Wednesday 5 May 2010

Minions in 4E

Today I have a Guest Post by The Evil GM on a subject close to his heart.

D&D 4th Edition introduced a new class of monsters, minions, creatures with only a single hit point designed to be slaughtered in droves by the heroes. Now my first impression when I heard about these was “Not in my game!” Foes with one hit point, killed by even the meanest attack seemed utterly pointless to me. My players will confirm I prefer to pitch them into tough battles that force them to think and work as a team, so pitting them against foes designed to have a glass chin just seemed wrong. OK, they are slightly tougher than the one hp would suggest – a missed attack never kills a minion, so if they are in the blast of a fireball they don’t take half damage if it misses them, but still their low AC and defences mean most in a blast will be killed.

However the more I read and thought about them the more interested I became. While of limited use in many situations, they are perfect for those scenes when the PC’s have to cut their way through large numbers of foes to reach their goal – the enemy wizard, the coven opening a portal to hell, the grand vizier etc. ‘Normal’ 4e monsters of an appropriate level would be too powerful in large numbers, and while it is theoretically possible to simply use lots of lower level foes, in practise this doesn’t work so well. Their ‘to hit’ bonuses are so low that they rarely threaten the PC’s, while their AC and defences are poor enough that they get hit almost every round, so it just becomes a boring exercise of hacking away hit points with no real danger. Minions by contrast are designed to actually threaten the PC’s in combat and have the potential to damage them (not much, admittedly, but the cumulative effects add up) and generally have sufficient armour that, while still relatively easy to take down, they will survive poor dice rolling. And of course if they can outflank the party and get to the ‘squishes’ at the back they become a real threat, preventing the wizard from casting, tying the archer down in melee, and even a minion can coup de grace a fallen hero. The clincher for me is that they are so ‘cheap’ - as a rule of thumb between four to six minions replace a ‘normal’ foe, so by replacing a two or three normal ‘grunts’ you can have around ten to twelve more monsters on the battle map – worth it if only for the panic in the players eyes before they drop the first one or two to confirm they are minions!

In practise I’ve had mixed results with minions, initially employing them in a nice tight group thinking there was safety in numbers – until a single area effect spell decimated them all... But over time I’ve begun to use them better, spread out and attacking from two or more different directions, trying to hit softer targets and leaving the parties melee champions to the enemy Brutes and Soldiers, going after non-combatants etc. A different mind-set is also important - at first I’d think they were a waste of time when they dropped like flies, being wiped out in the first couple of rounds, but then in discussion with the players I realised they were taking up the attention of key party members and forcing them to utilise valuable resources to counter them. Now when they get wiped out en mass I’m perfectly happy as that’s exactly what they are supposed to do.

But all of this is irrelevant when compared to the key measure – do they make combat more fun? In my view definitely, fun for me in being able to stage a larger scale battle and fun for the players as their PC’s carve a bloody swathe across the battlefield. Of course the real fun will come when one PC suffers the indignity of being ‘dropped’ by a minion! The ribbing will be brutal...

1 comment:

  1. There is a similar thought in Field of Glory.

    A number of armies have a Mob in them - literally a collection of peasants, wives and children (for the early British, the Gallic warriors, Spartacus slave revolt etc.) or other unwashed individuals.

    On first glance they are useless - a couple of points per base at best and with no combat ability at all.

    But they can be used to screen movements of other troops, to hold up an advance (not for long admittedly) allowing a flank or rear attack to develop, as cannon fodder to soak up missile fire while slower moving troops get into position for an attack or to simply tie up your opponent on one flank as you move your better troops around on the other.


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