Sunday, 11 March 2012

Better Minions Part Two: Tactical Minions

Dominic Matte
A lot of the official D&D 4e published material doesn't make very good use of minions. Much of the time they're just extra bodies to distract and slow down the players, rather than actual tactical elements. Here are a few ideas to make minions more interesting in combat. Use these with either regular minions or two-hit minions.
  • Minions with a death effect based on the creature type. It could be a small damage burst, a buff or heal to an ally, or a new terrain feature for the encounter. Minion death effects force the players to decide when to kill minions — it might not be advantageous to take out all the minions early or at the same time. Here are a few examples:
    • Fire elemental leaves a square of fire that deals damage to creatures entering or starting their turn in the square
    • Spider leaves a square of webbing, which is difficult terrain for non-spiders
    • Drow leaves a square of darkness that obscures line of sight and grants concealment
    • Ant hatchlings give a cumulative +1 rage bonus to the queen's attack/damage for one turn
  • Minion summoner. One monster (which may or may not be the main threat) has an ability that summons minions onto the field. It could be a recharge ability, or a passive ability that adds fewer minions at a time — for example, a summoner pulling elementals through a portal, or an ooze that constantly sheds smaller oozelets. May work better if the summoner isn't the main threat, forcing the players to deal with the summoner while the big bad is wearing them down and they can't focus properly.
  • Minions with a task. The minions' job isn't to fight the PCs, but to work toward an objective — open the drawbridge, cut the mooring ropes, make off with an item, etc. If the players ignore the minions they risk losing the objective — for example, the castle gate is breached and the battle moves into the defended area.
  • Multiple spawn points. Designate a few spots as minion spawn points. Every round, choose one point at random and spawn minions on their initiative. The players can't ignore any of the spawn points since they don't know where the threat will come from each round. Also consider letting the players spend actions or resources to close up the spawn points — for example, the barbarian might make a couple of Strength checks to roll boulders onto the ant burrows to let the rest of the party focus on the queen.
  • Minions as mobile terrain or effects. These minions may or may not actually attack the players, but their primary use is mobile effects or auras. Examples:
    • animated statues that block line of sight, line of effect, and movement
    • elementals with a damage aura
    • minions as portals — a boss monster can move normally at its low speed, or it can spend a move action to go to any space adjacent to a minion. Minions respawn at the edge of the field when killed, so the players will tactically choose if and which minions to attack based on where they want the boss to be able to move, while still knowing that the portals can be moved back into position.
If you have any more ideas on how to make minions more interesting and dynamic in combat, I'd love to hear about them in the comments.


  1. One of my favourite methods is using a wight to reanimate zombies and the undead. It appeals to your minion summoner idea. I like all of your ideas!

  2. I like the idea of minions doing non-combat things. That way, you have to choose between taking out other enemies that hurt you, or stopping potentially dangerous non-combat activities.

    What do you think about exploding minions? A burst 1 fire damage thing or something like that? That would force melee characters to keep their distance,
    and work with other party members to pick them off from a distance. Plus, a good controller could line them up for a chain reaction!