Thursday, 19 April 2012

Metagaming the Metagamers: Minions

Dominic Matte
In a previous article I looked at the definition and a few examples of metagaming. There are many ways to deal with metagaming players, such as simply talking to them and explaining that a really good roleplayer acts only on information known by the character, or that the player's metagaming is having a negative effect on the game.

The more entertaining (and possibly evil) option is to observe how your players metagame, build situations and encounters to exploit their thinking, and teach them a lesson by turning their expectations on their heads.

This time I'm taking a look at how you can use minions in an encounter to force players to reconsider their assumptions.

Minions are a type of monster with only one hit point, designed partially as "filler" monsters, and partially to make encounters feel more epic by having the players take out a dozen goblins in one turn. 

A trap that's easy to fall into as a DM is to remove a minion from the board as soon as a player rolls a hit, reasoning that you'll save time by not making the player roll and calculate damage. Don't do this. Make your players roll damage every time. It's not like it'll disguise minions -- if the party wizard deals only 5 damage on an area attack and the monster goes down, the party will know it's a minion. Rather, forcing your players to roll damage at all times is important to some of the strategies I'll talk about here.

Experienced players will inevitably start recognizing that a large swarm of identical, generic monsters is often composed of minions, and charge right in. However, there's no way for the characters to know that the fifteen bandits will each go down in one hit -- a low-level party should at the very least be intimidated when they're outnumbered two or three to one. There are a couple of ways to deal with this assumption, but be careful, because they can be very dangerous to a party expecting the fight to go down easy.

The simplest and most dangerous option is to make none of the monsters minions. 

Imagine this. The party, making their way through the woods at night, comes across a large group of bandits sitting around a campfire -- fifteen or twenty of them, with one particularly nasty-looking guy at the place of honour. The player running the wizard thinks, hey, I could get rid of all those minions in one go, and we'll only have to deal with the leader. The wizard jumps out of the bushes, surprising the bandits with a spectacular fireball... and they all brush the ashes off their armour and draw their swords.

In this case, the wizard has overextended himself, and suddenly finds himself in an extremely vulnerable position: he's ahead of the party with no defender to back him up. He's not going to try that move again anytime soon.

Another method is not to show your entire hand at once. Let's say the party is exploring a zombie-infested ruin, searching for an ancient treasure. They enter a large room with many doors, and there are five or six zombies inside. The players attack, and after killing two or three zombies, realize they're only minions. And then they realize that the sound of combat has attracted the rest of the zombies inhabiting the ruin... and they're a lot bigger than the minions.

A third option is to mix monster types using the same tokens/figures -- some regular minions, some two-hit minions, some standard monsters. This will require more bookkeeping to keep track of who's who, but it also gives the players absolutely no information with which to metagame. If the ranger looses a storm of arrows on a group of identical minis only to kill some, bloody others, and scratch the rest, the players will realize there's no way of telling which monsters are which, and they'll have to approach each individual monster with the same level of caution. The three goblins charging the cleric could be minions... but what if they're not?

In terms of encouraging tactical thought and caution, option number three is probably the best. 
If you really want to scare your players, go with number one.
Number two is just good encounter design all around, and also helps deal with another metagaming problem: nova rounds (which will be covered in the future!).

Have you ever run a game or played in a party where the players made metagaming assumptions about minions? If so, how did you deal with it?

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