A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer



Toughening up Minions

There are various schools of thought about minions... Some people like them, some people hate them. Some use them to balance out an encounter, some will throw legions of them at a level one party just because they can.

In several of the starting encounters of my campaign, I use minions a lot. But I used them to give the story some scope, to show that you are facing something seriously evil with an absurdly large disposable army under its control. To the players they were never meant to be a threat, but rather they were an annoyance.

At first I thought a handful was enough; sending a fleet of minions at the party seemed like overkill. That was until one character in my campaign literally bowled over five of them in the first round, before any other creature even acted. By the time the monsters would have gotten to their spot in the initiative order, the room was empty.

So rather than just throw more minions at them (which would arguably unbalance the encounter) I decided to try something, and came up with the concept of a "tough" minion.

Here are the rules I put together:

  • Creature starts with 10 hit points in the Heroic tier, 20 hit points in the Paragon tier and 30 hit points in the Epic tier. This is just enough hit points to be somewhat resistant to secondary attacks (for example, a monk will not be able to kill it with Stone Fist Flurry of Blows) and can even sustain attacks from other minions (in my encounter there were also ally minions), but most PCs could still knock them out in a single solid blow. And if the PC has a weak damage roll it might still be standing, which does make some sense if you think about it.
  • Creature *does* take damage from a missed attack, but can never die from it. If the miss drops it to 0 hit points or lower, it stays alive with 1 hit point remaining.
  • Creature has no healing surges of its own and cannot be healed in any way. It can benefit from temporary hit points, but it cannot recover from traditional damage.
  • Creature can have vulnerabilities and resistances, similar to what a normal monster would have. For example, a Tough Decrepit Skeleton would have radiant vulnerability.
  • Any damage the creature takes, even if it's a single hit point of damage, qualifies it as "bloodied". So it would be vulnerable to powers and feats such as Impending Victory.
  • A critical hit on an attack roll kills it instantly, even if the attack doesn't normally cause damage. For example, if an Invoker critical hits it with Whispers of Defeat, it dies
  • OPTIONAL: Double their XP value if you think they caused the players more trouble than they should have.
  • OPTIONAL: Have the minion die automatically after two direct hits, also if you think they were more trouble than they should have been.

When the party faced the same amount of these "tough" minions, it was actually a little bit of a challenge, and weren't quite the cannon fodder they were originally designed to be. And they weren't much a threat to the party anyway, but they did go down swinging.

This also has an added benefit: you might be able to get away with making the players think they're not minions in the first round. If a player lands a weak blow and it's still standing, they might suddenly think that there's a serious threat and will begin to start burning off important resources.

There are a lot more minions to play with in my campaign... I'm going to continue using this idea and see how it works in the long run.

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  1. “That was until one character in my campaign literally bowled over five of them in the first round, before any other creature even acted.”
    Guilty as charged 😉 Though I did burn my only daily on minions…and an AP.

    I quite like the idea of tough minions, and so far they ‘feel’ good in the game. The minions with 1hp really feel like cannon fodder, and thus not very gratifying to kill. Giving them 10hp solves that problem, while still throwing very weak monsters at the party.

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