Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Fly, my Minions!

The pay's alright, but the random chokings are terrible
This week I want to cover a topic related to the Monster Roles we've been going over. This isn't a particular role, and in fact can be combined with any other role. Usually they can come in flavors such as soldiers and skirmishers, creatures willing to dish out some damage and get off the field. However, I find they are best thought of as not monsters at all.

I like to think of them as terrain.


Can literally be whatever you want them to bee
Making a minion is very easy. All it requires is a few rules and adjustments that can be applied to any creature.
  1. The monster's HP becomes 1.
  2. If the monster would take damage as a result of passing a saving throw, it takes no damage instead.
  3. If the monster would take damage from an attack or spell that deals damage on a miss, it takes no damage instead.
  4. Treat 4 minions as a single monster with regards to CR calculations.

First off, we've reduced the monster's HP to 1. Essentially, we want this thing to go down in one hit, no matter what that "hit" is. This also means that, in general, our monster is going to only get one attack against the party. But that's okay - minions are supposed to go down easy! And we don't really want them to be the focus.

You might be able to see why I think of minions as terrain, now. Specifically, damaging terrain. If a PC runs across a patch of razorvine, or flies too low over a magma lake, what happens? They take some damage, and their movement is likely hindered.

Well, the same thing happens when you put a wall of minions between your players and the boss monster you devised. The players have to stop and fight the minions, taking some damage in the process.

This brings us to the second and third part of the conversion: minions don't take damage on "misses" and Saving Throw failures. Why? Because otherwise, a fireball would blow a huge hole in our terrain, every single time! The minions are there specifically to prevent movement towards the boss monster while dealing a bit of damage. If the wizard gets lucky on initiative, there goes your fight.
Nothing a well-placed Meteor Swarm can't handle!
And that leads us to the last point of conversion. When calculating the CR, we treat a squad of 4 minions as a single creature. Note that I didn't say "divide the CR by 4". That's because having a lot of monsters on the field changes the CR multiplier on DMG pg. 82. If you are making a deadly encounter, and you suddenly have a x4 multiplier on the total CR of your monsters, you're going to run out of CR for the boss pretty quickly!

But the question then arises: why 4? Well, I've touched on this a couple times, but the designers of D&D very clearly expected a single combat to last 3 rounds. You calculate monster damage by dividing by 3, you assume a spellcaster casts their 3 most damaging spells, etc. So why does the minion count as 1/4th of a monster, if it is only going to deal its damage once and then die?

Well, that's because a large portion of your minions are going to die before they ever see combat. Between AoE spells and multiattacking melee PCs, the players can dish out a lot more minion-killing damage than you have minions.

So, to compensate for that, we assume the following:
  • Out of your minion horde, about a quarter will die before they get into attack range
  • After that, each minion will get about 1 attack before they go down.

So basically, don't get too attached.

Running Lots of Baddies

Next, let's talk about the in-session adjustments. Unless you only need a few minions on the field, you could potentially be busting out a LOT of minis. Are you going to roll initiative for each one of them, and have them move and attack individually?

For the love of Pelor and Lathander, please, no.

Fortunately, the DMG provides a better way for this to be handled on page 250. To paraphrase, you calculate the d20 roll needed to hit the PC, then work out how many minions need to surround the PC to get a hit in. They offer this fine chart:

So, if a group of Orc minions (+5 to hit) surround a fighter with AC 19, they would need to roll a 14 in order to hit. Which means every group 3 Orcs would score a single hit.

Now, the DMG notes that this system ignores the possibility of a critical hit in favor of easier play. I think that's perfect for minions, however. Mowing through a mountain of Orcs is supposed to feel good, not make the players worry that a stray battleaxe with lop their hand off.

In order to make this work, I'd suggest that you treat the minions like a lair action (See? Get it? Terrain!) and have them all move on initiative count 20. Then, resolve their attacks based on positioning.

Do note that this method does lend itself to some VERY interesting boss tactics, as well.
  • A boss that can cast a Bless spell on their minions can essentially grant a +2 to hit
  • A boss that can give their minions advantage can essentially grant a +4 to hit
  • A boss that can lower AC can give their minions more hits per round


Remember to give the minions personality. Or lack thereof.
So you've got a fine squad of minions, ready to steamroll your opponent. But what about the boss they are protecting?

Well, to be honest, you don't really need a boss. If you want the players to just fall down a chute and land in a big pile of zombies, that's your game and you can do what you like. But since minions are essentially just terrain, it's good to have an additional focus for the players to try and get to.

4th Edition has these other types of monsters that are called "Elite" and "Solo" monsters, which are designed to make a normal monster tougher. They can still be any type of role, but they have more actions and better stats than a normal monster of their type. Sound familiar? That's right. I'm linking this article to you. AGAIN. GO READ IT.

The cool thing about using paragon monsters as bosses is that you can give them extra turns to support their minions. We'll talk about the "Leader" role eventually, but Spellcasters in particular can be effective bosses when they can attack and support their minions. Have you ever had a Priest cast Bless in combat? What about a Mage casting Ice Storm or Suggestion? I bet you haven't, because they usually die before they get a chance to.

As I said, we'll talk more about this later. But for now, go read that Angry GM article and make some paragon bosses.

That's all I really have to say on minions. They are a good way to make a combat feel more epic, give fragile bosses some much-needed support, and change the way your players approach movement in combat. Overall, pretty dang sweet.

Thanks for reading!

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