Making Unique Painting Choices with your Miniatures

March 27, 2021

I’ve been painting up a cadre of lizardfolk for my players to encounter soon. When I first unpacked the miniatures, I thought to myself, Lizards are green, right? So I chose one of the minis with the simplest equipment and painted its scales a sort of muddy, faded green. The Wizkids lizardfolk miniature had a nice distinct region of the chest and belly that I painted more of a muted beige, and all in all, the mini came out looking nice enough.

New to Painting Minis? Check out our Newcomer’s Primer article!

Then I thought to myself: What in Faerun am I doing?? I have this non-human race of scaled lizard people in a fantasy setting… and I’m painting them GREEN? So I got Googling and decided to take advantage of the sweet lizard color schemes in nature: burnt orange, bright yellow, neon purple. I even started considering how some lizardfolk cities might have a social class structure, and the lower class might be an indistinct melting pot of lizards with all colors of scales. I painted one final mini as I imagine the purebred ruling class might look, with bluer, richer, more pristine scales.

Now this little tribe not only looks more striking on the table – there’s also a whole backstory and social dynamic behind the color of their scales.

I always find myself more pleased with with the final paint job on a mini if I take an extra moment to consider every color choice I make. Why am I choosing brown for this mountain-dwelling barbarian’s hide armor, when I could make it white, like the majority of pelts she’d find in her surrounding environment? Why is the skull hanging from the necromancer’s hip painted bone white, when its eyes could have a faint purple glow from all the times it’s been reanimated? Why is the monk’s quarterstaff a dull grayish brown, when it could be cut from white birch instead?

It’s normally best to make sure these choices are grounded in reality (or fantasy reality…) and driven by aesthetics. If I paint an owlbear’s feathers bright green just for the heck of it, the figure will probably look gaudy and out of place on the table. Whereas I could justify green feathers if I decided to paint it as a mighty swamp druid in wildform. Let this story and background, no matter how broad, drive your miniature’s believability and originality.

Every time I add a unique little feature to a mini, I feel worlds more excited to get that mini on the table. And as more and more of my collection begins to fit that description, very few of my minis feel like they’re just filler.

Choosing Paints to Enrich Roleplay

Making unique paint choices can instill a sense of character in your miniature, and if you’re throwing it in the way of an adventuring party, your players might find even more character than you’d intended.

Most non-player characters (NPCs) have basic demeanors, traits and aesthetics written before they ever meet the characters. However, when it comes to the stock henchmen and creatures that the characters encounter in their travels, the actual adventure text rarely calls for anything more unique than, say, 4 Bandits, or 2 Gricks. Now, the encounter will work just fine if the party fights a few bandits or gricks and continues on their way, but your paint choices are an opportunity to make each and every encounter unique and interesting, possibly even inspire your players to attribute extra story value to the creatures that your minis represent.

(Of course, painting is just one of many ways to add more flavor and intrigue to an encounter. Descriptive storytelling, immersive accents – anything that makes your players more invested in the action, especially for RPG groups that don’t even use miniatures in the first place.)

Perhaps they will assume that the fight with the purple-haired highwayman happened for a specific reason – when in reality you just rolled up a random encounter and grabbed a thief mini that you happened to have painted with purple hair. They might start inquiring at every town about the purple haired assassin who came after them while they slept beside the road. And when you feel like writing that plotline,  the local tanner at the next town may have heard a rumor about the magical bracers hidden away by a purple-haired assassin…

It’s always a nice opportunity when the players begin a story for you, and you minis could be a great way to stir up their creativity and see what comes back your way.

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Andy B

Andy B is our Master of Events and Online Wizardry, and that's why you see his picture at the bottom of most posts and events! You'll see him and his beard at all our locations, often with his nose at a computer, creating pages just like this one. His favorite games include The Grizzled, Guild Ball, Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle and Legend of the Five Rings.

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