Using Paper Minis and other Props in Your Game

This is a follow up to my “Setting the Mood in Your Games”. I like using music and props to help set the mood and enhance the look and feel of gameplay. I’m also a big fan of doing this as inexpensively as possible!

Most of my props are paper minis and paper-craft props. I love to make my own minis, scouring the internet for the right image and then cropping it to fit onto a mini sheet. This is pretty easy to do and really a very inexpensive option.

So, how do you get into this?

Well, I started with Silvervine Games Paper Mini Maker. The file is near the bottom of the page. It’s a nice little pdf that helps speed up the process of making 1” tall paper minis. I’ve made many paper minis using this nifty little tool. The problem I’ve run into is that newer paper minis tend to stand 1.25” to 1.5” tall, so the Silvervine paper mini maker is a bit dated.

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Silvervine 1” Paper Mini sheet

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Silvervine 2” Large Paper Mini Sheet

I then created my own word document to make some minis that better fit the newer standard for the industry. So that my minis would better match the mini sets I got from Drive Thru RPG/RPG Now. Once I’ve filled out a sheet of 14 minis, I save it as a PDF. I’ve since added to this starting document, creating templates for large minis (2.25”), very large minis (4”), and huge minis (6”). While I have focused on Savage Worlds Rifts for my minis, this can be used for any setting! My current template below covers 1.3” minis to better fall in line with other paper mini companies. It also has 2.25”, 4” & 6” templates.

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My own 3” Paper Mini Sheet.

Here is my current working document: ShadowDads Paper Mini Template

So, for paper minis, you can do that pretty easily with little skill and a small investment of time. The other thing I have become interested in is 3-D paper craft. While looking for futuristic models that could be used for my SW Rifts game, I found Genet Models. This is a great site with over 80 different paper craft models available for free download. I’ve picked out a couple that I plan to use in my game. I’ll post some pictures of them when I get them done.

Now, besides paper minis and paper models, what else can be done? Lots!

A great adventure type to run is one where the players have shrunk to an inch or so tall. You can use your paper minis to represent full scale, the size of your players. Then, if they run into a keyboard, put a keyboard on the table; or a can of soda, a set of keys, some toothpicks, etc. The advantage of this is you get to use real world items as is. It’s a great way to introduce props into the game. I used the adventure, “Size Matters”, from Just Insert Imagination for my first introduction to roleplaying at my library. The kids really got a kick out of seeing the real items on the table and moving their little miniatures around them. Are you playing a WWI/WWI/Korean War/Viet Nam or really any early to mid-20th century war setting? Buy the little plastic army men! You can often find sets that include sand bag bunkers, vehicles, tanks, and even trees. These can all help to set up a cool looking board full of props!

The advantage of these props is that they add a lot of detail to any game that is going to be played using a matt and miniatures as opposed to the “Theater of the Mind” approach. These props are especially valuable if you are gaming with younger players who may want to have visual aids to help them all visualize the same scene. Taking my kids and the few kids I’ve run games for at my local library, These aids really help get them into the mood of role playing. Having a map and minis helped the kids better see how situations were set up.

What if I am running a Theater of the Mind game and don’t use mats and minis?

You can still use props. The following can be used in any game you are running, including one that is not using any game mats or minis. First off, take time to create any letters the players may get, or create some scraps of old looking paper to write clues down on to hand to the player. Maybe have an image of an item they find with any written clues you wish to add. The players can collect these to try and piece together a mystery. I used the entrance letter for the beginning of my SW Rifts game when my players were all college freshmen. Their acceptance/entrance letters were typical letters; with their PC’s addresses on them (I had the players give me their character’s fictional addresses). On the letters each one had a warning watermark on it, as faded as I could make it. All the warnings were different and all were very ominous. So that help set the stage even before the first session got started.

Are you even halfway decent at cooking? Make some food to pass around that is representative of where you are gaming. Running a fantasy game? Make a shepherd’s pie or other meat pie. Make or buy some unleavened bread for hard tack. Playing a Cyberpunk/Bladerunner type game, order some take out Asian cuisine. Some fried rice and Chow Mein for the timid and some Kung Pow chicken, egg soup, or Thai peanut based dish for the brave. Wherever your game is, think of what would be served in the local restaurant or tavern and make some or order some for take-out or delivery. Everyone getrs fed and it helps set up the atmosphere.

Speaking of atmosphere, check out my previous article on just that here. Combine some of the tips and tricks from those articles with the ones here.

Here are some other sources that are either free, or inexpensive that you can use to help build up your own little props collection!

First off, I did a search for free paper minis on DriveThru RPG. There are pages of free stuff just waiting to be grabbed up!!

The Newby DM has a great tutorial for those that prefer tokens to standing minis. He uses cheap metal washers and other inexpensive tools to create some cool looking tokens!

Brave Adventures sells some inexpensive and well done pdf files for print your own minis. You can also become a Patreon and get some cool bonus products!

Zen Paper Miniatures page is a nice repository of free resources from all around the ‘net!

Printable Heroes is probably one of the best resources for free, very good quality paper miniatures. You can support their Patreon if you like what they have to offer. Note: the cover image to this story is a collection of Printable Heroes paper minis run through a die cutting machine. Something that I want to look into getting!!

Lastly, Paper Forge is another Patreon based paper mini maker that does some really good work!

Start using props in your game! Or if you already do, start expanding that library of props!

Tell me what you’ve found to use as props in your game, I want to know! I love finding new resources to use for my games.

2 thoughts on “Using Paper Minis and other Props in Your Game

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  1. I make my own paper minis, too, 1 inch wide by 1.5 inch tall for “human” size. I find appropriate art on the ‘net, crop it to 2×3, and then I make a shadow back for it. I drop these pieces on a template I made in Word with a table and print it on card-stock. They are great for when I travel as GM, while when I’m home, I tend to use normal minis. Oh, and I’ve made additional templates for minis that are better on a square shape and templates for minis of giant (and tiny) size.

    Simple prop tip: I use children’s wooden building blocks as good abstract props. Couple these with some sets of mini “Jenga” style blocks I found at the Dollar Tree, I can do all kinds of quick, simple layouts. And these are fairly portable, too, though I also use a dry-erase game-board-style battle mat I found on Amazon, too.

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    1. Sounds like we were on the same page! My template has a few sizes to represent various foes and what-not. While I’ve used paper minis for a while now, I’ve only recently started to make my own, mainly for my home Savage Worlds Rifts game.

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