In miniature wargaming, players enact simulated battles using scale models called miniature models, which can be anywhere from 2 mm to 54 mm in height, to represent warriors, vehicles, artillery, buildings, and terrain. These models are colloquially referred to as miniatures or minis.
Miniature models 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 and unpainted plastic figures for Warhammer by Games Workshop, have 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. 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. Despite this, most American manufacturers continued to use non-lead alloys.
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.
Scales of 20 mm, 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 2 mm, 6 mm, 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 but 40mm and 54mm have never been completely abandoned by wargamers and have become popular again since the late 20th century although not as popular as the smaller sizes.
The use of scale is not uniform and can deviate by as much as 30%. 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 gaming figures are unrealistically bulky for their height, with oversized feet, heads, hands, wrists, and weapons. Figurines with these exaggerated features are often referred to as "heroic scale". 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.
In many games designed for use with 28 mm scale figurines, there is a definite scale specified for the square grid that the game is played upon. Conventionally, 1 inch represents 5 feet. This specifies an exact scale of 1:60. That implies that a 28 mm tall figurine represents a 1.68 meter person – which is a reasonable number for a modern 50th percentile male (See: Human height).
Another popular scale is 1/72 sometimes also called 20 mm, but closer to 23 mm. It is mostly used for historical gaming in part due to a wide selection of 1/72 scale models.
Useful for gaming in tight spaces or representing large forces. Popular scale for Victorian science fiction (VSF) games.
As with 2 mm figures, useful for gaming in tight spaces or representing large forces. Primarily used for World War II and Modern land and air games. Sometimes referred to as "pico" scale.
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
1:200 – 1:182
The standard for old 1970–1980 large-scale display plastic aircraft, a large majority 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 1/200 of an inch, 0.005 inches and 25.4 millimetres. One scale foot is equivalent to approximately 12/200 of an inch, 0.06 inches and 1.524 millimetres. One scale yard is equivalent to approximately 1/36 of an inch, 0.18 inches and 4.572 millimetres. Figure scale is 8 mm generally squared off to 1/160 – 1/200 scale
A newer scale, growing in popularity, especially for World War II and science fiction gaming, but increasingly for historical games as well. Roughly equal to N scale railroad trains. Notable manufacturers include Pendraken Miniatures, Newlines, Irregular Miniatures, Magister Militum, Steve Barber, Kallistra, Minifigs UK, Old Glory, and Games Workshop's Warmaster line of miniatures.
A newer scale, growing in popularity, closely related to 10 mm. Roughly equal to 1:144 scale and N scale model mini armor.
'Heroic' 15 mm, such as the Napoleon At War range. Roughly HO scale.
Highly popular for World War II wargaming, as the figures are of roughly the same scale as OO model railways. Seldom used for RPGs. Airfix made a considerable range of figures in this scale: historically they were labelled on the box as "HO & OO scale" but are now described as 1/72 scale.
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.
Common for pre-1970s wargaming figures; modern minis may be up to 35 mm. Close to S scale model railroads.
Idiosyncratic to Mithril Miniatures. Genuine 32 mm.
Genuine 30 mm.
Older figures from the 60s tend to be thinner and sometimes shorter than new metal ones. Close to O scale model railroads.
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. Most new plastic 54s are 1/32 and these are the most common ones to be used for wargaming.
Measurements and scales
It is worth noting that many miniature wargaming companies use figure height measurements that are based on the height of a miniature from the soles of its feet to the height of its eyes. The Scale Ratio equivalents to these measurements are based on the measurement of 1610 mm (about 5' 3"), the average height of an adult male from the soles of the feet to the height of the eyes.
Often known as "to-the-eye" scale, this method of measurement allows wargamers to judge the comparative height of a miniature without having to estimate the actual height of the head which is often covered in some sort of military headgear. It is important to know which system of measurements a given company is using since it can drastically affect the compatibility between the miniatures of different companies as well as compatibility between miniature wargaming models and kits produced for scale Model Building hobbies.
As shown below, using "to-the-eye" measurements drastically modifies the measurements above. Any size of miniature can be described with "to-the-eye" measurements, but it is most often seen in the common wargaming scales below.
Formerly the most commonly produced size of miniatures. Still produced today by companies such as Ground Zero Games, Denizen Miniatures  and many others.
≈1:58 - 1:56
The most common size of miniatures today, as it is used by Games Workshop. Though technically 1/58, figures of this height by companies such as Warlord Games and Wargames Factory often also have 1/56 on the packaging and in their advertising.
1:54 - 1:48
Larger and somewhat less standardized scales. Privateer Press is an excellent example. Miniatures for their Warmachine and Hordes games are 30mm. Reaper Miniatures Chronoscope line  is an example of the lack of standardization for larger sized miniatures. Though labeled "25mm heroic" the heights of the miniatures from sole to eye mostly range from 29-32mm.
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 a number of products designed for miniature painting such as games workshop's citadel paint range. As well as valejo's game color and model color ranges in addition to the "warpaints" offered by the army painter.
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 manufacturing to specialized 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 sculpt, 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. They can also simply skip moulding steps and directly produce miniatures from 3D models.
Miniatures in Dungeons & Dragons
Originally, Dungeons & Dragons was an evolution of the Chainmail medieval miniatures game, with the distinction that each player controlled a single figure and had a wider variety of actions available. The original D&D boxed set 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".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. As the game developed, miniatures became more of an optional add-on. The AD&D 2nd Edition accessory 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 D&D 3rd edition. Although not strictly necessary, the 4th edition of the game assumes 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. The 5th edition de-emphasized these mechanics, and returned the use of miniatures to mostly optional.
Traditionally, figures were made of alloys, but pre-painted, collectible plastic miniatures have grown in popularity, including officially licensed D&D miniatures. In 2003, Wizards of the Coast produced the Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures Game as a standalone game that also served as the game's official line of miniatures; the game was discontinued as a standalone in 2011, but miniatures continued to be produced for use with the roleplaying game. Since 2014, WizKids has held the license to produce official D&D miniatures.
^Gygax and Arneson, 1974, Dungeons & Dragons Vol-1, p. 3
^Gygax and Arneson, 1974, Dungeons & Dragons Vol-1, p. 5
^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."
^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."