4E minions, a revolution in large-scale combat?

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In many adventures I played or DM, the creativity of the DM was often stifled by the lack of good mechanics to run truly large-scale battles. Sure, I don't expect PCs to run across a battlefield, devastating everything, but there was practically no way to run a large battlefields without having pages unto pages of HP, even using unified stats and init rolls. The only way to really do them is rolling a x-sided die and kill off that number of soldiers, but it somehow felt unsatisfying, especially in the interactions between PCs and mooks - why did everyone around a mook die, but he's still at full health when a PC attacks him?

Now, minions seem to provide the perfect answer to this: they die in a single hit. What this means is an army of 100 minions against another 100 minions is actually handled pretty rapidly: roll X D20s (where X is the number of attacks), kill off the enemy who got hit, rinse and repeat. This looks like it would simplify large-scale combat by a large margin.

Thoughts?
See.. I've seen lots of threads like this, not just here but on the Star Wars boards. What I do is this, if I'm running the game I choose who I want to win story wise. The party does important things that affect the outcome of the battle. For instance, the party would have to slay the high shaman of the orc horde, doing this changed how many of the allied soldiers die. If the party can't get to him, then it's much worse for their allies. They'll still win but at a great cost.. which may change the outcome of a future battle (since they lost so many allies). The battle is the backdrop to what the pc's are doing. If they kill the high shaman, then give them something else to do, where they have to battle their way through to the catapults or some other target. You could also give branching outcomes. Does the party go after the shaman or the catapults? If you go for the shaman soldiers survive but the fortifications are destroyed. If you destroy the catapults the fortifications are saved but at the cost of life. Creativity is far from stifled with this method, in fact you have to be a bit more creative as it's not based on any mechanical outcome.

Now, I know what I've said is not quite what you said.. but the minion mechanic, if you must use a mechanic, seems better than giving the army hp and hopefully more satisfying to you.
See.. I've seen lots of threads like this, not just here but on the Star Wars boards. What I do is this, if I'm running the game I choose who I want to win story wise. The party does important things that affect the outcome of the battle. For instance, the party would have to slay the high shaman of the orc horde, doing this changed how many of the allied soldiers die. If the party can't get to him, then it's much worse for their allies. They'll still win but at a great cost.. which may change the outcome of a future battle (since they lost so many allies). The battle is the backdrop to what the pc's are doing. If they kill the high shaman, then give them something else to do, where they have to battle their way through to the catapults or some other target. You could also give branching outcomes. Does the party go after the shaman or the catapults? If you go for the shaman soldiers survive but the fortifications are destroyed. If you destroy the catapults the fortifications are saved but at the cost of life. Creativity is far from stifled with this method, in fact you have to be a bit more creative as it's not based on any mechanical outcome.

Now, I know what I've said is not quite what you said.. but the minion mechanic, if you must use a mechanic, seems better than giving the army hp and hopefully more satisfying to you.

Utilising the Skill Challenge mechanics could be a good way of adding to this idea in 4E, perhaps with some "mini-adventures" like taking down some of the enemy generals or sabotaging their artillery to split up the skill checks, and success or failure of these combat objectives adding to the successes and failures in the Skill Challenge. A collection of minions would be good for the objective mini-events to give the heroes lots of bad guys to cut through, a bit like Aragorn and Gimli outside the walls of Helms Deep.
If you are looking for ideas on large-scale battles, then have a look at how 7th sea handles it (or used to handle it before becoming a d20). Basically it's a system of opposed skill checks of the generals that are modified by heroic deeds done by the PCs and (if present) antagonists.
More importantly though, I'm not sure that minions are all that big of a step forward in the evolution of the actual gaming table. Minions do allow a DM to put more bodies on the field against a group of PCs, but how much does it help really?

If we go to their XP ratings, a group of four minions are treated like a single non-elite monster, so the most you're getting out of it is four times the number of monsters on the field on the top end. We've also been told that homogenous fields of identical monsters lead to unsatisfying combats. At most, you'll probably replace two normal monsters with eight minions.

If we assume a party of five PCs, that gives you eleven bad guys on the field instead of give. It's a step forward but not that big of a step. The D&D combat field is still best used to represent small-scale, tactical fights. Put one hundred homogenous monsters on the board, and your players are going to get either totally overwhelmed or very bored.
D&D rules were never meant to exist without the presence of a DM. RAW is a lie.
Put one hundred homogenous monsters on the board, and your players are going to get either totally overwhelmed or very bored.

Or, if it's used in moderation, they will feel extremely awesome. Throw a swarm of minions up against an artful dodger shadow assassin--not often, just once in a while--and you'll have them grinning like an idiot, I'm sure.
Or, if it's used in moderation, they will feel extremely awesome. Throw a swarm of minions up against an artful dodger shadow assassin--not often, just once in a while--and you'll have them grinning like an idiot, I'm sure.

I wholeheartedly agree with this.. Cutting your way through countless minions can be fun once in a while. It's still dangerous to PC's as well, simply because they can get surrounded. But you will get characters, like that shadow assassin, that will be grinning like an idiot.
Now, minions seem to provide the perfect answer to this: they die in a single hit. What this means is an army of 100 minions against another 100 minions is actually handled pretty rapidly: roll X D20s (where X is the number of attacks), kill off the enemy who got hit, rinse and repeat. This looks like it would simplify large-scale combat by a large margin.

That still leaves you rolling 150d20 on the first round of combat. No thanks! Personally I subscribe to a similar philosophy as That Blasted Somoflange.

There's more to a battle than two big groups of mooks hammering at each other. Ultimately you can break it down into smaller chunks akin to a standard encounter, and only those in which the heroes are participating are important enough for rolls.

The main thing is that a large scale battle isn't a huge encounter, it's a dungeon unto itself.

If you are looking for ideas on large-scale battles, then have a look at how 7th sea handles it (or used to handle it before becoming a d20). Basically it's a system of opposed skill checks of the generals that are modified by heroic deeds done by the PCs and (if present) antagonists.

If one of the players is the field commander of said army, this is the way to go I think. I would take pains to deemphasize the commander's influence in favor of the groups actions though, using the commander's commands and skill checks to dictate the shape and difficulty of the dungeon as a whole.

If the heroes ever end up involved in a regiment v. regiment kind of thing I'd rather treat the two as colossal swarms rather than as hordes of mooks, and single out officers as individual creatures. I'd then revive save-or-die in the sense that killing the commander allows you to make a follow up attack on the swarm's Will defense to see if you can rout them.
A good number of other RPGs have similar rules, and if you're looking for cinematic hero-vs-mook action, they work well. However, I've found that you still need to be careful about how many mooks you put in - after a point, having too many in at the same time gets overwhelming, if not mechanically then just in terms of the time it takes to wade through 'em.
I've always done the "simple win" roll for large groups of forces and then varied it for fluff. Basically flipping a coin every once in a while and having random NPCs on one side die. For true mass-scale you could even roll a d100 and kill that many NPCs for that side.
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Honestly? There are few better places for DM fiat.
Who won? Whoever you want to win for plot purposes presumably had enough forces and other advantages to offset their opponent's, and then a few more.
What if the PCs are involved? If they succeed at their mission, their side just barely wins, if they fail, their side just barely loses (realistic) or the rest of the army does exactly as well as the PCs did (PC-centric)
Who dies? If there are any important NPCs there, they don't die unless you want them to or the players kill them.
If you're wishy-washy? Flip a coin.

Plot > Rolling 100d20.
Mooks - or, from what I can guess, minions - aren't normally there to promote army-sized combats. They're there so that you can make the players feel cool by throwing ten to twenty-odd opponents against them and having the characters just wade through a mess of flying bodyparts, like actions heroes in movies.
I usually do a "spotlight" scenario, which is something of a combination of the "DM fiat" and "1001 mooks" theories here. Basically, there's a certain radius around the PCs where stuff happens. If they stay within that area, NPCs stay there, they fight, it's like a mini-battle. If they move out of the area, more mooks come in that "edge" and serve as reinforcements. So basically the PCs fight lots of smaller battles and I don't have to keep track of hundreds of NPCs at a time, but because of the way the NPCs enter the area and how the PCs move it gives the illusion of a larger combat.
I enjoy large scale battles as well. Lots of good ideas so far. In L5R(Which I think is also by the same company as 7th Sea) the idea is that the commanders roll affects morale. In this case if the roll is in the players side they get some sort of morale bonus, and a penalty if it is against them. Aside from that you break battles down into small skirmishes with various objectives to proceed. If the players succeed the next moral roll gets a bonus.

There are also plenty of ways to do skirmishes. Even as simple as holding the line. You could tell the players that they must not fall back for X rounds. Each round the players face the maximum amount of enemies, with more constantly taking the place of the fallen. I wouldn't recomend doing something like that for more than 3-5 rounds(which I thnk was standard encounter now). If the players stick to the front line you could then switch things up. Have the enemy general see the threat they pose and send something a bit nastier after them.

Design standard units for the enemy so you can have batches of enemies to use on the fly. Have one or two set up as climaxes such as the enemy general or a solo the enemy uses as a secret weapon, or some such. When the enemy sees their best fall they realise their in trouble and flee. Battle won. Losing the battle really depends on how many objectives the PC's complete or fail. Some may not like this but it is better than have the PC's rolls be meaningless. You could also do a battle like Hoth where the battle is lost from the start and the PC's know it. In this case the objectives would be to stall for time as allies escape or using strike tactics to cripple an enemy before fleeing themselves.

When you think about it the possibilities are endless.

Final note on morale. Since battles can be to chaotic for players to get the 5 minute rest needed to use a second wind, you could instead say the bonus for the PC's is to use one of their rolls even despite time constraints.
I would generally split large armies into their individual units over an even larger battlefield. Sure, there are times when they'll be all packed together, but they need to be able to spread out and manoeuvre as well. I'd then set out command structures within each army, with corporals, sergeants and officers (all of whom can give orders that redeploy their units- requiring a new initiative check to do so)...

However, from about that point, I would tend to fudge things slightly if the army unit in question was not in close proximity to the PCs... I can always call up reserve troops and reinforcements if the battle is going the wrong way for the story (whether that requires that the PCs defeat the entire army themselves, or whether it demands the PCs be taken captive as prisoners of war)...

Of course, for when I decide that stuff is too close to the PCs for me to make it up, I'd generally try to have a decent variety of different troops available, just as a way of making things interesting...

I'd also keep individual kill tallies for the PCs during the fighting, so that I can better keep track of their XP progressions, rewarding the defender for standing in the path of 12 Lv4 Kobold conscripts, whilst rewarding the striker for slipping through enemy ranks to dispose of their premier Lv9 war mage...

I agree with adding skill challenges where appropriate, ranging from promoting your choice of strategy in the commander's tent beforehand to protecting the escape of the last of the refugees once the battle is underway...

I also, personally, reserve the right to focus the PCs objectives as much- or as little- as I choose, whether that means setting them (at low level) to escorting munitions from the castle out to the forward batteries, fending off agitators behind the battle-lines, or whether (at higher level) they are assigned to the Dukes vanguard in the counterattack, or somesuch. Achieving goals like that gives them some degree of bonus experience, where they might otherwise have to work harder for the same degree of XP...
Has anyone done the "effectively fighting the army" thing? Where the PC heroes have found the NPC heroes on the field and are duking it out, and every time the PCs land a hit their side gains the advantage and every time they take a hit the enemy presses them back?
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as anyone done the "effectively fighting the army" thing? Where the PC heroes have found the NPC heroes on the field and are duking it out, and every time the PCs land a hit their side gains the advantage and every time they take a hit the enemy presses them back?

No I haven't, though that might be interesting to try out to give immediate feedback during a major battle.
I would highly recommend Heroes of Battle, this book really re-defined how I see large-scale battles in D&D.

In this book, they introduce a victory point (VP) system, in which stuff like capturing an important hill or escorting the artillery earns the players X VP.

The DM establishes VP thresholds, where certain VP values will affect the battle in certain ways. The DM might create a table like this:

0-30: Allied army is routed, taking heavy casualties. Next battle will be a desperate fight to protect the homeland.

31-60:Allied army makes a fighting retreat, dealing heavy casualties as it does so. Next battle will involve another offensive

61-100: Allied army wins, but must take some time to regroup after the victory. The PCs will be called upon to do some non-epic-battle adventure type thing.

101+: Allied army achieves massive victory, next battle will be an assault on a key enemy city.

In this system, the DM could rule that it is actually impossible for an army to win or lose, but the PCs could still affect the outcome in however major or minor a way the DM feels is appropriate. Heroes of Battle lays out some good rules for awarding VP, so a well-thought out battlefield could be a veritable sandbox of fun encounters, and the PCs basically get to write their own adventure. This requires a certain amount of DM ad-libbing, but if you come with with various groups of foes the PCs may encounter in advance, then the ad-libbing should be relatively easy.
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