When I run face-to-face (IRL for all you young whippersnappers) role playing games I like using a grid and pawns for combat (that’s not to say I don’t like using Theater of the Mind – I do, I just prefer using grids for larger scale battles). In some games I’ve used combinations of pawns and miniatures. But which is better? Pawn or mini?
What do I mean when I say ‘pawns’? Pawns are upright standing 2D tokens, often backprinted, that provide a visual representation of a character or monster. They are normally colour, but you can also get black and white ones.
What’s the difference between a pawn and a token? A token lies flat on the table, whereas a pawn stands upright. This means the pawn can display a whole image of the creature its representing, and can accurately represent not only the number of spaces a creature takes up (via its base) but also its height.
Miniatures are printed, moulded plastic or die cast metal 3D figures, which come unpainted or pre-painted. Collecting and painting miniatures is a hobby unto itself, and can bring years or a lifetime of enjoyment. Anyone who’s played Warhammer 40K will know it can also become an obsession!
For most DMs and players, the choice between pawns and miniatures comes down to cost, time, immersion, transport and personal choice.
When it comes to pricing, pawns are hands down cheaper than miniatures. You can generally buy several backprinted pawns (depending on the company you buy them from) for the price of a single, unpainted miniature.
Once you have pawns, you also need bases to hold the pawn upright. Some companies supply bases (yay!) with their pawns, but others you have to buy them separately e.g. The Pathfinder 2e Bestiary Box from Paizo includes bases, but you may want to buy extra base sets.
The issue for most DMs and players purchasing miniatures is the amount of money you have to invest in the hobby. If you want lots of fancy miniatures, be prepared to spend big. And if you like 3D terrain, to spend a LOT more. (Yes, you can also purchase and/or print out low cost cardboard buildings and walls – DrivethruRPG is a good place to find a variety of these kits.)
Miniatures are awesome on a tabletop, but unless you buy them pre-painted (expensive!) you’ll need to invest time painting them (okay, you don’t have to, but grey miniatures on a tabletop look awfully dull, which defeats the purpose of having miniatures. Pawns are already colour and ready to go.
There is no doubt that having cool painted miniatures and colour battle mats increase player immersion in play. Pawns look cool, but there’s no getting away from the fact that they only have two sides – three dimensional beats two dimensional every time.
If you’ve got a limited budget, you can always use both. Use pawns when you have hordes of minions, and miniatures for major monsters. It’s up to you.
This won’t be an issue if you run games from your own home, but if you’re like me and travel around between venues the transport of several cases to carry miniatures becomes an issue. They are bulky, and if you can’t take all of them then sorting and packing is required as part of your prep time for a game.
Pawns are flat, and easily stored in folders which can be alphabetised if you’re into that. Clear sheets in the folder make it easy to locate the pawn you need for the job.
A few folders versus multiple plastic carry cases? I know what I prefer. I used to be a drummer, and drummers are usually the first to arrive at a gig and the last to leave – they lug the most gear. But they do get the groupies, so it’s not so bad lol.
In the end it’s always going to be a matter of your own personal preference. I’ve seen some awesome pawns that blow some miniatures out of the water e.g I acquired some great pawns from a recent GTGminis Kickstarter.
I’ve seen brilliantly painted miniatures and terrain that makes you feel like you’re right there in the dungeon. For me, it comes down to cost and portability. But you and your players will have your own preferences. And in your game that’s all that really matters.
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