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


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.