Originally Posted March 2009

I’m not terribly pleased with the minion rules for D&D 4e. For those who haven’t looked at the minion rules in the new edition, they’re basically normal enemies except they’re taken out whenever they suffer 1 or more HP of damage (except from attacks that deal damage on a miss, to keep AoEs from automatically clearing all the minions). While binary minions certainly simplify GM bookkeeping, they do so at a cost of player dissatisfaction. Players can very quickly tell that they’re dealing with minions, and often these fights quickly become a matter of figuring out which attacks do the lowest amount of damage to the most monsters in order to clear the board for the real fight. Plus, players that use up a good attack, or just a good damage roll, on what turns out to have been a minion can feel cheated that they accomplished precisely as much as the guy that nicked one with a dagger.

However, before 4e came out, I found some of its concepts to be really useful for minion fights. Specifically, the change from a binary Active/Taken Out to a trinary Healthy/Bloodied/Taken Out could mean a lot for minions while still using default rules from the system. That is, it’s not necessary to make minions Alive/Dead when you can include a bloodied state as well for less total attacks. I experimented with a hybrid system of this in a 3.5 game, and it worked very well: GM bookkeeping was kept to a minimum (tracking unhurt vs. bloodied minions), while player attacks mattered.

This minion system can be expressed as:

  • Minions have a damage threshold number.
  • Damage equal to or greater than the threshold takes out the minion.
  • Damage less than the threshold bloodies the minion. If the minion is already bloodied, it is taken out instead of being bloodied again.
  • Damage far less than the threshold can be ignored if it wouldn’t reasonably affect any character. A bunch of these types of attacks might eventually take the minion out.

Essentially, I would record a low level minion as something like 15/3. Any character that does 15 or more damage takes it out immediately. Any character that does 3-14 points of damage bloodies it, and will take it out with another such attack. 1-2 points of damage can be safely ignored unless the minion is taking lots of such tiny bits of damage (and then an ad hoc ruling should be made as to when it’s enough).

The secret of this system is that it’s basically how easy monsters play under the default system, just requires much less bookkeeping. For monsters that any member of the party can expect to one-shot, they aren’t likely to survive more than a couple of hits unless damage rolls are very low. This way, you don’t record exact numbers for non-total hits. Was it taken out in one hit? No? Then it will probably be taken out by the next one. Big damage characters see some point to bringing out the big damage, but the GM’s job remains easy.