers.

Once I had my broad categories, I started going through the piles spread across my floor. Which ones fit my new gaming spaces, which ones did I not really use often or would be unlikely to use. All in all I got rid of about 3/4 of my miniatures collection. They went to my nephews to foster their gaming habit.

With my collections compressed down into a much more manageable space, I started thinking about what comes next for in-person gaming.

Going back to Hybrid (Wow moments and integrating digital technologies)

As I contemplate a time when we can all get together in person, I envision using some of my physical gaming collection alongside my digital maps and digital tokens. If I decide I want physical tokens for things, I’ll probably go back to making round 1 inch tokens ( or paper standees ( based on images I find online or that I pull from Hero Forge tokens I make. Of course, there are miniatures I’ll want – player characters, BBEG, etc. I don’t know that I really need to have a large physical collection any more though.

There are plenty of ways to make those wow moments happen without the same amount of physical setup.

  • Make “Trashable” scenery that doesn’t need stored. I’ve created some very fun things out of cheap materials that looked okay, represented and filled the space, and could be disassembled, stored, or gifted elsewhere more easily. Some examples are using stacked Jenga blocks to build a round tower, building a giant tree city map out of cardboard box scraps, using Styrofoam inserts to give a weird cyber-space feel to decking.
  • Use more digital wow moments. Create things that may not fill the physical space but wow people through free online tools or commissioning artists. Mozilla has an interesting project called hubs that lets you build 3d spaces. Free programs exist that let you do some explainer style videos or create talking avatars. An old tablet or phone can display a digital miniature with animation, TVs can be built into frames or tables to do digital maps. While some of these may incur some expenses, they are generally recoupable. For the cost of backing a Bones Kickstarter, a cheap digital tv or projector can give you a lot of flexibility for maps and tokens, as well as a way to move your current online games in person. Maybe moving to something like Tabletop Simulator in-person will help me create wow moments.
  • Mix and Match. There’s no reason the players miniatures and the BBEG or the really cool large monster can’t be the only things with some depth on your board. A very interesting trick (that sometimes works) is to take clear glass beads (no color) and place those on your digital map. They refract the image from beneath (if the lighting is correct on the screen) and give a bit of a 3d feel to a digital token. It also allows a player to pick out physical objects and keep them apart from the flat 2d representations. You can move the beads as you move the digital tokens and people get to see the physical board but also get the intricate images of the battlemap underneath.
  • Wait for technology to catch up. There are a ton of improvements being made to technology and it continually gets cheaper.  New features and apps create new opportunities to create wow moments without as much physical kipple being accumulated. One day we may have star-wars style 3-d chess that can easily replicate our miniatures.

Not Sure Where Things Will Go Next

I admit to feeling like I’m in a very in-between space in my gaming. We’re not back to in person, but we will be and all the stuff I purged from my collections will still be usable once that happens. However, moving all my games online and finding an appreciation for the digital tools makes me want to keep this level of efficiency up. Maybe that means buying some cheap tablets so all my players can use digital sheets at the table and we can keep up with our VTTs. Maybe it means carefully integrating physical gaming materials and digital ones, while being very considerate about what I actually need in my physical collections. Maybe it means spending my gaming funds in different ways. Gaming during the pandemic has flipped a lot of my paradigms around, and I don’t think I’ll be able to see how they change back until we are actually in person again. Maybe that itch to have a big impressive set piece will keep demanding it’s scritches. Maybe I’ll just keep some games online or half online and half physical.

I’m interested to hear how the pandemic has changed the physical aspects of your gaming. What permanent changes do you think it will make in your spaces? Will you be ditching things and moving more digital? Are you just counting down the days until it’s safer to be in person?