Embracing normal, one-hit minions

When I first started playing Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition about a year ago, I read all the rules and understood how minions worked. You hit them with any damage (except damage that happens on a miss), and they die. I saw them in action and thought, okay. They’re fine.

Then in my first Living Forgotten Realms game as a player, I saw that the DM was using two-hit minions, and I liked it. I ended up moving this direction myself as a DM – one hit bloodies the minion, and the second hit kills it. My only tweak to the process, which I blogged about, was that anything extra special – a critical hit, striker bonus damage, vulnerability to the damage type, et cetera, would still drop it in one hit.

My logic was that one-hit minions were boring. They showed up, they died. Sure, you get to throw four bad guys on the board instead of one, but they just didn’t seem to have any IMPACT on the battle. Two-hit minions felt like they mattered more.

Well, I’ve since changed my tune. I think the turning point came when I was listening to one of the Wizards of the Coast D&D podcasts, I believe from the DDXP convention, and Chris Perkins (Dungeon Master to the Stars, you know) talked about the way he’ll literally throw DOZENS of minions onto the table for his players to mow down.

This intrigued me. Regular minions didn’t really seem to matter for a combat, but that’s because I was using five or six. What if instead I used, say ten or twelve – or twenty?

I decided to try it. And you know what? I like it – a lot! Having gigantic waves of bad guys come screaming at you, only to be mowed down by your party’s controller is actually pretty cool, from both sides of the DM screen. The players get to feel awesome, and the DM gets to feel like he’s presenting a real threat that can be dealt with quickly.

Also, I think that players were getting sick of the two-hit minions. It was novel when I first started using it, but I think it got a little old. “I hit that pathetic little loser with my big bad heroism – he should be dead now! I have to do it again? Sigh…” A bunch of one-hit minions were a breath of fresh air.

So, my new philosophy on minions is, the more the merrier! I think my problem was that I was taking the D&D4e guidelines at face value and treating a minion as 1/4 of a real monster. I think the true value is more like 1/8. If I double the NUMBER of minions rather than doubling the number of HITS it takes to kill them, they’re more fun.

My suggestions:

  • Stick with the “one hit kills the minion” rule (in general – two hits might make sense from time to time)
  • Use a greater number of minions than the official guidelines would suggest
  • Try having the minions come in waves – some show up at the beginning of battle, and then some more rush in during round two, perhaps
  • Be careful if you don’t have PCs capable of multi-target attacks; a horde of baddies will be a slog against parties that can only hit one creature at a time.

5 thoughts on “Embracing normal, one-hit minions

  1. Good post.

    I’m a huge fan of lovely squishy minions. Throw a horde of goblin minions into a room, add a couple of goblin swarms and a hexer to lead them all, and we’ve got a battle royale worth writing about 😀

    The thing to remember about minions (or any monster, for that matter) is that dead doesn’t have to mean Dead. That minion you’ve just hit isn’t necessarily dead – he might be cowering in fright for the rest of the encounter, or flee into the next room (to warn the rest of the dungeon, no doubt) or simply be too shaken up to bother rolling for.

    Minions are like Stormtroopers (the perfect minion artillery, to my mind): gloriously ineffective, but dangerous because of their sheer quantity and the law of averages.

    I tend to keep a karmic tally when it comes to minions. That goblin you’ve just hit might not necessarily keel over and die, but another one in the room will let out a squeak and run for cover, or by hit by a glancing blow from the goblin next to him. Keep the action flowing, fast paced and fun – that’s what minions are all about.

  2. Have you considered threshold minions? Instead of one hit or giving each target a designated total of hit points, merely compare the hero’s damage to the minion’s threshold number. If it’s higher than the minion’s threshold he’s dead. If it’s equal or lower than the threshold he’s fine. Let’s you put dozens of targets on the board but with virtually no record keeping.

    • Good point – I should have addressed this one in one of my posts.

      Yes, I’ve seen this approach where you essentially give the minions “Resist 10 All” or something like that. In practice, it ends up being similar to the two-hit minion approach (where extra special damage kills it outright), although it’s possible that the minion could stick around for a long time (hitting it twice for small amounts would do nothing), and I really don’t want that. It feels like it would be good if I were back to the days when I was embracing two-hit minions, but I’m intentionally moving away from that now.

      As for recordkeeping, tracking which minions are bloodied (for two-hitters) isn’t a problem for me since I do it in MapTool – that’s handled automatically. But I agree that if I were using minis or tokens, tracking which minions had been hit once and which hadn’t would be a pain, in which case the “threshold minion” approach might be better.

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