That’s right, it’s a special treat with a double post Friday. Hate them or love them minions are an integral part of D&D 4th Edition. I have a love hate relationship with minions. There’s a great feeling of being able to put two handfuls of baddies out on the table and zerg rush a group of PCs. Unfortunately from a PC perspective minions are a waste of time to focus on unless you’re an area damaging controller. And nothing feels worse from a DM perspective like watching the morsels of juicy tactical XP puff in smoke in the first round because the lvl 7 rogue with combat advantage against everything just dropped his blast 5 box of Cloud of Steel and annihilated an entire platoon of monsters.
Minions, by design reward area affect controllers while punishing heavy hitting one target PCs. I made a house rule for minions I employ to help them survive the first round of combat and provide better fodder for heavy hitting PCs.
Create a damage threshold for minions (¼ hit points of a comparable, non-minion monster)
½ minion XP costs for the purpose of building encounters.
I decide on an Orc Eye of Gruumsh (200 XP) and an Orc Bloodrager (600 XP). That leaves me 700 XP. I decide to reskin 8 Human Lackeys (450 XP).
Orc Eye of Gruumsh
8 Human Lackeys
This encounter is really centered around the Orc Bloodrager. Unfortunately the Human Lackeys have low defenses even with their bonus for having other Lackeys nearby their defenses are comparable to the brute’s without the HP to take the blows. The PCs should have not problem ripping through them.
Now with the Minions+ rules I half the XP cost for the minions. I retool the encounter a bit, decide to beef it up. These orcs have trained a pair of Ogre Thugs (150 XP), and have a Crimson Acolyte (300 XP). That leaves me 250 XP. I spend it on all the Human Lackeys I can afford.
The new encounter looks like this:
Orc Eye of Gruumsh (200 XP)
Orc Bloodrager (600 XP)
Crimson Acolyte (300 XP)
2 Ogre Thugs (150 XP)
4 Human Lackeys (150 XP)
That’s a nice, fearsome looking encounter. Now we need to set the Damage Threshold for the minions. Monster Manual 1 minions are not given a role, like they are in later monster manuals. So I assume they have whatever role seems fitting. I think the Human Lackeys are skirmisher like and the ogres, brutes. A level 7 skirmisher has 76 hit points (Crimson Acolyte). I take a quarter of those hit points, 19. There is no lvl 11 brute in MM1 so I’ll just borrow the HP from the Skeletal Tomb Guardian a lvl 10. A quarter of its hit points is 31.
Make a notation of the damage threshold on the stat block of the minions.
How it works: If a minion takes damage equal or greater than its threshold it dies. If it takes less the minion is bloodied. A second successful, damaging hit will kill it. Now, assuming you play with the style you do not tell the players if monsters are minions dropping an encounter power on one of the Ogre Thugs is not a waste as it will probably be the only way they will drop one of the ogres in one hit. Unless a controller rolls high on their damage or adds ongoing damage it is unlikely they will outright kill a minion but it will bloody the minions. This is great for those PCs who get a bonus on attacks against bloodied foes, like the Tiefling Bloodhunt trait.
One thing to keep in mind is you should not ½ minion XP buy costs to spam more minions. Notice the latter encounter has fewer minions in it. Spamming minions at half cost will end with one of two results, a very long and boring combat or a very long and boring combat where the PCs suffer a total party kill from being surrounded and the sheer amount of attacks they suffer while granting combat advantage. Halving the XP is to allow for a more robust encounter by adding extra non-minion monsters.
Now some might criticize a level 11 Ogre Thug is too high level a creature for a level 7 encounter. A quick look at its stat block reveals its defenses are not particularly high, especially Reflex and Will, which are the major defenses controllers focus. Additionally for its size and level it does a conservative 8 points of damage per hit.
I suggest try it out and see what you think. If you’re feeling skeptical about the balance of the encounter try just adding the damage threshold and keeping the XP costs as stated. I know running a game I prefer it as some of the minions are likely to live past the first round and actually get an attack or two in before the PCs cut them down. Try it out and let me know how it goes. If there is a topic you would like me to check out or have a question, leave a comment.