Fourth edition is known as the dark sheep of dungeons and dragons. There are many who didn’t like the system, feeling that it didn’t capture what made D&D special to them. However, fourth edition is my first edition, the one that introduced me to the wonderful world of roleplaying. And while I recognize the edition wasn’t perfect, I believe it has some forgotten mechanics that we can revisit to enhance our games. Welcome to 4E advocate, a series where I go into these mechanics, explain their use and effectiveness. Today we’re talking about minions.What exactly are minions? Minions in fourth edition are variants of monsters. Specifically, it is a template that you can apply to any monster that sets their hp to 1. That’s right, one measly hit point. The application of this template is simple, but it leads to some complex interactions with your game. Minions can be used in a variety of ways: as a villain’s underlings, soldiers in a large scale battle, or as benchmarks of your players’ progress.
As their name suggests, the most popular use of minions is as help for the big bad guy. Adding monsters that fall to one blow may seem like a minor annoyance, but it adds depth to an encounter in a way that regular monsters can not. Minions can chew through your party’s resources, forcing them to use their spells, abilities, and even turns to take them down before moving on to the boss. The minions also burn through another resource: health. Even though they live for about two turns at most, minions can add damage to an encounter in a controllable way. This is due to the design at fifth edition’s core called bounded accuracy.
Bounded accuracy basically means that the game is balanced so that every combatant has a 55% chance to hit with an attack under normal circumstances. This makes adding damage to an encounter fairly easy to predict. For example, let’s say you add two goblin minions to a fight. Each of them deals 5 damage with an attack. Assuming they both get taken out after 1 round, one of them will hit a player, most likely. With this assumption, we can work out that 2 goblins adds 5 damage in a fight. From there we can bump up the difficulty, one goblin at a time. On the players’ side, this makes them feel powerful as they cut through a whole hoard to get to their leader.
Minions can also be used on their own on a large scale. This is useful in campaigns that lead to war. Having a ton of minions to throw at your players gives them a sense of scale, while keeping your tracking to a minimum. One hp means once they’re hit, they’re out. This use of minions gives your players a chance to throw everything they got and watch as the bodies pile up. Just be careful not to let them pile on your players. Bounded accuracy works both ways.
The most understated use of minions is possibly the best. Using a minion version of a monster that your players had trouble with in the past serves as a callback to that time. Once your players take down two or more of those monsters that gave them trouble before, they will reflect and realize how much they’ve grown. This is a technique used in video games pretty often, and while those encounters are usually intended to reuse assets, when used in your game it can serve as a powerful storytelling tool.
The minion mechanic is such a simplistic one to apply to your game, but it uncovers so much depth in encounter building. It works well in conjunction with a core part of fifth edition, making for a smooth addition. Have you added minions to your game? How has it fared? I’d love to know! And until next time, make sure to keep those dice rolling high!