Minions in D&D 4th Edition: Hit or Miss?

Goblin MinionGenerally I like the new rules for minions in D&D 4th Edition. They are several reasons why minions are fun: you can throw dozens of enemies at the players without killing them off instantly or being nothing more than a nuisance, there are no hitpoints for the DM to track. But there’s one rule that really bothers me: Minions never die when missed.

Huh? Some of you may now think “What’s the big deal?”. You know, there are quite a few powers in D&D 4th Edition that deal damage to enemies even when you rolled a miss. That’s especially handy when area effect powers are concerned. The problem is now that some of these powers are powerful enough to do some serious damage against normal monsters even when they miss but minions are completely unharmed. And in some cases this makes no frakking sense.

I had some discussion with my D&D 4th Edition DM about this and we agreed that the idea behind the rule was to make sure that you can’t kill all minions with a simple area effect spell, but I have to admit this rule really messes with immersion. It just feels wrong. But that’s a general problem I am having with 4th Edition combat: it works well as a game but most rules are totally detached from game reality. And don’t get me started on the daily sneak attack…

As I said before: all in all I like a lot about 4th Edition but the longer I play it I notice more and more rules that just don’t feel right. So, what are your thoughts on this?

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

16 thoughts on “Minions in D&D 4th Edition: Hit or Miss?”

  1. I've never been quite happy with the minions either, but one reason is that they die too easily. For me, that kind of ruind the suspension of disbelief, especially at lower levels, where I shouldn't be able to mow down enemies like hay.

    To remedy this, I'm trying an alternative minion system right now. Minions are damaged by all attacks as any other creature, but they don't have hitpoint. Instead they have a death threshold (=1.5 times their level right now, though that may change when I test it more). If an attack deals their death threshold or more, they die, if it deals less, but at least one hit point they become bloodied. If a bloodied minion is dealt 1 hp or more damage, it dies. Minimum of bookkeeping, esp if you use markers on the battle mat to show bloodied status.

    <abbr><abbr>Jens Alms last blog post..Savage Campaigns Webtools</abbr></abbr>

  2. Well, if you really, really want my twopence on this – *Minions* mess with immersion. Period.

    My general impression is that 4th edition D&D is not a game for people concerned with immersion. But by all means, use 4e as a basis for houseruling until you get something that satisfies these needs. Good luck!

    <abbr><abbr>Lurkinggherkins last blog post..A Sea-Elf Character: Sunaeco</abbr></abbr>

  3. @Jens: I have to admit I really like your alternative system. What do you do in situation like a described? Will a minion get harmed by area-affect powers that deal damage even when they missed?

  4. I think this would bother me if the damage-dealing-on-a-miss power affected a group of creatures and somehow took out an un-damaged non-minion, while leaving a minion standing. Although I'm not sure if that's likely, or even possible…

    It also depends on the characters in your game. If someone is dealing out d8+3 damage, then anything in old school D&D with 4 hit points or less is effectively a minion, and the majority of d8-1 hp monsters (eg. Goblins) are too.

    <abbr><abbr>Stuarts last blog post..Expedition to the Ancient Academy Podcast – Part 4</abbr></abbr>

  5. @Stuart: That's what happened in our last game. The area-effect power killed almost all non-minions (although it missed) but all the minions were still alive and kicking. As you can imagine it totally killed immersion for me. 🙁

  6. I love me some Minions! While I prefer the Mutants & Masterminds version (they get a Toughness save but if they fail it they're out of the game, meaning it is possible for a Minion to take multiple hits before he goes down), the D&D ones work pretty well too.

    The key is to remember that D&D Minions are either dead, or they're not – and "not" can mean anything right up to being dead. They could be scorched, scarred, battered and bruised, but still standing and swinging. So those Powers that do damage on a miss ARE injuring the poor Minion, just not taking it out of the fight. Describe the Minions as suffering from the blast, but not out for the count, and they work just fine 'n' dandy.

    That's how we work it, anyhow.

  7. I think that DMs stick too much on the one hit point part of minions. This is solely a rules construct to avoid book keeping.

    An area attack that misses a minions means the minion was wounded by the attack, but not enough to kill it, whereas any hit indicates death.

    But I can see how an attack that takes out non-minions on a miss would leave minions unscathed troublesome. In such specific cases i might rule to ignore the no-damage on miss for such a specific case to maintain the suspension of disbelief.

    <abbr><abbr>The Chatty DMs last blog post..Afterschool Trope Special: The Dungeon Crawl, Part 1</abbr></abbr>

  8. Well not much to add to others comments but whenever a player has a near miss against a minion I describe them as being wounded but still kicking. If it's a cowardly type of creature and an area of effect misses but kills his companions I'd say he is hurt and will probably begin to retreat with the minion the following round.

    <abbr><abbr>kaeosdads last blog post..Aloha rpg bloggers network!</abbr></abbr>

  9. I'm pretty fond of the minion, myself. I find that narrating a grisly death for them adds to the enjoyment of combat a lot and doesn't really break immersion. (I think immersion in any rpg is more based on the GM and players than anything mechanical, but I'll leave that aside.)

    I would agree with Chatty and be unwilling to really rely on the "minions have 1 hp" concept. Personally, if a player burns a daily that does damage even on a miss, he's taking out minions as well.

    Ultimately, the hordes of thugs is something that's very common in fiction, but is often hard to do in an RPG. It makes things like roleplaying a major battle doable, and breaks up the "pound it until it runs out of HP's" monotony.

    <abbr><abbr>wickedmurphs last blog post..Psychology and "Enchantment"</abbr></abbr>

    1. Thanks for all your comments! You guys have come up with some great ideas to solve the minion problem.

  10. 8th level orcs with 1 hit point mess with my immersion.

    Minions are a rule construct designed to get more minis on the board. The only time I use them are for things like summoned undead. Maybe it's because I treat my game world more like a world rather than a game board.

    <abbr><abbr>Ozs last blog post..Guinness 250</abbr></abbr>

  11. I posted this on Enworld with that problem in mind.

    P282 Monster Manual

    "However, if a minion is missed by an attack that normally deals damage on a miss, it takes no damage."

    I don't like it either way so what I would do is if the minion is damaged on a miss it gets a simple save versus die. Succeeds = lives, fails = dies. Simple and not silly.

    So I'd replace that line with:

    "However, if a minion is missed by an attack that normally deals damage on a miss, it makes a saving throw. If it fails it dies. If it succeeds it survives."

    Actually looking at another part of that paragraph I would also change:

    "Damage from an attack or from a source that doesn't require an attack roll (such as the Paladin's divine challenge or the fighter's cleave) also destroys a minion."


    "Damage from an attack or from a source that doesn't require an attack roll (such as the Paladin's divine challenge or the fighter's cleave) causes the minion to roll a saving throw. If it fails it dies. If it succeeds it survives."

    This way their are no auto live, auto die mechanics concearning minions.

  12. So the problem is that a powerful area effect power that misses still manages to kill one or more non-minions, but by some miracle, the lowly minions survive. How about this, in this given area of effect, IF a non-minion would normally die, instead allow it to survive and kill an appropriate number of minions in it’s place? (Perhaps one per level of the non-minion that would have died.) This would allow the power’s Miss Effect to still have worth, but also keep the suspension of disbelief by killing off the weaker, leaving the stronger to survive.

    Mind you, this is just off the top of my head and I don’t have a clue how well it would play out, so feel free to shoot it full of holes.

    <abbr><abbr>Rooks last blog post..My Foray into 4E: Finally lost my 4E cherry</abbr></abbr>

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