D&D 5E Make Minions Great Again!

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
This is an idea I've been working on the last few days. I have not been able to playtest except at home, and it may be a while before this pandemic lets us out of the house again. So I'm sharing this here to see if some of you out there would like to play around with it and see what happens. I'm not looking for debates or arguments based on game preferences, edition shaming, or the usual tomfoolery that evolves here. If you cannot be constructive, critical, and polite, then you will be ignored.

Or at the very least, be funny and/or entertaining! We can all stand for some levity.


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I've been looking for ways to make game play more efficient during combat in Dungeons & Dragons (5e). In my experience, players are always waiting for their turn to come around while other players are making decisions, throwing dice with nothing to show for on a miss, and falling asleep while the DM rolls for every monster on the board and performs basic math at a lethargic pace. (And might I add, how great is D&D that we put up with this for decades?) This flaw in design has been persistent in every edition of the game, some worse than others. But what can be done about it that doesn't require rewriting the core mechanics of the game itself?

Identifying The Problems: There's a few factors here at work. For starters, there's a lot of dice rolling that needs to take place on every turn. Assuming that each player has more than one attack, or an opportunity to make a skill check or saving throw, everyone with a player character sheet in front of them can expect to roll 2 or more d20s on their turn. This isn't always an issue, but what happens when the players roll too low to hit or do enough damage to change the board? "Nothing" is the answer you're looking for. Which means the group has another round to go through and hope for better results.

But let's not forget the Dungeon Master, who decided to throw a swarm of orcs at the party for an epic battle for fun! He's regretting that decision by round 2 when the party fails to take down most of the enemies due to a run of bad dice rolls, leaving him to make attack rolls for 20+ mooks. That's after he decides how to move them around, decide what each one is going to do, provided they have more than one option. All the while, he is still taking the time to mark down their hit points, their conditions, who did what, etc.

Finding Solutions: Looking at other systems, it is interesting to see how some modern games have evolved. Dungeon World, in particular, has some very good ideas. Not the least is the idea of using a player's roll to determine if the monsters hit back. There's some other good stuff there, of course, but a lot of it would fundamentally change the game being played and, well, you might as well just play Dungeon World. Not a bad idea but it doesn't fix anything if people want to play D&D, right? Moving on.

If you're not familiar with the system, let me give you a super-brief primer. You roll 2d6, and when you score 10+, you succeed. If you roll 7-9, you succeed but there is a complication. In combat, it usually means that the monster finds an opening and gets to attack at the same time as you do. Below that... well, best not to dwell on it because its just bad. But the point is that no matter what you roll, something happens! If you roll poorly in D&D, you just make people wait longer to resolve whatever it is you're trying to accomplish.

The Challenge: So here's a list of criteria that I want to meet with this idea.
  • I want to make D&D combat more efficient, more fun.​
  • I want to reduce the amount of rolls the DM needs to make. Don't make players wait!​
  • I want bad rolls for players to do something so its not just a meaningless roll. Keep players engaged!​
  • I want it to still be D&D, and not some knock off of another system.​
  • and I want to do it without introducing too many fiddly bits or changing the game entirely.​
Did I hit all this and more? I don't know yet. But I think I'm on to something, so bear with me. This is what I came up with...

The Solution(?): There are two parts to this. For the first, I went back to my favorite edition (4e) for inspiration: Minions.

Minions were introduced as a role for monsters so that heroes could face multiple enemies that were mechanically simple to run, easy to knock down, and still posed a viable threat. It wasn't perfect. I mean, a group of frost giants with only 1 hit point was a hard pill to swallow. But from a game design standpoint, it worked. And my encounters were better with them, and my players loved them.

Now, I'm not trying to introduce the 1-hit point mini-monster into the current game. I think that the idea of the minion must be reimagined and made better to fit with the current rules. Minions themselves had their own special rules that did not follow the logic of the other game monsters, so why not continue with that line of thinking for 5th Edition rules?

And this enables the second part of the solution, which introduces an alteration to the existing rules without changing the whole game--these rules will only apply for monsters specifically designated as minion types! If done right, these new minions will work perfectly with the existing rules, will be easy to create from regular monsters, and do all the other stuff I hoped to accomplish in my list.

Creating Minions: Creating a minion should be easy. We're not going to reinvent the wheel here. Just pick an existing monster you think will appear in a group to threaten your party, like goblins or bugbears. The only numbers we're going to change are the hit points and damage. Using their static number listed, divide by the number of minions you want in a group.

Example 1: Goblins have 7 hit points and do 5 damage on a hit. If we want a group of 3 goblin minions, divide by 3 and round down. So each goblin will have 2 hit points and do 1 point of damage on a hit.​
Example 2: Bugbears have 27 hit points and do 11 damage on a hit. A minion group of 3 would have 9 hit points each, and do 3 damage. Or a pair of minions could have 13 hit points and do 5 damage each.​
This is all you really need to create larger numbers of mooks for your heroes to tear through. They don't have any special abilities or powers like their standard brethren. They are the rank and file, filling a role and working together as a unit under the leadership of their betters. And here is where the special rules come into play:

1. No initiative
Minions do not act on their own turn. They only react to the players, or move at the end of a combat round.

2. Easier to hit
A player who misses an attack roll by 5 or less can still choose to hit the minion, but gives the minion an opening to strike back. The minion does automatic damage to the character first based on his damage rating (no rolls needed). The minion must be able to target the character (i.e. must be visible, in range, etc.)

3. Still dangerous
If the player misses an attack roll by more than 5, then the minion automatically damages the character as above.

4. 1s and 20s
If you roll a 20, the minion's hit points drops to 0. On a 1, the minion scores double damage on the player.

And that's it. Easy enough?

The Assignment: This is all very straightforward and theoretical. In my limited playtest, it seems to work great. I know it will take more than a cursory glance and several more playtests to discover any shortcomings or problems at different levels of play, rules, etc. I'll take any feedback, but I'm hoping for others to try this on their own to discover where there is room for improvement, and of course to hear other experiences and insights.
 

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Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
Addendum 1: At the end of the combat round, all minions will act together as a group. Move each minion accordingly. Those with melee attacks will move to within range of their targets, while those with ranged attacks will move to within line of sight and range. Once in place, each character will take 1 damage for each minion targeting them.

This keeps the minions from becoming a passive threat that the players will be able to ignore.
 

Sadras

Legend
You can certainly implement a system like this into the game. Personally I'd increase the damage and should the PC fail by 5 I would have them do damage before the PC hits as opposed to after in (2) in case the PC slays the minions.

You might get some pushback from some folks saying something similar exists with the Mob Rules (page 250 in the DMG).
 
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Fanaelialae

Legend
It's an interesting idea, but the auto damage could be an issue.

For example, a bugbear is not an unreasonable challenge for a 4th level fighter (who only has 1 attack). Let's say there are 8 bugbear minions and that they surround the fighter. Assuming that he rolls well and kills 1 a round every round without taking retributive damage, he's in very real trouble. 7 damage (rnd 1) + 6 (2) + 5 ... = 28 damage. He might or might not survive that depending on his Constitution. Add just a few more minions who can fill in around him as others die, and he's as good as dead.

It's a lot of damage at low levels for something that is largely unavoidable.
 

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
@Sadras Thanks for your feedback!

Personally I'd increase the damage and should the PC failed by 5 I would have them do damage before the PC hits as opposed to after in (2) in case the PC slays the minions.
Before we start ramping up the damage, we need to consider how much is actually being dealt out in a typical scenario. By design, the potential damage from a group of minions is higher on average than a single, standard monster of the same. There are couple reasons for this.

  1. Players must target and disable multiple enemies to mitigate potential damage. If you take down a standard creature, it is no longer a threat.
  2. Damage is automatic. There is no need to roll for a potential miss. If a minion is alive and able to threaten a character by the end of the round, the damage is inevitable.
Keep in mind that you can have more than one group of minions in an encounter. So instead of 4 regular goblins, convert 2 of them into groups of 3 minions (6 total) plus 2 regulars.

Also, I agree that minions will strike before the players resolve their attack. I think I wrote that, actually. Maybe the wording wasn't clear...

You might get some pushback from some folks saying something similar exists with the Mob Rules (page 250 in the DMG).
Oh, I always expect pushback around here. :D

But seriously, I had not thought about the correlation there. I am still partial to using a grid and minis in my games. Minions are individual pieces on the board. The mob rules appear to work better as one giant mass, or for theater of the mind style of play. I think they can both exist in the same space. ;)
 

MonkeezOnFire

Adventurer
I like this idea. Simply dividing a standard monster into a group is a simple yet elegant solution. Much easier to use than the mob rules since that requires you to calculate the roll needed on a d20 for a monster to hit a PC, then take that number and look it up on a chart to see if they hit. And because PCs will have different AC values you have to do that calculation for every PC. Very tedious.

Of course the single monster and a group created from it will not be 100% equivalent in terms of challenge, but in 5e where balance is as much art as it is science it feels close enough. As long as you always have the minions attack instead of utilizing their actions to get other advantages (like grappling or springing environmental traps) then they should be roughly balanced.
 

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
It's an interesting idea, but the auto damage could be an issue.

For example, a bugbear is not an unreasonable challenge for a 4th level fighter (who only has 1 attack). Let's say there are 8 bugbear minions and that they surround the fighter. Assuming that he rolls well and kills 1 a round every round without taking retributive damage, he's in very real trouble. 7 damage (rnd 1) + 6 (2) + 5 ... = 28 damage. He might or might not survive that depending on his Constitution. Add just a few more minions who can fill in around him as others die, and he's as good as dead.

It's a lot of damage at low levels for something that is largely unavoidable.
A good observation, and I appreciate your input, but I feel that is more of an edge case and not a typical scenario. Most parties consist of more than a single fighter, so there should be others characters to help mitigate the number of minions per round. Also, the DM shouldn't focus fire on a single character anyway, unless the player is deliberately drawing the minions' attentions. In that case, it is a tactical decision based on the player's actions, which will likely be followed up by a hard lesson on playing defense. ;)

However, this observation does remind me that some guidelines should be in place to prevent similar predicaments. For example, the number of minions per group should not be more than X... I'm going to say 4, for now. That way we don't have 27 1-hp bugbears replacing a regular.

So, in other words, if a 4th level fighter could handle one bugbear, then 4 minions should be an equal challenge. Does that sound better? Some real playtest in actual games at different levels will help establish more guidelines, of course.
 

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
Of course the single monster and a group created from it will not be 100% equivalent in terms of challenge, but in 5e where balance is as much art as it is science it feels close enough. As long as you always have the minions attack instead of utilizing their actions to get other advantages (like grappling or springing environmental traps) then they should be roughly balanced.
Thanks! "Close enough" works more often than you might expect. But I think you get that already. ;)

Minions really only have one purpose, so they're not going to do much else. That said, they can still threaten an opponent, which counts for other creatures' special abilities, such as opportunity attacks, reactions, and sneak attacks! So even though their relative threat is low, they can still support their allies on the field by providing distractions, or taking attention away from more dangerous threats.
 

aco175

Legend
2. Easier to hit
A player who misses an attack roll by 5 or less can still choose to hit the minion, but gives the minion an opening to strike back. The minion does automatic damage to the character first based on his damage rating (no rolls needed). The minion must be able to target the character (i.e. must be visible, in range, etc.)
I like this idea.

I tend to make minions as higher level threats more like 4e. If I want a goblin to challenge a 8th level PC I may make 4 attacking with +7 to hit and still have only 1-hit to kill.

Some other things I tend to do to make combat faster is have the players roll damage on themselves. This gives them something to roll more often and I can continue on to the next roll. On large fights when I have a mob attacking the PCs, I have the players even roll to hit themselves or the other PCs. If there are 20 goblins I just tell the players that the goblins have +4 to hit and do 1d6+2 damage. Players might like to roll against the other players or against their PC.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
I would want to embrace the simulation-first design of 5e for 5e minions.

Which means you don't make minions weaker because you want more of them.

I've played around with a Horde of Zombies. The idea is you have a packed mass of Zombies which are flowing down a pathway. To stop them, you literally have to kill enough zombies. When they reach you, they attack, and they'll flow over you.

Each zombie has 22 HP. If they are packed in, you'll have 1.5-2.0 zombies per square. Through in undead fortitude, and call it 50 HP per square.

The zombies have a speed of 20 ft. I'll assume they are dashing for 40 ft (fast zombies).

The horde has a bunch of HP, possibly infinite. "Real" damage gets deducted here.

Find out the choke point (the width of the flow). It generates 400 points of "flow" per 5' wide in the choke point.

Divide the front of the zombies by 10'. Every 100 points of "flow" per 10' width the zombies advance 5'.

Damage both attacks the horde total HP, and reduces its flow.

Damage per square is capped at 50.

Static damage obstacles deal 10x damage (like a cloud of daggers) as the zombies flow over it, capped at 400. Zombies can learn to avoid it, halving damage, if there isn't a choke point there.

Choking off 1 square of flow can reduce the flow by 400 per turn.

When it engages foes it slows down; every attack the horde does slows the flow by 100 points.

Area effect abilities deal damage per-square, doubled, capped at 50/square.

Attacks on the horde have advantage (because packed), and it has disadvantage on all saving throws (because packed). Or you can just have it always be hit, and never pass a saving throw.

It does +5 to hit, 5 damage, 10 on a crit. It gets 2 attacks on adjacent, 5 if you are within the edge, and 10 attacks on fully embedded foes.

On foes with at least 25 AC it deals 4 damage on adjacent, 10 on the edge, and 20 on embedded. If you are immune to crits, halve this damage.

There we go. That is a quick simulation of a near infinite (or actual infinite) horde of zombies.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
A good observation, and I appreciate your input, but I feel that is more of an edge case and not a typical scenario. Most parties consist of more than a single fighter, so there should be others characters to help mitigate the number of minions per round. Also, the DM shouldn't focus fire on a single character anyway, unless the player is deliberately drawing the minions' attentions. In that case, it is a tactical decision based on the player's actions, which will likely be followed up by a hard lesson on playing defense. ;)

However, this observation does remind me that some guidelines should be in place to prevent similar predicaments. For example, the number of minions per group should not be more than X... I'm going to say 4, for now. That way we don't have 27 1-hp bugbears replacing a regular.

So, in other words, if a 4th level fighter could handle one bugbear, then 4 minions should be an equal challenge. Does that sound better? Some real playtest in actual games at different levels will help establish more guidelines, of course.
Yeah, that does seem like the right direction in my opinion.

I would like to reiterate my original point however, as I think there was a slight a misunderstanding. A single bugbear is irrelevant against a level 4 party. So the idea was that the fighter takes on the big monster (the "bugbear") while the rest of the party is dealing with the other monsters. Hence why he's taking them on alone. Granted, once the rest of the party deals with the other creatures they would help him out, but that's liable to take a round or 3 (during which time the bulk of the damage would be inflicted).

The damage would become less relevant over time, and monster HP will get higher, so rather than a flat limit I think something like no more minions than party level, or maybe half party level plus 2. Something along those lines.
 


Quickleaf

Legend
Interesting. A couple clarifying questions:

Relies on Players Tracking Monster AC
In order for players to quickly evaluate the degree to which their attack succeeds/fails, they need to know the target number they're rolling for. To handle this efficiently at the table without play slowing down a lot, this means the players need to maintain awareness of monster AC.

In my experience, most players resist remembering monster AC. Even when I've had the monster AC clearly displayed in big font on tent cards hanging over the front of my DM screen, I would regularly have players ask "So I got a 15...do I hit the ogre?"

What were your playtest experiences with this?

Limit on Numbers
Is there a limit to the number of minions that can be in a group?

For example, take an ogre with 59 HP and a great club that deals 13 damage. If we have 13 Ogre Minions, then they'd have 4-5 HP each and deal 1 damage each. However, if we have 59 Ogre Minions, then they'd have 1 HP each and deal... would it still be 1 damage each?

For playability I love the idea of not having to track minion hit points – after all, that's a huge part of the appeal for a DMing using minions. However, logic seems to dictate that the monster's damage should inform the limit on the number of minions that can be part of a group...

Minions Opportunity Attacks & Saves
Do you have minions take reaction opp. attacks? I'm assuming the answer is no, in order to speed up play. Which means that minions shouldn't be used in scenarios that rely on battlefield control via threat of getting opportunity attacked.

And do you have them roll saving throws? I'm assuming the answer is yes, and you handle minion saves as a group whenever possible. However, then that opens up the can of worms that the optimum way to deal with minions is to use effects that force saving throws, since saving throws don't risk the possibility of minion counterattacking (which is restricted to attack rolls). Is that intentional design or a side effect?

Pacifist PCs Walk Through Unharmed
If I'm understanding your system right – that minions only harm PCs based on the PCs making low attack rolls – then it sounds like if the PCs make no attack rolls, then the minions have no way to affect them? Because it sure sounds like a group of PCs could look at a pack of ghoul minions in loose formation, think back to the mechanics of their last minion fight against goblins, say "screw this", refrain from attacking any ghouls and walk through them unmolested?
 

Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
@Quickleaf Thanks for weighing in! These are great questions, and exactly what I was hoping to see! I really appreciate the thought and time you took on this. Let me tackle these one at a time.

Relies on Players Tracking Monster AC
In order for players to quickly evaluate the degree to which their attack succeeds/fails, they need to know the target number they're rolling for. To handle this efficiently at the table without play slowing down a lot, this means the players need to maintain awareness of monster AC.

In my experience, most players resist remembering monster AC. Even when I've had the monster AC clearly displayed in big font on tent cards hanging over the front of my DM screen, I would regularly have players ask "So I got a 15...do I hit the ogre?"

What were your playtest experiences with this?
Hehe. Well first of all, my "playtests" are currently limited to running some scenarios myself with some pregens and characters I have laying around. Being self-quarantined has given me some time to do stuff like now, I suppose. But that is why I reached out to the community a) who may have better means to access table-play with other people, and b) give others something to toy with and discuss. :)

As for player tracking, I don't see that as an issue. They usually need to confer with me anyway if they hit or miss when it is not so obvious. If they fall within the 5-point range with this idea, I would let them know they have the option to hit. They will know what the consequences are since I would have explained these rules beforehand.

If you feel that the cost in efficiency of play is too high, I would counter that the trade-offs includes greater tension, player agency, and keeping players engaged. This is how I imagine it might go down:


Example: Player rolls 13 on his attack check, but needs to hit AC 15.
DM: You see an opening in your attack that leaves you vulnerable to your opponent. Do you take the hit or pull back?
Player: Hmm.... yeah, I haven't taken many hits yet. I'll take him out!
DM: Okay! As you lunge, the orc slips his jagged blade underneath your swing, nicking you for 3 damage before your own blade comes down on top of him. How much damage did you do?


Limit on Numbers
Is there a limit to the number of minions that can be in a group?

For example, take an ogre with 59 HP and a great club that deals 13 damage. If we have 13 Ogre Minions, then they'd have 4-5 HP each and deal 1 damage each. However, if we have 59 Ogre Minions, then they'd have 1 HP each and deal... would it still be 1 damage each?

For playability I love the idea of not having to track minion hit points – after all, that's a huge part of the appeal for a DMing using minions. However, logic seems to dictate that the monster's damage should inform the limit on the number of minions that can be part of a group...
I know the thread is still short, and I think I did address this above. But yes, there would be a need for parameters to avoid silliness like this. You can only get so many minions out of a standard monster, and not all monsters should be grouped as minions.

As far as tracking hit points, I'm going to let you in on a little secret... I rarely do that anymore! Notable exceptions are bosses, solos, legendaries, etc. But that's another topic and another thread. ;)

Minions Opportunity Attacks & Saves
Do you have minions take reaction opp. attacks? I'm assuming the answer is no, in order to speed up play. Which means that minions shouldn't be used in scenarios that rely on battlefield control via threat of getting opportunity attacked.

And do you have them roll saving throws? I'm assuming the answer is yes, and you handle minion saves as a group whenever possible. However, then that opens up the can of worms that the optimum way to deal with minions is to use effects that force saving throws, since saving throws don't risk the possibility of minion counterattacking (which is restricted to attack rolls). Is that intentional design or a side effect?
Regarding Opportunity attacks, you are correct. They do not have reactions like normal creatures. Their intent by design is to be straightforward, charge in and have characters let loose! So they would not be suitable for every scenario, which is fine. But try mixing them in with a group of standard creatures. That could change the dynamics of an encounter altogether as different strategies could be needed.

I think the topic of saving throws requires more attention to work out the finer details. But generally speaking--yes, minions will make saving throws as a group when appropriate.

Remeber, minions aren't supposed to be a great threat to the players. They will, however, distract the players and demand resources and actions focus on them to deal with them, which means less directed at the more dangerous threats.

Pacifist PCs Walk Through Unharmed
If I'm understanding your system right – that minions only harm PCs based on the PCs making low attack rolls – then it sounds like if the PCs make no attack rolls, then the minions have no way to affect them? Because it sure sounds like a group of PCs could look at a pack of ghoul minions in loose formation, think back to the mechanics of their last minion fight against goblins, say "screw this", refrain from attacking any ghouls and walk through them unmolested?
I did think about this, actually. That was post #2 in this thread. ;)
 

Zaukrie

New Publisher
Interesting thread! I'm a few weeks from releasing (I hope) a PDF called minions and masters.....and minions mostly act when the master orders (actions by the master) or commands (reaction or bonus action by master) them to act. Basically, minions are additional attacks or positioning, or meat shields, for masters. The idea is to give a "single creature" more actions, so the PCs don't just kill it in a round or two.

So, the goal is different, but I'll be following this, and looking for ideas/edits/changes.
 

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