How to Play D&D Without Miniatures

Dungeons and Dragons is a game fueled by players’ imagination. Over the years, to help fuel that imagination, physical representation tools were created to further describe what we’re doing and how we’re doing those things in a campaign. If you’re wondering how to play D&D without miniatures, the answer is simple:

To play D&D without miniatures or maps, DMs need to be very descriptive of everything happening in and out of combat, and more lenient when it comes to player actions. Players, meanwhile, need to be very attentive, convey intent, and commit as much as possible to memory.

Obviously, that’s a quick explanation. Click below to learn more about how to play DnD without maps or minis:

Do you need miniatures to play DnD?

Not at all! For many years, Dungeons and Dragons was played without visual representation or aid whatsoever. All that was needed back then was a powerful imagination. Understandably, things have changed since then, but it’s absolutely possible to play DnD without using miniatures.

What does a DnD player need?

For those wondering what is needed to start playing DnD, it’s simple: All that’s needed to play D&D is your imagination. That may sound cheesy, but it’s completely true. In fact, being a good DnD player has much more to do with knowing the rules and interacting with other players than it does with having physical products. Here’s the short list of what a DnD player needs for a successful session:

  • A set of dice
  • Show up to the session
  • Know your character and what they can do
  • Get involved
  • Optional: Journal to jot down what’s going on in the campaign (click here to learn about how to organize DnD notes)

Difficulties of playing D&D without minis

  • Keeping track of characters and creatures
  • Visualizing the relative location of characters/creatures
  • Understanding distance between characters and objects, creatures, etc.

How to play D&D without miniatures

Like I mentioned above, playing D&D without miniatures forces the DM and players to be much more imaginative in the game. While roleplay situations are already in a Theatre of Mind setting, it becomes the same way for other scenarios where you would typically have a visual representation (e.g., D&D combat). Here’s what you need to keep in mind if you’re attempting to play D&D without using minis:

Expand on your Theatre of the Mind skills

The DM and players need to be highly descriptive in what they do, especially if there’s also no map to look at. For years, D&D was played with no characters or maps, just with the power of imagination.

More responsibility from the DM

When going the Theatre of the Mind approach, a lot of responsibility rests on the DM to set up each and every scene. It’s because of this that minis and battle maps are so widely used. It’s way easier to point to a reference instead of having to remember where everything is. For example, in every turn of a combat, a DM will need to fully describe the scene, offer the players various options to choose from, and be a bit less critical when it comes to players trying things out.

To explain what’s happening in a combat, specifically, the DM should describe the following to players:

  • Where are enemies in relation to the player characters?
  • Are there any enemies within melee striking distance of player characters?
  • Are enemies close enough for ranged attacks?
  • Explain the distance between enemies and players

Responsibility from players

Players, on the other hand, have additional responsibility as well. Because there is more that needs to be remembered from the DM, players need to be actively involved with what’s happening, doing their best to commit things to memory. You can’t simply sit back on your phone, waiting for your turn to attack. It’s required to be involved the entire session. By following what’s happening and describing your intent when it’s your turn, the DM can weave the story in the way that makes sense.

Become an expert at D&D roleplay

Roleplay is one example of a part of D&D that doesn’t need a miniature, map, or anything else. All that’s needed for D&D roleplay is communication between at least two people. It’s in roleplay instances where some of the most memorable situations happen! Click here to learn how to roleplay in DnD.

Adventures and Dungeon Crawling

A great example of becoming an expert in D&D roleplay would be in adventure or dungeon crawl situations. Assuming your characters aren’t being constantly attacked, these situations are perfect for additional roleplay opportunities. Many current and future D&D players assume that the game is centered around combat, but that’s not necessarily true.

D&D campaigns with no miniatures can be much more involved in roleplays like this, which will help players and the DM get a more vivid mental picture of who all the characters are. If anything, this will make the game even better because it forces players to get more active and descriptive. With minis, it can be very easy to be less involved, even lazy at times.

Get more involved in D&D games

There are specific games that have been created for D&D campaigns, and all you need is some dice. No minis, no map, just dice. So, how do you play DnD Dice games? One of my favorites is called Hand of Fate. Similar to Texas Hold ’em, this game starts with player buy-in (usually 50 GP). From there, a player rolls 1d12, not revealing the roll to other players. Depending on the roll, players can fold, call, or raise their bets if they feel their roll is high.

Once the first round is done, the DM will roll a community die, giving every player two die to work with. From here, players are given one last chance to adjust bets before everyone reveals their dice roll. The player with the highest number between their roll and the community die is gets 80% of what’s in the pot, with 20% going back to the DM.

Visualize with a map

At the end of the day, you may feel like you’re trying to commit too much to memory in a short time by playing D&D without any physical representation or visualization whatsoever. Including a map is a great start. Again, this doesn’t require using miniatures.

Visualize D&D with hand-drawn maps

An age-old solution to D&D visualization is by creating hand-drawn maps. You can start very simply by just using a sheet of printer paper. To make it a little easier, though, I’d suggest buying a battle map, though. It comes with a grid (which makes for easy representation of distance), and can be drawn on with dry-erase markers.

Visualize D&D with an app like Roll20

The creation of Roll20 was a huge unlock for creating D&D maps. There are so many features that make it a must-have, especially for D&D sessions that are not in person. This ever-evolving virtual tabletop tool allows for everything from simple map upload, to advanced features like Fog of War (hide sections of the map you don’t want players to see). Even in person, I’ve personally connected my laptop to a TV screen to project a Roll20 map. It’s a life-saver!

Frequently asked questions

Can you play Dungeons and Dragons without buying anything?

Of course! Although some of the items you could buy will make for a much better experience, you can definitely play a game of D&D without buying anything.

Do you need a mat for DnD?

Not at all! I mentioned buying an RPG battle mat because it can be a very useful tool, but it’s optional.

How do you play D&D without a board?

Playing D&D without a board requires a higher amount of roleplay and description. Instead of saying, “I’d like to move here,” you’re now asking for a description of where the other characters are in the world and saying, “I’d like my character to move closer to the back of the room.”

What can I use instead of miniatures in D&D

If you’re wanting to use something else instead of miniatures in D&D, there are a few suggestions. There are many alternatives you may already have around the house that you’ve purchased before, or were given as a gift. Here’s what I’d suggest:

  • Coins
  • Extra dice
  • Lego figures
  • Candy
  • Pen or dry-erase caps
  • Minis from other games

Can you use Warhammer minis for D&D?

Absolutely, and this is actually part of the previous question. Instead of using D&D specific minis, you can use Warhammer minis for D&D.

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