This is part 6 of 6 of the series: Building Boss Fights (D&D 5E Edition)

More Grist For the Mill: Minion Groups in D&D 5E

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Quick Note: Big Jon Mosley, who does all the art for (this site, you yutz) had a family emergency. Everyone will be all right, thankfully. And obviously, we here at (me and Puddles, my stuffed Murloc) are wishing him and his family all the best. But he wasn’t able to get me art for this week’s article. Fortunately, I’m pretty handy with a Sharpie pen. So I did my own. I’m really sorry about that. He’ll be back. I swear. 

You know what’s absolutely awesome? Hacking through waves of minor baddies! Blowing up a group of skeletons with a single fireball! Defending a bunch of midgets and their jewlery from two dozen orcs in at the Battle of the Bridge of Khazad Moria Balrog whatever! Remember Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition? 4E had those neat rules for minions, right? If you don’t remember, minions were minor foes that weren’t much of a threat individually. You dropped them into battles in gangs of four of five and every little gang was about the same level of threat as one monster. It was a neat idea. And I liked it a lot. And I think minions worked much better than Elite and Solo monsters did. But there were a couple of problems.

First of all, a minion only had 1 HP. Any hit killed them. And that made it easy for the GM to track the little blighters. I totally understand that. But there were rarely DOZENS of them on the battlefield. There were usually only a few. And the problem was they were so easy to mow down they were nothing more than speedbumps. If the party won initiative, they could get rid of most or all of the minions before they even had a chance to do anything. And while that’s cool and all, you sort of wanted them to do SOMETHING before they all died.

On top of that, they f$&%ed with our old friend: action economy. Yes, that thing. That thing that says how many actions a thing should be able to take every round. Because that’s an important thing. See, if you wanted to fill Helmgiliath with Uruks or whatever, you would use four or five groups of minions, twenty to twenty-five of the suckers. And that meant a lot of actions to take. A lot of moving pieces.

Does any of this sound familiar? Because it should sound like the crap we thought through when we decided we wanted cooler boss monsters. Only backwards. Hit points and action economy were all f$&%ed up. And ultimately, that lead us to the Two Headed, Two Tailed, Bifurcated Snake and the idea that a monster was made up of three elements: a pile of the right number of actions, a number of rounds of survival as determined by hit points, and the actual statistics and how effective it was. So, if you had two identical monsters with double the hit points and two turns, it didn’t matter if they were really two monsters or just one. You could cram them into one space and be done with it.

So, the question is, can you go the other way? Can you take one monster and smear it out over four spaces? As long as it survives for the right number of rounds and as long as it has the right number of actions? What IS the difference between one snake and two snakes?

Press B to Skip

Okay, look, I know tend to go on for a long, LONG time when I start talking mechanics. Like, thousands of words long. But I’m not going to apologize. I mean, any a$&hole can s$%& out a new rule or system. That part’s easy. But thinking through it and polishing it and making sure it makes logical sense? That’s the tough stuff. And I’d be a pretty s$&%y “world’s smartest GM” if I just put a new system up here and said “here’s my new rule, use it.” But SOME PEOPLE just want to steal my crap and throw it into their game. They don’t care about the thought process.

Look, if you’re one of those people who just wants to steal a good idea and shove your own characters onto it like Steve Jackson twisting out another Munchkin supplement, fine. I can’t stop you. Feel free to click here to skip to the part where you get some stat blocks and explanations. But if you’re one of the good, smart people who I don’t hate, you can keep reading from here and I’ll explain why this whole thing works and how it’s needed.

Monster Flux Capacities

I’m going to reveal a secret. I loved encounter building in 4E. People complained it was very video-gamey, but that’s what I loved about it. Good video combats are fun and exciting things. They are worth playing of their own accord. I know it’s sort of de rigueur now to hate combat, to view it as the opposite of story, and to avoid it. But that’s kind of stupid. Combat is not the opposite of story. And a well-designed combat (as every good combat should be) tells a story and includes tense, difficult decisions.

But 4E rubbed me the wrong way in a lot of ways. There were some fundamental problems that 4E and I just could not work through. It wasn’t her, it was me. Well, it was me in that I didn’t like all of her terrible, odious habits. Which is really my fault, right?

Anyway, after I did the boss monster thing for 4E way back when I was just a little bitty Angry Blogling, I thought about the minion issue. And while I was hanging a framed print of a red dragon, I slipped off the toilet and hit my head. When I came to, I wrote down the vision I had had. I saw a brilliant way to take any normal monster in the monster manual and to scale it up to a boss or even a bigger boss. Or to scale it down to a minion. The idea was simple. A battle started with a number of “slots” for monsters, right? So, you might have 3 level 5 skirmishers, a level 4 soldier, and a level 6 leader. Right? That’s normal D&D 4E encounter building. But you didn’t always have to put one monster in the slot. So, for example, you could put a level 5 whirling troll dervish into those 3 level 5 skirmisher slots. You just gave it three turns in the initiative order and tripled its hit points. Done and done. That way, you didn’t need any special monsters in the monster manual. Just rules for scaling them to match the HP and action economy.

And it worked the other way too. That level 4 soldier could be four level 4 stubby goblin shieldlings. Each one got a quarter of the HP and they would have to share a turn between them. One could move and another could attack. Or they could both move half as much. If they had triggered actions, only one could do that each round. And so on. The idea was similar to those wargames where you go back and forth activating one unit at a time. You have have a number of “activations” and can activate any unit in your pool.

And it actually worked out pretty well, though it had a tendency to create monsters that fought ninja style (one runs up and attacks and then another one runs up and attacks). But as the PCs cut through them, they kept coming. It worked out really well.

But I quit 4E and then it died. So it never saw the light of day. Until now, when it doesn’t matter anymore. You’re welcome.

Why Even Minion?

So, why does 5E even need minions? 4E was very strict about how many monsters you could throw into a combat. You needed the minions because there was no good way to scale a combat to include many weak monsters. It just didn’t work so well the way that system was designed. And, in theory, 5E can handle that much better, right? After all, 5E even tells you exactly how having 20 weak monsters changes the difficulty and XP calculations. On the surface, that seems pretty cool. But let’s check those numbers.

Let’s start with the weakest monster that is still a viable threat to anyone. Challenge 1/8, 25 XP. If you throw 20 of them at a party, what are you looking at? Well, 20 x 25 is 500. Then, we have to multiply by 4 because that’s what you do when you have more than 15 creatures. So, even though that’s 500 XP, it’s worth 2,000 XP worth of difficulty. Which means that’s a challenge for a 5th level party of 4 PCs. And while that’s cool and all, there’s a nasty little hidden problem. They are going to use the same resources in that fight that they would use against a single challenge 5 monster. But when they win against the challenge 5 monster, they earn 1,800 XP. When they they beat the army of 20 mooks, they earn only 500 XP. And that’s assuming WotC’s math actually works (on average) as advertised. And all signs point to the fact that it doesn’t.

I’m honestly not really a fan of the phantom XP that gets lost as you move from one critter to more than one. Because, in my view, most combats are more interesting if there are multiple opponents. But the more you do that, the more phantom XP gets lost and the more it throws off the pace that comes from a nice, well-designed adventuring day. Again, I realize some people out there don’t care, but those people shouldn’t be playing D&D. Or, at least, they should shut up and let ME play it right.

And the problem gets worse and worse as the levels climb. 20 challenge 1 creatures is 4,000 XP worth of XP and 16,000 XP worth of challenge. That makes it a 14th level (hard to deadly) encounter, by the by, and leaves 12,000 XP on the table. Which means the party is missing out on a lot of XP given the resources they could potentially expend assuming the math is right.

On top of that, while the bounded accuracy system in D&D 5E helps keep week monsters more relevant in terms of being able to hit, damage output and hit points don’t scale at the same rate. In point of fact, damage output is primarily where advancement gets recognized within the system. So I suspect if you actually put a squad of 20 challenge 1 mooks against the party, the damage is going to come up short before you even factor in the difference in accuracy.

Truth is? It’s unpredictable. Maybe those two factors balance out. Who knows? Maybe it is so carefully balanced that the reduced damage and accuracy of such low level creatures makes up for all of the lost XP by ensuring the PCs will spend only the right number of resources for the XP they actually earn. I could sit and run the numbers, but I don’t want to. Because I actually don’t have a lot of faith in that level balance. And, politeness forbids me from saying why. And by politeness, I mean an NDA I had to sign one time.

Of Minions and Hit Points

Now, other games have come out with minion rules or mook rules. Whatever you want to call them. Fantasy Flight Game’s introduced them in the forgotten Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying Game they released and then, like everything else in WFRPG, rereleased them with Star Wars painted over them. Yeah, that’s right. A good deal of the mechanics in the various FFG Star Wars products were tested in WFRPG. A game I really liked.

Under their minion rules, the minions act as a group and get bonuses for the number of minions still standing. And they sort of smoosh all of their hit points into a pool. So even though a minion might have 5 hit points, if you do 15 points of damage, you kill three minions. And they can get away with that s$&% because they are all abstract and narrative and stuff. And I’ve seen people try to carry that system over to D&D. But everything in D&D is a lot more precise. Even if you run the game gridless (which you can’t really do, even though they say you can because all you’re doing is imagining the grid), the mechanics are very focussed on individual creatures as individual targets and their own hit points. With a spot on the grid.

In point of fact, you could argue that even by f$&%ing with the action economy the way I have, I’m breaking D&D. Eh. Maybe. I feel like it’s bending the system more than breaking it. And I feel the nebulous pool of interconnected hit points for multiple creatures is over the line. It’s breaking it. I don’t know why. I just do. And I’m right. So there.

The question of hit points though is a complicated one. Personally, I don’t like the pool thing. I don’t like the idea of an attack that shoots straight through one minion and kills another too, no matter what their relative positions happen to be. I have no problem with that level of abstraction, I just have a problem with it in a game that is otherwise very much based on precision.

But then, there’s the 4E approach. If we’re going to break a monster into some number of mooks, do we divvy up the hit points or just assume that any hit that deals damage is a kill shot. Honestly, the 1 HP minion isn’t terrible. But it does have a few issues. First of all, as I noted, it does make the minions extremely delicate, especially in terms of spells and attacks that do damage even when the target saves successfully. Of course, those cost resources. But those resources can be worth it if they allow the party to eliminate multiple minions in one shot. For example, if you break a creature with 140 HP down into four minions, you’re turning that creature into a 4 HP creature. A fireball spell against a 140 HP creature (a Challenge 5 creature, exactly the level fireball appears) deals a maximum of 28 damage or 14 on a successful save, 10% to 20% of the creature’s hit points. If it hits even two of the four minions, it is guaranteed to remove 50% of the creature’s hit points, regardless of the roll. And if it catches all four, it’s an instant kill. Considering that breaking the creature into four minions SHOULD maintain the same level of overall output (or else, why are we even bothering), that means that the fireball is actually almost always worth it against any group of minions. Area spells become so much more effective against 1 HP minions that anyone who crunches the numbers will realize that expending the resources is a no-brainer.

But I do understand that many other spells end up being much less effective against minions. Anything that imposes a condition is one quarter as effective if a creature gets broken into four minions. So, perhaps that’s a good trade off? After all, if our world includes both Paragon Monsters and Minion Monsters, suddenly the choice of effects against particular foes becomes more complicated. And there IS the bookkeeping issue, right? After all, if I break one monster into four, I’ve got four times as many hit points to track.

One of the solutions that came out during the 4E era was to create two-hit minions. Every minion could take two hits that caused damage. The second time you dealt damage to a minion, you always dropped it. Now, that’s cool and all, but once again we get into this nebulous area of “not really fitting in with D&D.” And that may seem like a strange argument to make over a game mechanic. But remember every new mechanic you introduce or invent has to work alongside all of the other mechanics in the game. And literally everything that causes injury interacts with the hit point system. So, when you create something that sweeps the hit point system aside, you run the risk of weird, unpredictable interactions with rules you didn’t expect. A simple one might be “if you have a two hit minion and it gains resistance to fire, what happens when it gets hit by a firebolt?” Or “if the minion gains vulnerability to fire, what happens?”

On top of that, my general approach is to treat everything I do as if it’s being published. I mean, technically it is. This f$&%ing blog IS a publication. And I intend for people to use this s$&%. Otherwise, why am I writing it all down? So, I have to think about how to make the rules as easy to insert into the game as possible. That’s why almost all of my Paragon rules are contained in the stat block. The only oddity is the Challenge/XP bit and that’s because I simply could not come up with a way to incorporate that into WotC’s system any better.

So, people know how hit points work. The system assumes hit points. I don’t have to write a whole bunch of new rules if we use hit points. So, hit points simply get divvied up between the members of the minion group.

But, I’ll let you in on a secret. I ran the numbers (because WotC is really not great about sharing the secrets about their numbers sometimes). If you assume the players are as conservative as possible and use only regular, repeatable attacks, a lone monster in D&D should survive for 4 to 6 rounds. That means, if you want to avoid tracking hit points and simply assume 1 hit kills or 2 hit kills, my minion system will work just fine. Go ahead, ignore the hit points, and do it that way.

Ultimately, after looking at those numbers, I decided that a group of minions contains four creatures.

Actions, Attacks, and Multiattacks

As for the action economy, there really isn’t much to say. Again, we’re talking about breaking a creature into a smaller units, but they still share one pool of actions. And it should be pretty obvious how that works. When the group’s turn comes up in combat (because it is one creature with one turn), it can “activate” any of its members. And when any of the members becomes eligible for a reaction or triggered action, it can take it, provided the group only gets one reaction between turns.

Yeah, it’s a little abstract, but no worse than anything else I’ve done. But there are a few other things to consider. First of all, movement is an issue. I am not a fan of static fights. I don’t like the idea of some number of creatures just gormlessly standing around. So I toyed with the idea of allowing all of the members of a group to move at the same time. But that allows a group of minions to dominate the battlefield a little too much. Ultimately, I realized I could just let the minions divvy up the speed them. If four minions have a speed of 30 feet, one could move 30 feet, or two could move 15 feet each, or three could move 10 feet each or all four could move 5 feet and then two more could move another five feet.

Second of all, although you want to ensure the damage output of the four minions is roughly equal to the damage of the single creature they are replacing, you also want to be able to crank out multiple attacks. Fortunately, D&D 5E has already solved this particular problem. If you look at many of the creatures in the Monster Manual, especially those who use weapons, their damage output for a single attack falls well short of the expected damage as listed on DMG 274. And the solution is to just give every f$&%ing creature multiattack. I s$&% you not. That’s what they did.

Well, I’m not one to ignore it when someone else solves a problem for me. If it’s good enough for every other monster in the book, it’s good enough for my minions. Basically, if you give the minion group multiattack and ensure the damage output for the multiple attacks falls in the proper range, you can allow multiple minions to attack on a turn without wrecking the action economy. At very low levels, you can’t quite manage enough to let four minions take a swing (as you’ll see).

And finally, there’s the issue of special actions and bonus actions. Some creatures get to do things as a bonus action. Look below and you’ll see my goblin minions have exactly one of those abilities. And each time you see one of those, you’ve got to decide whether it is something the whole group should be able to do at once or not. In the case of the goblins, I decided it was. The main determining factor is that I want the minions to be able to work together. To move together and fight together. They CAN separate if they want to. But I want them to have the option to cooperate.

Naming Conventions and Multiple Many Monsters

The last thing I need to call attention to is a streamlining issue. See, I wanted to make it possible to build a fight with 15-20 monsters without breaking the system. And, as noted, the system can’t handle it. Not the way it’s designed. But if each monster is four monsters, then I’m technically building fights with four to five monsters, right? I can have my twenty zombie horde just by breaking five zombies into four minions each. Simple. Except…

Okay, so each group of minions consists of four members. And those four members share one set of actions. If there’s five groups of minions, that’s five turns in combat and five sets of actions each of which can be shared by one quarter of the twenty total monsters. So, on any given turn, one quarter of the monsters are eligible to activate. And, as a GM, you have to keep track of which.

Holy mother of f$&.

Or do you? Does it even really matter? If you build the fight with five groups of four, does it matter if goblin 3A activates when really, it was group C’s turn? As long as the action economy works out the same and the stats are identical, mechanically, the game doesn’t care.

So, even though, for statistic purposes, a group of minions is four minions, you can put several groups side by side and just activate any ones you want as long as you never exceed the total number of actions that you should have.

And that brings me around to the naming convention. In order to keep everything as clear as possible, I need a way to refer to the entire group of monsters, and individual monster members of the group, and those references need to be unique. So, if I have a bunch of goblin minions, I can’t call them “goblins” because they might be in a fight next to a goblin that ISN’T a minion. Like a goblin warchief or just a normal goblin from the Monster Manual.

Thus, minion monsters as always named “[[Collective]] of [[Species]] [[Descriptive Noun]].” For example, a Gang of Goblin Minions. Or a Horde of Zombie Shamblers. Or a Squad of Hobgoblin Soldiers. Just to keep it clean.

How to Minion

Building a group of minions is easy. You can either take a monster right out of the Monster Manual and break it into minions or you can build a monster from scratch and break it into minions. Or, you can do what I did in these cases and start with a monster from the Monster Manual, make a few tweaks to make it work better as minions, and then break it into minions.

In point of fact, all you have to is make note that each member of the minion collective has one quarter of the monster’s total hit points and then add the “Minion Trait.”

Gang of GoblinsFor hit points, I confess I recalculated things. I went to my trusty DMG 274 and figured out the hit points for the challenge I was targeting, divided it by four, and then turned that into a dice range. So, for the Gang of Goblin Minions, I was targeting a defensive challenge of 1/8, so their total hit points could run the range from 7-35. I chose 28, which meant I needed 7 hit points per minion. That’s 2d6 (3.5 x 2) with no Con modifier. Which, incidentally, helped me set the Con modifier.

Horde of ZombiesGiven that the Horde of Zombies was going to have a high damage output (I wanted them to hit hard) and their AC was going to suck (they’re zombies), I was able to push their hit points up to 44, which meant 11 each. Medium creatures use d8 for hit dice, so that’s 2d8 + 2. Same calculation for the Hobgoblins.

Squad of HobgoblinsAll three creatures, however, have multiattack. And the multiattack is based purely on dividing the right damage output per round among four attacks. In the case of the goblins, I wanted to keep their challenge low and I just couldn’t squeeze four attacks worth of damage in there. But the Horde and the Gang both have four attacks per round and the damage output is still within the range of their challenge.

As for special abilities, two of them required special consideration. Hobgoblins, as a rule, have Martial Advantage (MM 186). I didn’t want to take that away, but that “once per turn” limitation was a pain in the a$& when dealing with a creature that can attack four times per turn and that is also four different creatures. Ultimately, I scaled down the damage, removed that limitation, and assumed that they would ALWAYS have that bonus damage. I calculated the offensive CR accordingly. In addition, I also had to change the wording a little so there would be no argument about whether the hobgoblin soldiers can give each other bonus damage. Are they, in fact, their own allies considering they are one creature. This gave me flashbacks to many arguments in 4E.

The goblin bonus action power would have lost a lot of its bite if only one goblin minion could do it. After all, when the goblin is one creature, it can completely disengage or completely hide. There’s no “well, it one-quarter disengages.” So, in order to maintain that functionality, I had to let the group take the bonus action as a group. Likewise, that let’s the group slowly sneak together. Notice, also, I specifically noted that up to four goblin minions could take the action. That’s because, remember, I wanted it to be unnecessary to distinguish between members of different groups if you put multiple identical minion monsters together. Any four goblin minions on the battlefield can take the bonus action.

Finally, all I had to do to finish was add the trait I wrote. And I won’t go into much detail about it, because it pretty much just encapsulates everything I’ve already said and translates it into rulebook leaglese. Here’s the template for it. Notice my use of variables so you can easily copy/paste it for different monsters.

Minion Group. The [[creature group]] is a group of four [[members]] with identical statistics. Each [[member]] has its own space on the battlefield and each has its own hit points, which it tracks separately. Each [[member]] is also affected by conditions separately and constitutes a single target. The [[creature group]] as a whole cannot be targeted. The [[creature group]] rolls for initiative and takes one turn during each combat round. During the [[creature group’s]] turn, any or all of the [[members]] may move, provided the total movement taken by all of the [[members]] does not exceed the [[creature group’s]] speed. Any [[member]] may take the [[creature group’s]] action and, if the [[creature group]] is entitled to multiple actions or attacks, those actions or attacks may all be taken by one [[member]] or may be divided between multiple [[members]]. The [[creature group]] may also take one reaction between each of its turns, and that reaction may be taken by any [[member]]. If a combat includes multiple [[creature groups]], you do not need to distinguish between the members of each [[creature group]]. Any member of any [[creature group]] may act or move on any [[creature group’s]] turn provided the total movement and number of actions do not exceed the [[creature group’s]] speed or allotted number of actions.

And that’s it. Building minions is far easier than figuring out the system. You can pretty much turn anything in the game into a minion.

Telling Your Players

Oh… one last thing. There was this big, stupid argument in D&D 4E about whether you tell your players that monsters are minions or not. Even though 4E was really, REALLY explicit about giving your players all of the information they needed to make good decisions. And, if you’ve been reading my s$&% for a long time, you probably already know where I’m going to fall on this. But let me be clear.

Do you tell your players that the creatures they are facing are minions? Eh.

Yeah. Honestly, eh. I mean, in 4E it was a big deal because any hit was a kill and you didn’t want them to waste a daily power on a single mook. But here, unless you decide to do the one or two hit minions, it probably doesn’t matter so much. I mean, I’m ALWAYS descriptive about the monsters the PCs face. Because I don’t suck at running games. So, I would point out that minions have minimal training or crappy equipment or whatever. But I don’t think it’s as big a deal now as it was then. Still, I do firmly support telling the players that you’re using new rules and letting them know what those rules are. So, you should do that.

But, look, I promise I won’t tell you what to do about this if you promise not to go down into my comment section and s$&% the word “metagaming” all over it, okay? I’m really, really tired of addressing that meaningless verbal game-mastering diarrhea. So, maybe, just this once, we can NOT bring it up? Cool?

Get the three Minion Monsters as a PDF by clicking here.

67 thoughts on “More Grist For the Mill: Minion Groups in D&D 5E

  1. Maybe I’m a bit too sleepy this morning, but how did you deal with the fireball issue? or did you just not?

    • I wouldn’t say that the Fireball “issue” is really an issue. Because you’ve divvied up the hitpoint total instead of present 1HP monsters it allows the fireball to have a similar affect to what it would have against the single monster.

      Sure area affect spells become slightly more affective dependent on the number of the “Group” you manage to hit. i.e. hitting 2 members of the Gang makes the Fireball 2’s as affective.

      But you could add a trait that reduces damage from Area affect spells equal to the number of individuals in the groups caught? But personally I think it’s a Cool scene watching a Fireball\Burning hands Swath through the whole group.

      My question is tracking the Conditions on individual minions could become tedious especially when dealing with cantrips that impose conditions that don’t use resources etc. but thats just book keeping and Complexity breeds innovation -> Or something like that.

      • Now that I think more about it, I would probably follow the DMG’s suggestion on vulnerabilities and reduce their effective hit points by one half. Yes, fireball is awesome against a big group and that strategy is so obvious that it should be included in this design I think.

        • The issue is addressed simply by divvying up the hit points rather than using the 1 HP minions. Now, that doesn’t completely negate the effective boost a fireball receives by splitting a monster into four targets, but it does mitigate the issue. As I mused, I am okay with a world where different spells have different levels of effectiveness in different situations. If the PCs want to expend the resources for a fireball in this case, that’s a smart move if they can target it well. They deserve that.

          • It’s not different then saying “vulnerable to fire”, so i dont get why minion natural weakness vs aoe damage would be a problem. the real FIX now is that if you kill 3/4 minion of a group, the damage output of the group is not reduced (because the single minion can do 4 attacks), so mathematically the effectiveness is the same of a single creature.

            Nice Job Angry, elegant and effective solution!

    • I like your ideas, and like you, LOVED 4E encounter building! I won’t stop there, I loved how easy it was to manipulate a lower level monster (orc for example), and advance it to fight higher level characters.

      I have to say, I am very frustrated that lower CR monsters are all but useless against a higher level party. “Bounded Accuracy” seems to have failed. A CR mob with a +4 to hit only has about a 20% chance to hit that pally with his 20 AC. That’s awful. Then, when he does hit, he deals 1d6+2! That’s nothing compared to his or her +5-7 to hit with damage in the range of 1d8+4. The mobs simply can’t challenge anything.

      Have you seen this happening? If so, do you have advice on how to fix it?

      • I disagree.

        The real point of bounded accuracy is that DCs (and AC in particular) don’t really scale to level. That paladin could have had an AC of 19 at first level, easily. My party is pushing 6th level now, and none of them have increased their ACs at all. The issue you’re pointing out has less to do with bounded accuracy, and more to do with the threat level of your minions.

        But I think you’re wrong about that. Take, say, the basic zombie: CR 1/4, +3 to hit, 1d6+1 damage. Not really a threat, right? 4 of them vs 5 level 2 adventurers seems like a slaughter. But at the table, they nearly killed a PC. He was literally rolling his third death save. They got lucky, and the PCs weren’t acting strategically because they were just zombies. 1d6+1 is a lot when you have 15 hitpoints.

        The point is, monsters are, BY DESIGN, weaker and less accurate than PCs. This is not just a tabletop thing! Look at tactical RPGs like Fire Emblem or Wizardry. It is because when an enemy dies, that’s another faceless, nameless enemy out of the way before you get to the REAL fight. When a PC is rolling death saves, that’s your buddy about to die. There’s only one of him. So the odds are stacked on the side of the PCs, nearly always.

        If it really seems too easy (and your players agree on that, see Angry’s 11/9/2015 article), then just add more low CR enemies. 20% hit chance is pretty good when there are 20 of them.

      • Perhaps you can add the flanking variant. This seems like a nice little variant to add to favor the PCs, but if you’re like me and you like putting a lot of enemies in each battle it works to the favor of the DM. A 20% chance to hit may not seem so great, but then when you’re surrounded and it’s rolled with advantage that becomes a pretty good chance at slaughter. When you start slaughtering your players though, they may not like you.

        I think the job of a DM is to create an incredible world where you can facilitate the tales players want their characters to have. A life that isn’t available in our mundane existence. They are extraordinary, and by that, should feel powerful. They should only feel battered, beat down, and barely make it out of a combat when it’s an extraordinary combat. That should exist once or twice in every adventure. If all your combats are extraordinary, suddenly none of them are.

  2. “Notice, also, I specifically noted that up to four goblin minions could take the action. That’s because, remember, I wanted it to be unnecessary to distinguish between members of different groups if you put multiple identical minion monsters together. Any four goblin minions on the battlefield can take the bonus action.”

    Is this unique to the goblin minion’s bonus action? i.e., if a minion group attacks, can I (a) just activate any 2 or 4 minions on the table, or do they (b) need to come from the specific group?

    (a) is simpler than (b), but eliminates the possibility of bottlenecking the enemies as a strategy. The handful in front can just attack with all the minion groups’ actions.

    Overall this is great; a good middle point between individual creatures and swarms. The only thing that might seem weird in play is when the last remaining zombie from each group is getting 4 attacks/round.

    • >The only thing that might seem weird in play is when the last remaining zombie from each group is getting 4 attacks/round.

      That’s a good point. I assume Angry forgot to mention that the minions lose actions as they lose minions in the same way that paragon monsters do.

      • >>The only thing that might seem weird in play is when the last remaining zombie from each group is getting 4 attacks/round.

        >That’s a good point. I assume Angry forgot to mention that the minions lose actions as they lose minions in the same way that paragon monsters do.

        It seems weird when that happens, but if he didn’t intend that, he would have said it. It gets weird as the group loses members, but remember that these four members represent what would normally be one single monster of the appropriate CR. And that single monster would do full damage until it hits 0 HP. So in game terms, it makes sense mechanics wise that the group does full damage until it’s wiped out, even if it doesn’t make sense abstractly. If you need it to make sense in-universe, maybe they fight harder as their comrades fall around them? Something like that.

        With the paragon system, each HP pool represented what would have originally been a separate monster. So as a pool depletes, so does all that damage of the single monster would have dealt that the pool represented in the first place.

        • The monsters do not have multiple actions. A group of minions has one turn in combat, which they must share between them.

          These monsters, like many, many monsters in the MM, have Multiattack, a specific action that allows them to make multiple attacks as one action. They don’t lose that as members die just like the other monsters that have Multiattack don’t lose it as they lose hit points.

      • That doesn’t seem like a big issue to me. These are minions so you’re only going to place them in areas where they have some room to maneuver in the first place. If there’s actually a bottleneck that you think should hamper them then just do that. If you think they’re still effective enough near the bottleneck then don’t change anything.

        It’s a fighting team. It’s made out of runts but they’re still a team so they get some benefits from that, and when they’re down to the last (demihu)man then that guy is desperate or he was always a little better than the rest, as evidenced by him still being standing while they’ve all been converted into loot already.

    • The bonus action that goblins come with out of the Monster Manual had to be rewritten to allow the entire group to take advantage of the action. As written, a goblin can take Disengage or Hide as a bonus action. If I didn’t change the wording, that would limit it to ONE free Disengage or Hide per four goblins. By wording it as I did, I allow the entire gang to ALL Disengage or Hide as one.

    • >The only thing that might seem weird in play is when the last remaining zombie from each group is getting 4 attacks/round.

      There’s an easy fix for this problem. Since you’re not bothering to keep track of which zombie is a member of which group when they take actions, why bother tracking it when they start dying?

      I would simply remove one Group for every four minions that died, regardless of which Group those minions originally belonged to.

      • You can prop it up a little more than that. These are minions so they’re kind of bad at hitting anyway. When you’re down to the last zombie of the last group it’s going to be “he hits you twice” most of the time. On that rare occasion that he hits all four times just get flowery with your language- it’s a rare thing after all.

  3. That DMG 274… If not for the treasure you seriously could just post that one table and no one would need the DMG.

    • I can count on one hand the number of pages I actually use from the DMG. And if I lost some fingers, I could count the number that would be useful for someone who doesn’t spend half their time trying to reverse engineer or break the rules. This DMG is disappointing as hell to anyone who doesn’t already know pretty much everything they need to know about DMing D&D.

  4. I think these rules are awesome, and I’ve already used your paragon rules for some kick@#$ boss fights. Thanks!

    Question for clarificaton: Let’s say I have 3 Gangs of Goblin Goons. That’s 12 creatures, 6 attacks, and 90 movement. Can the Gang(s) send 1 Goon 90 feet forward to make all 6 attacks? Since he is an indistinguishable member of the Gang(s), I think it works RAW but wasn’t sure if that was too far outside the scope of reasonableness.


    • Each Gang gets one turn. So three Gangs, three different turns on different initiatives. On each Gang’s turn there is only one move (30 ft total) and one action (2 attacks, or 30 ft more movement).

      But if they had all their turns lined up consecutively you could on turn 1, move 30, attack twice; on turn 2, move 30, attack twice; and on turn 3, move 30, attack twice with one member.

        • Okay, so then my main concern is that you cut off natural strategic options like bottlenecking the zombie horde. The zombies in front will get the actions for however many hordes there are, so there’s little benefit to creating a chokepoint (the sort of thinking I would like to reward).

          • Actually, there is. It just isn’t in reducing the number of attacks or the damage output. The damage output is necessarily the same because of the way the D&D math works. The point of bottlenecking is that YOU (the bottlenecker) gets to decide who the targets are. You can’t be outflanked or outmaneuvered. You force your opponents to focus fire on the target you specify. Hopefully the most powerful.

  5. Hmm, now I kinda want to build a sort of paragon minion group. Like the flood from halo, where lots little buggers jump out of the carcass of their host once it’s dead. Or, alternatively, once a bunch of slimes are dead the last one absorbs the others and becomes as powerful as both combined.

    • This gives concrete rules to an idea Angry introduced in his boss fight article. A stage of a boss doesn’t have to be the same creature. i.e. The first stage of the boss can be the boss creature. First stage is reduced to 0 hit points so boss retreats. Second stage is a bunch of minions. Third stage the boss comes back.

      • In fact reading your comment properly, you could do a boss whose stages are entirely composed of minions. It could work out like one of those video games where you’re fighting off successive waves of enemies.

        • That… Would be really cool.

          The problem with implementation, for me at least, is when does each monster “transform”? Say you have 4 minions A, which will transform into minion group B. Would minion A1 transform into B1 when it dies, or do they all get up as B once all of group A dies? If the former, that would necessitate some finagling with different groups that kinda defeats the purpose of the minion thing to begin with. The latter doesn’t really make sense. A1 has to wait for A4 to finally die so that it can transform?

          One monster splitting itself up would be the most logical thing in most circumstances, as I’m looking at it now. I’ve not tested it yet though, so take that with a pound of salt.

          • If you wanna get really video game-y how about a slime boss that goes back and forth between forms?

            Hack at it long enough and it splits open in squelching glory to pit the party against four sub-slimes. After a few rounds, dead or alive, the slime rolls back into one unit and this goes on until x total sub-slimes have been killed, or until all four die before it can reform.

  6. Seems like a solution in search of a problem. And it doesn’t scale up to the point where you’d actually want special rules anyway. I read this article just in case there were any brilliant insights into running a couple of dozen hobgoblins at once, but running only FOUR creatures at once is trivial and doesn’t need any special techniques.

    I’m trying to get angry enough to vent about how this article was a useless waste of my time, but it’s just not my style. Instead I’ll say, “It wasn’t what I was hoping for.”

      • But you still have to track HP and conditions for 20 zombies, and you’re still resolving 20 attacks per round, so why not just use 20 zombies? How do these rules make it any easier?

          • This. The XP system really can’t handle large groups of enemies. Or rather, each individual enemy you add to a combat encounter drastically increases the difficulty without actually giving the PCs more experience. It’s a quirk of the way encounters are build in D&D 5E. So if you LIKE building encounters with lots of minor baddies, this system makes it feasible to do so without those problems.

        • [
          This is a reply to the following post:
          The Angry GM says:
          September 10, 2015 at 9:03 AM
          This. The XP system really can’t handle large groups of enemies. Or rather, each individual enemy you add to a combat encounter drastically increases the difficulty without actually giving the PCs more experience. It’s a quirk of the way encounters are build in D&D 5E. So if you LIKE building encounters with lots of minor baddies, this system makes it feasible to do so without those problems.

          If that’s your issue, you can just award adjusted XP instead of raw XP. Problem solved. No need to introduce these superpowers that most players wouldn’t expect a random mob of goblins to be capable of.

          Additionally, if I’m interpreting the article correctly, you now have to remember which goblins are part of which mob (because the only way to make progress is to eliminate all members of a given group). This ironically encourages the PCs to “focus fire” one group at a time. Which they could have done with a bunch of regular monsters (“hey let’s try to get rid of all the goblins first”), but in this system they’re penalized for NOT doing it. Maybe that’s intentional, but it’s not something I want any more of in my game.

          This system also doesn’t mitigate the fireball situation at all. Those goblins still all die to a single fireball.

          I ask again, why not just use a bunch of regular monsters?

        • When you’re looking at 20 creatures a shorter initiative list is nice if you’re not using a digital tracker, but much like the paragon creatures this isn’t very impressive when it’s bare bones. As a scaffolding for special abilities you can start to pin on cool effects of teamwork or stampede-work.

          Same thing can be done with the vanilla rules, but it may be more work or unnatural enough that you probably wouldn’t think of it.

          Also these are minions so you’re not likely to track hp on an individual for very long.

  7. Why don’t use regular monster with little modification. Regular abilities, but low hp enough to take damage and stand after regular damage of party. If character deal more damage, than average it would kill one small monster. I’m afraid if i would use your rules, my players do not understand them.

    • It looks like regular monsters to the players most of the time. You’re usually going to use a handful of these groups in a combat at the same time so if the players are having an easy time keeping track of exactly which gremlin ankle biter has already moved and attacked then maybe the fight wasn’t so crowded that you had a reason to use these.

  8. Metagaming metagamer who metagames! Hah, good stuff! In regards to a 1 or 2 hit kill system, I had also thought about foes in terms of wounds instead of hit point totals like a few board games I’ve played- heck you could even do this with the players replacing their hit point totals as well (I may do a little writing on this subject myself) and thereby killing a sacred cow of D&D.

    I feel like the limited movement is a lil wonky, it makes it seem like all of your Minions are moving in a tight phalanx formation- maybe I’d give them more movement than a single monster would have, but less than each of them receiving full movement? Or just say each one can move “X” number of feet to keep the rules clean as the mob gets thinned-down? I’m thinking giving each one a move of 15 feet wouldn’t be too earth shattering.
    -Nerdarchist Ryan

  9. I must be one of the only people who actually *likes* the fact that the PCs only get the base XP value, as opposed to the inflated encounter building value. To my mind, it provides a game-rules reason why, in character, you would decide to seek out an alternative to wading into battle codpiece-first. In a very real sense, the fight with those fifty goblins isn’t worth it, unless you can somehow manipulate or rig the situation to make it drastically easier. I love the idea that a mere 100 orcs with War Chief and an Eye of Gruumsh or two can be considered a threat that makes a party of 17th-level characters swallow hard and *plan*, as opposed to confidently spitting in the leader’s eye and yawning as they slaughter the mass, the way they would in any previous edition. Sure with any decent plan they’ll win handily, unless something really odd happens, but if they go in half-baked, they’ll have a real problem.

    This kind of (I probably shouldn’t say “realism” but what the hell) incentivizes the PCs to explore the world surrounding the potential encounter: look for choke points, use environmental obstacles, get creative with cave chimneys and *cloudkill* spells, or even (gasp) negotiate or intimidate opponents instead of charging in with blades flashing. Find a better way to achieve the goal than just slamming your horned helmet into things until they stop twitching.

    • The problem with this is that that isn’t the intent of the XP system.

      In earlier editions, the xp given for fights was low, and most character advancement was derived from gold found in dungeons, which translated to experience in a 1 gp to 1 XP point fashion. Avoiding combat was just smart then. If that’s the feel you’re going for, tankschmidt at voat.vom had a decent system for this:

      But combat, and more importantly interesting combat, was always a major pillar of the game. If don’t like your characters getting in fights, don’t play a system that emphasizes getting into fights, and revolves around getting into a certain amount of fights in a 24-hour period.

      That’s a separate issue to the “phantom experience” issue, which revolves around the fact that a there could be two encounters, both of the exact same difficulty, but one of which gives vastly less experience. Does it really matter, in your example, whether it’s a hundred orcs or one really beefy dragon? Both battles should become easier with smart tactics, and both could equally likely have negotiation as a possible way of resolving their issues with the party. But the system does not recognize the two as equivalent, and that’s where the issue is.

      • But they’re not equivalent, that’s actually my point. A big beefy dragon is always a big beefy dragon, no matter how tactical you might be. If battle is ever joined, you have 100% big beefy dragon to contend with, barring really creative outside-the-scope-of-rules tactics. But a horde of lesser creatures can be split up, scattered, turned against each other, and swept away with area blasts and environmental effects in a way that an immensely powerful single creature can’t. It empowers the players to choose whether they want to fight all-at-once or figure out how to break things up into manageable chunks. And while that single creature will keep fighting with everything it’s got to the last hit point, the giant horde gets less dangerous every round as the PCs wipe out its constituents.

        • There’s another reason why the orc horde is different from the dragon (and potentially more frightening), and that’s the number of attacks that can be brought to bear on the PCs per round compared to what a dragon can do in one round. Yes, the dragon has certain abilities that start to balance this out, but a horde of 100 orcs using smart tactics can potentially bring a ton of melee and missile attacks in a single round, which in both game terms and terms of “realism” makes for a scary situation for any group of characters. It makes the orc horde just as scary as the dragon to those high-level characters whose players realize that the math says they are going to take a lot of hits before they can reduce the numbers of the tactically savvy orc horde to the point that its threat is lessened. One or more of them could die, just as with the dragon.

          Where Angry’s system becomes useful, to my mind, is that it allows for the illusion of such a horde (100 orcs, which is hell to keep track of, let’s face it) but the ease of running relatively far fewer monsters (25 orc minion groups, which compared to 100 is doable). For such a force, I might represent each minion group with a d6 on the battlefield with one pip up for each individual left in that group, war-game style. Easy to track how many minions are left, and I can run them as squads, abstractly. This reinforces to the PCs that there’s just too much going on here for them to zoom in on any particular orc trying to kill them. In every direction, there are multiple orcs trying to kill them!

          The minion orc groups are going to get about 50 attacks per round, total. Yes, this is less than the 100 potential attacks of the non-minion orcs, but it is still 50% of those attacks, and experience tells me that the horde of 100 non-minion orcs, if I’m to play out each of their actions every round, is not actually going to get anywhere near 100 attacks. Some will be out of missile range, some will be in melee crowding around the PCs but unable to get close enough to attack, some will be moving but not attacking, etc.

          So the difference with Angry’s system is that I can abstract the attacks of the minion orcs, which saves me lots of headaches. This is 75 less enemies to track and many less decisions to make since with the non-minion orcs I have to think about each action of 100 individuals. And yes, the 25 groups of orc minions are made up of relatively weaker individuals, but at 17th level pretty much any attack a PC lands is going to kill a full-blooded orc anyway, so there’s nothing lost there. They become 1-hit kills, and that’s really satisfying to characters of a high level. Perhaps more satisfying than killing that beefy dragon slowly over ten rounds, because that’s only one kill. This is a constant litany of kills, turn after turn, round after bloody round.

          For various reasons, I was never a fan of 4e minions, but this I would use. I would just abstract the movement of each minion group and make them act as a squad rather than controlling their movements individually (as per the mass-combat rules released by WotC). To make them tougher and more mob-like in a really big battle (and because I’m lazy and don’t want to track so many numbers), I might just say that only an attack that kills an individual outright actually does damage. And I would give a chance of flight when a group was down to one individual left. At that point, yes, either the last minion flees the fight or decides to double down and fight more fiercely, the reason for still getting two attacks. They’ve leveled up due to the experience of this fight. Nice!

          So really, as I’ve just noticed myself, this boils down to a refined (and by that I definitely mean better!) version of WotC’s mass combat rules for 5e, allowing PCs to interact with truly large groups of enemies.

          • yup and then cyclops group that doubles down to make 8 attacks for 158dmg average or w/e. Totally makes sense, said no one ever.

  10. Pingback: Deconstructing the Ranger: Part 1 | Loot The Body

  11. I really like this concept, and can’t wait to try it out, but I’m wondering how well it works with slow moving monsters. For example, your zombie hoard has a combined movement of 20 feet for the entire hoard. If I’m reading it correctly this means that each shambler can move 5 feet, assuming that I want to move the entire hoard.

    I can see situtations where it would be very easy for the party to simply avoid the hoard because they (the hoard) are so slow. This would be less of an issue for the goblins or hobgoblins since some of the group could choose not to move and fire arrows while the others rushed forward to get into melee. Do you think it would be reasonable to give minion groups that don’t have access to ranged attacks the option to forgoe their attacks so that every member of the group can move their full distance? This would only be available for movement, if the group wanted to use the dash action they would still be limited to splitting movement over the whole group.

    • I don’t see a need for that. If you’re got lots of zombies then they either slowly block the players in, or you have a few zombies rush out to nom on the players. Seems very zombie appropriate.

  12. Hey angry, first off im a big fan, sorry i haven’t commented before.
    It seems like this system doesn’t solve most of the issues you raised and introduces some problems with verisimilitude.
    In terms of action economy, if your issue is minions getting too many actions, then this doesn’t really fix that, if anything it might be worse since now in theory only one minion needs to get in attack range to use all 4 actions and deal damage (which also looks like some weird conservation-of-ninjitsu thing). If your issue was that its hard to track so many actions, then again you have just as many, but now decision making as a dm is complicated since you have to decide how to break them between a collective (e.g. instead of my 4 zombies just shambling up and whacking like normal, do i want to sent one up using all the movement, then multiattack?).
    Movement and initiative are simplified yes, but i simply treated large groups of minions as one batch for initiative anyway, as im sure do many dms when using lots of units in an encounter.
    The xp issue remains somewhat open, if i chuck say, 5 minion groups at my party, its better than 20 individual minions yes, but still has a multiplier, why not simply grant my party the modified xp based on final difficulty, which seems both fair and logical in-game (since they DID face a harder fight, surely they should get more xp).
    And the ‘fireball problem’ you said yourself is still an issue (although i agree with you that it shouldnt be viewed as a problem in the first place).
    Finally, there’s the wonky unintended effects from stacking actions on one piece, as someone else pointed out, we could use all our actions for one goblin in a horde of however many, turning him into this weird flash-murderer, whilst his buddies seemingly stand in awe. Of course the DM can just choose not to do this, but it is an implicit option in your RAW, and if i applied these rules to some made up homebrew monster, it might look like im trying to give them some flavorful hive mind gimmick that im not, and accidently see other GMs abuse these weird tactics.
    I may be missing something obvious, but it seems like simpler solutions exist for relatively small problems, though i’d like to hear your ideas (this is the first article of yours i haven’t immediately bookmarked to use myself)

    • You are overlooking a few things. First of all, multiattack is not “four attacks,” it’s one. You have to understand Monster Building in 5E to understand the difference. I’ll give you the basics.

      In 5E, a monster is expected to have a certain damage output for it’s challenge. For example, a Challenge 1 creature is supposed to dish out an average of 9-14 points of damage per round (assuming its attacks hit). The trouble with most small and medium creatures, especially those using equipment, is that they rarely get to those damage levels. A creature swinging a short sword might do 1d6+1 damage, which does an average of 4 damage per round. So, the designers came up with the multiattack action as a solution. Basically, if I want that creature (the short sword one) to be Challenge 1, I give it the opportunity to make three attacks. Hence:

      Multiattack. The creature makes three melee attacks.

      And the real problem isn’t about having TOO MANY actions, its about what happens as a result of those actions. Too much damage output. Too much mobility. Too many reactions and opportunity attacks. The Multiattack solution allows me to give a creature multiple attacks without giving it too much mobility, reactions, opportunity attacks, and so on. And if I balance the damage output for the right Challenge, they still have the right damage output. More or less. That, incidentally, is why the goblins can’t have four attacks. The damage output would be too high for a creature of that Challenge.

      You’re also misunderstanding the XP issue. This Minion solution gets rid of the Phantom XP for groups monsters. At lower levels, this is especially useful since it’s hard to get PCs to be able to fight even small groups of opponents given the XP/Difficulty rules. The four minions are just ONE monster and treated as ONE monster. No Phantom XP for THAT encounter. Yeah, if you mix them together, you still get the Phantom XP issue. And while you can just say “hey, don’t sweat Phantom XP,” you should know that’s not how I operate. That’s a boring, easy, hatchet solution. Cut it out. But there are pacing reasons for the Phantom XP thing. I’d rather work within the system wherever possible and keep the scope of my solutions as small as possible.

      In this case, my solution is contained entirely within a monster stat block. I could actually just include that stat block in a published module and not have to impose any house rules on the GM. Everything they need to understand the monster and make my encounter work is in the stat block. Remember, it’s a good habit for GMs to get into to think like designers, not just GMs. Especially if you’re sharing your s$&%. A designer should focus on keeping the scope small, and keeping the solutions as modular as possible.

      The fireball problem is MITIGATED by not having 1 HP minions, but it is still an issue. But let’s also remember, that it’s not really a bug anyway, it’s a feature. Fireball is ALWAYS more effective the more targets in can hit. That’s how its designed. Every target multiplies the damage. The problem was just when it crosses a threshold of TOO EFFECTIVE. As in unbalanced.

      I’m not sure I understand your “action stacking” complaint. First of all, remember, HP and damage don’t spill from minion to minion. Each minion has it’s own XP. So the heroes can’t kill the whole group by ganging up on one.

      Second, if the heroes do tank and spank one minion, that minion now isn’t going to be using it’s movement, reactions, or bonus actions. So there’s three other minions to use them. That keeps the fight from becoming dynamic. And yes, that does assume the GM is smart enough to recognize using the actions for other minions. But there is ALWAYS going to be a component of user ability in any design and I don’t think I’m asking too much ability here.

      It is a mistake to get into the habit of editing out ALL options because they aren’t good options. Because, again, that’s too limiting. No other monster in the book worries that the GM might use it tactically poorly. The dragons aren’t worried that the GM might use the wrong legendary actions or the lair actions won’t be used to best effect. I’m not going to do that either.

      • Thanks for the quick reply, you addressed xp and the ‘fireball (non)issue’, and re-reading i see your intention, and your solution works, but i dont think you understood my confusion with the actions.
        The first issue is that these rules dont really have an in-world explanation. The fact my minion group shares a move pool and shares the attacks gained from multi-attack implies they literally are sharing a mind or something. If my players notice that no matter how many zombies move, the total is the same, or no matter how many of them get in reach, they always make a total of four attacks, that just looks plain weird, especially when they start whittling down the group and find the last one is faster and always attacks four times, are they meant to think that zombie is somehow getting strong as the others die, or that some magical energy source was shared between them? This troubles me because one of my favorite parts of 5e is the close connection between the concept of a monster and its statistic representation (as your article on 5e monster design outlined well), avoiding the 4e tendency to balance mechanics first and explain their in-universe function later.
        The other issue was that ‘action stacking’ thing. I didnt mean here that PCs might gang up on a single minion, i worried that the most effective use of such a group in combat terms is that you send them one-at-a-time (let me ignore things like the adjacency bonus you wrote in for the goblins for simplicity). For example, if i toss the zombies at my group, it seems equally if not more powerful to hold back 3 zombies and send in one, who can use the entire move pool to close distance quickly, then use all 4 attacks from the multi-attack action on his own. my players might then gang up and kill him, and next turn i repeat the same thing. In other words, it seems like the damage output from my little zombie horde is always the same no matter how many i actually get near the party, because they will always, in total, make 4 attacks, so i may as well only ever stick one of them into melee range. This then gets even more crazy if i have multiple hordes at once, because as written i can treat any given zombie as a part of any and all hordes, so i could just grant all actions and movement from all hordes to a single piece, who can now move say, 90feet in a turn and attack 12 times total (3 multi-attacks), and all the other zombies stand there more mindless than usual. This seems less elegant than simply having 4 separate units who each get one attack. I understand how your system makes it easier for me as DM to track (because which zombie does what exactly is less important, so long as they attack 4 times altogether) but the added complexity undermines that and could lead to the weirdness described above if i dont pay attention.
        Thanks again, your response cleared up a lot for me.

        • I think I see what you’re saying about 1 minion in a group using all 4 of the attacks and all the movement speed. But I don’t think it’s too big of an issue.

          The details listed in the Minion Group trait, as seen in the Gang of Goblin for example, explicitly states that one minion’s movement cannot exceed the maximum for the Gang’s speed. So if you had five minion groups each with a speed of 20’, you couldn’t move a single minion 100’. You could move just five of the minions 20’ and because all the minions are interchangeable, it doesn’t matter which five you move.

          The same goes for actions. The trait says that if the Gang has multiple actions, it could be taken by one minion. The “Gang” only relates to a group of four goblins. Perhaps to make it more clear Angry could put the same limitation he made for movement and include “the number of actions taken by one minion cannot exceed the maximum for the group.” I believe that would solve the issue you’re having with the actions.

          Lastly, you say it appears the best strategy is to just use one minion in each group take all the movement and actions. When they get swatted aside, the next wave of minions run forward and will always be getting their full attacks. Personally, I don’t have a problem with you doing this. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with seeing a strategy in a monster’s stats and using them. If you have four Gangs of Goblins, you could have a first wave of four goblin minions run forward. For every four goblins killed, the next wave has one fewer goblin in it until they’re all gone. Since each goblin only has a quarter of the hit points, I don’t think the strategy is unbalanced.

          Since the damage per round is maintained, it all helps to maintain the integrity of the challenge rating calculation. Angry constructed the minion to be able to operate within the confines of the challenge threshold established in the rules.

          The last thing I’ll address is you wondered if there was an in-game justification for the sharing of actions and movement between groups of minions. I believe this could easily be explained simply as co-ordination. When the group moves together they move slower to stay in formation and set each other up for the attacks in each round. When one minion is on their own, they go at full speed and attack all out.

          I enjoyed this article and I like that as a DM I could easily apply this trait to any creature and suddenly have minions to help populate a lair or warren. Additionally as a player, I love the feeling of powering through big groups of monsters even when I’m at a low level.

          This is my first time commenting so I just want to say thank you to Angry for the site and to the other readers for their comments in the articles. Reading this stuff has really improved me as a DM and given me tons to think about in my own campaigns.

          • ah, the movement limitation escaped me, i see how applying a similar rule or reading to the attack actions undoes my mechanical concerns, thanks for the clarification.
            Flavour wise i’m still not sure, i like your co-ordination interpretation, but i feel like there’s a perfect, slightly improved version of this solution just out of reach.
            Ah well, i’ll chuck this at my players and tinker with it for sure, thanks to both you and angry for this, it was nice to read the article, and get more out of it as you both replied. Peace

  13. I didn’t like this at first, but after reading it a few times I have warmed to it and have already used a couple of variations. In hindsight, the main issue I had when I read this was that the mechanics and narration could end up a bit silly if the DM makes it so. But it’s all under the DM’s control. If the DM doesn’t let it be silly, it is great.

    Today’s variation, loosely inspired by this (and probably not up to Angry’s standard) is that I want a group of 8-9 level adventurers to face massive hordes of 50 or more shambler minions. The encounters are designed to be easy. To make it happen I broke three of Angry’s rules above.

    First, I let the entire group use its full movement, on the condition that the members of the group must stay adjacent to the mass. If a few get separated from the mass, any movement they make must be committed to re-joining the mass. I think this will let the horde move around at a reasonable pace without being too agile, they’re effectively one multi-space blob of monster.

    Second, each horde has ten shamblers, instead of four. This is mainly to make life easy for me as DM. I only need to manage five creature blobs to manage a huge horde of 50 or more shamblers!

    Third, if one or more hordes as a whole is affected by a condition, each horde save as one entity. But depending on the effect, the actual individuals affected might come from different hordes. So if turn undead succeeds on one horde out of five, 10 individual shamblers will leave, but they could be from any horde. This makes things feel a bit more real without having to track things in great detail. Yes, this requires some judgment on the DM’s part but that’s their job anyway.

    Each horde of 10 is a CR 1 creature blob.

    By the way, I envisage the PCs will carve a path through them without using mainly renewable resources, rather than trying to defeat them all. Of course they can choose other options.

    I’ll see how it plays out when the players meet the shamblers, but I think it should work quite well. It wouldn’t scale well for non-minions and I haven’t thought about minion use of ranged weapons since these can’t. Sharing in case others would like to critique or use this.

  14. One-hit “Mooks” comes from the Feng Shui RPG, although I wouldn’t be surprised if Robin Laws borrowed it from somewhere else. The concept did not originate with WFRP. In fact, the 1st/2nd edition of WFRP was somewhat infamous for cannonfodder getting a lucky exploding Ulric’s Fury roll and eviscerating your precious Witch Hunter.

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  16. This is an interesting approach to minions, but the lack of correspondence to in-world logic really bugs me. Is there a way to accomplish the same thing without giving a group 4 attacks independent of how many members it has left, or restricting their movement X feet/4 creatures?

    Here’s my attempt at doing so, piggybacking off the work you’ve done:

    Instead of giving the group multiattack such that the last remaining minion gets 4 attacks, why not double their HP and give each an independent attack? This preserves the in-world logic of individual beings having their own capacities while providing a mathematically similar result.

    My reasoning:
    If you double their HP, then the PCs have to do twice the damage in order to kill the minions than they would have to do to kill the single creature. But the monsters’ damage falls off based on how much damage the PCs have done. So at full strength the monster does full damage. This will happen for 1/4 of the fight, which is 1/2 of the regular fight duration roughly. This is 4/8 of the total damage output of the original monster. Then for the next 1/4 of the fight (1/2 the original duration), the monsters deal 3/4 damage, which amounts to 3/8 of the monster’s original damage output. Next you get 1/2 damage then 1/4, for a final result of 10/8 of the original monster’s damage. This is a little bit on the high side, but it is compensated by the lower mobility of the minions, and their greater vulnerability to AoE damage (AoE damage will do somewhere between 2 and 4x the damage it would do vs the original monster, and most groups will have access to some).

    The biggest weakness with this is that it doesn’t account for overkill damage. It might be that 1.5x hp works better instead (if the original monster took 6 hits to kill, it will now probably take 8 due to overkill of individual minions — though this is the clearest case).

    In terms of moving as a group, why not just give each minion a speed of 2/3 original speed instead? I think this would work, because 20 feet of speed is much, much worse than 30. If you move 30 and your opponent moves 20, they can never hit you if they’re chasing you, and you can match pace with them while shooting 2/3 of the time if you’re chasing them. Even 5 foot differences in speed have this property, and it’s exacerbated with larger differences. 25 feet of speed is about 3/4 as good as 30, because most of the time creatures don’t move their entire speed, so you can usually still get in position to do the right thing. But 20 feet means that you’re often going to be unable to take strategically optimal actions (focusing fire, targeting the mage, etc), and (crucially) that your opponents can control who you target by impeding your movement routes.

    Minions with similar levels of melee and ranged capability will be less affected, but they will still be crippled by action economy if their opponents are able to force them back and forth between ranged and melee (in 5e, you can drop a weapon and draw a new one, but not holster a weapon and draw a new one. So if they want to go straight from melee to ranged or vice versa, then they have to drop one weapon). Even if you can’t do that, you are able to choose which form of engagement you have vs people slower than you, and this can be a huge tactical advantage.

  17. Thanks for this, I am looking forward to giving it a try. I am a new GM running 6 basically new players (you are so right about the poor rulebook design) and it is tough making fun balanced encounters where the players are outnumbered.

    As an antidote to the Fireball question, how do you find it balances with the buffs and debuffs?

    For example the Hobgoblin Priest casts Bless on itself, the captain and one member of the mob, so I always roll attacks with that one. I suppose the players can target him.

    If the players cast bane on a group of mobs I will always attack with the one they don’t hit or that passes his save. I suppose the players can target him and try to manage the mob but if he immediately unloads four undebuffed attacks and breaks the concentration then the player may feel a little hard done by.

  18. If I ran this, I’d alter the movement to add either:

    A: Instead of dividing the movement, move a single creature up to the full movement allotment of the mob, then move each other creature it’s full movement in the shortest possible path towards the creature, regardless of hazards. (this allows the horde to give chase or run away as a unit, but doesn’t allow it to control the battlefield)


    B: When a single creature moves, it can pull along any adjacent creature that is part of its mob for free, providing the other creature makes a move in the exact same direction as the original creature. (This is a little more complicated, and provides almost the same effect, however it’s more useful IN combat, while reducing the ability of multiple groups to flee)

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