Hobby Shortcut: critters in a box

Just to be clear what we are talking about. Unlike your normal miniature collection with carefully painted warbands or large 2000 point hosts, these (more or less) random miniatures are purely destined to be used as foes in small scale skirmish wargames, dungeon crawls or the occasional TRPG. In our group we refer to them as mobs, as in MMORPGs, or more often as critters.

Being primarily a fantasy skirmish wargamer (Frostgrave, Sellswords and Spellslingers, Rangers of Shadow Deep,…), I had to collect quite the menagerie of NPC-mobs or critters. 
For a while, my main issues was to manage and store such a random miniature collection effectively.
So here is a brief guide, how I created my random mob/miniature collection, ready to confront any unanware heroes during their quests.

Minor disclaimer: this post considers only my medieval-fantasy mob collection and ignores modern or scifi-miniatures.

behold : the critterbox. a compartimented carrier case from the hardware shop

Why create a critter-box?

The first and obvious reason to create a critter-box whould be to have a suitable selection of miniatures for your games. Since they are not my main warband, I store them in a compartemented box. It is easy to put away and can be transported to a friends place. I found a suitable carrier at a local hardware store.

For me, painting these models is also a useful exercise to test out new techniques, before I dare to apply them to a more expensive or “important” modell.

Lastly, it can be great fun to assemble and paint random models and relax.

A plaidoyer for proxy and stand-in-models

For many competitive gamer (and their patron saint overlording companies) proxies are a thing of the devil. They consider them to be a cheap alternative to the real-deal model. Furthermore, some elitist circles of our hobby will look down on you, if you don’t own the most expensive and latest sets.

But a skirmish wargamer needs a wide range of models. If we collect specific models assuming a singular specific role, we need (a) a lot of space, (b) a lot of money and (c) to see a therapist.

Although intellectually I prefer a WYSIWYG-approach to my models, as gamer I also must be practical. Thus, I settled for certain criteria in my choice of miniatures :

 – canon : are the models part of the traditional group of fantasy foes, like orcs, goblins, undead and so on?
– do they represent one thing or can they stand in for others?
– are they devoid of evident markings like franchise or game-specific iconography? 
– can I justify using them in my games instead of expanding my pile of shame?
– are they fun to paint?

The agony of choice

Especially in the age of 3D-printing and with a growing number of companies offering many viable alternatives, it is easy to find a modell or series of miniatures that fits ones collection.
For those more creatively inclined, kitbashing is a very suitable and entertaining option. If you are really gifted, venture down the 3D-sculpting alley.

A note on material

I prefer plastic, resin or any other non-metal miniature for my critter box. The reason (which is probably going to get me into wargamer hell) is pure and simple: I intend to toss them in a box. Metall will chip, even if varnished ; plastic is sturdier.

Minis and manufacturers

  • Reaper miniatures : Their bones-series offer a wide range of miniatures for your mob and critter collection at a viable price.
  • Mantic : Most of their kits allow for ample customization. Especially their undead models are perfectly suited for our most iconic foe. If you can lay your hands on some Dungeon Saga miniatures, they offer a great start for your skirmisher foes.
  • North Star military figures : North Star offers a wide range of multipart plastic kits. I find their Frostgrave and Ghost Archipelago sets especially suitable to customize foes and NPCs.
  • Heroquest – Miniatures : for those lucky enough to acquire a set of (old or new) Heroquest miniatures, they are a great start for your critterbox.
  • Wargames Atlantic : great value at little costs. Their fantasy and medieval ranges cover most of the usual foes and fiends a brave adventurer will encounter. Usually a box comes with 20 to 40 miniatures, which might exceed your need. Sharing with a friend in your community splits the costs 😉


Below is a non exhaustive list of 3D-Sculptors I often refer to. Of course there are many excellent sculptors all over the internet, but these are among my go-to artists. I highly recommend, you check them out.

  • Monstrous Encounters offers a great range of 3D-Sculpts (some for free). They have the classic oldhammer feel, that makes me slumber in nostalgia. Easy to print and fun to paint. Due to their larger proportions, they are sturdy enough to be thrown into your box with the other plastic 🙂
  • Yasashii Kyojin Studio is specialised on DnD models, but has a wide range of monsters and foes suitable for your tabletop game. The models are finer and have more realistic proportions. I mostly look for bosses among these sculpts.
  • Gloomy Kid Minis ‘s sculpts have a similar feel than those of Monstrous encounters. You may see their Christmas elves in last years big Christmas game.

A small glimpse into the menagerie…

Minor disclaimer: for some 3D-sculpts, I don’t recall where I found them. I mean no disrespect and blame my poor organisation.


I started this collection with a set of zombies and skeletons from a Dungeon Saga Starter box. I really like the zombie sculpts, but find the skeletons a bit too flimsy. Later I added some 3D printed undead, aswell as some old GW-multipart skellies.

Among my favorites are some Reaper ghosts. I actually bought them to train drybrushing bright colours, now they are a staple when my heroes do dungeon crawl.

L-R: 2 3Dprints (Monstrous encounters) ; dungeon saga zombie : 2 overmotivated zombies by Mantic
L-R: 2 Reaper Ghosts/Wights ; dungeon saga ghost
the left and centre wights are among my favorites. I call them Emerald and Carmine, both are recurring bosses, if I solo-play

Greenskins and Raiders

Sadly, I lost most of my old GW Nightgoblins in the olden days. So I had to adapt. “Luckily” I bought the Mines of Moria-starter box from GW in the olden days, aswell as some second hand Uruk’hai. I never really played the game and the minis survived painted but unused in a box in my parents attic. I decided to give them a second life as Orks and Goblins aswell as Raiders or other types of bandits.

miniature collection
Reaper Stone-age-esque barbarians, uga uga

random fiends

Most of my demons, demonesque models or other otherwordly fiends are made by Reaper miniatures and mostly bought out of a whim. With the advent of 3D printing, the pile of shame grew…

miniature collection
L-R: icky vampire creature(unknown sculptor), killer clown (unknown sculptor), tormented soul(unknown sculptor), Wendigo (Yasahii Kyojin). all 3D printed
a diverse cast of golems and other artificial lifeforms: modrons by Wizkids ; the rest by Reaper


I underestimated the need for animal models, until I started playing Frostgrave and other adventure tabletop games. Since then, I had to expand my fauna collection progressively. Especially swarmlike critters were hard to come by… mostly because I am uber-picky. I was fortunate enough to find an old GW swarm box at Spiel 2018 (in Essen).

Aside from your usual spiders, rats and flying stingy-things, you will need some sort of larger mammals like felines, bears and boars.
Do not forget your cattle and sheep, if you play medieval/medieval fantasy games. Otherwise your vikings won’t have anything to raid. My cattle miniaures are the only metal models in my critter collection. Consequently I have to store them apart. Yet I felt, I had to mention them 🙂

all 3D printed large animals (various sculptors)

Big Guys

Big Guys are mostly single models being part of a larger host. Think of trolls in a greenskin warband, Minotaurs in a beastmen horde, or some other kind of behemoth. below you can see several examples used in various capacities.

minature collection
L-R: big forest monster, beholder, minotaur (badly photographed) and some sort of giant worm/bug. all Reaper

Essential NPCs

Aside from groups of monsters or other foes, I store some essential npcs for my miniature collection. They are mostly by Reaper. They are either bosses to fight (think of dark knights, necromancers, witches…) , characters to encounter during games or just random blokes I thought might be important: craftsmen, traders, adventurers…

Final thoughts

As I pointed out, this random miniature collection is not meant to be a perfect cast of charactes and creatures. Above all, our hobby is meant to be fun. This miniature project allowed me to work myself through my pile of shame in a positive way, test out new techniques, all the while doing something usefull and expand my collection.

happy painting