Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Building the Bestiary #1: Humanoids

This column will be the first in an irregular series of articles in which I will give examples of how I've approached building LEGO models of various creatures for use as RPG miniatures. My earlier article, "How to Cheat (at Building) a Dragon," could be considered part of this series as well. You will probably also want to check out the following older posts, which review various products for the usefulness of their minifigures:
For this first installment, we'll start simple, with humanoids. A wide variety of humanoid species can be created by equiping basic minifigures with various accessories. The collectible Minifigures series are a great source for nonhuman characters and parts, as are several other LEGO themes: Castle/Kingdom, Star Wars, Legends of Chima, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit. and others.

The pregenerated PCs from Death in Freeport (L-R):
Malevir (half-elf) sorcerer, Rollo (gnome fighter), Alaina (human rogue), Thorgrim (dwarf cleric).
First, let's look at the classic player character races, from the D&D Player's Handbook and Pathfinder Core Rulebook.

Dwarves: The Castle and LOTR/Hobbit themes have included a number of fine dwarf minifigures. Lacking those parts, a dwarf can be easily built by adding a beard to a minifigure and replacing the legs with shorter legs--the dwarf/child short leg pieces, a pair of 1x1 bricks or cylinders, or a 1x2 bamboo brick.

Elves: There was a single medieval fantasy elf (Minifigures Series 3) released before the LOTR theme, and a Holiday Elf produced since then (Series 11). The new LEGO Elves theme provides minidoll elves, whose pointy-eared hair pieces can also be worn by minifigures. Apart from those characters, I have used Castle forestmen for elves, and other figures with green and brown garments are useful, too. Ethnic faces such as those from Old West tribemen or the original Ninja theme are good for giving your elves an exotic look. (I used the latter for the half-elf Malevir, pictured above.)

Gnomes: Gnomes can be built much like dwarves or halflings. Pathfinder gnomes may have unusually-colored hair and skin, so if you have appropriate parts, use them to help distinguish your gnomes from the other short races.

Half-Elves: Decide which parent the half-elf favors, and build accordingly.

Half-Orcs: Some years before the LOTR orcs and Hobbit goblins were released, the Castle/Kingdoms line included some sets with "trolls," which were basically green-faced orcs with tusk-like fangs. Other green-skinned minifigures (such as Green Goblin and the Wicked Witch) may prove useful, as will various near-human Star Wars aliens. For less bestial half-orcs, look for savage-looking characters such as the uglier Castle bandits, and Darth Vader's scarred, gray face.

Halflings: Use hobbit minifigures, or put shorter legs on human bodies (see Dwarves, above). D&D and Pathfinder halfling men tend to have pronounced sideburns, so look for faces to match. If you want your halflings to look like true half-pints, try using Heroica microfigures--but note that those characters can't be customized easily.

Kodath (half-orc) samurai and wu jen, from True20 Freeport: The Lost Island.
A couple of subraces deserve comment because of their distinctive appearances:

Drow (dark elves) have black skin and white hair, though brown skin and light gray or tan hair would work just as well. Marvel's Storm is an ideal choice here--she even has the white eyes seen in many drow portraits. A small number of other brown heads are available, scattered across a few different themes. Darth Maul and Ninjago's Lord Garmadon and Stone Army provide black heads; their bizarre markings might be appropriate for certain individual drow. Finally, the Spider Lady's outfit (Minifigures Series 14) makes perfect vestments for a priestess of Lolth.

(I'll address aquatic elves in a future column, when I talk about underwater races.)

Svirfneblin (deep gnomes) have gray skin and hair (though males are bald). Peeves (Harry Potter), Darth Vader, the gargoyle (Minifigures Series 14), and some statues have gray heads. Alternately, use the plain gray "statue" microfigures that appear in some LOTR and Heroica sets, or the Golems from Caverns of Nathuz.

Now we'll look at the most common savage humanoid races from the D&D Monster Manual and Pathfinder Bestiary.

Orcs: See Half-Orcs, above.

Goblinoids (bugbears, goblins, hobgoblins): Use green-skinned orc/goblin/troll minifigures for goblins (see Half-Orcs, above), but with shorter legs. Other varieties of goblins have appeared in the Harry Potter theme and Minifigures Series 13; Dobby and Yoda also make serviceable goblins. Alternately, use Heroica goblin microfigures (from Draida Bay and Castle Fortaan). One advantage of these smaller figures is that when you need a wolf-rider, the microfigure can be snapped onto the back-stud of a LEGO dog.

D&D hobgoblins have orange or red-orange skin, so use orange-, red-, and tan-skinned goblin/orc minifigures (or the red-skinned villains in the new Nexo Knights series). In Pathfinder and some D&D worlds, hobgoblins are members of the "green races," just like goblins and orcs. In that case, you'll need to differentiate them in some other way, such as the Asian-influenced arms and armor they were depicted using in 1st Edition.

Bugbears are larger (though still Medium), and hairier, so use Wookiees (or Ewoks given normal-length legs), Yeti or Squarefoot (from Series 11 and 14), or the human-headed type of Wolfmen.  If you have any Harry Potter sets, a Hagrid figure with a more monstrous head works well to convey a bugbear's relative size to smaller goblinoids.

For a serpent person, add a
clip-plate for a forked tongue. 
Reptilian Humanoids (kobolds, lizardfolk, troglodytes): A variety of reptile-headed minifigures have been released in the past--Greedo, Lizard Suit Guy (Series 5), the Serpentine of Ninjago, and the Crocodile tribe of Legends of Chima--any of which would be suitable for lizardfolk or troglodytes. Kobolds can be created by giving those same creatures shorter legs.

If you have no suitable heads, try a 1x2 brick with a hole in the center. Stick the neck post into one half of the brick, and place 1x2 round tiles in the holes for eyes. This makes a simple, forward-thrust animal head.

Gnolls: For the hyena-headed gnolls, use werewolves (Series 14, Monster Fighters, or the much older LEGO Studios theme), Anubis warriors (Pharoah's Quest), or Wolf Tribe characters (Legends of Chima).

[This article was edited 3/17/2016 to add LEGO Elves. Thanks to Donald Eric Kesler for reminding me of that theme!]


  1. The relatively recent series, Elves, greatly expands upon the available hair styles for, you guessed it, elf characters.

    1. I should have remembered those! I'll edit to correct that omission.

  2. This is a great guide. I basically do the same thing, with some modifications for the contents of my collection:

    I use the flesh-colored heads from the licensed sets to represent elves, half-elves, and humans with pale skin. Most of the elf ear hairpieces have pale ears, so you basically have to use them with pale heads unless you paint the ears yellow. Normal yellow Lego heads represent people with normal or darker skin.

    I use normal legs for dwarves, because they are Medium creatures; I save the small legs for Small sized creatures.

    I have a lot of Chima minifigs, so I replace the molded heads with hats and helmets (that cover the back of the head) and use them for goblinoids. That are not exactly like the D&D pictures, but they work fine.

    The Chima elephant people make good Giff, if you are running Spelljammer.