The Gassy Gnoll: Minion Math

Now that this Gassy Gnoll has played a few sessions of D&D 4e, I have to say that one of the rules I have some serious issues with are the minions.

Don’t get me wrong. I love minions. You can never have enough of them. But one hit point? Come on.

If I’m in a battle and there are several targets to hit, minions are a waste of time. Sure, I could play some gnome croquet and try to knock a few minions through gates with a willing (or unwilling) gnomish accomplice and a hammer. Or I could try my hand at dwarf bowling (though all the dwarves I’ve met are tough bastards and rarely drunk enough to get a good handle on). But ultimately it’s one shot, one kill, and on to the next. Unless you have cleave or some kind of an area-effect spell, the odds are against you taking out too many of them at once.

I prefer the 1 HD creature approach. If a group of disposable targets are there solely to offer the bigger critters more shots at me, then give them a chance to absorb a hit. Make it worth my while. Even 4 HP creatures might survive the occasional blow from a PC. Give them 6, 8, or 10 HP and they could actually be a threat while they’re wasting my time. 1 HP isn’t a target, it’s a blood smear on the windshield.

As a GM, I’m willing to track a gaggle of kobolds, each with a slightly different weapon – perhaps one has a dagger, another has a short sword, someone else has a spear… Perhaps one has hide armor and a shield, a different one is fighting two-handed, one is wearing a mail shirt too big for him that he stole from an earlier conquest… I want the variation. I want there to be the possibility that one of the minions could technically be the last man standing in a battle, fighting for the honor of his fallen leader.

Maybe a smaller adjustment would take care of the problem. I really like the idea of the “Two-Hit Minion” from Dungeon’s Master earlier this year. At least that way it’s a bit more than “tap, you’re done”. Maybe that’s all it would take to buff out this beef I have.

However with 1 HP, a being is closer to winking out of existence than sticking around for another round. He could trip and fall on the ground and take enough damage to knock himself out.

Gaming is all about the texture, the layers, the story… And killing hordes of 1 HP critters is just about killing things, not about how or why they got there. And yes, I know creative GMs can work around this. I’ve seen my new GM Justin do it already. But I want more crunch to my minion horde.

*Curious Gnolls Want To Know*

What do you thnk? Are minions in 4e the greatest thing since sliced bread and a time-saver for GMs? Or do minions need to unionize and get a better representative at the 5e bargaining table? Leave comments below and I’ll tally the results…

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10 comments to The Gassy Gnoll: Minion Math

  • In the beginning, I liked the idea of minions, but after running a 4E game, I agree: minions aren’t that much fun, and even worse, players soon realised what’s a minion and what isn’t and it all became very meta-gamey, which spoils some of the fun. I disliked 4E in the end and went back to Old School.

    Having low-level allies works better, but I guess it all depends on how you like to play and what system you prefer. 4E works for some, with its emphasis on
    tactical and team play; but I prefer 1HD minions to act as a buffer between the big bads; adds more to an encounter, I think.

    • Fitz

      @Simon Forster – It’s definitely a matter of opinion and how you want to play. But I’m glad I’m not the only one thinking that even 1HD adds a bit of crunch to those minions between the PCs and the big bad. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I agree in a lot of respects, and I also really enjoyed the 2-hit minion concept. Also, when a bunch of minis hit the mat, pretty much everyone knows that a lot of them are going to be minions. Something I’ve been having fun with is Minion Generators. Either the creature itself or some portal on the map that creates minions and has to be disabled with a skill challenge during combat or clever tactics. Monsters like the Black Pudding are awesome for that sort of thing.
    thorynn recently posted…RPG Blog Carnival โ€“ Orcs Must Die! โ€“ Tricks and TrapsMy Profile

    • Fitz

      @thorynn – Very interesting. I’ve not come across the “Minion Generator” concept, but I could see where it would be a heck of a way to keep the PCs busy for a while. That’s much more of a challenge than simply playing whack-a-minion. I’ll have to see about those. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • Minion defenses are an important part of the equation. If they’re hard to hit, they can be quite a nuisance to PCs.

  • I love me some minions. They let you run much larger encounters than you otherwise could without slowing down play. In one of my early adventures I had a group of 50 pirates being attacked by a constant stream of giant ants invading their beach front fortress as the party arrived on the scene. A fantastic dynamic battle and not a problem for record keeping or slowing down play much at all. No way I’m running that in 3E unless I adopt similar minion rules.

    I have used two hit minions and they work nicely. Far better than giving them token hit points. First hit is bloodied and second is dead. I started with that after game 2 or 3 of 4E and I think its a natural extension of the system. I most often used them for “civilian” NPCs that had joined the party or for pets and so on, sometimes for enemies but only rarely.

    Some house rules for good minion use…
    1. I give them variable damage (though I don’t roll it for minion on minion battles). It doesn’t slow down play and adds to the fun I think.
    2. Don’t use minions if the monster doesn’t feel crunch. Minion giants against human sized opponents just feels wrong.
    3. Use minions as reinforcements in battles, like the “generator” notion above. They can be a great way to adjust difficulty and in many situations its reasonable to have some “off stage” mooks that show up at the sound of fighting.
    4. Minion Generators are fun. Had some great shadow beasts that sort of poop out ghosts whenever they devour someone. Or a big hermit crab with barnacles that spawn little polyp monsters. Tons of fun that doesn’t slow down combat but gives great texture to it.
    5. Give your minons decent defenses, especially reflex, as high or higher than the average baddies. If they are near auto hit they will just be chaff.
    6. You can describe each minion differently for effect, even if their stats aren’t different.
    7. Giving them more than one at will or a fun daily will spice them up without bogging them down.
    8. Minions that have a detrimental effect when they die are a lot of fun. Exploding zombies, insects that release poison gas etc… They can make for a massive chain reaction “boom” or you can make them immune to their own death effect to avoid the party knocking them down like dominoes.

  • Hail randomly selected NPC

    I have run encounters with lots of minions, and my players felt like they were in a movie (in a good way. I think that is the whole point of minions. As a game aspect they are just walking terrain to slow down the players. As a narrative aspect they are the equivalent of those really scary monsters at the beginning of a book that the characters are afraid to deal with, but by the middle of the book they turn out to be just so much cannon fodder. With minions you can get this affect as early as level 1.

    I understand that you can get the same effect with lower level characters at the low levels, but I still like the use of minions; it makes the character feel bad ass. I know that is not the only way to feel bad ass, but it is the quickest way.

    • Fitz

      @Hail randomly selected NPC – Thanks for that point of view. I’ve seen it quite a bit in a conversation over at Reddit as well. So though I disagree that combat should be the measuring stick of “badassitude” I totally get where you’re coming from now. ๐Ÿ™‚

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