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Miniatures are small figurines used to represent people and monsters in Dungeons & Dragons. The use of miniatures is optional under many editions of the game's rules. They are frequently abbreviated minis.


Miniatures are small three-dimensional figures, typically made from plastic or metal. Miniatures used for D&D are typically at around 25mm scale, meaning that a mini of a human stands about one inch in height and all other creatures are to the same scale.

A wide variety of miniatures are produced by many companies. They may come pre-painted, as with Wizards of the Coast's miniatures, or unpainted, in which case the players may be expected to paint their own minis. Many players consider miniature painting an important part of the hobby.


Miniatures originate from Dungeons & Dragons' roots in miniature wargaming. The original release of Dungeons & Dragons in 1974 described itself as "Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature Figures", although the use of miniatures in that game was optional.

Advantages and drawbacks[]

Benefits of using miniatures[]

The use of miniatures adds a tactical element to gameplay and gives players a much clearer picture of the state of play. Without miniatures, there is the risk that the players have different understandings of where each character stands in relation to one another.

Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition requires the use of miniatures. This allows game rules which focus on the tactical elements of gameplay. Many players find this the most interesting aspect of the game.

Early TSR employee Tim Kask has espoused the visual spectacle of real three-dimensional miniatures:

"Minis are the most realistic representation of what you're doing. A little square counter this big, with a tank silhouette on it, is one thing. A little tank this big is quite another."[1]

Benefits of not using miniatures[]

Under most editions of Dungeons & Dragons including the current 5th edition, the use of miniatures is optional. Choosing not to use miniatures allows the Dungeon Master greater versatility to introduce opponents that the group does not own the correct miniatures for. According to Playing at the World:

"By exchanging only words, the referre and players free themselves from the constraints that boards and game pieces impose—they share in the same freedoms that authors of fantasy fiction enjoy to bandy around impossibilities. When things take a turn for the unexpected, and players suddenly attract the attention of four giants, or get lost and wander off the map into an unfamiliar town, there is no need to reach for any representation of these entities and places aside from the words and the imagination that fuels them."

Miniatures can also be expensive, especially for large creatures or multiples of the same mini. It's impossible to find exact miniatures for every creature, and the use of "substitutes" is common.

Alternatives to miniatures[]

Dungeons & Dragons can be played without miniatures by simply having the players hold the state of play in their imagination. The term Theater of the Mind has been recently popularized to describe this method of play, although this mode of play has existed since original Dungeons & Dragons.[2]

Ad-hoc substitutes for minis include coins, dice, bottle caps, chess pawns, toy soldiers, pieces from board games, and other objects. Commercially-available substitutes include cardboard tokens (as included in the 4th edition D&D Essentials Starter Set (2010)) and printable miniatures which can be stood on plastic bases. These inexpensive substitutes are popular as they can be used interchangeably with existing miniatures and using the same rules.


  1. Tim Kask, The Curmudgeon in the Cellar #12, 32'00s
  2. "I don't usually employ miniatures in my RPG play. We ceased that when we moved from CHAINMAIL Fantasy to D&D. I have nothing against the use of miniatures, but they are generally impractical for long and free-wheeling campaign play where the scene and opponents can vary wildly in the course of but an hour." - Gary Gygax, ENWorld Q&A