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Wraithborne
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PostSubject: minions   Wed May 21, 2008 2:48 pm

In today’s preview, R&D’s Stephen Schubert guides us through the development of 4E’s minions. Although they may not stay in the fight for long, they now have a more useful role than ever!


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The evil baron calls for his guards, the orc chieftain leads a screaming horde in a terrible charge, the necromancer animates a dozen skeletons that rise to fight the PCs. The D&D game is full exciting scenes and encounters where the PCs must face a potentially overwhelming number of foes. In previous editions of the game, these encounters might have been filled with low-level “mooks” who would be promptly ignored by the PCs, since the PCs usually possessed sufficient AC or saving throws that they could ignore attacks from dozens of CR1 goblins or skeletons.

In the 4th Edition of D&D, we wanted to capture the concept of those creatures, but provide a rules framework that let them be a relevant part of the encounter. To this end, we created the minion role as a rules construct to allow a DM to more easily include such monster hordes.

Goals of the minion:
Drop in one hit: the minion essentially does his job if it can keep a PC occupied for a turn. Depending on its level and role, a typical monster might take four to six basic attacks to knock out. To provide the same amount of challenge, a group of four to six minions should take about the same number of actions. For a while, we considered giving minions some small amount of hit points, a small enough number that they would drop in one hit. But then we ran into a few situations where the minion would take only a few points of damage, forcing the DM to track minion hit points anyway. Eventually, we realized that the best way to make sure they go down in one hit is by giving them a single hit point. (You could think of it as if you are always doing enough damage to kill it.)

Have sufficient defenses: A PC should hit a minion at about the same rate as that PC would hit a typical monster of the same level. If the PC only misses on a natural 1, then that part of the fight becomes trivial. Thus, the minion’s defenses are set using the same scale as other monsters of its level. Similarly, while minions are meant to be easily dispatched, we didn’t want it to be too easy, so we decided that minions shouldn’t die when missed by an attack roll, even if that attack would normally deal damage on a hit. Of course, they might still die if they take damage from other sources, like walking through a wall of fire or getting hit by a Cleave from a fighter.

Have a meaningful attack: Minions shouldn’t automatically fail at their attacks, or always be hoping for a natural 20. Their attack bonus should be similar to monsters of their level, though their damage is a fraction of other monsters. One minion attacking a PC is more of a nuisance, but a group of them can be as dangerous as any monster. The damage for minions is always flat instead of rolled, which again helps speed up play as the DM only needs to roll one die for each minion.


Using Minions
A cool aspect of the minion idea is the way that you can scale your encounters as PCs progress through the Heroic, Paragon, and Epic tiers, while still using similar creature types throughout the campaign. An 8th level encounter might involve battling ogres, but later in that campaign you might have an earth titan that has enslaved an ogre tribe, and thus create a 16th level encounter with an elite earth titan and a bunch of ogre bludgeoneer minions. You can create fun Paragon-level encounters using abyssal ghouls (16th level skirmishers with 156 hp), then a few levels later stock your Epic-level encounter with abyssal ghoul myrmidons (23rd level minions).

When you use minions, you should use those of a level appropriate to the encounter you’re building. The concept of minions is to provide fun filler for encounters, not to provide a way for a 1st level character to gain 1,000+ XP for defeating a 23rd-level abyssal ghoul minion by rolling a natural 20. Minions are a rules abstraction, and one of the many tools a DM has to build exciting encounters.

Also keep your party makeup in mind when using minions, as well. PCs with attacks that target more than one enemy or that target an area will love fights against minions, and it provides a nice contrast with, say, a solo monster fight where those abilities are less useful.
--Stephen Schubert







From the Monster Manual Glossary:

Minion: Minions are designed to serve as shock troops and cannon fodder for other monsters (standard, elite, or solo). Four minions are considered to be about the same as a standard monster of their level. Minions are designed to help fill out an encounter, but they go down quickly.

A minion is destroyed when it takes any amount of damage. Damage from an attack or from a source that doesn’t require an attack roll (such as the paladin’s divine challenge or the fighter’s cleave) also destroys a minion. However, if a minion is missed by an attack that normally deals damage on a miss, it takes no damage.
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PostSubject: Re: minions   Wed May 21, 2008 2:51 pm

And this makes 4.0 better than a pile of crap how? :beat:

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