The setup: I’m running an LFR adventure for the gaming group I DM; they’re brand new to 4th edition, so they’re not aware of some of the new mechanics. I’ve kept some things from them intentionally in order to maintain some of the mystery and wonder of the setting – mostly monster-related things. One of the things I’ve been very careful to keep from them is the existence of minions. The reasons for this are twofold. First, I wanted them to see every monster on the board as an equal threat, and to say, “Oh crap!” when I plunked down eight bad guys (or more) to their party of five. Second, I wanted them to feel awesome for one-shotting monsters. For some reason, killing a monster in one shot is anticlimatic when the immediate followup thought is, “it was just a minion.”
So in our game this week, imagine my dismay when one of my players pointed to the minions on the board, and identified them as such. “These guys are minions. They only have one hit point,” he said out of the blue. And he was right – they were, and they did. I tried to mask my shock a bit because I’m pretty sure most of these guys don’t have anything other than the PHB I and II – and some not even that. So I’m not sure where they got their information. Perhaps they’ve been cheating on me with online forums, or perhaps they’ve been wandering around the D&D blogosphere. In any case, the cat is out of the bag, and the minion innocence is lost.
Yes, I’m a little upset about it. Not for my sake; from a DMing perspective, I could care less if they know that there are monsters out there with one hit point. It’s more for their sake – now, when they kill something with one blow, it will seem a bit less cinematic and awesome because it was “just a minion.” And that sucks.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is the group I play with. They own all the books, and have read them all from cover to cover. It’s difficult, if not impossible to surprise them with any monster’s ability. (I refer to “them” because I’m the least rulesy person in the group). Needless to say, it’s never a surprise to hear one of us discussing which guys are minions, and therefore, the tactics that should be employed in the encounter. That’s just how we play.
For both groups, there’s a potential problem. I say potential because I’m not sure where I stand on the “meta-game” aspect of minions. In other words, is it ok for the players to try and figure out who’s a minion and who’s not? On the one hand, we could say it’s no problem. From the perspective of “cinematic” 4e, where the PCs effortlessly hack through the henchmen in dramatic fashion to get to the real threat, it could be argued that the PCs are supposed to know who the pushovers are and who the big bad evil guy is. I’m ok with that argument, especially in climactic boss fights because in those fights, that’s what the minions are for. Unfortunately, most of the fights that take place aren’t boss fights; they’re more like skirmishes, or in D&D parlance, “encounters.” I have more of a problem with players trying to figure out who the minions are in these instances. For right or wrong, in less pivotal encounters, I want the minions to remain a mystery and for the players to treat each monster equally.
For now, I’m going to lay aside the idea of “two shot” minions as a solution to this problem. That’s not to say that I don’t think they’re a great idea, because I do. However, they’re a bit beyond the scope of what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about making a different type of minion, but rather getting back to a mindset where every monster on the board is treated equally; in a sense, a mindset where there are no minions. And, I believe that two shot minions aren’t different enough from one shot minions to accomplish that goal.
For the players in both groups, there’s no going back to the innocence of “what’s a minion?” and the awesomeness of one-shotting something without the awareness of monsters with one hit point, but perhaps I there’s a way to keep which monsters are minions a mystery.
I have some ideas kicking around in my head, and one in particular that I’m going to try. The idea is a combination of a Looney Labs game (of all things), and something that an older, more experienced DM taught me by example.
At this point, I’m going to leave you hanging, and put off part two because first, I want to hear from you – do you try to hide which of your monsters have one hit point and which don’t? Why? As a player, do you try to figure out which monsters are minions, and which aren’t? Why?