[RPG] How to use minions effectively


I'm a newbie DM. It seems that minions in an encounter benefit the PCs more than they benefit me:

  • The Barbarian can kill them for free THP and a Swift Charge (I thought they were supposed to slow down the PCs' advance not speed it up).
  • The Warden can kill them for free THP.
  • The Cleric can kill them for free buffs.
  • The Psion and Wizard can kill tons of them with no difficulty — increasing the number of minions just increases the encounter's XP without increasing difficulty.

Most of the minions get killed before they can attack. If they attack, they usually miss (minions only target AC and my frontline PCs invested in armor feats). Even if by some chance they hit, damage is pitiful and a crit doesn't help.

So, obviously minions are not meant to be a significant attack force, but on the other hand they are meant to have some function in combat other than to provide buffs to the PCs. What is their purpose? The only use I've ever gotten out of them is (very slightly) slowing down chargers, but I think this is outweighed by the barb getting Swift Charge early in the combat. And occasionally I manage to set up a flank to help out one of the heavy hitters. I've been told to use Aid Another on attacks, but I've never actually been able to set up a situation where that's even possible.

Obviously my tactics need a lot of work, but how should I be placing and using minions?

Best Answer

I had this problem at first too. Here are some good uses of minions.

  1. Archers. Long range archers. This was the first effective use of minions I found. Make it so that rushing over to kill the minions is a time investment. Better yet, keep the minions separate from each other so that each individual minion is a time investment.
  2. Terrain. This is a corollary to archers. Minions cost XP. Terrain doesn't. If you put your archer 8 squares away, the PCs can get to him. If you put your minion 8 squares away, in a tree, with a moat, the PCs can't.
  3. Don't use minions for damage. There are a number of minions that invoke penalties just by being present. Wind Stalker for instance slides creatures that start their turn adjacent to it.
  4. Or use them for lots of damage. The elemental spark minions in particular can explode when they're killed to hit a burst of PCs. Position them correctly and the players won't be as interested in killing these guys so quickly.
  5. Use higher level minions. This is counter intuitive since I started out filling up the leftover bits of XP with minions. But investing XP to get some good minions can be worth it. Minions that are a couple levels higher than the players, particularly if they're soldier minions, will be harder to hit and they'll be capable of hitting the players. When I started using minions that were several levels higher than the party, the PCs started assuming that the normal enemies were actually minions because they seemed weaker by comparison.
  6. Misdirection. This relies on 5. If your players don't know which enemies are minions and which aren't you can trick them into wasting their encounters, dailies, and action points to pop minions. Using minions that are more powerful than the NPCs (as in 5) is one way to do this. Another is to throw in one or two unique minions, instead of just tossing 4, 5, or 6 identical guys down there. Give your unique minions good minis and a bit of description. Not only will the minions eat the party's good powers, this will also keep the real boss alive longer to take more actions.