Episode 12: How Do You Start (or Get Back Into) the Miniatures Hobby?

In this episode I answer a question from one of my patrons – how do you get started in these hobbies when you are starting fresh, have no materials or resources? I offer simple tips for purchasing miniatures, paints, tools and where to get the best deals. Because it can be pretty daunting to try to get into a role playing game or miniatures skirmish game or tabletop wargame when you are literally brand new to the hobby.

In Section Charlie, where I highlight something or someone cool I’ve encountered on the Internet, I shout out the wonderful bonus_action Instagram account. Tim is a game master and homebrewer and illustrator and he creates magic items, traps, creatures and a slew of additional add-ons for Dungeon Masters and their homebrew games! Check him out at https://www.instagram.com/bonus_action.


Bonus_Action on Instagram

D&D 5th edition free rules
Warhammer 40k free rules
Age of Sigmar free rules (Warhammer Fantasy)
Rangers of Shadow Deep
Reddit Looking For Group sub
Ebay miniature seller for Reaper minis (Pippd)
WizKids Nolzur’s Marvelous Miniatures
Reaper Miniatures
X-acto knife
Princeton Selects
Winsor Newton Gold Sceptre II
Hobby Lobby Master’s Touch
Citadel paint
Army Painter starter set
Vallejo starter set
Scale 75 metallics
Army Painter shades
P3 paint
Badger Stynylrez
Liquitex Flow-Aid
Testors Dullcote
Shadespire (actually called Underworlds)
Kill Team
Guild Ball

Connect with me on Instagram, discover more content on Patreon and watch the YouTube versions of the podcast episodes which contain time-lapse footage of working at the paint desk!

Watch the YouTube version of the podcast which contains time-lapse footage of working at the paint desk!

Episode Transcript
THIS is Episode 12 of CryinMo’s Tabletop Alchemy! Welcome, one and all. I hope everyone’s having a great week – and for anyone out there NOT having a good week, remember, we’re all on the roller coaster and there are always ups after the downs. Sometimes you gotta shift perspective to see the ups during the downs but they are there, I swear. 

This is my podcast about all the things tabletop gaming-related with an emphasis on miniatures and terrain crafting, I have returned to these hobbies after a 25 year hiatus and I’m just super excited to get back into Dungeons and Dragons, Warhammer, Frostgrave, all the new skirmish games, miniature painting, just all of it.

You can listen to this podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Overcast, TuneIn and check out the video version on YouTube where I include footage of either my terrain crafting or miniature painting. Comments or ratings are really the only way to help the algorithms out there get the podcast in front of new audience members so those are highly appreciated. You can find show notes with links to things discussed in each episode as well as my email address at cryinmo.com, you can message me on Instagram or Facebook and I post photos of most of my miniatures and terrain on Instagram each week.  

All right, so today is my *first* Audience Question. To address on the podcast. I even thought I might try scripting this one out. So here it is, my first ever scripted podcast episode! But let me be honest, this isn’t truly one specific audience question, it’s a combination of a few people saying a few things AND one honest-to-goodness genuine text-based question from one of my Patrons! And as always, a tip o’ the hat to my patrons, you know who are and you know what you do – I do too, and I thank you. From the bottom of my heart, you can be sure.

So the question from my patron Alex was: “Can you give me some ideas on a cheap way to get started painting miniatures, just a few to make a little D&D party, including paints and brushes?” I have paraphrased this. Now let me paraphrase today’s topic: How do you get into these tabletop hobbies when you’re starting from absolute scratch, either from being brand new to tabletop gaming OR, as in my case, you (or your ex) has thrown out everything hobby-related years and years and years ago? As an aside, that was not a run-on sentence, THAT was run-on QUESTION.

And it’s a good question! I actually faced that very conundrum two years ago when I waded back into this new ocean of content, this sea of … it’s not tranquility, it’s a sea of fantasy and sci-fi dice and miniatures and paints and models and rule books and art and rulers and terrain and you know More Stuff!! So, let’s imagine. Everyone close your eyes – wait, if you’re driving, ignore that last part – let’s imagine, you’re you and you’re standing in a small empty room that has some cheap shelves on the walls. Like those ‘70s bracket shelves. You wanna play a game of Dungeons & Dragons. Or maybe Frostgrave. But those bracket shelves are just planks of wood, you don’t have any gaming stuff. OR, you have three dusty cardboard boxes labeled with half-dried up Sharpie: GAME STUFF. MINIATURES. BOOKS. Whatever. You know those paints are dried up, your brushes are *probably* not in the best shape, and every edition of rules you own is either out of print or – hold up! 

Let’s run out a tangent here real quick. See, even scripted, I just write the tangents. Say you have a stack of AD&D 2nd Edition books, the Player’s Handbook, the Monster Manual and maybe the DM Guide. You could definitely just roll those out and drum up a game of AD&D. That’s ADVANCED Dungeons & Dragons. Which doesn’t mean anything today, it’s just 2nd edition and the current edition is 5th edition. There are definitely groups out there who enjoy and play weekly 2nd edition AD&D. They aren’t the norm for sure but that’s still a viable game system and if you search Reddit’s Looking For Group subreddit or other online tabletop sites like Meetup, you can probably find someone to play with.

Okay, back on the main topic – you wanna get into the fresh new modern games! You wanna play D&D 5th Edition and Age of Sigmar and Rangers of Shadowdeep! I get it, I do too. But what you don’t have – besides everything – is the $2500 bucks for the all-in, full service, luxury bespoke gamer starter package. Which I sell, by the way, so … if you’re in the market for that … let me know. I can hook you up. I’m kidding. Don’t send me your $2500. 

All right, every collection starts the same way – insert evil laughter right here. Every collection starts the same way: with an empty shelf. Correction: with a shelf full of old Lego you’re gonna put in a box so that you can have shelf space for your new budding collection of books and miniatures.

Let’s get into it. Let’s start with D&D or other role-playing games that are based on a typical party size of 3 to 6 players. Every game is going to have it’s own set of rules that you simply have to have. Ebay is a pretty great place to purchase actual game books in new condition at 25 – 50 percent off retail price. It’s just tough to walk into Barnes and Noble and pay $50 dollars for the D&D 5th edition Players Handbook when you can order it on Ebay for $25. I love bookstores but full price just isn’t a genuinely sustainable shopping method. Same goes for almost every game company. Games Workshop sells their own products on Amazon at standard 15% discount with free shipping. I do think there is one exception to looking for the cheapest price to buy products at and that is if you actually plan on playing games AT AN FLGS. An FLGS is Internet-shorthand for Friendly Local Game Store. If you’re going to play at an FLGS that does not charge you game space rental fees or table fees, then it’s highly uncool to NOT purchase at least SOME product at retail price directly from the store. That’s what keeps them in business and they provide that additional service of play space and if they go out of business because no one shops there, then of course that quote unquote FREE play space will disappear and then you’ll be stuck. This goes for Warhammer stores too (some of them are still branded as Games Workshop stores). Individual Warhammer stores stay open based on their monthly sales receipts and they always offer free table usage and usually have terrain and even painting space, so the same thing goes for them.

All right, one last thing about picking up rules for games – a LOT of games, including D&D and Warhammer, offer their basic rule set for free on their websites. You could technically download a 12 page PDF for free and play a game of D&D tonight. But the bottom line is the basic rules are usually very basic and most of us will want a nice hardback or enhanced PDF on our iPads or phones to fawn over and lavish with hours of eyeball sweat – I don’t know where I’m going with this, I’ll stop.

Okay, now what about the actual Hobby side of this hobby? The miniatures, the paints, the brushes, the terrain, the clear coats and gloss coats and shades and washes and all those colors and all those brands and all that money?!! How do we deal with that? 

One step at a time. But Mo, you cry! What is the first step I should take? There are so many first steps! I’m bewildered! By the way, bewildered is a great word, we should use it more, kudos to you. 

Okay, let’s start with role playing games. Specifically I’ll use Dungeons & Dragons as our example but I’m sure these tips can translate across most rpg systems you want to use miniatures for. For me, the main thing to represent on the tabletop are the players. The YoutUbe Runehammer had very interesting philosophy about the tabletop during game sessions; he likened it to the campfire. Not just like a campfire for warmth, but the campfire as that hypnotic entity everyone can stare at while we all trade stories around it. It’s the idea that a group of people sitting around a table need something visual to occupy certain aspects of their attention. He suggested that even having a simple hand-drawn cartoon map laid there in front of everyone was better than nothing at all. I agree. So for a role playing game session, the most you’ll need to start with are miniature representations of your party. You could go the very affordable route of fold-over standees, called tokens or cut-outs. These are fine, but if you’re wanting to get into miniatures, then you just gotta pick up some minis. Today, I think one of the cheapest routes to go are the WizKids official D&D branded miniature line. I think they’re called Nolzur’s Marvelous Miniatures and they are unpainted and pre-primed. So you won’t have to purchase any primer, you can just start painting on them. These run approximately $5 a blister pack and each blister pack usually contains a male and female version of various archetypes, like paladins or rangers or rogues. The next suggestion I have are Reaper Bones miniatures, they usually run about $3 bucks a figure and the catalog is enormous. I’ve mentioned these white vinyl figures before and while I don’t particularly care for the material, they are cheap and there are all kinds to choose from. They also supposedly do not have to be primed but I would use a non-spray can primer on them. Reaper Bones Black is the new material Reaper is using and they are around the same price but hold a lot more detail and are generally easier to work with. Links to all these things will be in the show notes as always, cryinmo.com. The miniatures I started with myself when I jumped back into the hobby were Reaper metal miniatures, which run about $6 a figure and again there are tons to choose from. Now there are a surprising number of smaller manufacturers, I feel like I find new ones every few days. But once you start getting the hang of searching for minis online you’ll have fun discovering all these new companies as well. 

Okay, so you’ve picked out 5 miniatures to represent your impending party and maybe even a couple of monsters for them to fight, you know, some orcs or goblins from Reaper or WizKids. And now you wanna sling some paint. You’ll need a few supplies along with your paint. At the very least you’ll need an X-acto knife and spare blades. You’ll likely want a pair of tweezers as well. Find cheap ones that are steel, no plastic, no aluminum. You’ll need some superglue. Cyanoacrylate glue to be exact. Pretty much any brand of this stuff will work, what’s more important is the applicator tip – you’ll thank yourself for getting a bottle that has a long narrow tip instead of a short stubby tip. You’ll need some paper towels, steal those from the kitchen. You’ll need a mug or a bowl or a plastic to-go soup container, just something you can put water in to rinse your brushes with. Something that can get covered in paint and you won’t care. Also, make sure it has a large flat bottom – you don’t want something that can tip over easy. That’ll happen at some point but let’s prolong it as much as possible. You’ll want either a wet palette – which you can look online for thousands of videos on – or an old ceramic plate or an actual plastic or ceramic paint palette. I have all of those and I generally use the wet palette 95 percent of the time BUT IT ISN’T NECESSARY. You’ll do just fine with a piece of glass or tile or plastic, just something you can put wet paint on while you work. So, again, that’s an x-acto knife, tweezers, water cup, paper towels and a palette. 

Let’s talk about brushes. You need a brush that has a decent point. Do you need a $15 pure organic sable Raphael size 1? No. Can you get away with the 10 cent cheap plastic brush that comes in a kid’s water color set? No. That said, last week I went into Hobby Lobby for the first time – hey! There are not a bunch of Hobby Lobby’s out here where I live, usually it’s Michael’s or Joann’s I have to go to. Anyway, I picked up – at 50% off mind you – a few of their Master’s Choice series brushes, a size 4, a size 0 and a pair of size 2’s. I’d recommend the size 2 and the 0 as your starting brushes. But if you are willing to pay for shipping, I know DickBlick.com has a bunch of decent brands for really good prices. I’d recommend Winsor Newton Gold Scepter II series and I’d actually recommend their very cheap but quite decent Princeton Select series, these you can usually get for around $2 apiece – which is close to what I paid at Hobby Lobby during the sale. You’ll want the plain “rounds” type brushes, again in sizes ranging from double 0 to 2. And then you’ll want at least one flat brush for dry brushing. You can also get a pack of about 20 various sized makeup brushes on Amazon for $5 that will give you all the drybrushes you’ll need for a while. 

How many brushes do I really need, Mo? I hear you asking questions. I also hear all of you already experienced hobbyists rolling over in your not-graves yet. I get it, there are all kinds of choices, I’m just trying to offer some advice on how to start and my advice is purely … whats the word? Subjective! My advice and my entire podcast for that matter is subjective! So how many brushes. I’d start with a #2, a #1, a #00 and a flat brush for drybrushing. One I used quite a bit for dry brushing before I picked up those makeup brushes was a Princeton Select 1/4 inch Angular Shader. You will also want one super duper cheap #2 size (or similar) brush for being a utility brush. I use P3 paints a lot which come in paint points versus dropper bottles so I use crappy brushes just to dip paint from the pot onto the palette. And for mixing paint, etc.

Speaking of which, what about the paint? What kind should you get? Which is the best? Which is the cheapest? Which, you ask, is gonna make you a master painter overnight? The answer of course is whatever paint you’ve got in your collection. First paint tip: do not buy craft paint. That stuff called Apple Barrel or Folk Art or Craft Paint in the craft stores. You can technically paint with that stuff. As you heard in the Darcy Bono interview, she painted models that came out really nice with Folk Art. But I would highly recommend that you don’t start with that paint for miniatures. Use that stuff on terrain, it’s great for that. Okay, Mo, no craft paint. So what do I use? Well, again, my suggestions are going to be subjective, AKA personal opinion. I would disregard Citadel Games Workshop paint right off the bat. Wait, wait, you miniature modeler veterans – I’m specifically suggesting to beginners to stay away from Citadel paints purely because of cost. If you have some cash to burn, Citadel paints are totally fine – nay, pretty nice – to paint with. But their current pots are not great, they have a tendency to let the paints dry out, and, literally, their cost per ounce is higher than most other paints on the market but their quality is not any better. One advantage to Citadel paints is you can specifically match all of their box art color schemes and their painting instructions. So, if we discount Citadel, what brands are left. Quite a few actually. The big ones are Vallejo, Reaper, Army Painter, Scale 75 and P3. Vallejo has the most color choices hands-down. Army Painter is probably the least popular of this particular list, and to be honest I have only one bottle of their paint and I have not tried it yet. BUT Army Painter has some of the best washes in the industry. Scale 75 is not super affordable because it’s usually being shipped from overseas and it’s not the easiest paint to work with as a beginner. BUT Scale 75 has the some of the best metallic colors on the market. Reaper makes great competitive paint. P3 is a bit of an outlier but I like their formula a lot and they use the same paint pots as Citadel did way back in the day and I like those. Dropper bottles seem easier to work with and most people prefer them, but they do have one drawback – it’s hard to mix dropper bottle paint when it’s settled for a while. Okay, all this said, there are two ways you can jump into the paint game: 1) you can buy a starter set. Army Painter and Vallejo and Reaper all have general starter sets in the $30-ish price range. 2) you can buy a handful of selected colors to start. Going this route, you’ll want a black, a white, red, green and blue, a flesh tone and probably a yellow and a purple, maybe a sky blue and a magenta and oh yeah brown! You’ll want leather brown and dark brown and tan and – okay, this route is tricky. I started this way when I purchased my first miniature to paint a couple years ago and I quickly ended up buying more and more paint until I basically picked up ALL the P3 paints, that’s like 70 colors or something. So maybe a starter set is the way to go. I’ll link to a few starters I found on Amazon and other sites.

Okay, two more things to discuss concerning paint: primer and washes. Primer is necessary if you’re going to paint metal miniatures or non-pre-primed plastic or resin miniatures. The two cheapest ways to go for primer are either a bottle of brush-on primer – Vallejo and Reaper both make great brush on primers, usually around $4 a bottle – or you can pick up a can of Krylon or Rustoleum white or black or gray primer for around $5 or $6 a can. Now, back in my day of painting, I used Krylon spray primer all the time. This time around, I’ve learned quite a bit about the new primers on the market and they are all better than Krylon or Rustoleum but they are not necessary when you’re starting out. If you want a spray primer that is smoother and nicer than those Home Depot brands, you can pick up some Army Painter spray can primer for $10 – $14 a can or Citadel spray can primer for $18 bucks a can. Ultimately, the best primer I’ve ever used to date is Badger’s airbrush primer called Stynylrez. Vallejo also makes an airbrushable primer, but that of course requires an airbrush. And even tho I use a $25 cheapie airbrush, the compressor is usually the price bottleneck going that route.

All right, a brief word about washes. You can always make your own washes just by thinning down your paints with water and adding a teensy tiny bit of Flow-aid. Some people use a super heavily diluted dish soap and water mixture as their flow-aid but I just bought a bottle of Liquitex Flow-aid for about $8 and it’ll last a long long time. That all said, Citadel and Army Painter make spectacularly great washes. I recommend all of them. Both companies call their washes “shades” and Army Painter’s shades are probably half the price of Citadel’s. But they are all great and I have both lines and use them all the time. In my opinion, the shades to start out with are the browns and blacks, leave the colors for later purchases. In the Army Painter line, these are called Strong Tone, Soft Tone, Dark Tone and I really like the Military Tone. Counterparts to those in Citadel are Nuln Oil, Agrax Earthshade, Seraphim Sepia and Athonian Camoshade. Another name for these is “liquid talent” and guess what? I will use all the liquid talent I can, thank you very much.

All right, last item in the painting category: varnish. You painted your models, now you wanna manhandle them – or woman handle them – all across the board. You’ll have friends who will wanna pick them up in their grubby little Dorito-fingers, you’ll transport them to various adventures encased in foam or something of that nature. You will need to varnish them with a matte coat to protect the paint for as long as possible. Varishes come in the same forms as primers: brush-on, spray can and air brushable. I myself have generally used spray can matte coats but I’m about to try out air brushing Vallejo’s paint-on matte varnish. I brushed it on and it turned out quite satin, not matte at all, but my friend Lord Hoffman swears (as do a lot of other folks online) that airbrushing it is a different story. For spray can varnishes, Testors Dull Coat is probably the absolute best, just make sure you shake it for at least 4 minutes. That is not hyperbole. 240 seconds of solid continuous vigorous can-shaking. Krylon and Rustoleum both sell cheap spray cans but they are also not quite matte. Army Painter has a product called Anti-Shine that runs about $10 a can, I picked up my first one from Brookhurst Hobbies the other day and I will be trying it out on this week’s painted minis. It is what Darcy Bono uses so I’m guessing it’s gonna be great!

Okay, so the last thing I want to talk about is how you might jump into miniature-based war-games as opposed to role playing games. Right off the bat, to keep costs down, you’re going to want to get into skirmish games versus whole army games. Skirmish games, as we’ve mentioned before on this podcast, are war-games where each side fields between 1 and maybe 20 miniatures, averaging around 10 or so. So to build yourself a single army for a skirmish game might just be buying a single box of figures. Games Workshop is the two-ton elephant in this room, of course, and their skirmish games are Warhammer 40K Kill Team, Shadespire and the brand spanking new Warcry. They also have Bloodbowl, but that’s a specific American football-themed board game rather than a true skirmish game. Super fun tho, don’t get me wrong. I’m totally considering getting back into Bloodbowl. Sigh. Okay, Shadespire is interesting because each “force” is sold in a single box for $30. It’s not really a skirmish game, it’s a deck-building combat board game that looks pretty fun and is highly competitive. The downside is that the basic rule box set is $60. That does come with two opposing forces tho, so there’s that. The Kill Team core rules run $40 retail for the soft-cover and $34 for the e-book version. Once again, check ebay or Amazon for discounted retail prices. Frostgrave is a skirmish game in which you use your own choice of miniatures. That rule book is between $18 and $26 online. There are Frostgrave branded sets and hero figures but buying from Reaper might be more cost effective and your choices are far wider in scope. My brother and Frostgrave opponent just built his own custom Frostgrave war band with all metal Reaper miniatures from Ebay. There are lots of other skirmish games that come with their own miniatures like Moonstone and Relicblade and Malifaux and Guild Ball and Necromunda from Games Workshop (I forgot about that one) and Infinity and Runewars and there’s just a ton of them out there. So you’ll get to do some research and exploration of all those different games to see if any of them hook your attention. But on average, I bet they all cost very similar to get into, with the Games Workshop titles running a bit pricier. There is one other game that I bought the $12 rule book for and it’s similar to Frostgrave in that it’s a rule set meant for you to use your own miniatures and that’s a Song of Blades and Heroes. For $12, it’s definitely worth checking out!

All right, that has got to wrap this up – writing this whole script beforehand was … doable. I wonder if it will result in a satisfactory podcast for you guys. You can let me know what you think. Was I more on point? Do I sound stiff and un-spontaneous? Is spontaneous just another word for easily distracted and tangential and rambling? Well, we’ll see. I can’t promise I’ll do this every time.

But there are more great interviews coming, I’ve got some special folks lining up and I’m super excited for those conversations. Some more painters, some terrain crafters, some interesting folks that might be surprising but hopefully engaging. But all that’s coming soon so right now, how about some hobby progress?

So this week was a little bit off kilter for me, I had another bout of stuck in the chair-itis and but I did get two miniatures painted this week. They are both from Games Workshop, they are called Vargheists and I have a total of 3 of them to use as demon type figures in Frostgrave and D&D. I’ll be working on the third one this week. I also released photos and a video tutorial teaser of that terrain I wasn’t talking about for the last few weeks – the Giant Crystals! I think they came out really cool. I used seafoam glass from a crafts store and I have plenty left over to do another batch specifically with a snow and ice motif to the terrain. This current batch is the same verdant grassy green style I’ve been doing which matches my Runewars battlemat really well. I’ve posted some pretty nice pics of this crystal scatter terrain on Instagram so you can check them out there and you can check out the making-of video on cryinmo.com, youtube and patreon etc. I also made a quick and easy dice tray! A making of video for that is also available on youtube and a small version on instagram will be released tomorrow I think. Basically, when Alessandro and I were playing Frostgrave we were rolling dice on the board with all the terrain and it was a bit of a pain and I remembered seeing someone had made a simple dice tray out of picture frame and I thought, that would be cool. So while at Hobby Lobby looking for brushes I also scoped out all their frames that were on sale and I specifically looked for one that had fairly high edges and I found one that’s 5 by 7 and 3/4” inch high walls, it’s perfect. I used some blue felt to line it and just knocked it out one night, super easy, works great. All right, let’s head over to Section Charlie!

Where I highlight something or someone cool I found on the internet. This week I want to point out another Instagram account, this guy’s feed is too cool for school – yeah, I said that. Instagram.com/bonus_action! His name is listed as Tim on his bio and his bio says he’s a Gamemasater, homebrewer – which I just wondered right now if that means home brewer of beer like my brother in Jersey or a home brewer of worlds! Or both! I shall ask him. – And he’s also an illustrator. So what does Tim Bonux_action do? On Instagram he posts his own new magic items for Dungeons and Dragons, he posts ideas for traps, for mounts (things like desert wyverns and foxes and griffons all with saddles on ‘em) and he posts some tables to roll on to help dungeon masters generate random things for market stalls, voice inflections and random drinks to be found in taverns – and ALL of these are self contained in single Instagram images complete with incredibly cool illustrations and full written text describing game rules and usage and saving throws and all that stuff. Each item is labeled with its in-game rarity and I’m sure you could easily use any of this stuff as inspiration for your own worlds or other rpg systems. His artistic format is just so nice! His layout and the illustrations themselves are so freaking pleasing to look at! They’re wonderful! Go check ‘em out, bonus underscore action on instagram, as always, links are in the show notes at cryinmo.com

All right, that puts a fork in this episode (there’s probably a magic fork in bonus_action’s feed, for sure) thank you all for hanging out, please let me know what you thought of this episode, contact me on Instagram or via email at cryinmo@gmail.com and I look forward to talking at you soon! See ya!