552 – The Council of Erias • 03


Fourth edition D&D has one new thing in it that I love above all others, and that is the concept of minions. Minions bring the crazy, over-the-top bad-assery of movies and books home to your gaming table in a way no other game mechanic ever has.

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, a minion is a non-player character or monster who has levels and powers similar (though often to a lesser degree)  to  normal creatures of it’s type, though it is possessed of but a single hit point. For the non-gamers, it’s a bad guy that any single hit will take out. What this means practically, is that your character gets to look all Billy-badass while he wades through a horde of enemies, swords and spells flashing, foes falling by the wayside like evil, bloody wheat.

Minions are never killed by a miss, even if a miss would ordinarily cause them damage, which keeps them from being irrelevant in a fight. In addition to providing cover for the villain, minions actually require that you take time and address them specifically for them to fall down, thus taking fire for your bigger baddies. They are also easy to run in other ways. Not only are there no pesky hit points to keep track of, but most minions do a static amount of damage… so no dice there either.

I think the basic idea sprang from the old AD&D rule whereby fighters got one attack per level on 1/2 hit die creatures. (Almost all of which would be fatal.) Minions expand and improve the concept by letting all the classes in on the fun. Everyone gets to look like Bruce Lee or the “Dread Pirate” Wesly, artfully and effortlessly kicking the asses of the nameless, faceless background players on their way to the big scary Boss Villain grimacing in the dark.

I use minions liberally in my game, and rejoice when I see them in the game I play in. I think they are fun and help to keep the game light and fast-paced.

Do you use minions? Does your DM? Do you play a different game but might like to see the concept introduced? What’s your take?

37 Responses to 552 – The Council of Erias • 03

  1. I just began running a 4th edition game this past weekend after running a year-long 3.5 game last year. There were no minions in my first session, but I intend there to be at least 1 onslaught of them in the upcoming session on saturday.

    It’ll be a trip, I’m sure.

  2. Fourth edition D&D has one new thing in it that I love above all others, and that is the concept of minions. Minions bring the crazy, over-the-top bad-assery of movies and books home to your gaming table in a way no other game mechanic ever has.
    It has, and more than once. Just look at Feng Shui (Atlas Games) for one of the earliest exemples of such a mechanic.

    Anyway, I like minions, for just the same reasons as you, but they aren’t appropriate to every game.

    • I had never looked at Feng Shui before, that appears to be a fairly awesome game! (No real surprise, with Robin Laws at the helm.)

      I should point out though that the kobold example I mention above predates it by just under twenty years.

      • Well, having extra attacks against weak foes only is quite different from having foes you can kill in one blow, so, to me, the “minions” system is something different from this, although you sure could combine the two systems for extra cinematic action^^

  3. I use third edition versions of this. IE: They’re first level right now, so I just make hp1 AC10 things for them to wade through when appropriate.

    Later on, with a few levels under their belt, I’ll generally make the ‘minions’ fall down on any attack that isn’t poorly rolled for damage. So if he can do 1d10+5 damage and rolls a 1, that one has maybe 8 hp. If this guy over here rolls 4d4, it has maybe 6 or 7 hp. Totally ad hoc’d.

    The players haven’t noticed that I’m cribbing basically the only idea I like from 4th ed, but then, they’re not really gamers anyways.

  4. Okay. There is officially a mechanic if 4th Edition that I like. A lot. However, I have to agree with Vincent; the idea is -not- new. I don’t know the respective publishing dates for Feng Shui and the old James Bond RPG, but Bond -also- had the concept of minions, and they worked in amazingly similar fashion. I forget if it called them minions, or goons, or something similar, but it was very clearly the same concept. That said, the fact that it’s an older concept that has been revived doesn’t change the fact that it’s a Good Thing. Congratulations to WotC; this one was a good call.

    • AD&D came out in 1977, James Bond RPG came out in 1983, and Feng Shui came out in 1996.

      While you are right, that the concept has been around for a while, in my estimation D&D never did enough with it until now. (I assume other games have more fully explored the idea.) I also agree that it was a welcome inclusion!

  5. My DM uses minions. 🙂

    I also use minions. I like the concept. I have played older editions of the game where the DM didn’t track hit points when the group faced a large group of low-level, low hit-point monsters. It was similar to TSED’s way of handling it.

    With both 3.x and 4e, WotC has basically taken the best house rules from over the years and made them official.

  6. While I can understand the concept, I dislike the idea of ‘throw away’ monsters. One of the more memorable games I’ve ever played was against a group of kolbolds. 1/2 hit dice creatures. Not quite 1hp, but a one hit kill was pretty certain. IF WE COULD EVER CATCH THE LITTLE %*@#S!!
    A full night of adventureing, runni g arounda cavern complex trying to catch a few kolbolds who’d squeeze thru small holes, hop thru locking doors, run over rickety bridges that can’t support a larger person, and leaving lots and lots of traps behind themselves.
    I’ve killed plenty of faceless goon monsters…. pretty sure I did…. not certain. Which is the point. I rolled a dice, they died, I forgot about them.
    The only ‘monster’ I recall well was the one that was supposed to get away, and really I recall the bitch fest the DM made after the string of natural 20s (only way we could hit) more then I recall the actaul villian.

    • There is no replacing the feeling of swatting the monster that was supposed to get away. That and the “Hey, what if we used the other door?” style super-easy triumph of a major campaign villain that the DM had been setting up for months? My wife specializes in those.

      • Friend of mine used to do the same. When traveling thru a dungeon, we pretty much wandered and hoped. But every now and then he’d speak up with ‘Let’s take the RIGHT door.’ (which of course was always the door on the right). And there would always be treasure or some such behind that particular door. Occasionally the DM would carefully put things of the LEFT side….. so we’d walk right past those doors, turn around and get them on the way back. Uncanny, really.

  7. Your drawing never ceases to amaze me, Kevin. Way to go.

    By the way, cool nice reunion of baddies there. The rakshasa keeps cracking me up. 😆

  8. Oh thanks Matt! Yeah, I kind of unexpectedly discovered that Tony (the rakshasa) was becoming a favorite of mine as well. I’m having a lot more fun drawing him than I thought I was.

  9. A 4e loving DM tried this on us in 3.5e, with 5 HP baddies. Once I saw what was going on, I empowered a magic missile and spread it across 4 targets, wiping out a good chunk of the current wave of hording baddies with no miss chance, no save. I can see it working in 4e since you don’t have any weak attacks like that, but in 3e I can see it falling apart once players develop counter tactics.

    As for what I think of it in 4e, I think it removes personality from the baddies. Possibility of wounding, capturing, violently interrogating, etc. is nil. Maybe that’s a good thing if players want to wade through their fallen foes, but once they say “Hey, maybe we can RP this and solve it without (as much) fighting” it seems like it would become not as good. That’s what I loved so much about my last gaming group that my current one is missing: Baddies would flee (and show up again to our great annoyance), we’d capture them, we’d make them surrender, we’d be frustrated at the ones carrying healing potions, and we’d be merciful to the stragglers once the fight was won, b/c after all they’re human-oids too. Some would even return the favor. Ya, that was a big chunk of the RP in a low RP group, and it was awesome. The more recent concept of “between battle RP” just rubs me the wrong way; i.e. if RP isn’t involved in solving all your conflicts, then the “RP” you do have is really just a cutscene.

    • Actually, Eric, what you described – Magic Missile-ing and dropping a wave of baddies is *exactly* how minions are supposed to work in 4e (although there are no auto-hits in 4e, but that’s besides the point).

      Minions allow the DM to throw up to four times as many baddies at the players without changing the encounter’s relative threat level. They also work for running mass battles where there are minions on both sides and the DM doesn’t want to track the HP for 40+ guys.

      As far as removing personality of the bad guys, that all depends on the DM. I think having faceless goons makes for a stark contrast with the villains that do have more than 1 hit point, thereby making the main baddies even more memorable because they stand out more.

      And a good DM will never pass up an opportunity, so if it really came down to it, I could promote a minion to “full” monster status on-the-fly if I suddenly found myself with PCs who were intent on capturing one. And lets’ not forget that in 4e you can retroactively declare any hit that drops an enemy to 0 hit points to be a “knockout blow.” I know, kinda lame, but at least the option is there if you really want to take a minion prisoner.

    • I don’t think that personality has anything to do with hit points. I could see maybe making the argument that a DM could “role play” 10 feral goblins more easily than 40, but I doubt that you’d really be getting into any one goblin’s backstory in the middle of combat anyway.

      Minions aren’t really there to provide a role-playing challenge, they’re there to make the players feel powerful and effective, and emulate the scene where the hero wades through hundreds of orcs on his way to the Lich King. What they don’t replace is the monsters, bosses, and other baddies you have always encountered and enjoyed sparring, fighting, and matching wits against. They are an addition, not a replacement. Additionally, as Ron has mentioned, it is far easier now to take prisoners than ever before, especially with minions. Punch ’em in the face, collect ’em later.

      I would say that at least half (and some weeks much more than that) of my game is non-combat role playing. While I have players who prefer the strategy of combat to the “softer” side of the game, I also have players that only seem to “turn on” when the combat is over. One of the most wonderful things about D&D is it’s openness. You really can make any kind of game out of it that you like. There is no right or wrong way to play, other than doing your best to ensure that everyone is having a good time. As a player, I kind of insist on a certain amount of role-play, because it helps me attach to the character and really want to play him. I love the combat, but for me it is only ever in service to the bigger story, which is all about the role play.

  10. im an old school d&d player as most of you know my system(1st edition) doesnt allow for minions only henchmen or followers. henchmen get full xp and treasure shares which makes for players not hiring them because they dont want the xp loss.however if you have the cash you can hire a 10th lvl(or even higher) henchman who will fight for you as long as you pay him well ,evening out the odds on a particularly difficult monster or task. chars that reach name lvl (9) get followers that will serve until death or reaching name lvl themselves.followers only receive 10%xp from the char so they lvl really slowly regardless if they are fighting or not. they all can die just as a char can if they are there and they are in combat making them a legal target for monsters.henchmen can be replaced followers cannot.

    the rakshasa is a nice addition
    ive always liked the picture in the 1st e.monster manual of the rakshasa smoking a bowl

    • 1st ed AD&D has 1/2 hit die monsters, which are sort of similar in idea. The benefit to minions is that you can make them out of any kind of monster (not just kobolds) to heighten the drama of a scene without placing it over the characters’ heads.

      As far as xp goes, I admit I am a complete heretic in this regard. I haven’t counted up monster xp in years. I simply decide how many sessions I want to go before the party levels and give them the appropriate fraction. You could do the same thing with AD&D, by picking one table, say the fighter table, and basing all your xp rewards on how fast you want the fighter to level. Everyone else will level at their correct pace.

  11. To be dreadfully honest (and I may have mentioned this before) I don’t play D&D anymore. My last group was playing Star Wars when we quit playing (my buddy lost his job and had to spend all his time looking for a new one. It was his house we were playing at, so….) Anyway I like this idea of minions though. As the group’s GM I do believe that next time we get together and play I’m going to start using that idea a lot. Sort of did that with Star Wars once when I was playing with my friend Jake. It was just me and him and we were both Jedi (I had my own character for him to GM, so I just used him as NPC backup) and we had to board a starship. I threw like 15 faceless troopers at us as we ran up the boarding ramp, using the rules that if you did at least half damage you chopped off a limb, if you did full damage you cut the trooper down. I think they only had 10 hp and lightsabers do 3d6 dmg so needless to say we left a lot of limbless, headless and even one or two straight chopped in half soldiers on the boarding ramp as we stormed into the hold. That was one of the more memorable moments for us. I later installed a house rule that if you did at least half damage with one hit with a saber you chopped off an extremity. Roll a d6. 1 and 2 are legs, 3 and 4 arms, and 6 the head. Obviously that last one is an instant kill. Same rule went for crits. Made the combats for dramatic and take a lot less time.

    • What happens if you roll a five?

      Star Wars is the perfect kind of game for minion rules. Another one I just thought of is L5R. (Legend of the Five Rings) There was an optional rule there saying that anyone hit by a katana was killed, no damage roll necessary. Basically the same idea, taken from the other side.

    • You’ve pretty much got the idea down. Stormtroopers from the Star Wars films are a great example of the model that minions work under, too. Remember, in the movies, they all fell over with just one hit – but they were still dangerous enough that the main characters couldn’t just ignore them.

      Oh, and to go along with what Eric was saying above about “faceless” bad guys – can’t get much more faceless than a Stormtrooper. Identical uniforms, and cloned to boot, so they literally were all the same. Still, everyone knows what a Stormtrooper is, and when I used to play D6 Star Wars, nobody ever got tired of cutting them down.

  12. I remember that my DM used to interpret the rules so that spellcasters were effectively helpless while casting (because dodging around to try to avoid attacks would mess up the spellcast) so any opponent could attack the spellcaster in every segment of spellcasting as if it were an entire round.

    He also had everyone able to move a number of feet per segment equal to 1/10th of their full round move rate (which made sense) so everyone didn’t just do their full rounds’ movements on their initiative without the enemy being able to react. This resulted in many combats where ranged attack using foes would run away, and turn to shoot on their initiative segment.

    This tended to result in very few people playing spellcasters, and a lot of bow/crossbow using characters.

    • elfguy reminds me of FFXI where casting can be interrupted by sufficiently skilled attacks, depending on the skill of your magic level you may be interrupted.

      in player vrs player I would use a rarely known job combo that transformed a powerful jack of all trades mage job into one that’s extremely difficult to stop its casting, via special traits from the subjob. As a result I tended to be increasingly hard to damage even against several opponents 8) (regardless of there own class type)

    • I believe that spellcaster rule was correct. At least it was in 3.x, where you could counter it with a massive concentration skill which allowed you to keep the spell even if someone whacked you.

      Personally I really prefer the way 4e handles it, spells that take longer than a standard action to cast are rituals, and you don’t do those in combat at all.

      I love the movement rule though!

  13. We played recently a campaign of Seventh Sea (pseudo 17th century Europa) which has “bands of thugs” in its system. A hit thug is dead or disabled at the player’s choice. If you decide to augment the difficulty to hit and succeed, you hit several targets in one attack. My character could kill 20 guys… per round.

    I personnaly dislike the idea

    A lot of GMs have two kind of fights : the ones you will win and the one you will lose. I used to play good-at-combat character types for the sole reason that I did not want the group to die during a fight but I stopped with our current GM because I know that the enemies will die when they are supposed to, not before, not after no matter what combat skill we have in the group. Last session we faced an enemy with no way of killing it (a werewolf without silver weapon or a troll without fire if you please) yet he died, doomed by the plot.

    Band of thugs reinforce the unfairness of fights. Its acknowledging “the world turns around you guys, you are the heroes and nothing can stand in your way”. For me the system is here to be applied to PCs and NPCs alike, the “proof” that I, as a GM, am fair and just, that my players can trust that I won’t cheat in the NPCs’ or their favor (which of course is false but every GM should do their best to hold the illusion as long as they can. Once its gone, its gone).

    (How to be fair and still have your characters survive interesting fights without using hordes of pitiful enemies ? Easy : preparation. Think about what would happen to your PCs if they lost any fight of your scenario and plan accordingly. For example : What are the escape routes (and do the PCs have a smoke bomb or something of the kind) ? Are the PCs more useful alive than dead and would be captured (often yes) ? Is there a likely possibility of a third party intervening, attracted by the noise (police, guards, wandering predator) ? Could there be factions within the enemies, interested in double crossing the others (ex bounty hunters who want to keep ALL the money) ? etc. Do it well and they won’t think you are saving their life.)

    In conclusion, I am personnaly against using these because they sabotage the neutral position of the GM and the “fairness” of the system which then leads to cynic players who see all fights as speedbumps… It isn’t epic anymore if the enemy isn’t scary, if your players know that staring menacingly at their foes, the ten thousands of them, is sufficent to kill them. You may say that the minions are not supposed to be a real threat, the boss is but the players will know without a doubt that he is just as supposed to die as his mooks… and they might look at you suspicioudly if he does not

    PS: type “injured stormtrooper” on YouTube, it is a funny video going well on the subject of the band of useless minions.

    • You may say that the minions are not supposed to be a real threat …

      That’s the thing. In 4e minions are a threat. They have the same attack bonus as any other monster of the same level. They deal damage that, while a little less than the level’s average, still adds up quickly enough to hinder the PCs.

      You ignore minions at your own peril in 4e. If you don’t expend one of your limited area-of-effect attacks on them, you will find yourself surrounded and possibly overwhelmed.

      • Very well but still… I do not like this … separation heroes/rest of the world that cannot be justified (except for easy cinematic reasons).

        It obviously (and therein lies the problem) bends the rules and , in my opinion, it is better for the GM to seem (not to be eh) an unmovable tower of equal treatment. That way the players are more on edge, more involved and appreciate their victories more than if they know their enemies will be particularly, magically killable.

        … but I hardly claim to know all the groups in the world and base what I say on the few groups I have been in and my own feelings about the terribly railroaded combats I have been part of where it was like being Sauron in the opening scene of the Fellowship of the Ring without the fun, just the harvest of faceless minions.

        • Very well but still… I do not like this … separation heroes/rest of the world that cannot be justified (except for easy cinematic reasons).

          Well, we’re talking about 4e D&D here, where the PCs are supposed to be heroes and are separated from the rest of the world and are able to do things ordinary people can’t – like kick the living sh*t out of a room full of faceless grunts.

          Nothing wrong with what you’re talking about tho, and there are lots of game systems and genres out there that support it. Cyberpunk is one of my favorites for that – all it takes is one lucky bullet and your mond0-bad-ass PC is an organ donor.

          And even in 4e, if you don’t like the concept of minions, there is a simple solution – don’t use them. The game will still play just fine.

          • Besides, the whole point of minions is that some groups want a more “cinematic” feel to their campaign. Want a more “realistic” feel? Cool, leave out the Minions, no worries, mate. Pros and cons either way, and what it all boils down to, in the end, is the style of campaign for which you’re aiming. Gritty “film noir” games probably shouldn’t have many minion types in them, I imagine, whereas the Conan style “battle epic” would be composed mostly of minions with a smaller number on non-minion badguys at or slightly above the party’s power level toward the end…

  14. (better posted down here) My main point was that lack of minions caused role playing in a group that wasn’t even trying, simply b/c in their minds all monsters were worth something. Everything was important, had a soul, personality and worth as a humanoid being. Even if it might only show up when we were sorting out the post-battle logistics. The idea behind minions seem to be the opposite of that worth, except maybe kind of if you force it.

    There was also a sort of sadistic yet enjoyable fear that DM instilled in us. Player death was a very real and constant threat. Everything we fought was a total bastard out to get us, employed dirty tactics not just to get us but also to survive. It emphasizes that the players aren’t the only ones who think, plan and have a personality. The survival tactics half of that coin, the most mortal and humanizing half, don’t happen when the monster can’t be wounded.

    Groups also can and do mow down “worthless” monsters w/ or w/o minions, and if that’s what you like to do then I imagine minions make that easier.

    • I don’t think that the concept of minions would have much on an effect on the way your group plays. The worth your group places on monsters comes through in the way your group roleplays, including the way your DM roleplays the monsters.

      Your DM could just as easily roleplay minions – just because they only have one hit point doesn’t have to make them any more suicidal than the “normal” monsters.

      In your group, I suspect the true value of minions would lie mainly on the DM’s side of the screen as he would not have to track the individual hit point totals of a gang of cannon-fodder standing between you and the main villain. All of your same negotiation, intimidation or other roleplaying methods for ending a fight would still be on the table (in fact, some might work even better against minions – when you vaporize a guy’s head with a single magic missile shot, the rest of them might be much more willing to consider accepting your terms of surrender).

      As Kevin has stated above, minions in 4e are simply one more option a DM can choose from when filling out an encounter. Whether he chooses to use them, and how he runs them during that encounter is entirely up to him.

      • “Your DM could just as easily roleplay minions – just because they only have one hit point doesn’t have to make them any more suicidal than the “normal” monsters.”

        As a matter of fact, one could claim that they are even less suicidal. Nothing’s stopping you from pretending that they have as much hit points as a non-minion of the same level, only they stop fighting as soon as they get hurt. (Cover, whimper, play dead, run away.. what have you)

        Then everyone fighting on until “true death” is tougher (stupider) than the rest. 🙂