I was appalled when I went to a game store and checked on prices for new figures. The painted D&D ones were pretty outrageous, at least my cheap self. Almost $13 for 3 figures in the Dungeon and Dragons Players Handbook Heroes Miniatures Arcane Characters 3. Now, if I had Robin Williams’ or Vin Diesel’s cash, I’d go out and get some cool lead miniatures painted by the pros. I wouldn’t buy these plastic things, which are pretty poorly painted. Even I did a better job when I was a kid! So these are right out.
I’m a cheap sod, so as I’ve already mentioned, I use either old Pokemon figures or game tokens for monsters I just can’t find. A lot of old plastic toys, including the ones from fast food restaurants, have found our way into our game over the years because I can buy them for very little at garage sales and such. Some of the original D&D monsters (Rust Monster for example) started this way, so there are adequate precedents for their use.
For new figures, I can use my big collection of Cardboard Heroes from Steve Jackson games. These come now in PDF format and you can make as copies as you like. I have the book that came out a few years ago, and a lot of these were in different games from Fantasy Trip on back in the day. They are also pretty easy to make, so if you want unique monsters, just draw it in a standard marker on 8.5×11″ paper, outline it with a thick Sharpy, then shrink it down to the desired size. Color it, then copy it (or vice versa) and again you can have a lot of custom characters. I made some custom monsters, fighting armor, and female characters that way. I protect mine by covering them with Avery Laminating Sheets. You can get a box of 50 sheets from Sears for $13.78, which will last you a lifetime. The great thing is that there is a cottage industry around the home production and sharing of these. I’ve downloaded a bunch over the years. A quick search for “download cardboard miniatures” found Leif & Maria’s web pages, where you can get some cardboard centaurs, including a centaur knight. Cool!
Toysmith Guardian Knights are a little early for my game. They look like they’re from the 1200s and are better suited to Chivalry & Sorcery. Chrusaders Figure Playset is closer, as they seem to be wearing bascinets, so I’d place them about 1350-1400. That’s about right, and you even get some crossbowmen. You’ll get a number of mounted knights with that set though, although I guess you could use those for overland encounters.
The Dragons & Knights Figure Playset is inappropriately named, as there’s no dragons! But you do get two winged horses, which are useful. I can’t tell much from the pictures, but the knights look pretty cheesy, but that could work in D&D, and besides, it looks like you get a morningstar in there.
I can’t tell what the heck is in the Knights 51 Piece Bucket Play Set, but it seems to include knights, fences, cannon, horses, and swords. Probably not a good buy.
Safari Horses Toobs doesn’t give you much, and is edging up to $1 per figure. The knights are poorly done, about 1350 AD, but you do get a dragon, albeit a very small one. Safari LTD Mythical Realms Tube is better (pictured above). You get a Griffon, Unicorn, Medusa, Phoenix, Manticore, Minotaur, and Neptune. Still pricy, but probably the best you are getting from Safari.