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!

ZOMG Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition

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I caught wind of this announcement that affects d20 role-players everywhere, the new version of Dungeons and Dragons is slotted for release in 2008! I look at my D&D v3.5 book collection and wince a little, yet I find myself a little excited for Wizards of the Coast’s next iteration of the eons old pen & paper table top game that has kept males occupied and single for decades.

My attempts to read the announcement from the horses mouth have failed due to the Wizards Announcement section of their site has thoroughly been slashdotted. As such, I have a few tidbits that I’ve grabbed from various Slashdot comments and other blogs that I’ll cobble together here:

Rustmonster writes:

While there are changes in play (such as incorporating “epic-level play,” with 30 levels instead of 20), they are described as “evolutionary” rather than “revolutionary.” Other changes include new power sources, changes in resource management, and new encounter design, and more clearly defined monster roles. Changes will speed play, make the game easier to learn, and make DM-ing easier. Concepts for 4th Edition gameplay were tested in the new Star Wars RPG, and the Book of 9 Swords.

ShakuUVM a commenter on Slashdot writes:

[Star Wars] Saga Edition is 90% the same as [the new] D20 rules.

Saves [have been] almost totally revamped so that everyone’s saves will be within 2 points of each other (your class save bonus only applies once, and you get the best of all classes that you multiclass in, and then progresses the same for everyone). Likewise, everyone gets a bonus to damage equal to half their class level. The only difference in the classes are their ‘special ability’ talent trees, which work like in World of Warcraft. Essentially, every other level you get a new ‘talent’, many of which have prerequisites of other talents. So if you want the ability to reroll an attack roll once per day (a rogue ability) you might need the talent to reroll a skill check once per day. Sneak Attack is a talent, so if you want full Sneak Attack, you have to give up all these special abilities.

ShakuUVM seems to view the above in a negative light…I’m on the fence with the Saving Throw changes but the talent trees seems like an awesome change! Reading further in his comment, I see that feats ares still around in addition to the talents. If done right, this could feasibly reduce the complexity that has surrounded playing an odd-ball character that you want to hybridize in ways that only the Unearthed Arcana book could expose to you before.

It will be interesting to read more over the course of the next year. Sadly, I won’t be able to get my grubby paws on 4th Edition until May of 2008 when the Player’s Handbook is scheduled for release. The Monster Manual is due out in June and the Dungeon Master’s Guide will be released in July. So…die hard fans looking to play this as soon as possible won’t be able to play a solid game until those three books have been released.

Oh, another odd thing that is happening with this new Edition is a subscriber-based delivery of game content via a new Wizards of the Coast site: DnDInsider, which is basically a conglomeration of the Dungeons and Dragons magazines. Delivered through there will be tools, rules, and content available only to subscribers.

Interesting stuff.

World of Warcrack and the future of MMOGs

[[innerindex]]WoW Dude I began gaming in the early 90′s. Looking back at what gaming was then compared to what it is today causes me to do a double take. Things have changed so much so fast. Of particular note is the Online Gaming industry. What started out as geek-only text-based fantasy games has morphed into a globe encompassing communication/entertainment mega-games….Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs). Before I explain my awe when it comes to these games, I’ll start out with a short definition and a little history.

What are MMOGs?

Massively Multiplayer Online Games (a.k.a. MMOG, MMO, MMORPG) are pay-to-play games where a player interacts with an evolving game-world and hundreds (to thousands) of other players at the same time. Within these games, players typically wander around killing monsters, collecting/crafting items, creating organizations, and often times Player Killing (hunting down other players and killing them for experience, loot, or simply just for fun). In addition to the above…MMOGs tend to be highly addictive! I, myself, have been prone to spurts of MMOG addiction :)

A Brief History

I suppose the best way to fully understand these MMOGs is to see where they come from. Back in the ancient days of 1977, the first MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) was born. These geek-only games of sweetness gained popularity due to their ability to connect like-minded fantasy buffs to interact with eachother in a text-based reality, however, the popularity remain primarily in the geek community due primarily to the fact that most MUDs contained no graphics beyond ASCII art. While cool to some, many people found them fairly boring…I mean sheesh. read?!. (I was one of those geeks that played MUDs… EotL to be exact)

It wasn’t until 1997 when Ultima Online launched that MMOGs began to really take off. Ultima Online reached 100,000 users fairly quickly which spurred a whole industry of MMOGs with a variety of gaming engines, rules, and monthly price ranges. Some of the most popular: Asheron’s Call (AC), Dark Age of Camelot (DAoC), EverQuest (EQ), Ultima Online (UO), and the fairly new World of Warcraft (WoW).

Why Are MMOGs So Popular?

Oooo Doggy. Good question. MMOGs aren’t just games for geeks anymore. As the games become more advanced and appealing to the eye, more and more people are buying the games and paying the monthly fees. All types of people! Geeks, teachers, athletes, construction workers, housewives, etc!

  • Its a Role-Playing Game.

    MMOGs allow us to be an object of our own fantasy and participate in a world with very loose rules that allow us expose us to experiences when we want to experience them. In WoW I have the freedom to create a character that walks around being a bastard to people: swearing at them; stealing their items; player killing defenseless characters (griefing). While at the same time I could make a second character that is the perfect angel. Always willing to help those in need; an active contributing member of a guild; a good party member. I could make a third character with a whole different personality. Thats the beauty of it, you can play how you want with minimal fear of Real Life retaliation. You are simply a character on a screen, nothing more. When you get tired, you simply log off the game and you are back to your real life. A co-worker of mine directed me to this essay that explains this mode of thought:

    If you don’t understand the gravitational pull of an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game), I’m going to enlighten you with just a dozen words: you get to pick what you look like and what your talents are.

    That’s the real beauty of it. The first thing you do in the MMORPG World of Warcraft is design your own body and decide what your strengths will be. You pick your race. What could be more seductive than that, the ability to turn in all of the cards you were dealt at birth and draw new ones from a face-up deck? If you have friends who’ve gotten sucked into the WoW black hole and you don’t understand why they never talk to you any more, this is it. I remember being a chubby teenager with bad skin and astigmatism and pants that didn’t fit quite right. What would I have given to be reborn as a strapping warrior with rippling pecs and armor of hammered silver?

    On that kid’s screen now is a dozen noble warriors of exotic races, brandishing elaborate weapons and charging a gigantic demon across a fire-scarred mountaintop. The dwarf next to him is controlled by an accountant planted at his own computer in Cleveland, two babies sleeping in the next room and his pregnant wife on the sofa. The robed priest in the back casting healing spells is actually a 250-lb. ex-gangster, playing from the computer lab of a maximum security prison in Pennsylvania. The elf on his left, sprinting and drawing his mighty magical bow, is the digital body of a wheelchair-bound 12 year-old girl in Miami.

  • For some its the social aspect of the game. For example:

    I get my kicks from MMOGs for this very reason. Most MMOGs have some ability to create in-game organizations (in WoW they are called Guilds) and from these organizations grows in-game politics. Bylaws are often created; characters vie for rank; hierarchies are established; there are inter-guild events and disputes. It may seem silly at first glance because its “all a game,” but more often than not these organizations are taken very seriously by their members – despite the fact that they may have a guild name like “Vicious Chickens of Bristol” – and many Real Life friendships can be won and lost. So whats the draw? The ability to socialize with people from around the world and organize under one purpose. People are simply drawn to structure and conflict. I am. I love it :)

  • Yet another reason for MMOG popularity is the story.

    MMOGs typically have a wonderfully rich background story that explains the hows and whys of the virtual world. World of Warcraft (yes, I’m using WoW as the example again because I love it so :) ) has a very wonderful story line that allows its characters to participate in quests that unfold the WoW story to that user. The quests can be anything from a short delivery quest where you take one item from point A to point B, or it can be a whole chain of quests that build up an epic plot, OR it can be a comedic side story that gives an amusing reward. In WoW there are hundreds of quests and every few months many more are added/tweaked. The world is constantly evolving giving those that thrive on storylines plenty of story to keep them active for months and months on end!

What MMOGs Have Become

MMOGs have become an addiction and a communication powerhouse.
I’m a World of Warcraft addict. I play a Human Priest (named Heuric) and help run a guild called the Crimson Eagles. The scary thing is, is the fact that I get so excited even talking about the game (whether verbally or typing). It has become a very real part of my social life. And before you can ask the question, I’ll answer it: No, it is not my only social life…I spend maybe 5-15 hours a week in the game. Seem like a lot to you? Well, I’m considered an almost non-active member in my guild. There are people I know that spend almost all their time at home playing these games…sometimes more than 40 hours a week!

You see…weekends allow for game play times of 10+ hours straight! I have been known to do this and have also been known to forget to eat because of it. Yeah. I often suffer from the “five more minutes….I just need to kill 3 more” syndrome. Well sometimes I don’t miss just one meal…I sometimes may miss 2 and on a couple of rare occasions I have missed 3. Remember when I said that I am considered pretty inactive? Scary huh? Thank god I have a wife that keeps me in line :) (I only miss meals when I’m home alone)

Its an MMOG addiction. And I’m not alone. There are over 3 Million people in the world that own and play World of Warcraft…and thats just one game!

Ten years ago when I wanted to talk to one of my friends, I’d call them up on the phone. 7 years ago I’d e-mail them. 4 years ago I’d instant message them. Now…I log in to WoW. There they all are, running around PKing in Alterac Valley; questing in Searing Gorge; trading in Iron Forge; raiding in UBRS; or grinding in the Western Plaguelands. (all locations in WoW). Despite the fact that they are all doing their own thing, I can type or pop on a headset microphone and and talk to them. We plan get togethers, discuss work, news, politics, religion, etc…right there in game.

MMOGs have become a source of income (and I’m not talking companies)
WTF!?!?! Yeah. People can play for money. While generally frowned upon by both the companies that produce the games and by the average player, the buying and selling of accounts, items, and in-game currency has become a very profitable business. Here’s an article at TechAngel that talks of a man that makes ~$1,800 a month! In this article at 1up.com they explain how game profiteers are establishing Gaming Sweatshops in China, India, Mexico, etc where people are forced to play outrageous hours farming in-game currency for measely wages ($0.59/hour).

This is bad on multiple levels…first and foremost, the workers work long hours for very little money and are placed in situations where if the quit their jobs they’d lose their homes too. Its also bad for in-game economy. (yes, these virtual worlds have their own economy) These gold farmers jack up the prices of items causing many under-handed players to resort to purchasing money on E-bay and various game currency reseller sites…just to purchase a rare item in game! Its amazing to what lengths someone will go simply for the satisfaction of attaining certain items and a certain in-game status.

Where are MMOGs going?

They aren’t leaving any times soon, thats for darn sure. I can speculate that they will continue to grow in popularity and be taken more seriously. Even now we are seeing how serious some are taking these ‘games.’ MSNBC has an article where one man killed another because an in-game sword was stolen…Its a sad story that shows just how real some people believe these to be:

Qui went to the police to report the “theft” but was told the weapon was not real property protected by law.

“Zhu promised to hand over the cash but an angry Qui lost patience and attacked Zhu at his home, stabbing him in the left chest with great force and killing him,” the court was told.

More and more online gamers were seeking justice through the courts over stolen weapons and credits, the newspaper said at the time the case went to trial.

“The armor and swords in games should be deemed as private property as players have to spend money and time for them,” Wang Zongyu, an associate law professor at Beijing’s Renmin University of China, was quoted as saying.

As these incidents occur (and mark my words…more will come) what laws will be birthed because of them? Southeast Asia tends to be on the bleeding edge of gaming/tech culture and obsession. It is here that many of the ‘firsts’ occur (such as the murder mentioned above). Because of these incidents they are attempting to prevent them with some interesting laws:

What laws will carry over world wide? Will there be Real Life implications for what we do in game? Only time will tell…and I will be watching the clock with curiosity and a wary mind.

UPDATE (9/7/2005):
It seems that Slashdot has a post going on how WoW is now the 800-pound gorilla in the room…the big question from the New York Times:

WoW is now the 800-pound gorilla in the room. I think it also applies to the single-player games. If some kid is paying $15 a month on top of the initial $50 investment and is devoting so many hours a week to it, are they really going to go out and buy the next Need for Speed or whatever? There is a real fear that this game, with its incredible time investment, will really cut into game-buying across the industry.’ What is the Slashdot opinion on World of Warcraft’s impact on the gaming industry?