Greatest Hits 2011: My Love Affair With Minions

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on December 21, 2011

While the Dungeon’s Master team enjoys some well-deserved vacation time, we’re breaking out the greatest hits and shining a spotlight on a few of our favourite articles from 2011. We’ve searched for hidden gems that our newer readers might have missed and our long-time readers will enjoy reading again. Enjoy a second look at these greatest hits from Dungeon’s Master.

I love minions.

It has been almost a year since the original article was published and my love affair with minions has not decreased. If anything the infatuation has only increased. Since this article on minions was published I’ve taken the DM hat off and returned to the other side of the screen. Yet, even as a player I love minions. 

I take great joy in watching how my DM deploy’s his minions, how he frustrates me and other players with their tactical usage. It’s most obscene, but I take a perverse joy when all the minions gang up on the controller. I attack something else for a round just to see what will happen. 

In my mind minions truly are the best tool in the DM tool box that 4e introduced. The ability to add swarms of easy to kill, easy to use enemies is fantastic. Minions can quickly change the dynamic of any combat. Player’s are often left guessing on which monster is the minion during the initial rounds of an encounter. Where minions really stack up is when their synergies mesh with the other monsters in the encounter. 

As a player I feel truly heroic when I dispatch multiple foes with a burst or blast attack. Sure, they only have 1 hit point, but that isn’t the point. The point is what minions truly represent in the game. The fodder. My characters are supposed to be powerful, there are opponents that I am supposed to be able to vanquish with impunity. Minions fill that role. 

I hope you enjoy another read of this article. Since it was first published it has become one of our most searched articles and whether you are a DM or a player I’m sure you’ll find the value, joy and satisfaction that minions inject into combat. As I’ve said, my love affair with minions stands. I don’t see us breaking up anytime soon.

From February 25, 2011, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: My Love Affair With Minions.

It started innocently enough. At first just one and then another. Before I knew it minions had invaded my encounters. It was so easy to just add one more. I’ve considered counselling to help me deal with my problem. The last encounter I ran my players through had 23 minions in it. I’m afraid I’ve gone too far. I’m not sure I can reconcile my love affair with minions.

I worry my players may hold the excess amount of minions they face against me. That they may grow bored with encounters as they realize that they have less and less cause to roll damage dice. Worse, I fear they all may recreate their characters and come back as controllers.

Perhaps I’ve overstated things, blowing my problem out of perspective. However, I do enjoy including minions in my encounter design. They provide the players with the opportunity to feel heroic and force them to think tactically about combat. As I’ve incorporated minions into my encounters I’ve realized that there is a right way and a wrong way to use minions. This has resulted in the development of ground rules or guidelines in how I use my minions.

Know Thy Minions

The first step in effective minion implementation is knowing their role within the encounter. This will factor into the other decisions you will make about the minion. Minions can take on one of several key roles during a combat encounter:

  • Fodder for the Kill – You are providing your players with the opportunity to kill multiple opponents with no real threat to themselves. This encounter is all about your players having fun while expending a minimal amount of resources.
  • Tactical Considerations – Your minions are there to provide flanking bonuses to your main combatants, occupy certain squares or force your players to think twice about certain actions.
  • Synergy Bonuses – Your minion may grant a certain bonus that another monster can benefit from. As an example in a recent encounter the minions did necrotic damage and granted vulnerable 5 necrotic. The main opponents in the fight also did necrotic damage, making clearing out the minions a higher priority than it might be otherwise.

Knowing what you want your minions to do during an encounter will effect the type of minion you select and how you will place them on the map.

Minion Variety

I am a big fan of minions in almost every combat. Care does need to be taken to mix up the type of minions that you employ. A solid mix of ranged and melee minions is needed. It keeps your players on their toes, constantly guessing as to what foe is a greater threat. Of course the threat of a minion is relative to the situation.

If you are constantly using melee minions you may find that you run out of tactical positions to place your enemies. If your minions are always ranged attackers you may find yourself with some frustrated players. A good mix keeps the players on their toes and allows them to feel superior when they dramatically reduce the amount of minions and therefore enemies that they are facing.

Minion Deployment

If a minion is the first enemy your players see, chances are it will also be the first enemy your players kill. You’ve now handed your players some very easy experience and wasted any benefit the minion might have provided in combat. Your pacing during combat in terms of how your minions are presented will go a long way in determining how effective your minions are.

I am a big fan of introducing minions in waves. As I’ve mentioned I like to use a lot of minions in my encounters, if all of the minions are present during the first round your players may become overwhelmed very easily. They may get the wrong idea about your design intentions for the encounter and decide that flight is the best option when the encounter is actually very winnable. By introducing your minions in waves you give the players the choice of dealing with them in small numbers or becoming overwhelmed by sheer numbers within a few rounds. Of course a capable controller can likely handle any number of minions, parties without a controller could be in for a more difficult time.

Minions were one of my favourite additions to 4e. They allow the players to feel more heroic at times and they provide the DM with more creative options for encounter design.

What are some memorable situations you have had with minions? What dynamic combat encounters have you designed or participated in?

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