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On Minions

Minions are a neat idea in 4E that in practice end up rather meh. The idea is to be able to fill a room with monsters and have the heroes spend time mowing through them, getting to feel awesome while the real foes get themselves into position, do buffs, and what-have-you.

The difference between a "minion" and "just a really low-level monster," is that minions have the similar attacks and defenses to other "on-level" foes ... but they only have 1 hit point. In short, they're made of paper.

Sounds good in theory; in practice, minions don't usually last past the first round. The party wizard tosses out his AoE attack, and the minions are all gone -- very often without even having had a turn.

But! The idea is still worth trying to salvage. So today for my Giants game, I started putting together a usable "Minion" NPC class for 3.5. What I came up with is pretty simple:

HD: 1 hp/level.
BAB: +1/level.
Fort/Ref/Will: +1/2 level, rounded down.
Class AC Bonus: +1/2 level, rounded down. (Does not stack with worn armor, but does stack with natural armor.)
Proficiencies: All Simple and Martial Weapons; Light, Medium, Heavy Armor, and Shields.
Skill Points: 2 + Int mod/level (8 + Int mod at 1st level)
Class Skills: Balance, Climb, Hide, Intimidate, Jump, Listen, Move Silently, Ride, Search, Spot, Swim, Tumble
Special: Minion weapons all do damage as if they are size Medium or the minion's actual size, whichever is smaller.
CR: Total levels -4 or CR 1/4, whichever is higher

It's sort of a half-class, half-template, as you replace all of a given critter's hit dice or levels with minion levels, rather than stacking the Minion levels on top of their hit dice as you would with another class. For example, an ogre normally starts with four hit dice; if you wanted to make an 8th level ogre warrior, they'd have 4d8 (humanoid) + 4d8 (class) ... which would give them a huge pile of hit points that they really don't need if they're going to be cannon fodder. So instead, you strip out all their racial hit dice (and associated feats, stat raises, etc.) and just give them 8 levels of minion. The result looks something like this:

Ogre Minion

CR 4, CE Large Giant Minion 8
Init +0; Spd 25
Senses Darkvision (Ex): 60 ft., Low-light Vision (Ex) Listen +5, Spot +6

AC 17 (FF 17, Touch 9)
hp 24 (HD 8+16)
Saves Fort +8, Ref +6, Will +6

Atk +12/+7 base melee, +7/+2 base ranged;
Grapple +17; Face 10'x10'; Reach 10'
Melee +13/+8 Greatclub 1d10+7
Ranged +7/+2 Javelin 1d6+5

Abilities STR 20/+5, DEX 10/+0, CON 15/+2, INT 6/-2, WIS 10/+0, CHA 7/-2
Feats Armor Proficiency: light, medium, heavy; Cleave, Power Attack, Shield Proficiency, Simple Weapon Proficiency, Weapon Focus: Greatclub
Skills Climb +2, Jump +2, Listen +5, Spot +6

Possessions Greatclub; Javelin; Hide Armor, 3d6 gp

Note that this particular minion is intended to go into an 8th-level(ish) encounter, but is only CR 4. That's partly due to the wonky math of 3.x encounter balancing. With only 24 hit points, this would be a lousy foe to throw solo at four 4th-level characters. They'd chew him up, and it's not what he's intended for.

But the 3.x CR/EL system has built into it the idea that if one creature is "EL," then two of the same creature is "EL+2," and four is "EL+4." Thus, if you want the equivalent of one CR 8 foe, you have four CL 4 minions. It's wonky, but the 3.x CR/EL system has always been wonky.

Note also that he still comes out with 24 hit points. That's not enough to survive a big ol' fireball to the face, but it's probably enough to survive if he makes his saving throw. Similarly, it's probably too high for the fighter to one-punch him at 8th level unless the fighter is really tricked-out or manages to crit. I haven't decided if that's a bug or a feature. My original idea was that the minion would get 1 hit point per level and then his Con bonus once ... which in the case of the ogre minion here would give him 10 hit points total, definitely in one-punch range for just about any 8th level character no matter what they're doing. But that seemed too low, leading to the same problem with 4E minions, i.e., that they die before they even get a chance to go.

Another option would be for them to get 1/2 a hit point plus their Con bonus per level. For the ogre here that would still put him at 20 hit points, which makes him a two-hitter for the average 8th level fighter (which might be feasible with a full attack at +9/+4 or so). Finally, there's the possibility that they only get their Con bonus/level and no hit points for the class, with a minimum of 1 hp/level for those sickly minions with a Con of 11 or lower, and possibly a maximum of 4 hp/level for those tankety minions with Con 19+. That would put our ogre here at 16 hp ... which an 8th level fighter might be able to do on a really good round, especially with Power Attack, but isn't so low that he might as well not roll the dice at all.

Hmm. Must ponder!

-The Gneech


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 16th, 2010 03:43 am (UTC)
As a concept, i like it. Some play-testing should give us an idea of which ways to best tweak it.
Feb. 16th, 2010 07:20 am (UTC)
Hmm, interesting. I've had mooks in a convention Ironclaw session that B'silver was going, sword slice, move on to the next, later, rinse repeat.

On the other hand, I think the fact that we went through the hired muscle so fast, just reinforced to their employer to not trifle with us, even if he didn't want to fight us in the first place.
Feb. 16th, 2010 01:24 pm (UTC)
This is another thing, I think, that they borrowed from WoW. Their intent, I suspect, is to have a difference between "Elites" and "Normals." I've seen minions make it past the first round many a time. Plus, I've seen them called in in waves/phases. Many of the LFR stuff involves minions supporting boss characters.

So, like all else, they can be annoying. In fact, I've seen minions kill players in a phased fight. One I was in had a boss character and a "runner minion." That minion, if he got past the door, summoned ten minions and another boss in five turns.

It was painful.
Feb. 16th, 2010 01:54 pm (UTC)
Well yeah, there's plenty of ways to get around the "fireball takes out all the minions at once" problem, including deliberately spacing them out so they're not all in the blast radius, or putting a lot of cover for them to hide behind, or whatever else. But in a "typical" D&D encounter, heroes kicking in the door of a more-or-less rectangular room in the 40' x 40' range, minions are toast.

The other problem with 1 hp minions, is that my players just love to roll damage. In the 4E games we've done, even knowing they were hitting minions, they rolled anyway for the visceral joy of laying 2d8+7 points of damage on some mook. Giving minions "just enough" hit points that they can be taken out with a good hit but aren't a guaranteed "1 hit = 1 kill" adds to the thrill of the fight, I think.

-The Gneech
Feb. 16th, 2010 02:39 pm (UTC)
Not a bad idea - I like the idea that minions don't just have a single hit point. An ogre, even if he's "just" a minion, is a hulk compared to PCs. He should have some damage absorbtion capability.

You might also consider granting minions Evasion and/or Improved Evasion; that would allow them some proof against those pesky AoE attacks. Probably won't allow a bunch of minions to completely ignore a fireball dropped in their midst, but it would mean that a certain percentage of them would survive having such a grenade tossed at them.

Oh, and don't ever put together a lich minion. That was the entry that almost led to me pitching the 4e MM across the room...
Feb. 16th, 2010 02:49 pm (UTC)
Well yeah, some things just shouldn't be minions, by their nature. Dragons, ferinstance. Most undead past the "skeleton" or "zombie" level (although vampire spawn might be an exception). Things Man Should Not Know. Stuff like that.

Goblins and kobolds, now? They're practically minions right out the gate!

-The Gneech
Feb. 16th, 2010 06:26 pm (UTC)
The way I've seen minions used to best effect:

1. They're spread out - too much distance for one AoE to get 'em.

2. Mix them with non-minion characters, so you have to figure out which ones are one-hit wonders. Also, spread them about.

3. Minion with auras/bonuses, so if they can flank you, they get bonuses.

4. Minion with passive annoying ability - sure, you kill the minion, but then the boss gets a free attack on you. Or they explode. Or something.

5. Extra-tough minions - you hit them, you do "damage" but they don't die. They're bloodied now. The next time they take "damage" they die. And the damage is in quotes, because there are some abilities that trigger if a critter takes real damage. Minions, even two-hit ones, don't take damage for real because of those abilities.

Mind you, we're 17th level now, so they've been getting tougher as we go, but it's still an important concept.
Feb. 16th, 2010 11:21 pm (UTC)
so this is like mooks in feng shui. i don't really have a problem with pcs having something that they explicitly conceptualize as a mook-clearing attack, and fireball is kinda that already... so if i filled a room with 1hp monsters i'd probably be thinking "these are here for the wizard to show off her fireball on." ;)

though i like the concept mechanically, i prefer for the characteristics of enemies to follow some sort of game-world logic, though-- in a fantasy game i'd probably only do this with a few specific types of creatures that were known to be like this. so maybe, you know, giant insects show up in large numbers and have big attacks but individually take almost no damage to kill (in 3e this seems to be basically true, until you get to really large giant bugs); shadows have a nasty attack and are hard to damage but dissolve back into darkness immediately when you do manage it; identical troops created by the evil wizard by dark magic are strong and deadly but dissolve into goo once their armor is pierced; etc. then pcs can have a game-world reason to know they're facing "minions" who'll go down easily once damaged.

i usually describe extra-spectacular deaths when pcs roll ridiculous damage against something with few base hp. :)

(in practice i create monsters out of whole cloth in my game about half the time anyway, and i'm finding the 3e monster manual to be way less useful than the 1e one in terms of describing a whole gameworld, anyway; so i do find it useful to think in terms of metagaming roles for monsters like this. but i prefer it to make in-game sense for them to have few hp also...)
Feb. 17th, 2010 04:15 am (UTC)
The problem in 3.x (and earlier versions as well, for that matter) is that going by the numbers, anything with 1 hp is not likely to be able to actually do anything against the heroes anyway, so why waste your fireball? Just ignore 'em.

There are ways to get around that, with "aid another," mob templates, and that kind of thing, but they have a tendency to be pretty clunky in practice. The minion rules, while they are rather "game artifacty," are built to compensate for another "game artifact."

And within the world of the game, it's not like the minions go around wearing t-shirts that say "Minion" (unless maybe your campaign is based on Order of the Stick). You can probably make an educated guess that if the room is full of goblins, most of them are probably minions ... but you don't know which ones aren't until you actually engage. And unlike days of old, a room full of goblins, even if they are made of paper, can still be dangerous! Moria is a lot scarier if the goblins can actually hurt you...

-The Gneech
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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