Miniature figure (gaming)

Miniature figure (gaming)

A miniature figure (also known as a miniature, mini, figure, or fig) is a small-scale representation of a historical or mythological entity used in miniature wargames, role-playing games, and dioramas. Miniature figures are commonly made of metal, plastic, or paper. They are used to augment the visual aspects of a game and track position, facing, and line of sight of characters. Miniatures are typically painted and can be artfully sculpted, making them collectible in their own right. Pre-painted plastic figures, such as Clix miniatures produced by WizKids, have also become popular. The hobby of painting, collecting, and playing with miniatures originated with toy soldiers, though the latter were generally sold pre-painted.



Traditionally, miniatures were cast in white metal, an alloy of lead and tin. A small amount of antimony was sometimes added to improve the alloy's ability to take fine detail. In 1993, the New York legislature introduced a bill outlawing lead in miniatures, citing public health concerns. Many miniature manufacturers, anticipating that other states would also impose bans, began making figures with lead-free alloys, often at increased price.[1] After months of debate and protests by miniature manufacturers and enthusiasts, New York Governor Mario Cuomo signed a bill which exempted miniatures from the state's Public Health Law.[2] Despite this, most American manufacturers continued to use non-lead alloys.[3]

In addition to metal miniatures, manufacturers offer figures in plastic (polyethylene or hard polystyrene) and resin . Some wargames use box miniatures, consisting of card stock folded into simple cuboids with representative art printed on the outside.


With metrication in the United Kingdom, United States manufacturers began to use the metric system to describe miniatures, as opposed to the previously popular imperial units, so that their table-top wargaming models would be compatible. In 28 mm scale, children and short characters such as dwarves, hobbits, and goblins are smaller than 28 mm, while taller characters like ogres, trolls and dragons are larger.

Scales of 20mm 25 mm, 28 mm, 30 mm, 32 mm, and 35 mm are the most common for role-playing and table-top games. Smaller scales of 2mm, 6mm 10 mm, 15 mm, and 20 mm are used for mass-combat wargames. Painters and collectors commonly use larger figures of 54 mm or more.

The use of scale is not uniform and can deviate by as much as 33%. A manufacturer might advertise its figures as 28 mm, but their products may be over 30 mm tall. A contributing factor is the difference in methods used to calculate scale. Some manufacturers measure figure height from the feet to the eyes rather than the top of the head. Therefore a 6-foot (1.83 m) figure in 28 mm scale would be 30 mm tall. As a result, 15 mm figures can be variously interpreted as 1:100 scale or 1:120.

A further complication is differing interpretations of body proportions. Many metal gaming figures are unrealistically bulky for their height, with an oversized head, hands, and weapons. Some of these exaggerations began as concessions to the limitations of primitive mold-making and sculpting techniques, but they have evolved into stylistic conventions. In the table below, figure height alone (excluding base thickness) is the feature from which approximate scale is calculated.

Figure Height Scale foot Scale Ratio Comments
2 mm ≈0.333 mm ≈1:914 Useful for gaming in tight spaces or representing large forces. Popular scale for Victorian science fiction (VSF) games.
5.92 mm ≈0.987 mm 1:300 The NATO/EU standard scale for sand-table wargames involving micro armor. Closely related to 1:285 scale and generalized as "6 mm" figure scale.
6.2 mm ≈1.033 mm 1:285 The US standard for large-scale historical armor battles involving micro armor. Also popular in other genres, such as ancient, fantasy, and sci-fi. Closely related to 1:300 scale.
8.0 - 9.14 mm ≈1.524 mm 1:200 - 1:182 The standard for old 1970-1980 large-scale display plastic aircraft, a large magority of diecast aircraft, and science fiction plastic kits. Also popular in other genres, such as ancient, fantasy, and sci-fi. One scale inch is equivalent to approximately 1/200th of an inch, 0.005 inches and 25.4 millimetres. One scale foot is equivalent to approximately 12/200th of an inch, 0.06 inches and 1.524 millimetres. One scale yard is equivalent to approximately 1/36th of an inch, 0.18 inches and 4.572 millimetres. Figure scale is 8mm generally squared off to 1/160 - 1/200 scale
10 mm ≈1.667 mm ≈1:182 A newer scale, growing in popularity, especially for World War II and science fiction gaming. Roughly equal to N scale railroad trains. Notable manufacturers include Pendraken Miniatures, Magister Militum, Minifigs UK and Old Glory.
12 mm 2 mm ≈1:152 A newer scale, growing in popularity, closely related to 10 mm. Roughly equal to 1:144 scale and N scale model mini armor.
15 mm 2.5 mm ≈1:122 The most popular scale used for historical wargames set in the modern era, such as Flames of War or Axis & Allies Miniatures. Also widely used in ancient-era wargaming, such as De Bellis Multitudinis, De Bellis Antiquitatis, and Fields of Glory. Seldom used for RPGs. Ranges roughly from 1:100 scale to 1:122 scale.
20 mm ≈3.33 mm ≈1:91.4 Highly popular for WWII wargaming, as the figures are of roughly the same scale as H0 model railways. Seldom used for RPGs.
25/28 mm ≈4.17 mm ≈1:73.2 The most common size of miniatures, as it is used by Games Workshop. While original 25 mm figures matched 1:76 models (4 mm scale or 00 gauge), there developed wide upwards variation in figure height. True 28 mm figures are close to 1:64 models (S scale), but may appear larger due to bulky sculpting and thick bases.
30 mm 5 mm ≈1:61.0 Common for pre-1970s wargaming figures; modern minis may be up to 35 mm. Close to S scale model railroads.
32 mm ≈5.33 mm ≈1:57.2 Idiosyncratic to Mithril Miniatures. Genuine 32 mm.
35 mm ≈5.83 mm ≈1:52.3 Genuine 30 mm.
54 mm 9 mm ≈1:33.9 Collectible figures. These miniatures are a good match for 1:35 models, but oversize 54 mm figures would fit better with 1:32 models. Plastic dollar-store army men are often sold at this scale.


Many role-playing gamers and wargamers paint their miniatures to differentiate characters or units on a gaming surface (terrain, battle mat, or unadorned table top).

Fantasy, role-playing, miniatures, and wargaming conventions sometimes feature miniature painting competitions, such as Games Workshop's Golden Demon contest. There are also many painting competitions on the internet.


There are two basic methods of manufacturing figures: centrifugal/gravity casting and plastic injection casting.

Most metal and resin figures are made through spin casting. Larger resin models, like buildings and vehicles, are sometimes gravity cast, which is a slower process. To gravity cast, a sculptor develops a master figure, which is then used to create rubber master and production moulds. The production moulds are used to cast the final commercial figures.

Polyethylene and polystyrene figures are made by injection moulding. A machine heats plastic and injects it under high pressure into a steel mould. This is an expensive process; it is only cost effective when manufacturing large amounts of figures, since the quantity renders the cost per cast minimal.

Many miniatures companies do not produce their figures themselves but leave the manufacture to specialised casting companies or miniatures companies that have casting facilities.


Most miniatures are hand sculpted using two-component epoxy putties in the same size as the final figure. The components of the putty are mixed together to create a sculpting compound that hardens over 48 hours. Some common brands include Polymerics Kneadatite blue\yellow (also known as "green stuff" and "Duro" in Europe), Milliput, A&B, Magic sculp, and Kraftmark's ProCreate.

Until recently, sculptors avoided polymer clays as they cannot withstand the traditional mouldmaking process. Modern techniques using RTV silicone and softer-quality rubbers have made it possible to use weaker materials, so that polymer clay masters have become more common. Fimo clay is popular, though due to the individual properties of certain colours, only a limited selection of colours is used.

Masters for plastic miniatures are often made in a larger scale, often three times the required size. The master is measured with a probe linked to a pantograph that reduces the measurements to the correct size and drives the cutter that makes the moulds.

A more recent development is the use of digital 3D models made by computer artists. These digital models create a physical model for mouldmaking using rapid prototyping techniques. Alternatively, they can be used directly to drive a computer numerical control machine that cuts the steel mould.

Miniatures in Dungeons & Dragons

Official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons miniatures

In 2003 TSR, Inc. produced the Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures Game. This stand alone game now also serves as the game's official line of miniatures. Other companies also produced figures in various scales for Dungeons & Dragons and other fantasy games.

Traditionally, figures were made of alloys, but plastic miniatures have grown in popularity. Both Mage Knight and the Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures Game use pre-painted, collectible plastic figures.


Originally, Dungeons & Dragons was an evolution of the original Chainmail miniatures game,[4] with the distinction that each player controlled a single figure and had a wider variety of actions available. As the game developed, miniatures became more of an optional add-on.[5] The original Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game bore the subtitle, "Rules for Fantastic Miniature Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature Figures". However, Dungeons & Dragons did not require miniatures, referring to them as "only aesthetically pleasing".[6] Advanced Dungeons & Dragons likewise included a relatively short section describing miniature use, in conjunction with the official AD&D miniatures being produced at the time.[7] Player's Option: Combat & Tactics introduced a more elaborate grid-based combat system that emphasized the use of miniatures; a streamlined version of some of these concepts appeared in Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition.

Although not strictly necessary, the third and fourth editions of the game assume the use of miniatures, and many game mechanics refer explicitly to the combat grid. In addition to reducing ambiguity about the size and position of characters, this allows the game to specify rules for reach, threatened areas, and movement rates. A side benefit, from the standpoint of Hasbro and other manufacturers, is increased miniatures sales.

See also


  1. ^ Bigalow, Robert 1993. "Through the Looking Glass", Dragon Magazine 192:112–118 (April 1993).
  2. ^ N.Y. P.B.H. Law § 1376-a
  3. ^ Bigalow, Robert 1984. "Through the Looking Glass", Dragon 205:114–122 (May 1994).
  4. ^ Gygax and Arneson, 1974, Dungeons & Dragons Vol-1, p. 3
  5. ^ Gygax, 2003, ENWorld game forums: "I don't usually employ miniatures in my RPG play. We ceased that when we moved from CHAINMAIL Fantasy to D&D."
  6. ^ Gygax and Arneson, 1974, Dungeons & Dragons Vol-1, p. 5
  7. ^ Gygax, 1979, AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide, p. 10-11: "The special figures cast for ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS add color to play and make refereeing far easier. Each player might be required to furnish painted figures representing his or her player character and all henchmen and/or hirelings included in the game session."

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