The Budget DM’s Guide to
Making Your Own Monster Minis
By Seth Jones
Image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:DnD_Ochre_Jelly.png Public Domain.
Miniatures for tabletop RPGs are expensive. A three-dimensional representation of a character can help with visualisation of a battle, yet, many DMs don’t have the budget to purchase more than a few of these works of art. So, we make due with tokens and paper cutouts, or we dream of one day buying a 3D printer.
There are ways to make your own miniatures, however, and I wanted to make a guide to show beginning DMs how to make a diverse set of monsters with which they could populate a low-level campaign. In this document, I’ll present 10 different types of monsters that you can build on your own with just a little skill, a few dollars, and some supplies that you would find at your local big box store. These are not high-quality crafts; they are simple figures for the table.
For the following, I give directions on how to make the monsters, a few alternate monsters or features that can be made with the same basic instructions, and a few ideas on how to use these monsters in your own campaign. The accompanying pictures are my own, with a prepainted WizKids miniature for scale.
10 Low-Level Monster Miniatures
Image from https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/ Public Domain
CR ? small
Materials: bread twist ties (green, brown or black), spanish moss (from Dollar Store or floral section of a craft store), superglue, base, dried herbs (thyme works well), polyurethane spray
Directions: Cut the twist tie in half. Twist the halves of the twist-ties together in an X shape, leaving longer loose sections for the legs and shorter sections for the arms. One of the arms will likely be longer than the other; fold the end of this arm into a fist. Fold the ends of the legs over into feet. Glue the feet to the base. Cut the moss into small pieces and glue onto the body and limbs. Find a tangle or branching point of the moss and glue this to the body as a head. Dab superglue across the body and base, then sprinkle with dried herbs to simulate dead leafs. Spray with polyurethane to protect.
Comments: Twig blights are a straightforward enemy to throw at low-level players in large numbers. Twig blights don’t use any strategy and they only have a simple melee attack without any effects. As such, they’re a bit boring in combat. What twig blights do have is a mystery behind them. Unlike wolves or bandits, blights don’t just exist; they are created through the corruption of nature. Think of them as a two-fisted signpost toward adventure. Canonically, they’re the result of a Gulthias Tree, but perhaps in your world any corruption of nature magic could awaken the plants. Maybe a fanatical druid is fighting back against the encroaching farmers. Or perhaps the dryad that protects these woods has been poisoned and the twig blights are the result. What they lack in combat interest, your twig blights make up for in potential story hooks.
Needle blights: Use two full twist-ties instead of half twist-ties. Glue on dried dill herb as needles.
CR ? , small
Materials: Cocktail sword or tooth from a plastic hair comb. Gray spray primer. Acrylic paint. Clear straw from a juicebox. Superglue. Base.
Directions: Cut the cocktail sword or plastic comb tooth about 10-15 mm from the tip. With a knife or boxcutter, shave off the blade of the sword from the lower 2-3 mm to form a hilt. This creates a crossguard-less sword, similar to a Roman spatha or Celtic sword. Spray primer the sword and paint to your liking. If you don’t have a metallic paint for the blade, gray is fine. Cut 5-10 mm of the juicebox straw at an angle. Using a small amount of superglue, fix the hilt of the sword into the straw and clamp with a clothespin. Once dry, glue the straw to the base.
Comments: Flying swords are like guard dogs for wizards: they provide first-line defense for their wizard towers, keep their study or workshop secure, and delay a party of adventurers at a distance while the wizard works his magic. Due to the construct nature of a flying sword, a clever DM can also introduce them into unexpected places: 1) A sword hangs over the mantlepiece of a tavern, given to the tavern owner by a wizard who was once a regular. If a patron gets out of control, the bartender can speak the command word to activate the flying sword. 2) Among other valuables, a rich noble has a sword prominently displayed on a sideboard in his room. The sword, covered in jewels and gold filigree, is a tempting target for any burglar who manages to break in, but as soon as it is touched, the sword springs to fight off the thief and draw attention to the break-in. 3) In a dungeon room, the key to a locked door has been enchanted to fly about the room, accompanied by a phalanx of flying swords. The party has several options to get the key: speak its command word (which may be the answer to a riddle or may be hidden in another part of the dungeon), fight off the swords and grab the key, or figure out a way to snatch the key and get through the door before the swords can react.
Spiritual weapon: Search through the assorted fasteners section of your local hardware store to find warhammer stand-ins. Plastic hairbrush bristles with the knobby ends make good maces. Or use cocktail spears for, of course, spears. Paint the weapon with a pearlescent, gold, or color shifting spray paint and mount to clear straws.
CR ? medium
Materials: 2” square of paper. Markers or colored pencils. Cardstock. Tape.
Directions: Cut a 2 inch by 2 inch square of copy paper or paper bag. Preferably, this is in a natural color such as brown or gray, but you can use white paper and color the fur later. Using a paper guillotine at a copy shop helps ensure that the cuts are even and square, but scissors are fine. Fold the wolf according to the easy wolf origami directions found on the internet (example). Decorate with colored pencils. Optionally, tape the finished wolf to a 1×1 square of cardstock as a base.
Comments: Although it’s the least impressive creation in this document, this origami wolf is easy enough to make a whole pack of minis that are more-or-less disposable. Having minis that can be destroyed offers a few fun possibilities: 1) Encourage your players to crush or rip up the wolves as they kill them. 2) As a pre-game activity, have your early-arriving players fold and decorate some wolves or zombie wolves. Use the player-created wolves later in the session as enemies or potential allies. 3) An evil mage has subjugated a wolfpack to his will by magically tattooing his name upon their hearts. After all the wolves are killed, narrate one player character noticing writing inside the chest wound of one wolf. Unfold the mini to reveal one letter written inside the paper. The players should take the hint to unfold the other minis, revealing more letters. When unscrambled, the letters spell out the name of a mage whom the party has met before.
Jackal: use a smaller square of paper.
Dire wolf or winter wolf: use a 3 or 4 in square paper and decorate according to type.
Hellhound: use black paper and decorate in red
CR ?, small
Materials: plastic canvas mesh, scissors, bowls, tweezers or chopsticks, hot glue gun with glue, primer, paint, base
Directions: You can find plastic canvas mesh for about $1 in the embroidery section of a fabric or crafting store. Cut two inches of one vertical line of the mesh, along with its horizontal protrusions. Microwave or heat a bowl of water to steaming. Using tweezers or chopsticks, hold the plastic strip in the water for about 10 seconds, then remove and quickly bend it into a tight spiral. Holding the spiral, dunk it into a bowl of cold water. Glue one end of the plastic strip to a small base with hot glue. Cut a half-square from the plastic canvas to form the head and mandibles. Glue this to the head end, then add another bead of hot glue to form the head. Use the hot tip of the glue gun to create any additional bends in the plastic. Spray with primer and paint. Save the remainder of your plastic canvas to make a cage or portcullis.
Comments: Regular centipedes are usually hidden in out-of-the-way places, so I like to hide my giant centipedes at the bottom of pit traps, inside crates and in narrow cavern passageways. The Player’s Handbook has rules on squeezing into tight spaces that you can use to create an encounter in the type of closely confined places that giant centipedes might live. Alternately, goblins or kobolds might pack a centipede into a clay jar, then launch the jar or use it in a trap to create a second line of attack in a fight.
Assassin Vine: Cut 5 lengths of the plastic canvas between 1-2 inches long. Trim the cross-ties at an angle to simulate leaves. Coil or bend into an S-curve and glue to a large base. Paint the stems brown and the leaves green. Add some moss and dried herbs as described in the Twig Blight entry.
Swarm of Rats
CR ?, small
Materials: foam shaving cream, white glue, flour, paint, zip-top sandwich bag, water bottle cap, polyurethane spray can
Directions: Combine the shaving cream, glue, and flour in a 3:1:1 ratio. This creates puffy paint or dimensional paint. Scoop a large spoonful of the puffy mix into a zip-top sandwich baggie and pierce one corner with a pin. Add paint according to your color and intensity preference, then mix. Push the mixture to that corner of the bag and hold the bag like a decorative icing bag. Practise piping the paint onto paper before trying to fit as many rats as possible onto a water bottle cap. To make rats, squeeze out one dot for the head, a longer and larger blob for the body, and a thin squiggle for the tail. If you make a mistake or want to sculpt the paint further, use the tip of a toothpick to move the paint. Wait 12 hours to dry, then touch up if needed and coat in polyurethane spray to protect the delicate foam. Make additional colors from the remaining white puff mixture and store in zip-top bags.
Comments: Swarms are great because at lower levels, a couple of swarms can be an encounter in itself, but at medium levels, they are still useful for adding a second threat when the players are attacking a higher CR creature like a mummy or vampire spawn. I chose to mount these on water bottle caps rather than flat discs to allow the DM to place the swarms on the heads of the players’ minis, indicating that the swarm has entered the same space as the player character, and is perhaps crawling on him.
Swarm of poisonous snakes: Snakes are easy to make, but the lack of detail can bring about pitfalls. Coiled brown snakes look like poop. Too many snakes that are just heads with squiggly tails looks like a scene from the Falopian tube. Make a mixture of shapes and colors to avoid this problem.
Swarm of insects or spiders: Using a fine-tipped Sharpie, make a large number of asterisks (*) across the cap. At each center, place a dot of puff paint. Don’t worry that spiders have 8 legs and insects have 6; we’ll just keep the entomologists out of this.
Swarm of bats and others: I’ve tried, but I’ve not been able to make a convincing bat or even a good batman-symbol stylized bat using this puff paint technique.
CR ?, medium
Materials: Hot glue gun. Clear hot glue. Gray Spray primer. Bowl of water.
Directions: Prepare a bowl of room-temperature water. Squirt streams of hot glue into the water to create pseudopods. Make a mass of glue 1 inch in diameter to form the base section. Glue the pseudopods to the larger mass, taking care not to melt them. Prime in gray.
Comments: The idea for this mini comes from DM Scotty’s YouTube Channel. In that video, Scotty uses gray glue because, as he explains in the comments, he is worried about primer and paint not sticking to regular glue. In my experience, the primer sticks just fine, but if you want to be sure, you can coat the primer with polyurethane spray to protect it. Another, even easier, way to make ooze minis is to just use a lump of playdough. This way, if you have an ooze that splits, you can physically rip the lump in half. Don’t worry about getting the color right; maybe in your world, the oozes that are similar to the D&D gray ooze are actually blue.
Ochre Jelly: Ochre Jellies will split into two smaller oozes when hit by slashing attacks, so you’ll need to make some smaller oozes for every big one. Make a large (2 inch diameter), two medium (1 inch diameter), and four small. After priming, paint the minis a brownish yellow.
Black pudding: Instead of priming, take one of the larger sizes of Sharpie marker and color all over the surface of the glue after it dries. The result will be a shiny, oily-looking ooze.
Water weird: I found a bag of multicolored sparkly glue sticks at my local dollar store. The blue gluestick made for a translucent water weird without having to paint anything. I made one large pseudopod for the “head/neck” and two smaller tentacles on either side.
CR ? , medium
Materials: Clear plastic (PET) packaging. Modge Podge or white glue. Black acrylic paint. Superglue. Base.
Directions: Trace the shape shown here with a permanent marker (such as a Sharpie) or freehand your shape. Cut out the shape and bend the tabs at the bottom to the front and back. Glue the tabs to a base. Mix black paint with a small amount of Modge Podge or white glue diluted with water. The exact amount of paint in the mixture depends on how heavily pigmented your paint is and how translucent you prefer the shadow to be. Paint the black mixture onto the clear plastic. Cover the base with glue and add sawdust or sand to cover the tabs.
Comments: Unless the party has enough divine casters to match up with Shadows, these undead can punch above their ? CR. Although they have low hit points, Shadows have immunity or resistance to a variety of damage types, including non-magical weapons. The attacks they deal may not appear threatening, but the loss of strength can quickly kill a low STR party member, particularly if more than one attack at once. Add to this the Shadows’ abilities to hide from direct attack, and you have a daunting enemy. For lower level parties, only throw one or two of these creatures against the party at once. At higher levels, though, a group of these can still be a challenge.
Spell effects: You could make a similar two-dimensional translucent flame wall using flame shaped pieces of plastic and red paint. Likewise, effect markers for ice wall could be made from the same technique with blue paint.
Shadow demon: Draw or trace a winged demon upper body that trails off into a squiggle of shadow at the bottom. Transfer to clear plastic and finish as above.
CR 1, medium
Materials: White copy paper, black paint or permanent marker (Sharpie), glue, water, paperclip, foil, base, sawdust or sand, spray polyurethane
Directions: Unbend a paperclip using a set of needle nose pliers, then bend into the cross shape shown in the picture. This cross should be approximately 28-30 mm tall and 15 mm wide with the horizontal piece about 25 mm from the base. Fill out the body by crumpling aluminum foil around the head, chest and shoulders. Using a paint or a permanent marker, color the face black. Cut one square of paper 40 mm (1 ? in) on a side and one square 15 mm (? in) on a side. Fold the larger square in half from opposite corners, creating a triangle. At the center of the long edge, cut a hole just small enough to put the head through. Dry-fit the paper over the head with the fold lined up with the shoulders. Fold the sections of paper that project to the sides forward to form arms. Fold the smaller square to fit over the head with one point hanging down over the face. Make a paper mache liquid by mixing white glue and water in a 1:1 ratio. Dip the paper in the glue, then arrange on the frame. When dry, add glue and flocking to the base. Spray with polyurethane to protect.
Comments: A specter is a spirit of rage and fear; essentially the angry id of a ghost. To put it another way, a ghost is a specter with a personality. While ghosts are bound to some unfinished business, a specter only exists to attack the living. This miniature can be used as a spector, a ghost or a banshee. As a DM, you could make the distinction clear through verbal description of the ghost having defined characteristics while the specter is just a phantasmal shape, or you could keep the difference vague until the PC’s actually attempt to interact with the spirit.
Wraith: Use black paper instead of white.
Cloaked figure: This can be a stand-in for almost any type of NPC. Cut a 2-inch diameter circle out of a brown paper lunch bag or butcher paper. Fold in half, then in half again to create a quarter-circle pie piece. Cut the tip off the pie, then unfold. Dry-fit the paper over the body, as above. Fold the arms forward and cut the sleeves to make arms that are proportional to the body. Cut a 1-inch diameter circle and cut out a quarter-circle pie piece from this circle. Crumple the pie piece over the head to form a hood, with the curved end framing the face and the point at the back. Trim if needed.
Will o’ Wisp
CR 2, tiny
Materials: Cotton swab (Q-tip), hot glue gun, hot glue, penny or small base, sawdust or sand, glue, base, paint
Directions: Cut a cotton swab in half and remove most of the cotton by pulling it up and off the swab. Tease out the cotton by pinching and pulling on it. Attach the swab to a penny with hot glue, spreading enough glue around the base to cover the penny. Paint the cotton yellow and the shaft of the swab black. Tease out some of the wisps of cotton that were plastered down by your painting. Drybrush cotton in yellow-green. Coat the top of the base in glue and add sand or flocking.
Comments: Most undead mostly only appear in spooky areas associated with the dead: graveyards, tombs, haunted castles, and evil temples. Will o’ wisps are unusual in that they are most often found in wilderness areas, meaning that they’re great as random encounters. A terrain component, such as quicksand or deep mud, would be thematic to the will o’wisp and helps differentiate it from a standard encounter.
Torch: Start as above, then tease out the cotton to a tip. Affix to a penny as above, then paint the shaft brown, and the cotton in fire colors: Yellow at the bottom, then orange, then red at the top. Finish as described above.
Spider egg sac: Startas above, but cut the shaft much lower so that the cotton is barely above the base. Paint with gray and brown shades. You can have these burst open in combat to be replaced by a swarm of spiders.
Rug of smothering
CR 2, large
Materials: Construction paper, white glue, superglue, base, scissors, polyurethane spray
Directions: Cut a rectangle of construction paper 1.5 in by 2 inches (4 cm x 5 cm). Cut two strips of yellow construction paper about ? inch by 1.5 inches (1.25 cm x 4 cm). Fold the yellow strips in half lengthwise and paste the inner leading edges to both surfaces of the short sides of the large rectangle, leaving the fold hanging off. Cut small parallel strips in the yellow paper, forming a fringe for the carpet. Mix a 1:1 paper-mache paste of white glue and water. Dip the construction paper into the paste and form the carpet into an S-shape by rolling it around dowels or markers. Tossle the fringe. Leave the construction paper laying on its side in the S-shape to dry. Once completely dry, glue to a base with superglue. At this point you can paint on some additional glue or Modge Podge to make the carpet more sturdy. After everything is dry, spray with polyurethane to solidify the carpet.
Comments:This is not the sturdiest of all minis, but that’s okay. You probably won’t be using it more than a couple times per campaign. That doesn’t mean it won’t be a memorable encounter. Strolling into what seems to be an empty room, only to have one of the party engulfed by a smothering expanse of cloth is attention-getting. Add to this the conundrum of having your attacks also hurting your own party member, and you have an experience not soon forgotten.
Carpet of flying: Instead of putting an S-curve into the carpet, only put a few small ripples into it before the glue dries. Note that the Basic Rules give 4 different sizes of carpet. Also, no one is going to call it a “Carpet of Flying.” It’s a magic carpet.
I use 1-inch black plastic counting discs from Amazon to base most of my medium-sized minis. I’ve also used fender washers, though these are more expensive and have to be painted. For small minis, I use tokens from a game of “Left, Right, Center” that I bought at a dollar store or miniature checkers from another dollar store. Pennies also work fine for small bases. For large minis, I use poker chips from a dollar store, though these are 1.6 inches rather than the official 2 inch diameter. I use black sand from the dollar store, sawdust, or dried herbs to flock the bases.
For priming, I use Rustoleum gray primer in a spray can. I use a cheap kids’ set of acrylic paints for all of these miniatures. The common advice to not use cheap paint on minis may be true for refined sculpts; these projects don’t have enough detail to warrant expensive paints. I found that the inexpensive paint needed a few drops of water, but went on fine. I used satin finish spray polyurethane to protect my paint jobs.
How many do I make?
The following numbers are my suggestions for a party size of 4. If in doubt, it’s always easier to make more when you’re making several of the same monster at a time.
Twig Blight = 6
Needle Blight = 2
Flying sword = 4
Wolf = 6
Dire wolf = 4
Centipede = 3
Swarm of Rats, Poisonous snakes, Insects = 2 each (6 total)
Gray ooze = 2
Ochre Jelly = 1 large, 2 medium, 4 small
Shadow = 3
Specter = 2
Cloaked figure = 1
Will o’ Wisp = 3
Rug of smothering = 1
Dollar Store shopping list
As of Fall 2020 at Dollar Tree stores in the U.S.
Bag of insects (giant spiders, carrion crawlers, and ankhegs)
Bag of farm animals (horses, dog, sheep, cows)
Bag of dinosaurs or lizards
Craft sticks (plank bridges and fences)
Craft 1/2-inch wood blocks (crates, chests, and mimics)
Chess game (generic minis)
Glue sticks, regular and sparkly (oozes, flames, elementals)
Foam board (terrain crafts and bases)
Black sand (bases)
Generic mini Jenga game (glue pieces together for walls, benches, tables and other structures)