I'm looking to run a game for a few of my friends but unfortunately I don't really have the money to start ordering figures. I know that cheap alternatives to minis exist (I was actually looking into gluing pictures of monsters on metal washers) but if I can run the game just with spoken word that would work out great. Dice rolls would still be happening but without a battlemap. Do you have any advice on running a game with just descriptions of events or cheap alternatives to Minis/Battlemaps?
I just printed pictures onto note cards using this design, cut them out, folded and glued them with a coin glued to the inside of the base for weight. (Sorry for the picture for ants, but I'm not sure which hard drive my files are on, and only the thumbnail is saved in the archive.) It actually ends up being pretty substantial feeling given that it's cardstock, relatively small, and has overlapping sides and bottoms (and the weight glued to the bottom). It's basically shaped like a cheese wedge, only the fat end is flat rather than rounded. And once you've got the geometrical design, it's a breeze to cut and paste pictures onto the front and back.
Well, any sort of grid will do in a pinch, and I've seen people using chessboards before (though 8x8 is pretty small for great halls and outdoor battles). I've just printed out room grids onto paper before--go black and white if you want to save money, or just the grid lines if you really want to save ink.
Also, you can go freeform and use rulers to determine how far people can move, if you want. If you do this, I'd suggest either pegging standard movement to a ruler size, or cutting out something out that's the appropriate length to use as a proverbial yard stick, so you don't usually have to actually count inches, but can instead just lay the thing down, and move your figure to the end of it (or anywhere short of that). I know it doesn't seem like much of a difference, but it really will save you time and hassle.
>f I can run the game just with spoken word that would work out great
It depends at least somewhat on the game, but most systems can be played just fine without miniatures. You just give a general description of where everybody is, then give players the benefit of the doubt as far as who they can get to or get past, since obviously they won't have a perfect mental picture of what's going on in your head. I start off by describing the battlefield, but once combat is joined, I generally narrow the descriptions for each player according to what's going on with their character. They can ask about somebody or something in particular (which is basically just their character looking to see what's up with that), but in order to get a more detailed description of the battlefield at that point, their character may have to take a moment and look around (probably giving up an action, or at least only performing the sort of action they can do while surveying the field).
I should add that in cases where there's a lot going on with the battlefield, or things might be confusing for one reason or another, you can always make a quick sketch of the battlefield on a piece of scrap paper and/or use "dice graphics", arranging the dice to represent the general location of each person on the battlefield ("the red d6s are the goblins..."). It's more of a snapshot sort of thing though, and you don't expect folks to actually move the dice around as if they were minis.
Have you tried not playing D&D?
No, seriously. D&D and its derivatives are the only games I ever played that needed miniatures.
Most systems aren't so combat heavy that they need more than words. A sketch and some tokens are often useful, but you can easily do without.
I once tried DMing an RPG for some friends and when I needed to show positions of characters for battles, I'd just keep a notebook with me and draw quick circles/sketches with letters to identify characters or enemies.
Of course, I was also a pretty shitty DM.