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.