A multifaceted blog on RPGs

A Variant on Minions in D&D

In D&D 4E on January 26, 2009 at 7:53 am

I’ve been DMing and playing 4E D&D for six months now. Though I generally like the 4th edition and I think it’s the strongest, most cohesive edition so far of the game (I really can’t see myself going back to 3.5 now), I have some pet peeves in the new system. One of those peeves is about the minions. In short, they die too easily. Read more on how we solved this!

Now don’t get me wrong, minions are supposed to die easily and they are supposed to play easily. Not needing to track the HP and roll for damage can be a blessing when throwing 10-15 minions on the characters. But when none of these 15 live past their second round, engulfed in fire shrouds and knocked out by sweeping blows, they seem to be little more than window dressing.
So, we made a change a couple of nights ago, minions suddenly got some hit points. Not much, mind you, but enough to make them last a bit longer. We settled for giving them lvl x 2 HP, meaning a lvl 6 minion suddenly got 12 HP.

First I was afraid that this would lead to unbalanced encounters, but so far, this hasn’t become a problem. In my opinion, minions were underpowered before, they are more on par now. They still succumb to area attacks, but they take two hits to take down instead of one.

It’s a bit extra bookkeeping, but so far, I’ve felt that it’s very much worth it. How do you play your minions? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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  1. That’s a great idea but I don’t think it’ll scale well all the way to level 30. I’m a little wary of the extra bookkeeping required, too. You might have better luck leaving their HP at 1 but giving your minions some form of damage reduction… perhaps linked to their damage output? As an example, a minion that does 4 damage on a basic attack could have Resist 4 (damage x 1.5) All. This way the minion would survive all the weaksauce damage rolls in the world (without ANY extra bookkeeping on your part!), but would go down in one hit on any half-decent roll.

    Also it’s been theorized on the D&D blogosphere that an overhaul of minion mechanics is in the works at Wizards HQ.

    Good blog! I’m bookmarking it.

  2. sorry, that was supposed to be “(damage x 1)”.

  3. That’s actually a pretty good idea! Another solution might be to say that they have some kind of Damage Threshold equal to their level. If they take damage more than their damage threshold, they die, if they take damage less than their threshold, they become bloodied. Bloodied minions die if they take any damage. This way the bookkeeping is kept to a minimum (e.g. by using the Alea Tools or other bloodied markers).

    Minion mechanics are in need of an overhaul, good to hear that they might be working on it.

    Thanks for the kind words :)

  4. An idea I’ve thought of using would be simply to say that a minion takes two regular hits or one critical hit to defeat. That way there is still no hp to track, and no new game mechanics to add, but you would get a slightly tougher minion.

  5. That’s also perfectly doable! I like the “Death Threshold” idea more and more though. Crits are a bit too rare in my opinion, you should down a minion with a solid hit, you just shouldn’t down them ny tickling them, that’s how I see it. I’m going to try out the Death Threshold thing and might edit the article afterwards if it turns out well.

  6. What about a compromise, if a minion is struck by damage less than their damage threshold they roll a saving throw. If successful they become bloodied, if failed they die. If struck by more than the threshold they just die.

    • It’s a good idea, but it adds a die roll, I try to keep my minion bookkeeping to aminimum to be able to use lots of them without hanging up combat. For now, I’ve settled for a death threshold equal to lvl*1,5 (round down) and automatic bloodied if hit and not killed, automatic dead if hit and already bloodied. This works pretty well at lower lvls at least, I don’t know how well it will scale. Decent minion-killer attacks still wipe them out, but casual splash damage doesn’t quite as well.

  7. I think whether or not it scales properly is going to have a lot to do with what the damage output for typical players in Paragon and Epic tiers is. I haven’t gotten that far and thus haven’t given it a good hard look, but my guess is that a damage threshold of 45 (for a lvl 30 minion, if such a thing exists) is a bit high. That’s why I suggested basing it somehow on damage output. Since the minions’ damage output is already properly scaled from 1 to 30, this gives us a decent base to work with, and a low number to hit. We don’t want to make them HARD to kill, just not so incredibly easy.

    I like the idea of making them bloodied and removing the damage threshold if the first successful attack against them doesn’t kill them outright. That addresses the one concern I had with my original suggestion: that a long series of low damage rolls could conceivably make a minion harder to kill than a regular monster.

  8. That’s a good idea, I missed that in your comment before. from my experience, I’d say death threshold = double their damage output, that way decent attacks take them down and splash damage doesn’t. A way to express the rules would be that an unhurt minion becomes bloodied on a hit and a bloodied minion dies on a hit. In addition to this, a minion that takes damage from one attack equal to or in excess of its death threshold dies immediately.

    The bloodied marker also means you don’t have to keep track of their hit points wich is nuisance if you have 20 minions strolling about the map :)

  9. That’s good. To build on it though, I believe all minions’ damage output is the equivalent to the minimum damage roll for a normal monster of their level and role. Another solution (that would scale better, I think) is to base it on the median damage roll instead. Same principle, different means of getting there (and slightly varied output). If a level X brute does 2d8, the minion version of that would do 2 damage. Double that is 4, median is 8. Either way scales, and because of the bloodied marker, there’s really no extra bookkeeping required.

    There’s the issue of the extra damage rolls, though… although when I DM, I find making the players roll damage for minions helps to preserve the immersion that usually gets broken when the players become conditioned to pick out the minions and exploit their mechanics.

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