Greatest Hits 2011: Two-Hit Minions

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 27, 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.

Of all the articles I wrote in 2011, the article on two-hit minions is one of the ones I’m most proud of. Most of our articles are tips, tricks and advice for how to improve your game or make it more fun; rarely do we try and introduce any new mechanics. The two-hit minion was an exception. It was a mechanic that Sterling first suggested almost two years earlier, but when we actually started using the two-hit minions regularly this article was born and the feedback was very positive.

It took a few sessions of play testing before I believe I found the right balance for running two-hit minions, and each time we tweaked the mechanic the players confirmed that it was getting better. I’ve been using two-hit minions in my games, especially D&D Encounters, for about six months now and they always make the game more interesting. The players love the rush that comes from mowing down a bunch of minions, but they really love that some of those minions have the strength to take a hit and get right back up.

I’ve also learned that the key to two-hit minions it not to overuse them. This is good advice for minions in general, but is even better advice when it comes to the two-hit variation. By switching it up and mixing regular minions in with two-hit minions, players stop making broad assumptions about monsters until they actually have a chance to engage them. They no longer assume that six identical minis are going to be minions that will fall with one hit. Now they take into consideration the possibility that some or all of them might survive a blast from the controller so they need to be ready for that eventuality.

From July 13, 2011, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: Two-Hit Minions.

The two-hit minion isn’t new. We first suggested the idea over two years ago in one of our very first articles, More Than Just Minions. It was a reaction to DMs who felt that the normal minions were lacking something. I’ve felt that way for a while now and a few months ago I decided it was time to start using two-hit minions on a regular basis. The results were fantastic.

During this season of D&D Encounters we’ve been running tables with very large parties. The more heroes there are in the party, the more monsters I’ve placed on the map. However, week after week of just adding more monsters was starting to get a little bit boring, not to mention that it led to combat encounters that were taking a very long time to complete. I knew that I needed to shake things up and my solution was two-hit minions.

When I was using regular minions I found that the players, upon learning which opponents had only 1 hit point, treated the minions differently than other monsters. A lot of the PCs ignored them. The PCs with powers that could target multiple creatures (usually the controllers) would often eliminate all the minions in one round. It was very unsatisfying for the players and for me as the DM. Enter two-hit minions.

The players had no idea what was happening. They saw 12 monsters on the board and assumed (correctly) that at least some were minions. In this case eight were minions, four were not. But when the first PC attacked a minion and it didn’t die the PCs had to quickly reassess the situation. It took the players a couple of rounds before they realized that these were indeed minions, but they weren’t minions as they understood them. The result was unprecedented teamwork.

Mechanics

As the name implies it takes two hits to destroy a two-hit minion. However, I’ve added a couple of other quarks to the two-hit minions as I’ve refined them through play-testing. After the first hit the minion is bloodied. This serves two purposes. First it lets the players know which minions will fall with a single hit and which ones still need two hits. The second is that some PCs can do different things against bloodied opponents than they can against non-bloodied opponents. So one hit: bloodied, two hits: dead.

The only exception is on a natural 20. In those rare instances when a PC crits a two-hit minions I’ve counted it as two hits and that minions is destroyed. Now players don’t feel like a crit on a minion is a wasted 20.

As an additional reward to PCs that bloody two-hit minions, I started having the creatures fall prone when they got hit the first time, but not automatically or all the time. The attack score had to exceed the defense the PC was targeting by 5 or more. Originally I had them falling prone all the time on any hit, but it didn’t really make them seem that much better than regular minions. By rewarding a high attack roll in this way the PCs made more effort to work together to flank and get combat advantage on that first hit. It also reinforces the idea that you should always do the math and call out the total attack roll and not just say “I rolled a 17.” Sure a 17 will hit, but if the total isn’t above 21 than the minion is still on his feet.

The whole purpose of using two-hit minions was to add danger and excitement to the encounter. I wasn’t trying to make the minions uber-powerful. I just wanted a way to make them more menacing and to keep them around a little bit longer. I felt that having them fall prone on the first hit (assuming the attack score exceeded the target number by 5 or more) gave players a sense of satisfaction even though they didn’t kill the minion outright. It was also a way to reward the PCs because now that minion was granting combat advantage to melee attackers. If the minion was still alive on its turn it now had to use its move action standing up.

Increased Teamwork and Tactics

When the players learned that two-hit minions were now a mainstay in my encounters, it gave them a real incentive to work together. They actually talked about a coordinated attack pattern to take out the minions and didn’t just leave them for the controllers to handle. Sometimes the controllers worked to bloody all the minions early, that way any PC could kill a minion with one shot. Knowing that there was a good chance of knocking a fresh two-hit minion prone allowed PCs to help allies in distress. Threatened PCs could now move far enough away from a prone minion that they didn’t have to worry about getting attacked on the monster’s next turn.

The other tactic that quickly caught on at the table was for two PCs to delay until they were on the same number in the initiative and then engage the minions together. One PC (usually a defender) went first and attacked the nearest minion. As part of the attack the defender would mark it. The second PC would then attack the same one. If they both hit, then the minions was dead. If either missed then at least the minion was marked and would engage the defender. If the defender wasn’t available then the Ranger usually took point knowing that he had a good chance of killing a two-hit minion himself.

Players also began to see the importance of Wizards and Rangers when fighting two-hit minions. When facing a bunch of typical minions, a Wizard and Ranger can easily take down two a piece on their turn. But with two-hit minions the Wizard can’t kill any by himself. He can bloody many, but they’re all going to be alive and dangerous on their turn (although possibly prone). The Ranger on the other hand is capable of making multiple attacks on the same creature – an important distinction. So he can actually destroy a two-hit minion by himself on his turn. Now there’s one less to threaten the party.

A battlefield littered with bloodied two-hit minions becomes a shooting gallery for a Wizard with Magic Missile. Since Magic Missile always hits (even if the minion is prone), this becomes the fastest and easiest way to get rid of any bloodied two-hit minions.

The strikers more than any other class seem to hate the two-hit minions. Players running strikers often feel that their incredible damage should count for something else against a two-hit minion. After all, even the lowliest PC can destroy a two-hit minion with two successful attacks that each deal 1 point of damage. Meanwhile a striker is likely to dole out significantly more damage on his turn but still need to hit the minion twice. In a game just this week a level 1 Warlock inflicted over 20 points of damage on two consecutive rounds against a two-hit minion (both with at-will attacks). It still killed the monster, but the player really felt that all of that extra damage was wasted.

The lesson the party learned from this was to let the strikers focus on the non-minions and have everyone else take care of the two-hit minions so that the extra damage was put to its best use. I suppose is a valid argument even when fighting normal minions. The exception being Rangers, as we’ve already noted above.

Building Better Minions

Over the past few months I’ve used a lot of two-hit minions with a lot of different gaming groups (most notably at D&D Encounters). After each session I asked the players for feedback and refined the concept based on their comments. All in all the players have embraced the two-hit minions. They really liked the idea that they were knocked prone when first hit and didn’t have any issues with needing a really high attack roll to do it.

The only feedback that I’ve received that I haven’t been able to decide on how to handle is with regards to daily and encounter powers. Some players felt that if they used an encounter or daily power that it should count as two hits and destroy the minions. In a way I understand that argument, after all it’s a more powerful ability so using it and not killing a minions is likely to frustrate many players.

For now I’m still demanding that PCs score two hits, regardless of what kind of power is used and I have a few good reasons for doing so. Many D&D Essentials builds do not have encounter or daily powers in the same way as non-Essentials builds. This means that some PCs would have an edge when battling two-hit minions that other do not and I don’t think that’s fair. Having two-hit minions react differently to at-will, encounter and daily powers means that the DM would have to keep track of one more thing during combat, and that’s not something I’m willing to do as a DM.

Finally I look at how powers are used against minions today. Most PCs, once they realize that they’re facing minions, won’t use anything more powerful than an at-will attack. My though is that if you’re using a bigger power against your opponents then you obviously feel that the situation calls for it. If the target happens to be a minion and you use an encounter of daily power against it then that’s just too bad. In fact just last week my level 20 Warlord used a daily power on a minion. The party was in desperate need of healing and the power would only grant it on a successful hit. The 3[W] damage was absolutely wasted, but the healing it provided was not.

What are you thoughts on two-hit minions? Have you ever used them? Are you likely to use them moving forward? What feedback or criticism do you have on the mechanics as I’ve described them above? My goal is to make the two-hit minions as good as they can be while still being a balanced part of the encounter so please let me know what you think.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Zombie December 27, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Our DM tried out 2-hit minions on us once, and our experience fit your description of the issues pretty well, both positive and negative. It definitely made us coordinate more. When I DM, I plan to use them (and I’ll include the bloodied condition and crit to kill rules, which he did not).

My thought for high-damage powers was perhaps to give the minion some initial amount of hitpoints, such as bloodied or half-bloodied (I haven’t run numbers) and if a character can dish that much damage in a hit (thanks to a crit or a daily or something) it dies, otherwise it falls prone, and is always considered a 1 HP bloodied minion when prone. That also prevents it living forever if the characters keep letting stand up (though maybe that’s not a bad thing if they’re that uncoordinated).

2 BeanBag December 28, 2011 at 10:44 am

I love this idea to add spice to a minion and ran it like this: (just finished level 8.)
“Cinna-Minion” Level Hitpoints = 8HP.
8+ damage destroys the minion outright
Any (less than 8.) damage Bloodies the minion.
Any damage to a bloodied minion destroys the minion.

It is kinda nerf to a controllers and leaders since they are the ones who have a hard time reaching Level damage. But even with that, it worked wonders over and over.

I will now and forever sprinkle Cinna-minions with my Vanilla minions for a very tasting minion mixture!

3 Dominic Matte March 8, 2012 at 11:11 am

Nice article.

I’ve seen a slightly different approach to two-hit minions on the official Wizards D&D forums. That version gave the minions a level-based hit point total, and to take the minion down, you had to either hit it twice (regardless of damage) or take out all the hit points in one go. This approach keeps strikers feeling powerful, since they can probably take out the minions with an at-will. It also means players might actually consider dropping an area-of-effect daily if they think it can deal enough damage to clear a swarm of minions.

I’m wondering which approach I prefer. The two-hit minions as written here encourage strikers to focus on the most dangerous targets, which is good. However, the other approach still allows strikers to feel powerful against two-hit minions by being able to take them out in one shot. I’d like to try them both, but I don’t want to confuse my players too much.

4 Arcaneshield July 31, 2012 at 10:14 am

Just a question – how would one determine the xp for a two-hit minion? So as to help create balanced encounters since these are obviously more powerful than ordinary minion.

5 Mattwandcow September 10, 2012 at 12:18 am

Our group ‘invented’ 2 hit minions one night when a blackguard killed 13 minions with a possibly-errata’d-i-don’t-think-it-works-that-way-but-we’ll-check-later combo thing. your bloody 2 hits sound much better.

in regards to dailies and such, i’d call it based on damage dice. If the daily would have you roll 4W, that’s going to hurt a lot and might 1KO.

I’d also rule it, along similar lines, that Power Strike would take out a B2HM.

6 Zrog September 28, 2012 at 11:55 am

It is possible that better encounter design would eliminate the need for 2-hit minions? Don’t get me wrong – it sounds like an interesting mechanic. However, it brings up the question “what’s the purpose of (two-hit) minions”? To me, the purpose of a minion is to distract the players for at least a little while from the BBEG, so the BBEG can escape, call reinforcements, improve his position, or cast some control spells. I would argue that if your minions aren’t lasting long enough, you need to add some more Soldiers to your encounter mix, or maybe some lower-level Brutes (still dangerous if they hit, but easy to damage). Or, if you find that your Defenders never let anything get close to your clothies or ranged, then you need more Lurkers or Skirmishers. This becomes especially true when you have a large group of players – putting in enough minions to last more than 1 round really clutters up the board. Try adding 2-3 Soldiers instead (even lower level ones). Alternately, add waves of 1-hit minions to your encounter. Sure, they keep dying – but they also serve the purpose of distracting PCs from the real threat(s).

Also – as soon as you assign minions hit points, or make them 2-hit, they are really just weaker opponents – which you can add without resorting to minions or changing the minion mechanic. One of the best things about minions is that the DM doesn’t have to keep track of the number of hits they have taken. The second benefit is that you can have a big battle without annihilating a small number of PCs. In this situation, SOMEONE has to divert all their attention to managing the minions, or the small party will get run over.

I’d be curious to know whether a side effect of the 2-hit minion was to slow down play…

Just my thoughts. I will admit I haven’t tried your suggestion yet, but I’ll also note that I never felt the NEED to change the minion mechanic, either.

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