Lesser Monsters (or "elite" minions)

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Currently, there's a noticable gap in the spectrum of monster class; while we have a smooth progression of normal to elite to solo, there's a huge difference between a normal monster and a minion. What about monsters that - while weaker and more numerous than a standard opponent - aren't wimpy enough to be one-hit-kills? To use a Legend of Zelda comparison, DnD currently has miniblins, moblins, and bigblins, but we don't have any bokoblins. And killing bokoblins is fun. A super-minion, or "elite" minion, would fill the hole and allow for a bigger range of encounter packs.

Here is my take on a super-minion. Lesser monsters are worth half as much encounter space as a normal monster of their level, and are individually expected to cause half as much grief to the PC's.


Creating a Lesser Monster

A lesser monster is just like any other monster of its level and role, aside from the following:


  • It has one half as many hit points as a normal monster of its level and role.

  • It automatically fails all saving throws.

  • It is instantly killed by a critical hit.

  • Its attacks deal a set amount of damage, like a minion.

  • Defeating the creature awards only half as much XP as a normal monster of its level.



Lesser monsters are easily defeated by attacks that deal debilhitating, save-ends effects, and, unlike minions, they can take damage from attacks that miss. This means that they are vulnerable to every weapon and perk at a PC's disposal, allowing the players to have fun using their different powers against lesser monsters. At the same time, the lesser monster is hardy enough to take a few conventional attacks before dropping, and it can do a fair amount of damage, keeping a pair of them a serious threat.


Guidelines to Building Lesser Monsters

To make a lesser monster effective, keep the following in mind:


  • Lesser monsters deal a set amount of damage with each attack, but that amount should be slightly higher than what a minion does. If a first level minion brute deals 7 damage with an attack, a first level lesser brute should deal 9 or 10.

  • Lesser monsters should have one or more encounter or recharge powers, to further differentiate them from minions.

  • Lesser monsters are never bloodied. Avoid the temptation to give them abilities that take effect after they've been injured; that goes against the grain of their design, and the PC's will likely never get to see that ability used for more than a single round anyway.

  • A lesser monster's vulnerability to saving throws can make the PC wizard feel really badass when he throws his sleep spell, which is a good thing. However, keep in mind that a party with lots of save-or-die attacks at their disposal are going to cleave through lesser monsters much more easily than another party might, so plan encounters accordingly.

  • Lesser monsters should not typically have Leader or healing abilities. Like minions, they should have abilities that are conducive to teamwork.



For an example of a lesser monster, I took the Rylkar Tormenter (a monster I updated from the tail end of third edition) and adapted it into a Lesser. I may go back and make this the "official" version, as I really did envision the Tormentor as being something that gangs up on its enemies, though not to the same extent of their Forager minions.



Rylkar Tormenter
Level 1 Lesser Controller (XP: 50)
Tiny natural beast
Initiative: +3 Perception: +7 (darkvision)
Hit Points: 13
AC: 15 Fortitude: 13 Reflex: 14 Will: 13
Speed: 8
Resist: 5 disease
Vulnerable: a lesser monster is reduced to 0 hp if it sustains a critical hit.
Saving Throws: a lesser monster automatically fails all saving throws.
______________
Standard Actions

Melee basic Bite (at will); +6 vs. AC; 8 normal and disease damage and use Attach.
______________
Passive
-
Attach; after biting someone, the Tormenter digs its teeth into their flesh and refuses to let go, entering the target´s square. While attached, the Tormenter cannot be targeted by opportunity attacks, and recieves a +4 bonus to its AC, Fortitude, and Reflex defenses. Attacks against the rylkar that target any of these defenses that miss will instead hit the creature to which it is attached. The rylkar gains a +2 bonus to attack rolls against its victim, but cannot attack anyone else until it lets go. The rylkar´s victim is slowed. Save ends; on a succesful saving throw, the Tormenter reappears in a space adjacent to the target.
-
Scurry; the rylkar can move through occupied squares as long as it begins and ends its move in empty ones.
______________
Strength: 8 Constitution: 14 Dexterity: 16 Intelligence: 6 Wisdom: 14 Charisma: 10
Alignment: Evil Languages: None (understands Deep Speech)



With only a few, very easy stat changes, the Tormentor has become the monster I always wanted it to be.

In future posts, I will discuss some more ideas about designing and using Solo, Elite, Lesser, and Minion class monsters, as well as some reccomendations of how to "upgrade" or "downgrade" a monster from one class to another.





I like it overall, although the auto-fail on saves is a poor idea IMO.

I had a similar thought for elite minions, but I just had them have 2 HPs, where each "hit" only does 1 damage (still no damage on a miss), and they can get the bloodied status. This would make them more durable than a standard minion, but much weaker than a regular monster. I like the auto-kill on a crit, I think I may use that for my super minions

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I like it overall, although the auto-fail on saves is a poor idea IMO.



Hmm. Why?

I had a similar thought for elite minions, but I just had them have 2 HPs, where each "hit" only does 1 damage (still no damage on a miss), and they can get the bloodied status. This would make them more durable than a standard minion, but much weaker than a regular monster. I like the auto-kill on a crit, I think I may use that for my super minions



I've heard that suggested as well. I think what I'm going to do is use that for my brute minions (since brutes are defined by being tough to kill). Like you said, they'd have 2 hp, and each attack or ongoing damage would deal 1 damage. HOWEVER, I'd also give them a damage threshhold (say, 10 + level); a sufficiently strong attack can still kill them in one hit. A critical will generally deal enough damage to do this.
What about monsters that - while weaker and more numerous than a standard opponent - aren't wimpy enough to be one-hit-kills?

What narrative purpose does this serve, exactly, that simply using a monster of a bit lower level than the party wouldn't serve just as well? Honestly, I see proposals for these "pseudo-minions" all of the time, but I just don't understand why there's a desire for them, and I'm wondering whether they're simply inspired by a mechanical desire rather than a legitimate narrative one.

Why, yes, as a matter of fact I am the Unfailing Arbiter of All That Is Good Design (Even More So Than The Actual Developers) TM Speaking of things that were badly designed, please check out this thread for my Minotaur fix. What have the critics said, you ask? "If any of my players ask to play a Minotaur, I'm definitely offering this as an alternative to the official version." - EmpactWB "If I ever feel like playing a Minotaur I'll know where to look!" - Undrave "WoTC if you are reading this - please take this guy's advice." - Ferol_Debtor_of_Torm "Really full of win. A minotaur that is actually attractive for more than just melee classes." - Cpt_Micha Also, check out my recent GENASI variant! If you've ever wished that your Fire Genasi could actually set stuff on fire, your Water Genasi could actually swim, or your Wind Genasi could at least glide, then look no further. Finally, check out my OPTIONS FOR EVERYONE article, an effort to give unique support to the races that WotC keeps forgetting about. Includes new racial feature options for the Changeling, Deva, Githzerai, Gnoll, Gnome, Goliath, Half-Orc, Kalashtar, Minotaur, Shadar-Kai, Thri-Kreen, Warforged and more!
I think it's mostly psychological, people tend to ascribe normal monsters to be the 'middle', with Minions below, and the Elites/Solos as being above.

So what happens is that they perceive an imbalance in the progression.

1. Minion
2. --------
3. Standard
4. Elite
5. Solo 

This leads them to try to 'fill the gap''. 

 
What about monsters that - while weaker and more numerous than a standard opponent - aren't wimpy enough to be one-hit-kills?

What narrative purpose does this serve, exactly, that simply using a monster of a bit lower level than the party wouldn't serve just as well? Honestly, I see proposals for these "pseudo-minions" all of the time, but I just don't understand why there's a desire for them, and I'm wondering whether they're simply inspired by a mechanical desire rather than a legitimate narrative one.



It lets me make monsters like the one I posted in the OP. I've used  them (and many other homebrew monsters) in my game, and thought they had too much hp, but at the same time wanted them to be a cut above minions.
Okay, but what I'm wondering is what their narrative purpose is. I can't picture a scenario where this concept would be thematically necessary. It just seems to me that if you want a weak and insignificant monster that isn't just cannon fodder, then you're just looking for a standard monster. Maybe it's because I think of monsters less like this:

Solo
Elite
Standard
---
Minion

and more like this:

Solo
Elite
---
Standard
Minion

I guess that, in a mechanical sense, I'm not understanding why further differentiation in an enemy's power isn't sufficiently adressed with by simply using monsters of different levels. Can you explain that to me?

Why, yes, as a matter of fact I am the Unfailing Arbiter of All That Is Good Design (Even More So Than The Actual Developers) TM Speaking of things that were badly designed, please check out this thread for my Minotaur fix. What have the critics said, you ask? "If any of my players ask to play a Minotaur, I'm definitely offering this as an alternative to the official version." - EmpactWB "If I ever feel like playing a Minotaur I'll know where to look!" - Undrave "WoTC if you are reading this - please take this guy's advice." - Ferol_Debtor_of_Torm "Really full of win. A minotaur that is actually attractive for more than just melee classes." - Cpt_Micha Also, check out my recent GENASI variant! If you've ever wished that your Fire Genasi could actually set stuff on fire, your Water Genasi could actually swim, or your Wind Genasi could at least glide, then look no further. Finally, check out my OPTIONS FOR EVERYONE article, an effort to give unique support to the races that WotC keeps forgetting about. Includes new racial feature options for the Changeling, Deva, Githzerai, Gnoll, Gnome, Goliath, Half-Orc, Kalashtar, Minotaur, Shadar-Kai, Thri-Kreen, Warforged and more!
Primarily the same reason Minions were invented, Crimson. A minion doesn't deal a lot of damage, but it deals that damage consistently by having a high enough attack to be on par with other monsters of its level, thereby providing a challenge to the players.

That is the whole reason a level 10 minion is better than sending level 1 monsters at a paragon tier party. They can oneshot the level 1 monsters, but the level 1 monsters will offer no challenge back at them - their attacks will bounce off with sole exception of criticals.

This is an attempt (and a pretty good one at that) of applying a minion design philosophy (you can kill them like nobody's business but they're still dangerous enough to warrant killing) to something that isn't quite so disposable as a minion.
Yep, I'd even go so far as to have minions have 1HP per tier. I can't see how minions in epic could be any significant challenge to the average party as is (I'd haven't played epic, so those with experience feel free to enlighten).

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Resurrecting this thread since the idea has been mulling around in my head for a while. Going to try it for a scenario coming up soon in my campaign. I'll report in again with how it worked out as a post-mortem.
The narrative purpose to use something in between minions and standards is there because players still aren't cool with the "kill in one hit" design. They often feel panadered-to when minions arrive, and occasionally waste valuable powers on them if you don't blatantly say, "that's a minion!" I settled on a few minion ideas... but first, my failures!

First I tried 'Goons'. They were monsters, worth half xp with half hp. I adjusted standard monsters by removing recharge rolls, using a flat damage value (about 2/3 of the previous average), toned down other powers like auras (immobilize into slow, stun into daze). This was going well, but it had it's pitfall - time. Goons meant more monsters on the board, ones that didn't die in one hit. That meant damage had to be rolled and effects had to be tracked.

Second came 'Two-Bite minions'. I was inspired by the Shaman's totem that dies in one hit only if the hit exceeds a certain damage total. The minion could be hit twice, but only once if the attack did more than his threshold (called his "bite size"). It was usually 7+1/2 level. This was fair to players using encounter or daily powers, since they'd pop in one hit. However, some characters could pop a minion on minimum damage and others almost always needed two hits. Overall, less time tracking save, but I was still counting damage.

What I do now: I give each minion one way out of death that doesn't always work.

--Skirmishers have "Scatter". They shift 1 square as free action if hit by a burst or blast. Hopefully, they get out and take no damage.

--Soldiers and Brutes have "Diehard". After one hit, they are instead heavily wounded (slower moving, easier to hit, worse at fighting). I felt 'prone' best described this. They fall prone and can't stand up. An attack with combat advantage ignores this and kills them outright.

--Controllers and Artillery have "Duck and Cover". Both roles seem likely to use terrain and allies for cover. They gain cover while adjacent to a non-minion ally (even against blasts and bursts), and upgrade any normal cover they receive to superior cover instead.

--Lurkers have "Spite". This isn't a real way out of death. Once a lurker minion is seen, its only defense is gone. When killed, Lurkers make a melee or ranged basic attack. Its essentially one more round of usefulness for the minion.

--Critical hits always kill a minion. A minion cannot use any of these powers if critically hit (even Spite).

These obviously make minions better. When adding these to existing minions, consider giving +50% xp value for them. Its annoying for a DM to work out, but the players won't feel cheated.
Alright, after running with them in a mini-Helm's-Deep scenario, my thoughts are mostly positive. The slightly more resistant nature lets them fit in well without being instantly blasted to pieces by wizard control or damage zones or the like. Taking them out is a conscious effort and not something done just to fill up an action, but they're also not significant presences like standards - ie. one or two people paying attention to one will clear it out before too much time has passed, which is exactly the feel I was going for. They're footsoldiers without being grunts, but not commanding officers or heroic exemplars.

Why not lower level monsters? Exactly the reasons mentioned above - something that can't hit and always gets hit is functionally useless as a challenge, and brings very little to the table. If you're going to artificially boost its attack and defense to compensate, well.. then it's functionally the same as a Lesser. I feel like 'two-hit' minions and the like still don't quite break that sense of being forgettable presences - seen them get clipped by damage zones and then die to something like Rain of Steel or being edged in the defender's eight damage lightning breath far too often.

All told, I like it. I'll probably keep using them.
Its awesome that it worked out well. Did you allow crits to kill them right away?
Its awesome that it worked out well. Did you allow crits to kill them right away?

Yes - the wizard managed to score a clutch kill on a lesser brute that way, right before its initiative came up, saving herself from a premature death at the hands of an angry spear-wielding orc.

Since it's generally a 5% chance per attack to score a lucky early kill, sometimes higher depending on the build, I'm not too concerned about it being a major issue - they make up for it by coming in greater numbers and not having the accuracy issues that deleveled standards would have, and fit the bill for grunts without being redshirts so perfectly that I could overlook it even if it was.
The narrative purpose to use something in between minions and standards is there because players still aren't cool with the "kill in one hit" design. They often feel panadered-to when minions arrive, and occasionally waste valuable powers on them if you don't blatantly say, "that's a minion!" I settled on a few minion ideas... but first, my failures!

First I tried 'Goons'. They were monsters, worth half xp with half hp. I adjusted standard monsters by removing recharge rolls, using a flat damage value (about 2/3 of the previous average), toned down other powers like auras (immobilize into slow, stun into daze). This was going well, but it had it's pitfall - time. Goons meant more monsters on the board, ones that didn't die in one hit. That meant damage had to be rolled and effects had to be tracked.

Second came 'Two-Bite minions'. I was inspired by the Shaman's totem that dies in one hit only if the hit exceeds a certain damage total. The minion could be hit twice, but only once if the attack did more than his threshold (called his "bite size"). It was usually 7+1/2 level. This was fair to players using encounter or daily powers, since they'd pop in one hit. However, some characters could pop a minion on minimum damage and others almost always needed two hits. Overall, less time tracking save, but I was still counting damage.

What I do now: I give each minion one way out of death that doesn't always work.

--Skirmishers have "Scatter". They shift 1 square as free action if hit by a burst or blast. Hopefully, they get out and take no damage.

--Soldiers and Brutes have "Diehard". After one hit, they are instead heavily wounded (slower moving, easier to hit, worse at fighting). I felt 'prone' best described this. They fall prone and can't stand up. An attack with combat advantage ignores this and kills them outright.

--Controllers and Artillery have "Duck and Cover". Both roles seem likely to use terrain and allies for cover. They gain cover while adjacent to a non-minion ally (even against blasts and bursts), and upgrade any normal cover they receive to superior cover instead.

--Lurkers have "Spite". This isn't a real way out of death. Once a lurker minion is seen, its only defense is gone. When killed, Lurkers make a melee or ranged basic attack. Its essentially one more round of usefulness for the minion.

--Critical hits always kill a minion. A minion cannot use any of these powers if critically hit (even Spite).

These obviously make minions better. When adding these to existing minions, consider giving +50% xp value for them. Its annoying for a DM to work out, but the players won't feel cheated.




I've been considering something similar, the 'cheat death' ideas are quite interesting as well.
Currently I'm testing the idea of 1-hit, 2-hit... minions (Crits count as 2 hits) and grade them per tier ie: heroic minions are by standard 1-hit, paragon 2-hit, epic 3-hit (all bloodied on the first hit) so the players have a feel for what to expect in most cases.
The damage that survivable minions can add to an encounter is something to be mindful of.

Currently my rule is that on becoming bloodied (first hit) a minion is Dazed until the end of its next turn; Simply declaring them Weakened feels contrived (to address the extra damage surviving minions add) while Dazed fits the feel of taking a big hit and needing a chance to recover.
Prone is a tempting alternative, as are perhaps a random chance of stunned, blind or deafened but those alternative results are I think, something that feats and powers should be used to acheive.
Adding another die roll for the chance just adds complication to an otherwise quick solution.

One of the core reasons for Minions is that it doesn't matter how much damage a single hit does, generally speaking the minimum damage (or low range) that a character will do will be enough to kill them or be close enough to death that tracking them mathematically thereafter is really just extra paperwork as they're practically guaranteed to die on the next hit anyway, so my thinking is that it's better to avoid assigning hit points to them.

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