Once upon a time, way back in the early days of my gaming career, I struck gold. It was a garage sale, and among the usual assortment of dinged-up furniture and warped Tupperware lids, I found the beginnings of my miniature collection. It was a full cardboard box of Mage Knight minis, over 300 of the things! There were elementals and constructs and orcs galore, and I took the lot. At long last, I could stop using spare pennies and LEGO minifigs and begin setting up combats like a real gamer!

Since then my collection has grown. Years have passed, and I now own 40k armies. I’ve got the Bones kraken. There are random townsfolk, re-purposed craft store dragons, and custom 3D-printed critters from Hero Forge. It was all beginning to get a bit out of hand, actually. That’s why, late last year, I decided to make a project of organizing my collection. I decided to put up Swedish shelving all around of my office. I filled the Swedish shelves with Swedish shoe boxes, labeled them with the full gamut of creature types, and put my horde of plastic dudes in their new homes. Many hours and much swearing at wall studs later, I was all sorted and set to game!

Now let me tell you another story. It was just last session, and my players were fighting ratlings. If you’ve ever read Lovecraft’s “The Dreams in the Witch House,” you know that these esoteric little horrors stem from a particularly nasty specimen named Brown Jenkin. That’s a weirdly specific creature. And while my collection may be vast, there were no ratling minis to be found. Instead, I wound up proxying a couple of unpainted skaven clan rats from the Warhammer universe. They made fine replacements in a close-enough sort of way, but some sick corner of my brain was still shrieking at me: “You should find out if there are any official ratling minis. Check ebay! Spend more money! Own more plastic!”

You see, I understand exactly where Wizard is coming from in today’s comic. When you’ve got a clear image of a fantasy world all picked out in vivid colors in your mind, you want to see that image reflected on the table. That’s why I possess more plastic toys than a grown man ought. But something sort of clicked in my brain during that ratling fight. An epiphany. What I realized is that no matter how hard you try, when you’re attempting to represent Imagination Land in psychical reality, you’re always going to come up short. Even if I owned every mini in every bestiary ever printed, I still don’t have a 3D dungeon. (OK, I do have a 3D dungeon. But it’s made of gothic stone rather than natural caverns. A travesty for Underdark games!)

It’s taken me many years to accept the possibility, but the “gold” I struck at that long-ago garage sale may have been fool’s gold. Whether it’s LEGO, paper minis, or plastic dollar store toys, you’re always going to proxy some part of your imaginary landscape. Learning to live with that, to accept “close enough,” can save you a lot of time and money. I just wish I’d figured that out several Swedish shoe boxes ago.

Question of the day then! What do you use for miniatures? Do you strive like me to maintain an expansive collection, or do you make do with whatever bits you can scrounge from your board game collection? Let’s hear about all your favorite Monopoly thimble thieves and meeple mages down in the comments!


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