My introduction to tabletop gaming comes from wargames. That Warhammer 40k 2nd Edition starter set sparked something that would change me. I've always been a visual person. Drew a lot as a kid, my dad got me into model kits for a bit. When I got in table top wargames, my models got a heck of a lot more expensive and I was painting miniatures. Fast forward many years and a long hiatus from the hobby and I got back into minis via the Privateer Press route.
When I started playing D&D 4E, the DM had minis, I built some sweet terrain tiles out of insulation foam and painted up a bunch of the minis that would be used for our PCs. When I started my own campaign, I drew up the paper minis or token pieces in a neat art style. I love things to be "pretty".
Well, last Monday in my friend Kris's D&D campaign, the minis were left at the store that he works at so we had to improvise. Bottle caps, glass beads, coins and laundry tokens and a deck box would represent us and our opposition on the battle mat. Pretty? Not at all. Did we have fun that night? Absofrickinlutely!
Aside from having to double check what represented what on a somewhat regular basis, the components were there. It was a great excercise in letting the bells and whistles go and setting my imagination loose.
Now I'm not saying that I'd intensionally want to play in this manner again any time soon, but it's great to know that as long as there's a good story, a good group to play with and some rum handy, you can keep on playing and have a blast. Yes, I'm aware that a lot of people actually don't use any minis at all in previous editions of D&D along with other RPGs.
Honestly, I feel that the minis aspect and grid have turn D&D for many into a combat board game. Not hating on those who are perfectly satisfied with it but I do hope that those who are pretty immersed in D&D do try to experience more possible aspects of the game to just enrich their experiences or use it to enforce why they like what already they do about it. It's always what's natural but I think it'd also be great for people who can be boxed into a label of watcher, narrator, actor, slayer, etc to intensionally try and be something else for at least one session. Who knows what different sides of you could be unlocked.