This article series is aimed at that huge mass of players who use D&D Miniatures in their role-playing games. It's a big miniature world out there, but we're going to make sense of it for you and improve your miniatures experience at the same time.
Like a player character, we'll start at the simplest level and work our way up through the available options. We open with a discussion of the simplest ways imaginable to get good use out of miniatures, one of which you might not have imagined.
The simplest way to use miniatures is to spread them out on the table in a rough approximation of everyone's position and leave it at that. Scale and real distance don't matter. All that matters is that Fillmaar and Gonk are standing abreast hacking at whatever's in front of them, Ith-julienne is behind them with her bow, Mongo the Magnificent is behind her prepping a spell, and Fardu Fuzzfoot is sneaking through shadows over there somewhere -- no one's sure exactly where because he's really good at hiding.
Opposite the PCs, the monsters are similarly lined up in some rough order. They might not even be miniatures (!) -- dice, coins, chess pieces, candy, or cookies often stand in for the wide variety of monsters that can be encountered.
Though purists might scoff, there's nothing wrong with using your miniatures this way. The point of miniature figures is not to turn D&D into a movie but to clarify the action. Do what works for you.
In fact, even the most ambitious miniatures players use a form of this, or should, in every session. It's the most basic use of miniatures -- indicating the party's marching order. Who's in front, who's in back, and who's nestled in the middle. That's all the DM needs to know 95% of the time.
"I'd Like to Introduce the Band"
One step up from freewheelin' is the use of range bands. In D&D, actual range can be crucial when using bows or casting spells. Range bands are the simplest way to keep track of distances between two groups of characters.
This requires having a range band mat, which is nothing more than a sheet of paper marked off with parallel lines. Think of an (American) football field and you have the idea. A useful range band mat for D&D is an 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper with lines spaced 1" apart (here's one you can download!).
Each band on this sheet represents 20 feet. A single sheet allows two groups to encounter each other at a distance of 160 feet. Two sheets placed end-to-end stretch that out to 360 feet, and three sheets extend it to 560 feet.
A range mat works splendidly in cases where the separation between opposing characters or groups is important but lateral movement isn't. Whether the mage is standing 10 feet to the right or the left of the barbarian doesn't matter. What matters is that both are 250 yards from the enemy. Any confrontation that occurs along a single axis of motion -- e.g., archery duels, spell duels, ship duels -- work beautifully on this mat. Even battles between formed-up armies, with their battle lines, massed archery volleys, and cavalry charges, can be played on this simple mat with a bit of imagination.
To handle extreme cases, flex the scale. When traveling on prairie, steppe, veldt, desert, or open water, characters can encounter enemies (or unidentifiable parties) at the limit of visibility, which might be several miles. If you assume that the distance represented by a single range band equals 1,000 feet, then two groups a mile apart are placed six range bands apart. The two parties' relationship can be tracked on the range mat as they approach one another. When they get close enough that the current scale no longer works, switch the scale to something more appropriate.
For example, if two ships began 2 miles/12 range bands apart but now are only 1,000 yards/1 range band apart, they're getting within bowshot of one another. Cut the scale to 50 yards/band, shift the miniatures so they're 20 range bands apart, and you're in a more tactical mode.
If one group decides to flee while the other pursues, the increasing or decreasing range between them can be tracked easily on the mat. Just leave the fleeing group in place while shifting the pursuers forward or backward as they gain or lose ground.
Next up -- "Draw this dungeon and you could have a career as a DM!"
About the Author
Steve Winter is a successful web producer, writer, and game designer living in the Seattle area. He enjoys travel, music, and long walks on … oh, wait, wrong website.