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Interview with a Minion – Yep, They Suck.

Written by Janna - Published on November 24, 2008

Janna discovered D&D at the age of 16, and she's been rolling the dice for 16 years. (You do the math.) She is fond of intelligent villains, drow society, and campaigns that explore the Dark Side.

Nicholas recently wrote an article about goblin minions and the ways they can destroy you if you’re level 1. Comedic value aside, that article got me thinking: what must life be like for the average minion? Think about it. They have no purpose except to serve as cannon fodder; they primarily exist to slow down PC parties before they reach the real monsters; and one blow, no matter how glancing, will end their pitiful lives.

Still, many monsters rely on minions as a part of their attack strategy. Take kobolds for instance. The 4e Monster Manual makes this suggestion for a level 1 kobold encounter group: two kobold slingers, one stormclaw scorpion, and eight kobold minions. The fact that those minions have 1 hit point apiece doesn’t matter; by the time a level 1 party wades through them, they’ll be softened up by numerous javelin stabs. Not to mention, kobold minions are shifty little suckers that constantly maneuver themselves to flank their enemies. When your PC is level 1, that can sting a bit.Minion

My studies brought me to the conclusion that minions can dish out the pain, but they can’t take it. Still, to gain a more thorough understanding, I called upon an actual kobold minion to give us a firsthand account of the short lives of fragile monsters. Here’s what he had to say:

Janna: Thanks for sitting down with us today.

Kobold Minion: *rawr snarl growl roar snarl*

Janna: Do you need a Kleenex?

Kobold Minion: “RAWR growl rawr snarl*

Janna: … I don’t speak draconic.

Kobold Minion: Oh. My bad. I was just explaining why I was late to the interview.

Janna: I see. And why were you late?

Kobold Minion: I got a splinter. Luckily, it didn’t go in very deep. But I had to remove it reeeeeaaaalllll slow, just to be on the safe side. If it got infected, I’d be a goner.

Janna: My word. That’s–

Kobold Minion: And then I was walking down the street, and this little kid nearly bumped into me. I was still shaken up by that near miss when I noticed a bee flying past. I ducked into a building and just shook for a while.

Janna: I guess that’s understand–

Kobold Minion: Then when I finally got here, the security dude started to pat me down. I was like, “Whoa there, big guy! Be gentle!” Then he realized that I was minion, and he gave me a lollipop and waved me through.

Janna: Wow. Just…wow. Well, that brings me to the question I’ve always wanted to ask: What’s it like going through life with one hit point?

Kobold Minion: I live under constant attack! Things like hailstones and briar patches are just irritants to regular folks, but they’re certain death for a minion! Plus, I’m always thinking stuff like, “What if Aunt Gertie pinches my cheeks too hard?”, or “What if the Wyrmpriest gives me a serious wedgie?” I’ve lost good friends that way.

Janna: I never realized the true terror of your plight. How do you handle it?

Kobold Minion: I’ll.. I’ll take that Kleenex now. Thank you. *sniffle* Mostly, I’m a complete recluse. When I have to go out and defend the lair, I rely on the Law of Averages. The more buddies I bring along, the less likely I’ll end up on the wrong end of a hero’s sword.

Janna: Good thinking. Well, that’s all the time we have. Thanks for opening my eyes to the unique challenges that minions face.

Kobold Minion: No problem, put ‘er there– *gurgle groan*

Janna: Ugh. I guess I squeezed too hard.

So there you have it. A very personal look at what it means to be a minion. I still feel a little bad about the killer handshake, but then again, he probably wouldn’t have survived the trip home.

Have you had a squishy encounter with a group of minions? Are you a DM who likes to wear down your party with these 1hit point wonders? What should I do with this corpse anyway?! I always like to read your thoughts and ideas, so keep on sharing!

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Written by Janna

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Janna discovered D&D at the age of 16, and she's been rolling the dice for 16 years. (You do the math.) She is fond of intelligent villains, drow society, and campaigns that explore the Dark Side.



21 Responses to “Interview with a Minion – Yep, They Suck.”
  1. Whenever I read about Minions, I think ‘Hmmm…a narrative construct for cinematic action…what sort of action did they have in mind?’.

    Then I’m reminded of every stupid unbelievable fight scene that pits the protagonist against an army of over-fragile goons in every movie from ‘The Black Hole’ to ‘Kill Bill 1’, and I remember how much I laughed at the utter stupidity of those scenes.

    I don’t play 4e, but if I did, I wouldn’t use Minions.

  2. Noumenon says:

    Hee hee, this is a good one.

  3. Janna says:

    @ Lurkinggherkin: It’s funny you should mention Kill Bill I. I was watching it the other night. When it came to the huge fight scene with the Crazy 88’s, my friend leaned over and whispered, ‘Minions.’ *lol*

    @ Noumenon: Thanks. ;)

  4. Fishercatt says:

    I’ve always used minions for either comedy or background. You know, fun stuff like “You open the third door on the left and see a room with three dozen Kobolds. They all stare at you for a moment, then get back their dinner. It’s the mess hall”. Something like this is great for Role playing because the players would get no XP for killing unarmed, non-fighters.

  5. phycoshane says:

    god i hate in lord of the rings films the way they use the orcs like minions theirs ocrs they should retain some toughness but they just get choped down again and again but you know what being a minion is not as bad as a guma from mario bros imagine you knew that sooner or later some fat italian plumber was going to shoot out of a green pipe and CRUSH YOU WITH HIS OWN BODY WEIGHT what a horrible way to die thats probably why they always look so angry

  6. Robert says:

    I thought it a little lame that they have 1 hit point. I use them in much the same way, but they run off instead. It’s like they are first-timers to real fighting. The training hasn’t given them courage.
    Having them run off means that I can use them again in the same fight easily enough. It also means that I can ‘reward’ big damage rolls. Everyone used to groan when their critical hit was against a minion, now it is useful and worthwhile. Few minions run from the big fighter types, they end up dead. But those that run from the mage will be back to harry her, unless she uses some magic to wipe them out.
    I don’t distinguish the minis/tokens of minions from ‘real’ monsters to keep the players on their toes.

  7. Minions rock! They are uber fun for players. Even my Cleric can kill them…

  8. Steve-o says:

    I usually double the number of minions and lessen the HP of the BBEGs in the games I’ve run so far and it has worked out pretty well. It has definitely set up some cinematic scenes. Of course the players aren’t running across random bands, they are actually infiltrating a lair of Kobolds and Hobgoblins. So to me it makes sense to have large numbers of minions. if things get too hard, i just quietly remove the minion players from the field.

    But they definitely give you that LOTR battle sequence feel of slaying monsters until you hit that 1 BBEG or 2.

    i wouldn’t use them all the time, though.

  9. Zelgar says:

    I always though of minions as 1-HP-wonders. They were put into the game to speed up combat (which is always a time killer), by not needing the character hitting them to roll damage (as if you could stop a player from rolling damage). In fact, since they’re so many of them, the players need to work as a team or they’ll be in serious pain from these 1-HP-wonders.

    Most minions are the “common” stock of a race. They don’t have the extra training of the others. Just think, for you as a “minion” human, how much damage could you do vs how much you could take.

  10. Kathorus says:

    Well, I for one, like minions. They allow for a cinematic scene where the PC’s get to carve through monsters. That is a lot of fun if you are a Dragonborn with your breath, or a cleric turning a host of skeletons to dust.

    That said, I recently had an encounter with about a dozen goblin minions. It was fun and fast, a pile of goblins left broken and dead in the cave.

    An encouter or two later, I had devised a puzzle/trap, nothing special, just a grid that needed to be crossed in a certain order, step on the wrong tile and magical fire erupts and burns everything in the area. Maybe you can see where this is going, it certainly didn’t cross my mind when developing the trap, but the players went back to the minion cave and gathered all of the bodies. They then proceeded in using the minion bodies to test the squares. It was great fun.

  11. Janna says:

    @ Kathorus: That’s an awesome use of minions! See, they’re not only fun – they’re useful, too.

  12. AlgaeHydra says:

    Clever wizards make minions totally pointless. Not too long ago, I threw a veritable army of minions at my players. One action point and two Flaming Bursts later, all I had left were two soldiers standing amid a pile of smoldering corpses, exchanging nervous glances.

  13. Chris says:

    “Clever wizards make minions totally pointless.”

    I could write a whole article about how amazingly useful Minions are for clever encounter building, but I’ll try to make a few quick points.

    – First, there’s nothing wrong with rewarding a controller by putting them in a situation where they get to show off. This isn’t an MMO where you have to make sure every encounter is impossible to trivialize, worst case you throw in an extra encounter to make up for it.

    – There’s no need to keep your minions closely grouped all the time. Minions that are spread out give your ranged strikers a chance to shine without penalizing your players for not focus-firing.

    – Minions can help put time pressure on an encounter by having them enter fights in a “monster-generator” way — alerted guards streaming in, monstrous nasties crawling out of a pit, elite casters summoning throughout the fight. The players have to quickly do something to get through the encounter or get overwhelmed, and they can’t take them out all at once because they’re streaming in.

    – Don’t forget minions don’t take damage from “on-miss” abilities.

    – Minions create interesting tactical choices in some situations. If there are normal-monster archers at a distance, often the best solution is just to go for cover… it’s hard to move the whole party sometimes, often the party is (rightly) reluctant to separate, and monsters take a long time to kill solo sometimes.

    But, if you had a few minion archers for example, a melee-er is free to break off, run/jump/climb their way to the archers and quickly take them out.

    Minions are very powerful encounter building tools. In previous editions, by the rules, you’d use low HD monsters which can’t hit anything and don’t deal damage. With minions, players have easy-to-remove but hard-to-ignore menaces.

  14. Duke VanDis says:

    Comedic value asside, I think that minions weaken the game.
    I was reading over a recently released high level module where the EHP had 20th level minions. If your a 20th level nasty human servant (minion) of the Priest, your going to find some way of increasing your hit points! Yeah, it’s funny when somone knocks over the barrel of nails which bursts over the minions, and poof! they’re dead. But it’s not good for the game.
    If in a combat without minions, PC’s are mopping up the brute squad with ease, just have ’em run away. And or, you can use the old, ‘slip and falls into the trap’ bit. But the minion thing as a whole seems rather silly.
    I could see a system that uses tiered ‘sommoned-minions’ though. The kind that get more hit points with the stronger conjuring spells, much like in the 2nd Ed Baldurs Gate Computer game (not in 4E quite yet).
    Just a little food for thought :D

  15. Mannahnin says:

    Chris is correct in every particular. Minions are a wonderful tool for the DM, and lots of fun for the players. They also avoid the annoyance and time wastes of tracking HP & rolling damage for and against low-HD chumps in earlier editions. Big thumbs up from this DM.

  16. Duke VanDis says:

    How do you tell the Orc ‘Minions’ from regular Orcs?

    They are the ones without any battle scars!

    I once got a group of orcs into a punching contest to see who was the strongest… Out of 25 orcs,
    20 died on the spot! It was the funniest thing!

    MINIONS: – PeeeeUuuuuoooooo!!!!!!

  17. Stinky Ben says:

    I also completely agree with @Chris and @Steve-O! Minions are great!

    I mix all sorts of a kind of creature together and just say “there are 8 goblins. four of them wield short swords, one has a spear, and 3 carry clubs.” Any of these could be a minion, or none of them, and the players don’t know. This strikes me as the most “believable” way to get the players into the feel of it. (Granted, my campaign is RP-focused)

    To all the people who say minions don’t make sense, I say this: Minions are the ONLY creatures who actually make sense in D&D! In real life, how does one go about, “getting more hit points”, exactly? What does that even mean?

    How many times could YOU get hit by a sword (or even a dagger?) and keep living, let alone fighting??! Probably not more than once – maybe twice. I think of minions as the ones who aren’t experienced enough to get into position so the blow doesn’t strike vitals.

    Not that I’m bashing D&D, or hit points – it’s a system that allows D&D to work, and it does work, I think, based on its internal logic. I use it happily because it allows the game to function. But I don’t think you can defend having 200 hps on the basis of LOGIC! As far as logic is concerned, minions make way more sense.

    I like to have a dungeon where there are lots of minions, and maybe each main encounter has 1 to 3 mini-boss or two (normal/elite creatures), and occasionally (maybe one per dungeon), a nice (PartyLevel + 3) solo beastie as a boss – maybe with more minions. This allows the players to have cinematic sequences where they sweep through the dungeon and end with a climactic battle. (Plus, the battles don’t take so long, which is a constant issue for my whole group.)

    Sometimes I wonder if I’d like to try a game system where most things have 1 hp, then more experienced things have 2 hp, or 3. And every hit you do does 1 damage. Bosses might have 10 or 20 hp, and high defenses. Or some bosses might have 5 hps and REALLY high defenses. Or it might be a group of 5 mini-bosses together, each with 5 hps… Anyone play a system like this? Thoughts on whether this would/does work?

  18. Forest says:

    The following is MY OPINION:

    If anyone has the first monster manual of the 4th Edition, look at the Lich Vestige on page 176. It is a level 26 Minion. I think it would be better as a level 6 or 7 regular monster. Becuse I don’t see a point in a minion as high ranking as that. Maybe a level 5 minion at the most. And letting your PCs charge through minions, feeling like a hero, only to be killed by the dragon at the end. You get their hopes up, then they die.

  19. Stinky Ben says:


    (A) It’s all about defenses and attack rolls.
    -A level 26 Minion is still attacking and damaging PCs at 26th level, until it gets hit and dies.
    -A level 5 creature, minion or otherwise, will virtually never hit 26th level PCs, and the PCs will crush it whether they have 1 hp or 70. If it has 70 hp it will just take longer to kill it, but will be no more threat than the minion, thus, kind of boring compared to the L26 minion who, along with his 4 other friends, can really do some damage!

    (B) I don’t see how fighting minions first causes the PCs to die fighting the dragon later. It just keeps them on their toes because (if you DM the way I do) they never know when an enemy will drop from one blow, or when it’s got 80 hp. Plus, if they’ve fought easier fights and then they fight a tough fight, then they’ve probably stored up action points and dailies, so in theory they are MORE prepared to fight a dragon, not less. Don’t you think?

    (C) Maybe the reason you don’t think it makes sense to have a L26 minion is because of logic? Does it seem like becoming more experienced in combat should ALWAYS and AUTOMATICALLY make you more resistant to damage?

    You might be right, but in my mind there are several things you can learn in combat, and these are often learned as separate lessons. You can learn

    1- techniques in how to hit enemies (+ ATTACK)
    2- techniques in how to deal more precise/injurious blows (+ DAMAGE)
    3- techniques on how to dodge/block blows (+ DEFENSE)
    4- techniques on how to withstand injury without dying/fainting, etc. (+ HP)

    It seems to me that most creatures who learn to fight would learn 1 and 3 more than anything else, and 4 would be the hardest to learn. That would mean that logically, we should expect to find more L26 minions in the world than L8 Brutes. The exception would be monsters (specifically LARGE monsters with lots of meat on them), which you literally have to hack apart until they stop moving.

    Think of the samurai. Some of the most highly trained warriors in history (arguably?) able to kill left and right with wild abandon. When one samurai goes up against another, the battle would be decided by one blow, at which point one of the samurai would be dead.

    I will go out on a limb and assert that most combat training would focus on one thing above all others: DON’T GET HIT. Whence my Axiom of Sharp Things, as follows.

    AXIOM OF SHARP THINGS: sharp things hurt, and they make me die.

  20. Forest says:

    @ Stinky Ben

    I THINK we both have valid points. I wasn’t saying I was right or you were wrong, I was simply stating my opnion about Minions.

    What I meant about the minions and dragons idea is that your hp is low near the end.

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