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:

Two-Hit Minions

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.

Resolve

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.

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12 thoughts on “Resolve: An Idea for Tougher Minions

  1. I know I’ve heard that minions should also be boosted in numbers- 10 minions to a standard monster. Making the minions tougher almost does the same thing- it takes twice as long to kill them.

    Your resolve points idea hits all your major design goals. I like it. I will look into using this myself. Thanks for the idea.

  2. My thought on the two or three hit minions is that instead of hits make it a little more game-ist and allow attacks that do 2[w] damage to damage a minion twice. Most of the time that works similarly for casters and the number of dice their attacks use as well.

    1. My concern with that is that I don’t generally know how many dice of damage are dealt by the various powers my players use so it’d lead to slow downs as I need to ask the players for that info each attack.

  3. All three ideas can work, but for some reason the power gamer in my group hates 2-hit minions. And like you mentioned, yet another thing to track in this edition? No thanks!

    Honestly, I really like that death save approach – and I like the swinginess, to be honest. It makes some minions more annoying than others, yet still weak overall. That’s what minions do – annoy, distract, and drop dead in bunches. With minions being all or nothing like you initially talked about, this approach helps combat that. And zero tracking – just a “Why won’t you die!” save when they drop.

    I also like your Resolve idea It’s like minions sharing not only a mob mentality but a hit point pool. And the tracking is still less than with 2-hit minions. Good hybrid of the first two indeed.

  4. Here’s something to add for the death save idea- invoke a penalty to the save for attacks that are stronger. I would hate to blow my daily and encounter powers on a group of minions to find out that they are all going to get up half of the time anyway. For undead minions, that might be OK. But if I cast disintegrate a goblin warrior, I expect that little dude to go up in dust.

    Perhaps a -2 if they do 10 + level*2 damage and a -5 if they do 15 + level *4 damage. It also lets critical hits on a minion become useful.

  5. If you look at the published campaigns, they often use higher level minions for the encounter. This gives them better than average changes to save on the attack letting them last a bit longer. Also try using minions that can do burst damage or ranged attacks. I have nearly wiped an entire party with just minions using terrain which caused them to cluster and then minions which attacked in bursts.

  6. I came up with the idea of giving some minions a damage threshold. Basically, if you minion takes 15 or more points of damage on a it or power or whatever, then it still dies, otherwise it becomes bloodied and the next hit kills it. This way your not keeping track of damage but just comparing the damage dealt to the minions threshold. If its a really awesome hit that does tons of damage then yes the minion dies. If its a weak graze of an attack, then it lives to fight on. You can then scale the threshold with the level of the monster.

    I never did come up with an exact chart for this but just made up the threshold based on what my party’d average damage output was and winged it.

  7. ^^ I’d use damage threshold too since it adds almost no extra mental burden on the DM.

    If you’re using minis, tracking two-hit minions of whatever sorts is easy by turning the minis either on their sides or to a certain direction when they’ve been wounded

  8. Hey Glimm, I’m late to the party, but I like your resolve idea, invoking a sense of morale into HP. If the group is low on Resolve, minions may just flee on the DM’s turn. It’d be just as much tracking as normal minions (1 hit kills) but allows more nuanced group dynamics.

    This is all even better if leaders have powers that potentially restore the group’s resolve points. Good leaders restore a lot of resolve, bad leaders or leader fumbles could even make them lose resolve. Perhaps the leader can make an inspiration roll (intimidation/Diplomacy/Religion/History/etc) with the level of success (easy/moderate/hard per minion group level) determining the amount of restored Resolve. Heck, if a minion in the group scores a crit or drops (or even bloodies) an opponent, the group could regain a point of resolve. Lots of opportunities open up.

    For those interested in the threshold idea, my blog-contributor Haze worked out a threshold system for all monsters (minion, normal, elite, solo) that would work perfectly for what you’re talking about. I use it exclusively and doubt I’ll go back to using regular HP for NPCs. http://atminn.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/dnd-without-hit-points-damage-without-math-part-3/

    In fact, next time we play, I’ll try out pairing the threshold idea with group resolve to see if terrifying damaging blows from the PCs strip the group’s resolve in terms of morale at seeing a comrade utterly decimated. If that one attack chews through the group’s 4 remaining Resolve pts, the rest may just gape and flee.

    1. Yeah, the morale-like nature of the system is something I really liked when I came up with the mechanics. I like your idea of restoring/losing resolve points based on how the combat is going, especially for when a minion gets a crit. I’ll have to try that out next time I run a mostly-minion encounter.

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