D&D 5E Minions with Damage Thresholds?


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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Objections: There's 3 objections I have come across (both from players & from me) in my experiments with minions across 4e and 5e, and this experiment with damage threshold is attempting to address those in a way that opens up some creativity...

1) "My damage is "wasted" on minions." This was a player complaint – sort of the opposite of @Clint_L 's feedback about my house rule disfavoring monks – that heavy hitter PCs weren't as valuable against minions. Basically, by taking HP completely out of the equation, players with PCs doing high-damage felt they weren't able to contribute as meaningfully.

2) All minions go down equally, irrespective of the monster being modeled (i.e. 2 damage takes down the firenewt minion or the ogre minion). That can lead to cognitive dissonance for some players/groups – why is the big bulky ogre dropped as easily as the sinewy firenewt? Similarly, a fire bolt dealing 2 damage could kill a firenewt minion – and that's working against the expectation we have that "firenewts are resistant to fire damage." This was both a player complaint and my complaint as the GM.

3) Minion-clearing tactics influenced by meta-game, rather than story. For minions, it doesn't matter whether they roll a saving throw against an effect dealing half damage, so spells like burning hands suddenly are more valuable against minions. They just die. Same thing with auto-damage effects (Magic Missile, Cloud of Daggers, etc). This was my complaint as the GM.
2 and 3 above are valid complaints. With the first one, there's wasted damage when you put 20 points damage into something that only has one left anyway, no real change there.
Creative Play Encouragement: All of the above led to a certain repetition of strategy when the players were facing minions. At first, it was novel, but when it became repeated the excitement of using minions quickly lost its luster. In trying to kill two-birds-with-one-stone, I also wanted these "minion traits" to provide interesting weaknesses / workarounds for players that emphasized the minion monster's story, in an effort to break up the repetitive strategies I've seen in past experiments using minions.
Here I think the answer is to always use a mix of minions and not-minions, so the players (and characters) can't tell them apart. They meet ten firenewts. Six of them are minions but the other four are "real", and until the fight is well underway the players/PCs don't know which are which.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
MCDM has solved minions. Read Flee Mortals! Heavily playtested and absoutely the best version of this mechanic, period.
So I skimmed the Flee Mortals preview... A goblin minion has 6 hit points... but it never tracks damage... instead this "6 hit points" is a damage threshold that does not apply to all damage, rather ONLY to damage from successful saves (e.g. 1/2 damage from Fireball, Cone of Cold, Burning Hands) and other non-attack effects (e.g. Magic Missile, falling, environmental damage).

Minion (MCDM). If the minion takes damage from an attack or as the result of a failed saving throw, their hit points are reduced to 0. If the minion takes damage from another effect, they die if the damage equals or exceeds their hit point maximum, otherwise they take no damage.

Very similar. So the only functional difference I can spot is that with my version the damage threshold applies to everything... and of course the creative weaknesses.
 

Dausuul

Legend
MCDM has solved minions. Read Flee Mortals! Heavily playtested and absoutely the best version of this mechanic, period.
It's polite to actually quote the rules in question rather than making people go dig them up.

Having gone and dug them up, here they are:
  1. If a minion takes damage from an attack or as the result of a failed saving throw, it dies.
  2. If it takes damage from any other source, it dies if the damage equals or exceeds its hit points. Otherwise it takes no damage.
  3. If an attack on a minion deals more damage than the minion's hit points, the excess can be immediately applied to another minion of the same type. The new target must be within reach of the attack (for a melee attack), or directly behind the minion (for a ranged attack). Excess damage from the second target can be applied to a third target, and so on.
  4. Two to five minions of the same type, acting on the same turn, can make a group attack. This attack uses their normal attack bonus plus 1 per minion, and deals their normal damage times the number of minions attacking.
There is also an optional rule that when a minion's CR is 6 or more above the CR of the creature attacking it, its minion traits turn off versus that creature; this is to handle the case where high-end minions are fighting lower-level foes.

All in all, it looks very functional. I do have some reservations about what happens when minions of this type are used outside of a normal combat scenario -- what if you have 7-hp minions in an area where you take 1d6 fire damage per round? -- but those are certainly corner cases.
 

It's polite to actually quote the rules in question rather than making people go dig them up.

Having gone and dug them up, here they are:
  1. If a minion takes damage from an attack or as the result of a failed saving throw, it dies.
  2. If it takes damage from any other source, it dies if the damage equals or exceeds its hit points. Otherwise it takes no damage.
  3. If an attack on a minion deals more damage than the minion's hit points, the excess can be immediately applied to another minion of the same type. The new target must be within reach of the attack (for a melee attack), or directly behind the minion (for a ranged attack). Excess damage from the second target can be applied to a third target, and so on.
  4. Two to five minions of the same type, acting on the same turn, can make a group attack. This attack uses their normal attack bonus plus 1 per minion, and deals their normal damage times the number of minions attacking.
There is also an optional rule that when a minion's CR is 6 or more above the CR of the creature attacking it, its minion traits turn off versus that creature; this is to handle the case where high-end minions are fighting lower-level foes.

All in all, it looks very functional. I do have some reservations about what happens when minions of this type are used outside of a normal combat scenario -- what if you have 7-hp minions in an area where you take 1d6 fire damage per round? -- but those are certainly corner cases.
I rule environmental situations on a case by case basis. But for the most part, it depends on the type of minions being used. Let's say I'm having a fight in a giant volcano against a firegiant and their drow minions. The arena deals 1d6 fire damage to the players at the start or end of every round. This damage would effect drow normally, but it doesn't effect minions. I justify this by saying the drow have been given something by the fire giants to protect them, and for less serious tables, it's just accepted that the bad guys can fight in this environment without being messed up by it.

It's still a corner case, but otherwise, I find this very functional. The overkill mechanic, which is how you can apply leftover damage from one minion to the next, is very fun to play with. It makes martials especially feel very badass -- they can do things like the Fighter Dwarf could in the D&D movie where she takes on a bunch of guards at once without too much danger. It also allows you to have micro-combats without rolling intiative. If you have two guards you need to take out to get through the door, instead of a full combat, you can just test to see if you hit them, and if not, they get a reaction to take a turn and then you allow the same or another character to take another crack at it. This allows for a more dynamic field of play, where you can have a mix of minions, normal fights with imitative, and normal fights with minions and initiative combined. This spectrum IMO feels better because it lets me litter a new kind of fast-to-resolve danger across the map.

A good example of what I'm emulating is how, in Dark Souls, you can round the corner and some annoying 1 hp-skeleton ambushes you with a quick swipe. Killing this skeleton is easy in Dark Souls, but having to roll inititive to take it out means I have to change the encounter to be more complicated, have a full encounter with just one overmatched skeleton, or modify the rules to have the skeleton be like a trap or something. But with minions, I can use monsters-as-traps and monsters-as-hazards, which also increases my opportunities for interesting NPCs to cross path with the players. And with overkill, I can still have it be several skeletons that get quickly resolved if I want to. And I can also combine this with another encounter too to adjust for different reasons.

I have to repeat this though: the core of what makes me like these rules is specifically the overkill mechanic. This small change to how minions functions (and it is small) has very big effects on the number of ways you can deploy minions as a game and/or narrative device. I think any minion system that doesn't allow for overkill or something similar is providing only half of what the "concept" of minions can provide.

All in all, I find the MCDM minion mechanics to be the most enjoyable and the most narratively flexible while still being very mechanically satisfying to play with.

Sorry for the short post earlier, I was doing laundry and on my phone!
 

I had a friend who had '1 hit' minions. If they got hit, they died. You could send swarms of them against a party. If it took more than one hit, it was a 'boss' of some sort. Track HP as usual. The players got fairly used to this.

In one game, they hit this one minion and he didn't die! OMG, he was a BOSS! They started to panic.

Turns out, it was a '2 hit' minion. A slightly more powerful minion.

The neat thing about this is it just uses up action economy. Doesn't matter how much damage you do. This Favours monks because they have so many attacks.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
I rule environmental situations on a case by case basis. But for the most part, it depends on the type of minions being used. Let's say I'm having a fight in a giant volcano against a firegiant and their drow minions. The arena deals 1d6 fire damage to the players at the start or end of every round. This damage would effect drow normally, but it doesn't effect minions. I justify this by saying the drow have been given something by the fire giants to protect them, and for less serious tables, it's just accepted that the bad guys can fight in this environment without being messed up by it.

It's still a corner case, but otherwise, I find this very functional. The overkill mechanic, which is how you can apply leftover damage from one minion to the next, is very fun to play with. It makes martials especially feel very badass -- they can do things like the Fighter Dwarf could in the D&D movie where she takes on a bunch of guards at once without too much danger. It also allows you to have micro-combats without rolling intiative. If you have two guards you need to take out to get through the door, instead of a full combat, you can just test to see if you hit them, and if not, they get a reaction to take a turn and then you allow the same or another character to take another crack at it. This allows for a more dynamic field of play, where you can have a mix of minions, normal fights with imitative, and normal fights with minions and initiative combined. This spectrum IMO feels better because it lets me litter a new kind of fast-to-resolve danger across the map.

A good example of what I'm emulating is how, in Dark Souls, you can round the corner and some annoying 1 hp-skeleton ambushes you with a quick swipe. Killing this skeleton is easy in Dark Souls, but having to roll inititive to take it out means I have to change the encounter to be more complicated, have a full encounter with just one overmatched skeleton, or modify the rules to have the skeleton be like a trap or something. But with minions, I can use monsters-as-traps and monsters-as-hazards, which also increases my opportunities for interesting NPCs to cross path with the players. And with overkill, I can still have it be several skeletons that get quickly resolved if I want to. And I can also combine this with another encounter too to adjust for different reasons.

I have to repeat this though: the core of what makes me like these rules is specifically the overkill mechanic. This small change to how minions functions (and it is small) has very big effects on the number of ways you can deploy minions as a game and/or narrative device. I think any minion system that doesn't allow for overkill or something similar is providing only half of what the "concept" of minions can provide.

All in all, I find the MCDM minion mechanics to be the most enjoyable and the most narratively flexible while still being very mechanically satisfying to play with.

Sorry for the short post earlier, I was doing laundry and on my phone!
Gotcha. Was thinking something along these lines... I'll post re-worked example below (changes in orange)... similar to MCDM, but a few differences:
  • Per @Clint_L 's feedback, the damage threshold is tied to all damage dealt in a turn, so it's not attached to discrete instances of damage like a single attack. So Monks and Magic Missiles aren't punished.
  • Overkilling has a higher litmus test (double the damage threshold), so it's not as easy to do – so you probably won't overkill much as a monk, but you're more likely to as, say, Rogue or Barbarian.
  • However, the Overkill can be applied to any firenewt, not just a minion – so a Firenewt Warrior or Warlock, or Horde of Firenewts (a swarm stat block) would be fair game.
  • Damage Resistances. While this doesn't apply to this specific monster, if we had a minion that was resistant to a damage type, this approach would still allow it to benefit from that resistance – e.g. a minion with Damage Threshold 10 and fire resistance would be slain by a sword dealing 10 damage, but not a fire bolt dealing 10 damage, but it would be slain by a fireball dealing 20 damage.

________________________________________________
Firenewt Minion
Medium humanoid (firenewt), neutral evil
Armor Class 13 (shield)
Hit Points 1 (see Slippery Foe)
Damage Threshold 10 Overkill 20
Speed 30 ft.

STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
10 (+0) 13 (+1) 12 (+1) 7 (-2) 11 (+0) 8 (-3)

Damage Immunities fire
Senses passive Perception 10
Languages Draconic, Ignan
Challenge 1/4 (50 XP) Proficiency Bonus +2

Amphibious. The firenewt can breathe air and water.

Minion. If an attack deals more than 20 damage against a firenewt, the excess can immediately be applied to another firenewt within range.

Slippery Foe. If the firenewt would take less than 10 damage in a turn, it takes no damage, unless it is cold damage. While the firenewt is unable to move, it loses this trait.

ACTIONS

Fiery Scimitar. Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d6+1) slashing damage plus 3 (1d6) fire damage.
________________________________________________
 

Quickleaf

Legend
How Many minions are you using exactly? Ten, twenty, thirty??? A hundred???
I've run some rare situations with 24-30 minions maybe. My gut instinct is that if I'm getting into the high-teens with minions numbers, then that's probably an indication I should use a Horde stat block, set up waves and some more interesting encounter stuff, or rework the scene (e.g. maybe it's actually a Chase scene, and the "minions" are background flavor/obstacle/explanation of damage on a failure).
 


I think this version of damage thresholds isn't intuitive. Essentially, if I'm rolling low on damage and hitting beneath its threshold, I'm doing nothing to it. No matter how many times I hit the minion with something weak, I can't kill it. This is as compared to a normal enemy, who even if I hit it repeatedly with something weak, I am in fact hurting it, and could eventually kill it. Because of this, it breaks my personal sense of verisimilitude.
 

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