There has been a lot of buzz going around about how to bring more action to the potentially mind-numbing experience of combat in 4th edition. One of the biggest complaints that I have personally is the lack of excitement that battling a solo monster brings with it. I could write about how to fix this problem in your own games, but I think the Angry DM did a good job of figuring it out already. I’ve put his advice to good use and I feel like I’m able to keep the action fun by changing conditions on the battlefield or having monsters switch gears partway through the fight. My favorite solo fight was when I had a giant, magical octopus attack a ship and it periodically switched positions and tactics as it lost more tentacles.
Ameron over at Dungeon’sMaster recently posted another article on an excellent and overall awesome tactic he has been doing to keep his battles exciting: using two-hit minions. I read his initial post on the subject quite some time ago, and it was something I’ve always wanted to try out in my own games.
My own Love-hate Affair with Minions
As you know, I live in Korea, so it is very hard to have a decent amount of miniatures or anything of the sort for my games. Space is limited in Asia, and you can only imagine the difficulties of sharing essentially a large dorm room with my wife. As such, I’ve taken to using colored coins as monster tokens. For a while, I was using unmarked coins to indicate minions (easier for me to track and all that) but the players in my game started catching on and sort of disregarded them or easily planned around how to take them out with their at-wills or minor abilities. This made minions really hard to make seem threatening in any way which made our encounters a bit more static than I’d like them to be.
I may have shot myself in the foot a bit, but I can’t imagine how GMs rocking minion figurines would have it any easier after players got used to them. How can we revitalize minions and make them both a threat and useful tool again? Enter two-hit minions.
An extra 1 hp (sorta) gives minions an advantage like they’ve never had. I read through all the articles on Dungeon’sMaster as well as other people’s comments, and here are the best things to bring into your own game:
Minions should use Aid Another to help the main baddie do his dirty work. What is Aid Another? You silly, silly person, you. It’s the best-kept secret in D&D:
“In melee combat, you can help a friend attack or defend by distracting or interfering with an opponent. If you’re in position to make a melee attack on an opponent that is engaging a friend in melee combat, you can attempt to aid your friend as a standard action. You make an attack roll against AC 10. If you succeed, your friend gains either a +2 bonus on his next attack roll against that opponent or a +2 bonus to AC against that opponent’s next attack (your choice), as long as that attack comes before the beginning of your next turn. Multiple characters can aid the same friend, and similar bonuses stack.”
Completely legal, and completely awesome.
Intelligent minions can make a Heal check to grant saving throws. Help your stronger monsters shake off that pesky condition and/or ongoing damage.
Building your own Awesome Minions
Buff up your minions with encounter or racial powers. Why shouldn’t minions have the same racial bonuses of other monsters? Elven Accuracy, Fey Step, Breath Weapon, etc., should be a normal part of any racially endowed minion’s arsenal.
Minions + Auras/Status Effect-giving powers = Swear Words. Make them explode on death, have a ridiculously strong attack, or immobilize their attacker. That’ll learn’em!
Make them go down when hit with a strong attack, say AC + 5. They are, after all, minions. Strong hits should floor them. This will make players still feel like their attacks matter, which isn’t always the case against a minion.
A Crit is still a Crit. If my players Crits you can bet they still skewer or fricassee or cook their minions however they like them. All minions should definitely go down on a natural 20.
Give players double the xp of normal minions. If you’re going to make them work harder for the kill, you should reward players for it.
Two Hits are Better Than One
Giving minions an extra layer of defense goes a long way during an encounter. Typically, minions do negligible damage before getting wiped off the map. More numbers obviously guarantees a little more action, but it’s hard to get a good balance and it’s easy to go overboard. Two hits means they can take a hit and stick around to do things like grant a flanking bonus to the tougher enemies. Tougher, sexier, and all-around more of a pain-in-the-ass, two-hit minions are always invited to my parties.
What do you think? Are two-hit minions worth a shot? Is there any more ways I can improve on their design? What other kinds of awesome adaptations have you made to monsters in your games at home?