D&D 4th Edition NPCs: Minions

Dungeon Master's GuideI received my Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition books on Monday and have been reading over them throughout the week. Because of the difference in rules from versions 3.5 to 4, I plan on covering a number of topics related to some of the new features of 4th Edition.

Minion NPCs happen to be the topic of this post.

So, I was reading through the Wizards forums and came upon a thread relating to the confusion with Minion NPCs in combat and how to explain their really weak stats. One of the questions that was posed asked how it made sense to have a level 14 Minion Cyclops that could feasibly drop in one hit while its fellow level 14 Standard Cyclops could withstand a much heavier beating.

One sage of a user, Morholdt, had this response which I buy in to totally:

To understand minions properly, you have to understand hit points properly. Hit points do NOT represent how many stbs you can take before you fall. They are a kind of combat karma: picture it like a sports game. As a team starts losing, an indefinable sense of hopelessness sets in, making it harder and harder to come back. Bloodied represents that point when you take your first really scary shot – your arm is slashed, your nose broken, your shield arm begins to go numb from the repeated blows. When you hit 0 hit points, you take a bad wound and are out of the fight. That is why someone can decide to use subdual damage at 0 HP and not all the way through the fight. In that light, healing surges make eminent sense. In the sports analogy, a healing surge is like the feeling when your team finally scores a goal and you begin to come back.

Using that understanding of hit points, one can see that minions are not puny versions of the monsters, but they are versions with no karma. They are the marathon runner who twists his ankle after the first mile. That orc minion can kill you almost as easily as the normal orc, but when you stab him with your spear, his luck runs out and he dodges the wrong way.

Personally I love minions. I’ve always found it a little lame to go into a goblin village which is populated by 12 goblins, or a dungeon where the monsters never leave their rooms and swarm the adventurers because any more would make it too hard.

With minions you can have truly epic battles against foes that can actually threaten you and live to tell the heroic tale.

So…that level 14 Minion Cyclops that I talked about earlier isn’t necessarily a slim, diminutive one-eyed brute that walks around with his fellow level 14 Standard Cyclops that his a hulking monstrosity with bulging biceps and a club that could fell an elephant in a single blow. Nope. The minion is the same as the level 14 Standard Cyclops…the Minion just makes a few mistakes on the battlefield that cause him his life much sooner.

If you haven’t read the Dungeon Master’s Guide for 4th Edition and don’t know what a “Minion” is, then here’s an excerpt on them from the DMG:

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.

I know…any amount of damage doesn’t seem overly scary. However, each minion causes damage similar to a standard NPC of its type and level. Just because they fall quickly doesn’t make them easy to hit or prevent them from hitting you!

The Minion role in a combat encounter is one sexy addition to 4th Edition that will make for a much richer game!