I’m a big fan of minions and use them frequently when running my Dungeons & Dragons campaign. The simple mechanics allow fast-moving fights that simulate the quick skirmishes against faceless troops seen in action movies.
In a game session a couple of weeks ago, my paragon tier player characters were facing off against a group of soldiers. I wanted to drive home that these were just standard soldiers and not really on the same level as the PCs, so I decided to use minions for all of the soldiers except the squad’s leader who would be a normal monster. While the encounter’s xp budget was about on par with a normal encounter, it definitely didn’t play out as very challenging. The party’s sorcerer easily cut down most of the soldiers in the first round and most died before getting into melee. That encounter got me to start thinking about changes to make minions more interesting while keeping them easy to track and weaker than standard monsters.
Since 4E’s release, I’ve seen a few different ideas for making minions a little tougher:
I’ve seen this presented a few different ways, but the basic idea is to make it take two successful attacks or auto-damage effects to kill a minion. The idea is that they still play quickly and can be used in larger numbers, but they’ll last twice as long in a fight as a normal minion. The main drawback that I see with this mechanic is that it adds health tracking for each minion which requires a bit more work on the DM side of the screen.
Minion Saving Throws
An alternative idea that doesn’t require any tracking is to give minions a saving throw to avoid dying when they take damage. Since saving throws succeed 55% of the time, this rule on average is about the same as two-hit minions. The advantage is that there isn’t any extra tracking and it also adds some randomness to the encounter so that player’s can’t easily predict how long each minion will stay on its feet. On the other side, the randomness can make encounter planning a little trickier since the toughness of a minion is pretty swingy (45% take 1 hit, 25% take 2 hits, 14% take 3 hits, …).
Since I wasn’t really happy with either of those rules, I kept thinking about other alternatives and came up with an idea I liked during the last week.
When building an encounter featuring a large number of minions, place the minions in groups of 4-8 which will share a pool of 2-6 resolve points. A group of minions should not start an encounter with more resolve points than the number of minions. When a minion is reduced to 0 hp, you may spend one of the group’s resolve points to return the minion to 1 hp. This ability cannot be used if the minion was reduced to 0 hp by a critical hit or a daily power.
I like this rule when it popped into my head for a few reasons. First, it doesn’t require any health tracking for individual minions (only for the groups), so it should be easy for a DM to manage. It also has a fixed limit on the number of extra hits required, so it adds less randomness to the encounter. As a nice little bonus, it also makes the encounter front-heavy with the minions tougher early in an encounter (only going down to crits/dailies), but then once a turning point is hit the encounter speeds up and the minions all drop on their next hit.
Last weekend, I was able to try out the mechanics in a couple encounters and was pretty happy with how they worked out. It seemed like the players felt a little more threatened by their enemies, but I was still able to run all of the minions with minimal paperwork and keep the encounter moving fast despite a large number of enemies.