For the last Pathfinder campaign I ran, I took a page from 4E’s book and created a class of enemies called “minions”. This is intended to represent the kind of unimportant, easily-dispatched opponents that attack the main characters in waves, not being much of a threat individually but potentially dangerous in groups. You know, guys like goblins, zombies, or Canadians. This grew out of a desire to enable the campaign to feature larger fights that allow the PC’s to kick lots of ass, but without slowing the game down too much by treating every random kobold like a full-fledged character.
But simply porting over the idea of “bad guys with only one hit point” wouldn’t work for PF (or 3.5), if for no other reason than that Magic Missile would have to be renamed Automatically Kill More Enemies With One Standard Action Than A 20th-level Fighter Could Kill With A Full Attack, and that’s tough to fit onto a character sheet. So adjustments needed to be made.
Mechanically speaking, a group of minions is treated sort of like a single opponent that exists in multiple places at once. A group of minions all act on the same initiative, and all share a common Armor Class, saving throws, etc. This is because the members of that group all have similar experience, training, and equipment. A combat encounter may well include more than one group of minions; for example, a fight against some bandits may include a group of swordsmen and a group of bowmen, each being a distinct minion group in gameplay terms.
I am not the first to conceive such a system for Pathfinder, but this one has worked well for me, and perhaps it will for you. Those of you who are familiar with 13th Age will note some similarities with its “Mooks” rules, though I conceived this system well before I had heard of that game.
- Allow the players to fight heroic battles against overwhelming numbers
- Make minion-class enemies easy to defeat, but still dangerous enough to force players to fight tactically
- Minimize the amount of die-rolling and bookkeeping added by minions so that the game runs quickly and smoothly
- Make minions weak enough to be dispatched easily by martial characters, but not so weak that casters can instantly obliterate them all with a single spell
- Avoid devaluing damage-optimized characters with glass-jawed enemies
A minion group has the following statistics, some of which mirror those of “real” characters:
- Armor Class, including touch and flat-footed AC’s
- Initiative bonus
- Melee Damage
- Ranged Damage
- Damage Threshold (see Attacking Minions, below)
Note that minions lack any sort of attack bonus or damage dice. This is because minions don’t make attacks the way real characters do. They do small, predetermined amounts of damage automatically. This represents the way that fighting waves of cannon fodder wears you down, even if you’re not “really” getting hit.
A minion group may also possess special qualities or defenses according to their creature type. For example, a minion group of skeletal warriors still have the undead type, immunity to cold, and DR 5/bludgeoning.
- At the beginning of a character’s turn, the character takes damage equal to the minion group’s ranged or melee damage rating (as appropriate) for each minion that can damage the character.
- A minion is capable of dealing damage to a character if it either a)has a Melee Damage rating and threatens the character’s square in melee, or b)has a Ranged Damage rating and unbroken line of sight to the character. Ranged minions only deal damage within the first range increment of their weapon.
- Minions do not do damage if the minion group is flat-footed, unless the group has the Combat Reflexes feat.
- Ranged minions do not do damage to characters who are engaged in melee, unless the group has the Precise Shot feat.
- Any time a character provokes an attack of opportunity, that character takes the same amount of damage for each minion that would be able to make an AoO. Any rules regarding damage from such attacks, such as chance of spell failure when taking damage from casting a spell in melee, remain in force.
- Any time a character takes damage from minions, the damage is treated as coming from a single attack. This means that, for example, damage reduction applies only once to the total damage dealt by the minions, not separately to each minion’s damage.
- If the character has any kind of miss chance against the attacking minions, the miss chance applies once for the minion group, and either prevents all damage or none. If minions from more than one group are attacking the character, the miss chance is rolled separately for each group.
- When taking damage from minions, treat any cover bonus to AC as damage reduction against the minions’ attack. Additionally, when taking a total defense or using any option that trades an attack penalty for an AC bonus (such as fighting defensively or the Combat Expertise feat) treat any bonus to AC gained from those actions as damage reduction against the minions’ attack.
- If the minion group is suffering any effect that would apply a to-hit or damage penalty, treat that penalty as further damage reduction against the minions’ attack
- Damage reduction gained from the above sources stack with each other, and with damage reduction gained from other sources. However, it is worth stressing that this form of damage reduction only applies to damage taken from minions.
- When a character makes an attack against a minion, that character makes an attack roll against the minion group’s Armor Class, and rolls damage if the attack is successful, just as when attacking any other creature.
- If the attack successfully deals at least one point of damage, the minion attacked is killed.
- If the attack deals damage in excess of the minion group’s Damage Threshold, additional minions may be killed. One additional minion (of the attacker’s choice) can be killed for each multiple of the Damage Threshold exceeded by the attack’s damage. For example, an attack dealing 8 damage against a minion whose group has a DT of 10 kills that minion only, an attack dealing 12 damage kills one additional minion, an attack dealing 25 damage kills two additional minions, etc. Note that you must exceed a multiple of the DT to kill another minion, so dealing 30 damage in this example still only kills three minions, not four. Any damage “left over” is lost and does not count towards further attacks on the minion group.
- When minions take damage from area-effect attacks such as a fireball spell, any damage applied to the minions follows the same rules as the ones for standard attacks, with the exception that the GM, not the player, determines which minions are killed.
- Minions are always considered to fail any saving throws they need to make, although they may still have abilities that make them resistant or immune to the effect being saved against. For example, the aforementioned skeleton minions could not be affected by a Stunning Fist attack, since undead cannot be stunned.
- A minion group has a single initiative for all its members, and within that initiative count each member moves in whatever order the GM prefers. If the minion group shares an initiative count with any non-minion characters, the minion group takes its turn after those characters.
- Minions receive a move and a standard action like real characters, but cannot use their standard action to attack.
- Although they are treated as parts of a greater whole for certain gameplay purposes, minions are not a hivemind or swarm, and can be flanked normally.
- Minions should be represented on the board by Skittles or M&M’s, and whoever kills a minion gets to eat it. This rule, obviously, is the most important one and must never be broken.
Example Minion Statblock
AC: 14, touch 11, flat-footed 12
Feats: Precise Shot, Improved Initiative
Melee Damage: 1 (Shortsword)
Ranged Damage: None
Damage Threshold: 3
This held up pretty well in my own games, particularly when the minions were mixed in with a couple of fully-statted characters for variety. I found that it tends to encourage players to perform a division of labor between “mook nuking” and keeping the tougher “boss” enemies busy with debuffs or focused damage. Do be careful with ranged minions, though; their ability to reach more of the battlefield means they can often damage several of the PC’s in one turn.
It looks like a lot of rules on paper, but I assure you it’s not as complex as it seems, and I think it ends up saving more time than it costs to learn.
I have not yet done any serious testing of this system, apart from a few sessions in my own campaign (which was in the level 5-10 range at the time). My CR estimate in particular is pretty rough, based on a simple formula of (CR = ([number of minions] * [larger of Melee or Ranged damage]) / 8). That’s not terribly precise, but then again neither is CR in general.
Anyway, should you decide to give this system a try at your table, I’d be glad to hear about the results, either in the comments or my email (mail@thisdomain).