A miniature or mini is a small-scale figurine used to represent the relative position of a character or unit, mostly in gaming. Miniatures are cast in one of three materials: pewter, plastic, or resin. Early miniatures were made of cheap plastic and lead. After a while, somebody decided that lead was bad and manufacturers switched to pewter and finally "Rallidium," a lead-free pewter substitute. The plastic ones wouldn't get you sick if you ate them, so the materials weren't changed much there, although there are polyethylene, polystyrene, and polyurethane resin figures from various manufacturers.
Most miniatures are on a 25-28mm scale (that is, a 25 [or 28 or whatever] millimeter figure represents a six-foot-tall person) -- which is about 1/76th scale, or 00 gauge (4mm to the scale foot) -- but they come in many other scales as well.
The mini shows your relative position with regards to the other player characters, and potentially monsters. The main use for minis is to avoid arguments when someone sets off a trap and the DM says "Now who was in front?" with the minis, marching order was provable, and many a dickish player finally fell into the spiky pits they so richly deserved. RPG scales are usually kept in the 25-28mm range. Except in the Dark Dungeons tract, where the figures are of fucking epic proportions, similar to the Mazes and Monsters movie figures.
Minis here are used in a similar fashion, showing a unit's relative position to other units, only there tend to be a fuckton more figures on the table. Where minis aren't required in RPGs to play (unless you play 4e where many powers are movement based) in wargames they are a must. Determining line of sight, squad size, and movement patterns is essential to the typical wargame, and so too are the figures. Wargames use a number of different scales depending on the system. For instance, Warhammer uses 28mm, and most historical wargames use a 15 or 20 millimeter scale. They can be as small as 2mm.
What does the scale mean?
When the scale is in millimeters, it's generally referring to millimeters in reference to an average height man. Basically, a 185cm tall warrior (or 6 feet tall if you don't know the metric system) is the baseline. If your model of that warrior is 28mm tall, congrats, you have a 28mm scale figure. It's a little over 4.1mm to the scale foot. Same goes for all the other scales in miniatures, they're all based on that 'average man' baseline. They all fluctuate some, but the convention has held for a number of years.
Metal or Plastic
Some people have a difficult time deciding what kind of minis to buy based on material. To the player, the only major difference in materials are weight (metals are obviously heavier than plastic or resin), ease of work (metals take more work to remove mold lines or convert), and what tools to use (one type of glue may not bond different materials, either to themselves or each other). Advances in engineering over the last few decades have made it easier for plastic models to carry more detail and have more dynamic poses, while metal and resin models still require less money for initial production. If you're buying prepainted figures, then get which ever ones look better to you.
A Figurine Hobbyist?
Yup. Some people (especially on /tg/) get a massive erection from customizing scale figurines. They often mix and match parts from various models and sometimes mold and make their own. It's not uncommon for a hobbyist to have a few thousand dollars in material from saws, brushes, paints, magnifying glasses on articulated arms, etc. Some people take that shit seriously, making sure that every bit of detail is 110% perfect at all times. To be fair, 80% of the time the figures look REALLY good, and the other 20% of the time you get to laugh at the asshole who wasted the time, money, and effort to build his model that he should have probably stuck to buying ones that are already done for him. So in the 4chan universe, it's all good.
Many companies make figures for gaming. Here is a short (and by no means comprehensive) list of manufacturers and what they sell:
- Agema Miniatures - Mostly Roman Republic miniatures, but they have some Carthaginian and Etruscan models as well.
- Amera - Makes sci-fi and fantasy terrain as well as an official Dreadball arena done in collaboration with Mantic Games.
- Antenocitis Workshop - Mostly makes Infinity themed terrain, transfers, and bases with a few cyberpunk and fantasy themed products as well.
- Antimatter Games - The makers of DeepWars and ShadowSea. Lots of different deep sea themed minis.
- Ainsty Castings - Makes a bunch of different themed terrain as well as a few ancient China and Planet of the Apes minis.
- Airfix - The granddaddy of them all, and the oldest miniature manufacturer. Makes 1/72nd and 1/35th scale Historical Models which, much like Tamiya, can be repurposed for wargames.
- Anarchy Models - Makes airbrush stencils and a few human and Ork conversion bits.
- Anvil Industry - Resin troops and bits for Imperial Guard and Space Marines.
- Archon Studio - Fantasy and sci-fi miniatures and several board games.
- Currently have a Kickstarter for modular terrain - starting sets are Fantasy/SciFi Gothic Cathedral and South American Temple.
- Armorcast - Terrain, bases, transfers, and muzzle flashes for all sorts of weaponry.
- Artel W Miniatures - Grim Gothic fantasy and sci-fi miniatures - has both 28mm scale and 54mm scale miniatures, accessories and busts. Bits, bases and scenery. Pacific88 coloring sets and accessories.
- Artizan Designs - many historical armies, including WW2 and Wild West, and some Pulp Adventure and fantasy (mainly trolls and goblins) miniatures.
- Avatars of War - Makes models for The 9th Age.
- Battlefront - Flames of War, DUST Tactics (after getting the license from FFG, currently in a legal battle with DUST Studio)
- Bitspudlo - terrain (with hexagonal bases for Warhammer Underworlds), vehicles, conversion parts and nice monsters (including demonettes and mushroom people)
- Bits of War - online store for Kromlech and tabletop scenics
- Black Cat Bases - now also has conversion parts and nice minis.
- Black Scorpion Miniatures - Good source for 17th century pirate minis, and quite a few Blood Bowl minis too.
- Blight Wheel Miniatures - conversion parts, vehicles, robots, killer bird cavalry and dinosaurs.
- Blood and Skulls Industry (Article) - Conversion parts for Imperial vehicles.
- Brother Vinni(Article) - Off-brand Fallout characters and women in/causing peril.
- * Cadwallon - successor to Rackham and sells their Confrontation miniatures line (gorgeous 28mm minis and a well made tabletop game).
- Chapter Customizer - Has transfer sheets and shoulder pads for tons of Space Marine chapters created by GW over the years.
- ChapterHouse Studios - Produces bits and accessories intended for use with Warhammer 40,000. The subject of a protracted legal battle with Games Workshop wherein GW demonstrated a laughable understanding of copyright laws and contempt for its customers.
- Citadel Miniatures (Games Workshop) - figures for
Warhammer Fantasy BattleWarhammer: Age of Sigmar, Warhammer 40,000, Battlefleet Gothic, Epic 40K, The Lord of the Rings film adaptations, and a bunch of other stuff that lays comatose.
- ClearHorizon Miniatures - Makes sci-fi models mostly at 15mm scale, but they have a few at 28mm scale to. Makes some nice knockoffs of the ODSTs from Halo.
- Company B - WWII vehicles including prewar and postwar stuff, Star Wars decals, and Girls und Panzer decals and miniatures.
- Conqueror Models - Has some nice historical models from the Indian Revolution of 1857, and some nice Giant and Dwarf models too.
- Conversion World - assorted axes, spears, swords and shields for 40K (Privateer Press and Infinity coming soon!) and the hands to wield them.
- Copplestone Castings - many historical armies, future war (cyberpunk) armies, dinosaurs and some nice 10mm Not!Lord of the Rings and 15mm Scandinavian fantasy
- Corvus Belli - Infinity. The shapely bums that their female models have gets the company the nickname "Corvus Booty."
- Creature Caster - Very large and expertly sculpted miniatures of demons, both sexy and terrifying (and they are NOT mutually exclusive).
- crooked dice - pulp adventure miniatures.
- Crucible Crush Productions - An online miniature marketplace formed by Bob Murch and Lee VanSchaik for a variety of model lines. Examples include Black Sun, a Vietnam War skirmish game with eldritch horrors, and Star Crush, for all your space combat needs.
- Darkest Star Games - Their Dark Star line of sci-fi minis is available in both 6mm and 15mm scale. They also make the Colony-15 range at 15mm scale.
- Darksword Miniatures - Has a line of Game of Thrones minis that's endorsed by George R.R Martin himself. Also sells a few other lines of fantasy minis.
- Dragon Forge - bases and conversion parts.
- Dreamforge Games - Their Eisenkern (space Nazis) are now produced by Wargames Atlantic under license.
- eBob Miniatures - Aside from the usual assortment of historical and fantasy models, they also have models and rules for playing miniature paintball.
- Edinburgh Miniature Company - Has a unique line of Imperial Guard Tox Troopers stand-ins as well as Greek Spartans and Tallarn Desert Raiders.
- eM4 Miniatures - An assortment of historical, fantasy, and sci-fi models as well as some pre-painted models. Oddly enough, they also have educational dice.
- Empress Miniatures - Tons of historical models and art books to go along with them.
- Etsy - It's mostly cosplay stuff and pre-painted commission models, but there's still a few model and bit producers who make their home here.
- Eureka Miniatures - Sells a mish-mash of sci-fi, historical, and fantasy minis at various scales.
- Evil Mushroom Games - A few historical tanks and minis, plus some neat bases like their resin crystal bases.
- ex illis - Makers of the wargame of the same name and all the models that go with it.
- Fallout Hobbies - Aside from selling decals, airbrush stencils, and miniature LED kits, they also have a few bits for Chaos Knights and Dark Eldar. Also has a 15% discount for veterans.
- Fantasy Flight Games(Article) - While not a miniatures producer principally, they make a lot of miniatures-based games like Twilight Imperium and Star Wars: Armada.
- Fireforge Games - The makers of the medieval fantasy wargame Forgotten World and all its associated models. They also sell historical and fantasy kits from several other manufacturers.
- Flying Frog Productions - Has several games that have a few minis to go alongside them, such as Shadows of Brimstone and Last Night on Earth.
- Footsore Miniatures and Games - Lots of different historical models ranging from medieval times to modern soldiers, and also the makers of Gangs of Rome and Mortal Gods.
- Forge World(Article) (also Games Workshop) - expensive figures for Fantasy, AoS, 40K, and other specialist games.
- Freebooter Miniatures(Article) - sexy ladies and pirates by Werner Klocke.
- Gamezone Miniatures - A seller of fantasy themed models that used to have their own webstore, but have since moved to Radaddel to sell their products.
- Gear Gut's Mek Shop - Lots of alternative models and for STL's for Orks.
- Grenadier Models - Historical and fantasy. At various times, Grenadier had official licenses from TSR, Chaosium, ICE, and Game Designers' Workshop. It went out of business in 1996 and their molds have gone to various other manufacturers including em4miniatures and Center Stage.
- Ground Zero Games - The makers of Full Thrust, Star Grunt II, Dirtside, and all its associated miniatures as well as a few collectible minis.
- Hardcore Miniatures - Miniatures for Duke Nukem, Serious Sam, Doomguy, Quakeguy, Gordon Freeman, and Snake Plisskin. What's not to love?
- Hasslefree Miniatures - British company that produces the work of Kev White. Mainly fantasy and sci-fi with lots of lovely ladies.
- Heresy Miniatures - Has a large line of sci-fi, fantasy, and Blood Bowl models and bits.
- HeroForge - Closest thing to a make-your-own miniatures of multiple types and materials.
- Hawk Wargames - Dropzone Commander. Seems to be defunct.
- Hitechminiatures - A great collection of space knight chapters and their demonic counterparts. Miniatures are a bit more blocky than Wargames Exclusive, but the best alternative if you want "serious" instead of pin-up.
- Hirst Arts - sells molds for casting your own terrain, both fantasy and sci-fi, including rarer things like Egyptian temples and complex industrial complexes. Also has molds for cute robots. Their latest product is a set of molds for Mech Warrior - or Adeptus Titanicus.
- Hydra Miniatures - Makers of Retro Raygun and War Rocket as well as all the retro sci-fi minis and spaceships you need to run both games.
- Hydracast - Makes some awesome alternate Tyranid models and bits that are pretty much indistinguishable from the real thing.
- Hysterical Games - What happens when you cross Tolkien and WWII, making Orc Tommies, Dwarf Nazis, and French Gnomes.
- Impact! Miniatures - Mostly makes Blood Bowl miniatures, but offers 3D printing services as well.
- Infamy Games - Steampunk themed models for the tabletop game of the same name.
- Italeri - Italian manufacturer of model kits in various scales. Partnered with Warlord to produce plastic Bolt Action vehicles. Also produces Photographic Reference Manuals for its kits as a guide for the accuracy-obsessed.
- Kerr & King - Tons of bases and scenery for different settings and scales, although their website is pretty ugly.
- KFStudio - Sells some very nice conversion bits for Night Lords and other space marine chapters off of EBay.
- Kingdom Death(Article) - "Boutique Nightmare Horror," which means a bunch of bizarre monsters and the humans that fight them.
- Klukva Miniatures - Sci-fi, fantasy, and modern day minis based on different popular franchises.
- Knight Models - Comic book properties, produces the Batman: Arkham City miniatures game.
- Krakon Games - fantasy and sci-fi and delightfully odd. Has weird terrain, great aliens, gnome militia, and cute critters.
- Kromlech - Orks, Imperial Guard, Space Marine resin bits, figures, and vehicles.
- Madpuppet Miniatures - While their selection of models is pretty nonexistent, they do have some nice post apocalypse minis.
- Mad Robot Miniatures - For future sci-fi and post-apocalyptic games. Bits and full models for orcs and Imperial Guard
- Mantic Games(Article) - Kings of War (fantasy), Warpath (sci-fi), Deadzone (future zombies), Dreadball (sci-fi analogue of Blood Bowl), Mars Attacks! (licensed property).
- Manufaktura - Have you ever wanted to paint naked Space Marines or Sisters of Battle? Well now's your chance!
- Master Crafted Miniatures - The makers of Eden the game and its miniatures and several conversion bits for Space Marines.
- Maxmini - Lots of very well sculpted Not!40K. Has since shut down unfortunately.
- Micro Art Studio - Something Small from Poland - mainly terrain and bases, also has Discworld and are the makers of Wolsung (Steampunk) the game and its miniatures.
- Mierce Miniatures - Also from Poland, but with their own wargame and fantasy model range called Darklands, and a supplementary range of sci-fi and fantasy models called BaneLegions intended for role-playing games and Darklands.
- Miniature Scenery - A company based in Australia that makes all their terrain and models using laser-cut wood rather than plastic or metal. Has a mixture of terrain, bases, vehicles, and vehicle conversion bits.
- Mirliton High Quality Miniatures - metal and resin miniatures, bought out Grenadier Models.
- Mithril Miniatures - The Lord of the Rings minis.
- Models and Minis - Makes some nice vehicle conversion bits, such as an extended hull for the Leman Russ.
- Modiphius - Star Trek Adventures RPG, Fallout: Wasteland Warfare, and The Elder Scrolls: Call to Arms licensed wargames.
- Mortian Miniatures - Alternative Elysians, Death Korps Ogryn, and some cool vehicles to boot.
- Nuclear Shrimp Games - Produces a line of sci-fi minis at 28mm, 15mm, and 6mm scale. Also sells a knockoff Lucius-pattern Warlord Titan and Ork Gargant at 6mm scale. They also had them at 28mm scale, but they've seemingly disappeared.
- Perry Miniatures - The company that produces the independent work of Alan and Michael Perry. Historical miniatures, mainly European conflicts and the American Civil War.
- Pig Iron Productions - Imperial Guard, Cultist, Tech Priest - compatible metal bits and figures.
- Privateer Press(Article) - Figures for Warmachine, Hordes, and Iron Kingdoms.
- Prodos Games - Until recently they made Warzone Reborn. In addition they have an Aliens VS Predator miniature game, and Space Crusade i.e. sexy minis for a certain scifi wargame.
- Plastic Soldier Company - 15mm and 1/72 scale WWII vehicle models.
- Pulp Figures - Pulp magazine themed minis made and sold by Bob Murch.
- Puppets War - Imperial Guard - compatible resin bits and figures. Also has motor bikes and jet bikes.
- Quantum Gothic - Lots of options for sci-fi terrain.
- RAFM - Fantasy, sci-fi, historical, and horror. Canadian distributor for Citadel, Ral Partha (former), and Reaper (current).
- Raging Heroes - Great models of sexy girls for fantasy and sci-fi - mainly assorted elves, empires, battle nuns and demons, but also orcs, vampires and terrain.
- Ramshackle Games - Resin and metal models to include tanks, trucks, jet bikes, massive robots, dwarfs, tech priests, and human troops. Producing figures for the Victoria era, fall out style apocalypse and future sci-fi. Plus goblins, giants and the rather unique Dunger beasts. Also post-apocalyptic plant life and dryad heroine.
- Also has some of the best games to get started on wargaming, well thought through, imaginitive and really fun to play. Nuclear Renaissance is a postapocalyptic wargame and Mini Gangs is a skirmish game with 3 rule complexity levels.
- Ral Partha - Produced fantasy and historical miniatures beginning in 1975. They eventually acquired licenses for D&D, Battletech, and White Wolf miniatures; losing those signaled the end for the company. WizKids acquired Ral Partha and spun it off into Iron Wind Metals in 2001.
- Ratgard Miniatures Design Bureau - Makes Soviet Cold War themed vehicles and conversion kits for the Imperial Guard.
- Reaper Miniatures(Article) - Dark Heaven Legends (generic fantasy), Warlord (their own skirmish game), Chronoscope (generic speculative fiction/historical), and official licensed Pathfinder and Savage Worlds figures. The Bones line encompasses all their other lines and is produced in a new plastic material. Also produces their own paint line.
- Rebel Minis - Sci-fi, fantasy, pulp, and modern day military minis at multiple different scales.
- Red Dog Minis - Some nice Tau conversion bits and some vehicle bags and doors for the Black Templars.
- Renedra - Generic scenery and bases as well as manufacturing other companies' products, such as Warlord and Osprey.
- Scibor Miniatures - wide selection of fantasy and sci-fi miniatures (especially space knights), and a good selection of bases, conversion parts and historical polish armies.
- Scotia Grendel Productions Metal 15/28mm Fantasy and sci-fi miniatures
- Secret Weapon Miniatures - conversion parts, paints and more. Give a 10% discount to members of the military.
- Shapeways - Shapeways has plenty of people selling models and conversion bits that are printed through Shapeways's services. If you google "Shapeways" and whatever it is you're looking for, it's highly likely you'll find it.
- Shieldwolf Miniatures(Article) - fantasy miniatures for their own game and The 9th Age.
- Spellcrow - great fantasy and scifi minis ( fantasy in 28mm and 10mm scale) and conversion parts.
- Statuesque Miniatures - Makes female head conversion bits at a few different scales.
- Steve Barber Models - Historical models made by Steve Barber and his team at a few different scales. Also takes commissions for custom models.
- Studio Miniatures - Lots of zombies and minis based on characters from pop-culture.
- Taban Miniatures - The makers of the skirmish game EDEN and all of its associated minis. Also sells bases and models from several other manufacturers.
- tabletop-art - A nice variety of bases and conversion parts to choose from.
- Tabletop World - Extremely detailed fantasy terrain.
- Tamiya - Historical and modern lines in various scales. They produce 28mm military vehicles that are theoretically compatible with tabletop games at that scale.
- Taro Modelmaker - Conversion bits for Imperial Knights.
- The Dark Works - Makes some very nice conversions bits for Predators and Land Raiders. The owner posts WIP for future releases on DakkaDakka.
- Trolls Under the Bridge - Some nice conversion bits for Sisters of Battle in addition to other models and bits.
- Vanguard Miniatures - Miniatures and terrain clearly made for Epic 40k as well as minis for Battlefleet Gothic.
- Victoria Miniatures - Imperial Guard-compatible bits and figures.
- Victory Force Miniatures - Tons of WWII models and a few fantasy and sci-fi models as well. Over 1000 models available from their web store.
- Warcradle - Wild West Exodus and Dystopian Wars - has bought Spartan Games' IP and hosts an archive of all their rules.
- Warfactory - The makers of Dust 1947 and all the sci-fi WWII models that go with it.
- Wargame Exclusive - ChapterHouse but even more blatant, including such game lines as "Greater Good", "Mechanic Adepts" "Necrocyborgs" and "Heresy Hunters". Don't ask us how they haven't been sued yet. Miniatures are pretty detailed but a bit costly and their scale is sometimes a bit wonky compared to 40k, proivding a mix of bits to use on existing GW models, stand-ins for existing units and characters such as Primarchs but also new units and vehicles no longer in production like the Genestealer Cult limousine. Also have a tendency to slap tits onto many models, including the Necrocyborgs.
- Wargames Factory - Primarily a manufacturer of other companies' products, notably Dreamforge Games.
- War Gamma - Sells modular dungeon terrain in addition to a few models, bases, and terrain based on several Warhammer 40k factions.
- Warlord Games(Article) - Mostly historical lines with accompanying game systems; Hail Caesar (Roman Republic), Pike & Shotte (16th to 18th century conflicts), Black Powder (18th and 19th century conflicts), and Bolt Action (WWII). Speculative fiction lines include Judge Dredd and Beyond the Gates of Antares. Also Zombies.
- West Wind Productions - several games, Steampunk, WW2 and Horror themed. Also Bombshell Girls and cute sidekicks including Not!Rocket Raccoon.
- WizKids(Article) (owned by NECA) - Heroclix (many lines of licensed material, mostly Marvel and DC comics), Attack Wing (Star Trek and D&D), and Deep Cuts (pre-primed unpainted models for D&D and Pathfinder).
- Wizards of the Coast(Article) - Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures Game. Produced the Star Wars Miniatures Game when they had the license.
- Wyrd Games - Malifaux.
- Zealot Miniatures(Article) - fantasy, sci-fi, busts, and scenery.
- Zenit Miniatures(Article) - Nemesis, Kensei.
- Ziterdes - Terrain tables, terrain, ships, boats, and buildings.
- Zinge Industries - Bits, heads, weapons, and conversions for Imperial Guard vehicles and troops. Specifically Colonial style troops. Also has electronics for LED lights.
- Zombiesmith - The makers of Quar, the only game that lets you recreate WWI with anteaters.
The investment of time and money that goes into a good miniature army can be a bit... intimidating. If you are more casual about wargames or simply need a quick proxy, or cheap terrain, paper miniatures can be very helpful.
You can further differentiate between miniatures and terrain for homeprinting in PDF format and professionally manufactured cardboard terrain.
- Raging Heroes Gothic Cathedral Kickstarter - get a table-filling sprawling modular gothic catheral with optional scifi bits. Made from high quality extra dense cardboard.
- Dave Graffam Models - historical and scifi buildings, often with multiple color layers for even more variation! Also has a Buget Bundles without extra layers.
- WorldWorksGames - modular buildings for historical, fantasy, modern or scifi settings. No longer supports password recovery so be careful where you write it down.
- Heroic Maps - high quality 2D maps and modular map tiles for your Pen&Paper campaigns or small skirmish games. Fantasy and SciFi.
- Skeleton Key Games - 2D map tiles, fantasy and scifi.
- Brave Adventures - monster mobs and warbands
- DARKMOOK Paper Miniatures - mainly zombies and zombie hunters (even has his own game) but also terrain and cyberpunk troops.
- Kev's Lounge - good selection of adventurers and NPCs, very high quality work.
- Mayhem in Paper - massive collection of fantasy, steampunk and scifi miniatures (including Not!Tyranids), all armies are also offered in bundles!
- Okum Arts - paper minitatures by David Okum, spanning a wide range from fantasy to pirates, western, modern superheroes and scifi. He has also written several game systems.
- Sanity Studios - humans, dwarves, orcs and monsters, have some siege engines (catapult and mortar)
- Trash Mob Minis - monsters and adventurer parties, has some of the best dragons.
3D Printer Miniatures
Some companies also sell 3D printing data for printing your own terrain and miniatures. Most of the stuff you see on DAZ and Renderosity can also be 3D printed with some work.
- Fat Dragon Games - Dungeon tiles (walls included) and some monsters.
- Hero's Hoard - Terrain, from dungeon tiles to houses.
- Reptilian Overlords - Sells STL's for Imperial Guard models and bits.
- The Lost Dragons Kickstarter Campaign - "As of our latest $70k stretch goal, we've unlocked 17 Dragons + 6 Alternate Poses + 12 Dragonborn Minis + 10 Minion Minis + 5 Scatter Sets + A few extra goodies! For a detailed breakdown of what comes with each pledge, check out our "What STLs You Get" Document."
-  - Makers cult. Produces Kreig and assorted minis every month. Arch fans and cater to him