It’s safe to say that I’m a bit of an easy sell when it comes to miniatures. Every time I go into a game store, I buy dice or miniatures from their bargain bin. The fantasy games I generally play call for odd or unique minis, so your standard knight in armor rarely works, especially when I need minis to represent the vast array of unique enemy personalities. I also like to use big miniatures when there are big enemies, but those get real expensive. So what do you do when you need minis that aren’t commonly made or would be incredibly expensive? Well, in those cases, you go looking for toys.
That’s right, you go looking for toys. Toys of all sorts can make great miniatures for your games. They are often bigger in scale, cheaper to purchase, and they provide incredibly unique options. Not really buying it, well a picture is worth a thousand words, so let’s get garrulous!
(Apologies for the quality on some of these pictures, they were taken with a cell phone with less than stellar quality.)
Ok, let’s make the case for why toys as miniatures are awesome. First off, they are frigging huge. Really. Check out this dragon toy I found at a local toy store. Not the prettiest….
but . . .
frigging huge. Yup, that’s a reference picture of some random guy’s leg next to the big dragon. Imagine an actual miniature facing off against that.
Ok, argument the second. Toys can be big, but the ones that make good miniatures are often cheap. Check the clearance aisle and you can find lots of good deals. These clearance aisle toys make great demons, satyrs, and monsters.
The third argument I’ve got is in regards to sheer numbers. Ever want to drench the map in miniatures? Want to throw an army against the PCs or just populate the map with civilians about to die? Great miniature sized toys can be found en masse. They even come in sets with some landscape. Just check out these bulk packs of army men.
Or go check out these packs of pirates and knights. A little bigger than your average miniature, but great fodder for the battlefield.
Argument Vier, toys make great unique miniatures. Want a good robot or giant mechanical suit? Check out a toy like this. The size fits, it has firing parts, it has a grappling hook, and you can even slide miniatures into the cockpit and make some nifty challenges where taking out the pilot is the real objective of the very tactical oriented combat.
Point five, toys can make great set pieces. This barbie castle from goodwill and a bit of model paint and you’ve got a great, cheap castle. A pirate ship makes a great pirate ship or the basis for a great airship.
Hopefully I’ve showcased some of the nifty ways that toys can be repurposed into great miniatures. All it takes is a trip into a toy store or thrift store and a bit of imagination. Have you used toys as miniatures before? What other unique solutions do you use for fun miniatures?
Can I come and play at your house John? Please please please?
Arts and crafts stores have pretty decent mini substitutes too.
You are a genius, Johnny Five. Consider, too, one of the things that has kept me from buying minis but on a few occasions in cheap lots from eBay: I hate the collectible/you don’t know what you’re getting aspect of the market. What if I want zombies? Why shouldn’t I be able to buy just zombies? Well, I can get a bag of them – glowing ones! – from Twilight Creations!
I suppose that toys, too, would be better than beer bottle caps, which our group has used.
@ChattyDM – You are always welcome if you want to make a trip down to Ohio! Wait till you see the next thing I’m going to do on the big self made airship…
@valadil – I just stopped into a train store yesterday and saw a lot of fun things I could use for “civilian” minis. The prices weren’t bad either. 8 minis for about 12 bucks. And generic, non-combat ones are hard to find.
@lyle.spade – The zombie minis are great. I use them for generic fodder all the time. I wish someone would come out with pack o’ orcs or pack o’kobolds like that. Maybe we need to do a pack o’ gnomes…
Bah! Everyone knows real wargamers go Playmobil every time. I mean, have you seen *their* dragon? My daughter has two, a greeen one and a black one. I totally want the red one but my wife is on guard for fake “kid gifts”.
And the kid is seventeen now so the gaff is up.
The Playmobil castle is a work of art. I should know, I had to put the bloody thing together. It was years ago yet the memory lie fresh in my memory as though it were yesterday.
And have you seen the pirate ships? They make a new version every four hours. And what about that really great Viking Longship?
So wasted on the kids.
For the terrain-making buffs out there (especially the Wonkhammer 401k crowd) you really should keep your eyes out for repurposable Happy Meal toys. They can make great statues, and many of them are fantastic starting points for Ork structures/machines.
I regret not buying up all of those Star Trek micro machines from way back (the nineties?).
The army men thing is a great idea for 20th century military campaigns. You can even customize them a bit with some paint and away you go.
I’ll have to raid the bargain bin from time to time. How could anyone pass up on a pirate ship and pirates? …. ARRRRRR. 🙂
Long ago I was running a Champions superhero game that used miniatures. And for one game I made a big deal about having bought a special miniature just for the game. So, the characters are having to deal with a rift in time and from it emerges a tyrannosaurus rex (naturally) and I pull a bright green plush t-rex out of my bag (it was even to scale) and placed it on the table to a stunned silence. One of my favorite memories of that game.
@Roxysteve – I love the pirate ships and castles. I’ve got a few sitting around to use as cheap, need it now terrain.
@BryanB – Those micro machines were awesome, and let you do ship combat on a completely separate scale.
@Knight of Roses – That’s awesome. I’ve often tried to find reasons to add dinosaurs into my games in order to use the plethora of dino toys sitting in my basement. Matchbox cars are also great for use in superhero or modern games. Did the fact that the dinosaur was plush detract from it at all?
I’ve been using Legos for years. Sure they’re expensive to start, but I’ve been collecting them for decades, so I have plenty for crafting any terrain, vehicle or creature I need.
Also, Minifigs can be used to customize your characters and NPCs in virtually infinite combinations.
When my daughter was little, I used to buy bags of loose toys (Happy Meal, Playmobil, Fisher Price, McFarlane, etc) at the thrift store to get My Little Ponies for her. I could get a back about 15″ long and 6″ in diameter for like $3. As a result, I ended up with many, many other beasties and figures (pirates, superheroes, monsters, you name it). If you don’t mind the hassle of picking through them and accumulating some clutter, you can come up with some way cool stuff on a very cheap budget.
One of my favorite fallbacks for minis come in vending machines. Every once in a while you’ll see some really cool stuff in machines in restaurants or gas stations. Homie brand minis are easily repurposed from being pimps, gangsters, and thugs to being merchants, magisters, and townsfolk. All it takes is a hint of paint.
I love this! What great advice. I will have to go raid my mom’s storage room for all my childhood fantasy toys. I just discovered this blog. I’m sure I will be visiting daily!
@evil – If you’re running Shadowrun you’ve got all the gangers you’d ever need.
Fantastic advice! Maybe I’ll get some use out of those GI Joes I have stashed in the attic ^_^
A friend of mine recommended this site to me when I started GMing a couple of months ago. I’ve read some great articles here since then, and I’m looking forward to some great GMing advice.
I’ve been doing this for years myself. The bargain bins at Toys-R-Us and Big Lots are treasure troves. Great, cheap minis!