A Dragon and His Minions

Sarah Darkmagic - Posted on 27 February 2010

During a recent gaming session, I tried something a little new. I decided it was time for my players to meet one of the dragons inhabiting Newham Shire. To play the role of the dragon who was to terrorize the small town of Lolling Green during a kidnapping, I chose Razecoreth, a young green dragon warlock [DDI]. All I did was adjust his level to be more in line with the level of my players.

However, I was concerned that since the player characters would not be in a confined area and the dragon is a solo monster, those PCs with ranged attacks would just hang out too far away from the dragon for it to be an effective menace. To make things more interesting, I added some Shadar-Kai minions into the mix, based off of the Shadar-Kai Gloomblades [DDI]. To set up the scene, I explained that the inn in the center of town was on fire and that they could see figures running around in the dark causing general mayhem. I introduced the Shadar-Kai after the first round and added more each round, rolling a d4 to determine the number to add. These minions were one level lower than the PCs and could easily come up behind PCs who were hanging out far from the main scene of action.

While I thought it worked out pretty well overall, it did bring up one big issue with using the minion game mechanic. My players treat minion characters differently than they do "regular" characters and try to translate the game mechanic of 1 hp into a role-playing tactic. For example, they tried to convince the last Shadar-Kai warrior to surrender because one hit would kill him. I feel it's a long-standing problem with D&D's hit point system and I'm not sure the best way to play around it. If I hadn't gotten thrown off by the obvious meta-game comment, I think I would have explained that these guys had already been through a heck of a fight (which they had) and that's why they were such easy kills. But such story solutions don't always present themselves. How do you deal with the issue when it comes up?

Sounds like a good DM tactic. I feel minions are underrated.

What exactly would keep the solo from going after the long-range characters? Even updated solos should have enough HP and defenses to deal with OAs and defender marks.

As for metagaming minions, well, I figure MOST people in the world would be taken out with one shot (even unarmed) from a PC. It's really the non-minions who are exceptional.

Nothing prevented it in particular, and I think part of the problem is me learning how to run these different monster types. Part of the issue in my mind is that there aren't a lot of multi-target attacks for the dragon and I was afraid of boredom or complacency setting in if only one player per round was really getting attacked.

I think it's interesting to think of it in terms of 1 hit versus 1 hit point. Thinking of it in those terms helps it scale with level, which is my current problem. A level 3 minion and a level 15 minion don't share the same level of weakness even though they both only have 1 hp. In thinking about it, I guess if I'm new to a certain level or type of warfare, it might not take a bunch to knock me out, regardless of my previous experience in combat. And that doesn't mean I can't get in a good shot myself or that just any shot will instantly take me out of contention. Yet I'm not necessarily going to back down because I know I can get a decent hit in myself.

One way of dealing with the "minion factor" in a roleplaying sense is to think of the minions as the untrained soldiers. Full fledged monsters are those who are full grown and have experienced a fight or two before, or have gone through military training perhaps. Minions, however, are the green recruits. They are the creatures who are experiencing battle with prey that fights back for the first time, and so do not know how to properly defend themselves or act cautiously. They are the farmers and shopkeeps who have picked up a weapon for the first time - eager to defend their home but no match for a battle veteran.


You could always surprise your players and make them 'super-minions'! It's a term I read somewhere (probably on twitter), to denote a minion that takes two hits to take down. One makes them bloodied and the other kills/ko's them.

Otherwise, perhaps give the minions an attack bonus and/or damage that'll give the PC's pause - sure, they have 1hp, but they pack a punch and there's a lot of them! That'll learn'em for metagaming :P

Otherwise, you just have to play it straight as the DM. The minion isn't going to surrender because ''it has one HP' (and if the PCs suggest that, then the minion doesn't know what the heck they're talking about). As the DM, stay in character and in game, and the players should follow suit :)

I am definitely trying to play it more straight these days. Hopefully that will cut down on the some of the confusion between game mechanics and game story. We've actually done a decent amount of role-playing so I feel bad even bringing up this one little exception.

The super-minion thing is something I've been mulling over as well since it makes it harder for 1 area spell to wipe out a large swaths of the opposition. I've also been trying to adjust some elements of the monsters because a fair number of my players DM as well and tend to throw out monster stats as we play. I don't get as annoyed about that since 1) they often overestimate the hit points and 2) their characters are 7th level and I think adventurers of that level should have some basic ability to size up their opponents.

One of the things about PAX East and the D&D Encounters series that I'm really looking forward to is the opportunity to watch some other DMs run a game. So far, beyond a few podcasts, I've only really watched one other DM. I think I would learn a lot more just by watching how some others work their magic. And given that my total playing experience (as a player and a DM) is just under a year, I have a lot of learning to do still. Hopefully, I won't get too shy.

Good call on changing up the stats. In my experience (which isn't that much more than your own) players love being surprised... even when the surprise starts wailing on them with an area burst 5 within 10 necrotic attack that has a secondary effect with ongoing damage... (save ends)... *smirk*

Yeah, I love watching other DMs. Living in Australia, we don't have the benefit of conventions, though. You've been watching the robot chicken guys play, right? The DM commentary is supposed to be really good as well :) (http://www.wizards.com/dnd/videos.aspx)

I don't remember an in character discussion of "surrender because you only have one hit point." Maybe we said "your odds of surviving are not good if you don't surrender." I don't like the idea of super-minions, a lot of decisions get made on knowing we can take out a particular foe with one hit, and it's easier to balance the encounter. I'd rather have a bunch of lower-level soldiers instead of bigger minions.

I though it was a good encounter. You kept the controllers moving and prevented them from concentrating attacks on the dragon.

I've been trying the lower level creatures solution for a while now, and I'm not really satisfied with it. One issue is that the XP just doesn't line up correctly for it to work. A 7th level soldier minion has 75 XP but a 1st level soldier is worth 100 XP. Also, the DMG itself contradicts this tactic, offering the following advice:

If you use a large number of monsters of much lower level, you bore them with creatures that have little chance of hurting the PCs but take a lot of time to take down. On top of that, keeping track of the actions of so many monsters is a headache.

If I decide to use super-minions, I would make the change obvious to you guys and I would probably double the amount of XP each is worth. That way I could still have the additional bodies needed without making things go too far out of whack. Although I will note that I have yet to hear a bad thing about two-hit minions from people who have used them. It doesn't mean that no one has said anything bad about them; just that the good seems to outweigh the bad.

I've seen people that use the minion's level as HP. It does put them back into the record-keeping range, but it makes things a little more ambiguous. Outside of heroic level it usually takes two hits to take them down, but a striker can usually do it in one. I also sometimes boost tht damage that melee minions do. Often the damge they do is low enough that people don't bother with them. Ranged minions I usually leave the damage alone because they can gang up on one person.

Other suggestions -

Spread them out in space and time. Lady Darkmagic had the right idea by adding more over time. It prevents one good area effect from taking them all out at once and makes it hard for defenders to cover everybody. It also puts pressure on the players because they don't know how big the fight is. Sometimes throwing a regular creature in with the minions will mess up metagaming strategy. An interesting twist is to have creatures hidden come out.

Threaten innocents. A minion fight becomes a lot harder if the players can't use bursts effectively. By having innocents in there, it limits the player's response and makes heroic PC's have to decide between attacking the big bad guy or saving the little girl and their mother.

Minion generators. Remember the old video game Gauntlet? It had places that spawned bad guys. Imagine a fight where there are more minions coming every round. The players have to deal with them while they try to disable the generators. I usually set a specific amount of XP per generator by estimateing how long it will take to deal with each generator. I don't give xp for the minions, just the generators. Otherwise the PC's could extend the battle to get more XP. If they finish it quicker, then they'll likely expend fewer resources. Some ideas on how to do this - portals to other planes, crypts that animate the undead within them, constructs that build smaller constructs.

I've been considering giving Minions a death save to either all attacks or just burst and blast. Haven't decided yet.

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