Miniatures are expensive, no matter what form they take or what company manufactures them. From the detailed pewter of a Warhammer or Malifaux model to the most recent prepainted D&D or Heroclix boosters, it seems like the only way to acquire affordable miniatures in on the secondary market. When I used to play Warhammer 40K, eBay was a godsend for cheap(er) Space Marines built from other people's bits boxes and Rhinos on the sprue without packaging or instructions. For prepainted minis, the places to go are websites like CoolStuffInc and Troll & Toad, where you can find just about any monster released for any collectible game.
However, these websites also illustrate another upsetting part of the miniatures market: their once-collectible status. The randomized booster format of D&D miniatures means that there are 'common' and 'rare' miniatures that cost ridiculous amounts of money for the materials used to create them. Among these 'rare' minis are many of D&D's most iconic monsters: dragons and giants of all shapes and sizes, the beholder, owlbear and displacer beast cost anywhere between $5 to $20 to purchase. In order to play the typical game of D&D with minis, you would most likely end up spending more money on plastic than you did on rulebooks, which is really saying something.
That's not to say that there aren't affordable D&D miniatures, far from it. I think there's a wealth of awesome, weird and quality collectible miniatures out there that won't break your bank account.
Over 300 of them, in fact.
Before the Christmas holiday, I compiled a spreadsheet of every single available D&D miniature under $1.50 on CoolStuffInc, not only as a piece of bargain hunting, but as the basis for a worldbuilding project. Over the next few weeks, I plan to assess the miniatures that I've found on the secondary market and begin to create the structure for a campaign world around them. Instead of lamenting the lack of a cheap Black Dragon or Ogre miniature, I want to build a fantasy setting that is tailor-made to accomodate something like the Maug or the amazing Half-Illithid Lizardfolk that I have come across in the under $2 range. I think that working within this framework will at the very least inspire me to create some cool fluff and adventure ideas and might possibly lead to a campaign in the future.
Later this week, I plan to take stock of the list, its strengths and weaknesses when it comes to creature diversity. There's a lot of great stuff in there, from sword and sorcery looking cultists and warriors to a bunch of off-beat monstrous humaniods like bullywugs and a copious amount of troglodytes. Stay tuned for more!