Game Mastering
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September 11, 2013, 7:14 am

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But they're only minions...


A quote from my solo campaign that really got me thinking about how players perceive Npcs.
Does your players treat your precious Npcs like nothing but obstacles, exploits and cannon fodder, whether they are gelatinous cubes or humans?

And if so, what can we do to change it?

Now, I use a lot of humanoid Npcs, and those are the ones I primarily see as worth a little bit of spotlight time, seeing as they are supposed to represent living breathing creatures with a life, a history and goals. But of course your Npcs don't have to be bipedal, they might be manticores, dragons or what have you. The point is that they are intelligent and possess some form of communication skills, even if it's only facial expressions or grunts. Even goblins have some form of a culture after all. But ultimately you have to decide where you want to draw the line, which Npcs are(in your mind) worthy of being treated humanely.

You as a DM, need to ask yourself five questions;

1. Does the Npc interact with the players in any other way besides taunts/threats/monologuing?

If not, what possible reason would they have for treating the Npc as anything other than a hurdle?

I'm not saying they should get the lifestories of every Npc they meet, nor that every situation warrants the plausible alternative for some friendly banter. But let's have a little example; Your PCs are in the process of infiltrating a castle and they happen upon some guards who for story reasons if nothing else, haven't spotted the players yet. Battle might seem unavoidable, but even so, how do you handle things?

Do you just listen to the PCs make their plans while your Npcs supposedly stand there idly awaiting death? How about instead, you make it a roleplaying opportunity. Have some of your players portray the guards in a little friendly chatter, but give them guidelines so they don't flounder about too much. For instance; "Tom, you will be portraying Gurth(point to the Npc if applicable), Gurth has reasons to complain to his friend Urdo over here, who will be portrayed by you, Harry. And meanwhile, Urdo has some good news he wants to share with his friend Gurth.What has got Gurth in such a foul mood, and what are the good news Urdo wants to share? "

Now all of a sudden, the Npcs become the PCs own little creations, if only for a while. Of course, this could backfire horribly if the PCs decide to portray the Npcs infavorably, which could increase the chance of them killing them, but hey, at least you tried (might work better the next time). And if that doesn't work, there are other methods that might.

2. Are there any consequenses for treating the Npcs badly?

Do you just count the damage, proclaim the Npc dead and that's that? How about some last words, or at least a gruesome description of their oh so unneccesary death every once in a while. Or even better, how about they experience firsthand the loss they've wrought on the families of the Npcs. After their latest slaughter in the nearest dungeon, have some little waif in the nearest town telling them how she is waiting for her father to come home, who just happened to be in the same dungeon our "heroes" just came out from. Whoops...

How about legal issues? While they most likely won't be penalized for killing the evil necromancer up on mount doom, killing the local baron's guards or the team of rival adventurers come to investigate, will and should be a cause for punishment.

Not to mention the many Inigo Montoya moments they ought to be racking up.
"Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father. Prepare to die!"

3. Would they be punished for sparing a life?

Is killing the Npc the easiest, or the only way forward? If so, then you're not doing much to help the problem. You shouldn't expect from your players that they will choose to do something detrimental for their game just because it's supposed to be the right thing. Reward them for talking their way out of situations as you would for combat, or maybe even more so. Then you are making the choice easier for them.

If your game uses exp, you could give them the same amount for succesfully solving a battle peacefully as you would for them winning it through battle. But only give them this sum once, they won't be awarded anything extra if they decide to slaughter the Npcs after parlaying with them. If anything, they should be given a bad reputation for such behaviour.

4. Is there anything tangible in it for them?

Think of the many plot hooks you would get for every foe they spare, both beneficial and detrimental for the party. Some would of course be grateful for having their lives spared, so much so that they might repay the PCs at some other opportunity in any way they can/feel like. While others will hold a grudge for the perceived humiliation and might try to take revenge on them somehow(free villians with history). Of course, don't overdo either aspect. Too many new vengeful enemies and it won't be worth sparing them, while too many new insta-allies run a high risk of being exploitable.

5. Have you talked to your players about this behavior?

It is very important to set the tone, early on. If this is something that bothers you, talk to your players about it. Make them understand that their actions have consequenses, and that you don't condone needless slaughter. Drawing the ire of the DM, is something that most players wish to avoid. If you're not voicing what actions are likely to do that, then you're putting them at an unfair disadvantage.

Some games uses alignment, but even without it, they most likely had a picture in mind when they imagined their character. Most players tend to play as somewhat good aligned characters.

If this is true for your group, ask your players, is this really what your character would do?

Now if they are playing such an unsavoury character, or simply choose to go against their character's nature. Let them. But you might want to think about changing alignment (if applicable) when they go against their character's nature too frequently, also make them aware of this conduct before you do so.

You could also ask your players if their characters feel guilty after killing someone. The mere question might be enough to make them think twice, before jumping into a murder-spree the next time, given the chance.

And remember, don't overdo any of these, use sparingly for greater effect and to avoid irking your players.

I hope this was of some use, even if most of it is just common sense and platitudes. But I think we all need to be reminded of the obvious every once in a while, just like your players.

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Comments ( 33 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

Voted Dozus
March 20, 2013, 10:00
These may seem common sense on the outset, but as it's said, common sense is increasingly uncommon. It's an important reminder in fleshing game worlds to make them more tangible and real.

You hit the application of these common sense ideas well. I especially like the idea of having PCs be the NPCs. I can see where it could indeed go disastrous, given a bad role-player or a spiteful one trying to game the system. But it's also a great exercise in character building, even if that character won't last two rounds with the PCs.

A very nice first post, Gossamer. Hope to see more from you.
March 20, 2013, 10:37
Thank you! And as for bad roleplayers, they need that practice to get better. But yeah, I included a warning for that very reason. But just because it goes bad the first time doesn't mean it will keep going bad if you try it again(don't quote Einstein here).
Voted valadaar
March 20, 2013, 10:35
I think this is a great first post and nice discussion on how to handle NPCs.

However the whole idea of 1-hp nps really, really bothers me.
Unless they are literally rats and the like, my NPCs will always be more durable. I tend to like systems where all opponents have the ability to kill you.
I haven't played 4th edition, nor read it in depth, but the more I hear about it, the less I like.
A fighter may be equipped to one-shot an enemy, but with 1 hp, any class can, and that is dead wrong in my opinion.

If a fighter is cleaning house through a pile of enemies, it is because he is good, not because he is fighting the equivalent of paper targets and clay pigeons!

March 20, 2013, 10:47
Thank you. Minions are used to create dramatic scenes, where the PCs can wade through enemies with ease. And like you said, it does reflect on their abbilities as fighters, seeing as in 4E, the PCs are considered extra special. But it doesn't change the fact that some of them are meant to represent humanoids.
If you like complexity, 4E might not be for you, as it is more streamlined than 3.0/3.5. But minions can still kill you, their strength lies in their numbers, for every one regular opponent, you get 4 minions worth.
Voted Dossta
March 20, 2013, 12:34
A solid approach to a topic that is discussed far too infrequently. I have actually done the "give XP for solving the situation diplomatically instead of through combat" gambit -- the same amount I would have given the party had they elected to kill everyone in the room, in fact.

The problem comes after: now that they've got the XP for talking, what happens if they turn around and slaughter everyone? My group was openly contemplating this as a way of getting double XP. In that instance, I informed them that they wouldn't get any additional experience for killing an enemy they had already negotiated with, but I wonder if I should have gone farther. Maybe I should have penalized them XP if they tried. I really don't know.
March 20, 2013, 12:40
In that case, a "Gaming the System" penalty might be instituted. It would certainly negatively impact experience or at least alignment, in being so inconsistent in character.
March 20, 2013, 13:04
Thank you. Well you did what I would have done, they shouldn't get any extra exp once they've earned the alloted amount for the battle, whether they fight it or solve it peacefully. But had they slaughtered them, that opens up whole new possibillities, none of them pleasant(for the PCs). See number 2.
March 20, 2013, 15:26
A nice, thought-provoking first sub. Kudos.
Voted Shadoweagle
March 20, 2013, 17:57
I like the idea of awarding XP for enemies left alive. Any fool can swing a sword; it takes some skill to talk or sneak yourself out of a situation!
Good roleplaying should always be awarded with XP.

I like that your first post is a good, open-minded discussion about roleplaying mechanics. Keep 'em coming!
Voted PoisonAlchemist
March 20, 2013, 23:44
Now, I have avoided 4E but my understanding of 'minions' is that they are supposed to be exactly what you described: utterly disposable and forgettable. I wouldn't consider guards in front of a castle minions.

While I love love love the idea of having the NPCs not up and die at the end of their HP that begs the question what do you *do* with them? Do you form a chain gang with you through the dungeon? And if you just let them go that leaves the problem of "you killed everyone I ever loved, REVENGE IS MINE!"

A friend of mine likes to graphically narrate combat based on our rolls, and this includes the NPCs. "The mook swings his sword ineffectually and you can see in his face that he is currently regretting the life decisions that led him to this point." "Your blade barely grazes his tattered armor and he is as surprised as you that was not a killing blow."
March 21, 2013, 9:07
Thank you all(I'll stop thanking everyone now, but consider yourself thanked).Yes, in 4E that pretty much sums up minions. BUT, that's the game mechanics part. Like I said in the post, it shouldn't matter how much HP they have. If they are humans, elves, dwarves or maybe even goblins, I feel that they should be more than just their statblocks.

As for what do you do with them, that's up for the DM and the party to decide. And yes it could lead to complications, but also to good stuff, don't overdo either and you should be fine. It's all there.
Also, sounds like your friend is very devoted then, wish I had those kind of ad-lib skills.
March 21, 2013, 11:45
Your comment makes me think of the game roguelike game Dwarf Fortress. The game populates the world with thousands of individuals, each who have names, parents, lovers, lives, and deaths. When you come across a camp of bandits or goblins, they're not nameless nobodies, and when they are killed, you can go back and look at their personal histories to see who exactly they were.

Conversely, there's a glitch that will sometimes randomly spawn a castle with no name, populated by dozens of nameless opponents who have no skills, weapons, or equipment. They just randomly attack you and they fall by the wayside meaninglessly.

More of the former and less of the latter should be a rule of thumb.
March 21, 2013, 15:28
Another solution to this is to avoid the use of minion-type encounters by making the PCs less powerful overall.

Even though I do not play any D20 games, I am fascinated with the concept of E6: (Note: I've read only enough to understand the basics, not the whole thread.) Basically, characters cannot advance beyond level 6, making the world a deadlier place and keeping challenging monsters challenging.

By capping PCs development there are no more simple minions that can be swept aside with impunity. Encounters stay meaningful and there is always danger.
March 21, 2013, 15:59
I Think y'all are missing the point though... The minions were from the quote, but this isn't primarily about minions. It's about the PCs treating humanoid Npcs as if they were just bags of exp, and how to avoid it. Also, despite all previously mentioned things, I still like minions and there's definately a place for them. For instance bosses who summons goons, minions are perfect for that, enemies with higher HP would just be annoying if they kept on coming. Plus it shortens down combat time.

Acctually I have capped my player(solo campaign) for a while, just because I don't want him out of the heroic tier just yet. There are three tiers in 4E, heroic(1-10), paragon(11-20) and epic(21-30). But he doesn't like it, so might not recommend it for everyone. Getting new powers is an important part of 4E.
March 21, 2013, 18:04
I see minions and "bags of XP" as being 2 aspects of the same issue, though.

I'm also more a fan of handing out experience based on overall scenarios rather than single encounters, which is another way to deal with this.
March 23, 2013, 8:36
I don't think any of them are missing your point. On the contrary I think all of us can see your point, we just view things differently or portray and handle these little guys in a different light.

For instance with the games I run, a minion is a type of encounter/ monster/ being that alone is unimportant.

They are the ones far to weak (weak minded, weak willed, weak physically) to amount to anything by themself. So they attach themselves to more powerful things to feel useful.

They are indeed cannon fodder but in droves. It doesn't matter if they are removed in droves as they are almost a never ending supply of these minions.

That is not to say that minions should not be an obstacle and dangerous. On the contrary they should be both. They should be seen as a walk in the park, if you will, but once gathered in numbers or under the command of someone more intelligent, make a force that can turn the PC's and route them from their plans for a while.

A perfect example of this was a game I ran where these creatures (akin to kobolds in other games). Individually a twelve year old could best them. But when the party had to enter a lair of them under the command of someone more intelligent, these "children" as they were called began decimating the players with tricks and traps that is still talked about ten years later. (A short of paper mâché boulder covered filled with wasps hurled at them down a dead end tunnel.)

It's possible I deviated from my original intent but my meaning is the same. Minions can be anything, but are always just that. Minions. You are never in a campaign ending battle with that one minion that got away. (Or you could which would make for one head turner of a plot). But we all use what you classify as a minion differently. Good beginning post by the way.
March 23, 2013, 9:16
Yeah, uh. You don't seem to be helping out your own point though. I'm starting to regret using the term minions at all, it feels like that word is overshadowing what I was going for. But, allright, I'll take your(all of y'alls) word for it. Thank you.
March 24, 2013, 19:32
I understand your scope of wanting your player(s) to go outside the norm of hey let's get do by killing everything we come across needed or not.

I reward my players for coming up with a solution to an encounter that I never saw. If they can resolve a problem with little to no blood shed I give kudos to them. My remarks were more for using the ever loving minion.

But apparently I was unclear in my explanation.
March 23, 2013, 12:13
I generally don't give points for just kills, completing objective, etc... My players develop very detailed characters and go to great lengths to describe that character's personality and motivations. I reward the player based on his ability to play the character he/she developed. If the character would fight rather that talk his way out of a situation then I would reward him with points if he played that way. We play GURPS however. The system lends itself more toward detailed character personalities.
March 24, 2013, 18:23
You can use a system like that or any game really. Which is what the groups I game in tend to do. We prefer more a social and role playing aspect of gaming not hack and slash.
March 24, 2013, 20:04
These discussion are difficult because I doubt any of you could agree on what an RPG is. Then once you have an agreement I doubt you could agree on what the goal of an RPG is.
Voted axlerowes
March 23, 2013, 20:08
"Does your players treat your precious Npcs like nothing but obstacles, exploits and cannon fodder, whether they are gelatinous cubes or humans?"

Voted Ted
March 25, 2013, 1:50
Players take cues from the GM about what is important. The GM is the only true source of information players have, and it is painfully easy for players to latch onto unimportant details.

I see it as a question of consistency. What are the consequences for killing a man? Is there a difference between murdering a random serf and a noble?

Beyond that, Players will follow the GM's lead over what details are important or not. The work to make the consistency work has to be made, but random mooks can be made to be more than cannon fodder or cardboard cutouts.
March 25, 2013, 6:54
Since so many people seemed to miss my point, I decided to rewrite the sub to make it more obvious that it was supposed to be system neutral. I also added some more parts per MysticMoon's recommendations.
Hopefully there won't be any more discussions regarding 4E's minions specifically.
March 25, 2013, 8:29
How do you know people missed your point? Could the case be that you missed the point of their comments?
March 25, 2013, 8:44
That was the impression I got from reading the comments. Since I am not a mind reader, there is of course the possibillity that I may have misconstrued them, but I don't believe that to be the case. Regardless of which, here we are.
March 25, 2013, 8:47
It is really tough to read minds on-line.
March 25, 2013, 10:05
My (completely unsolicited!) advice on sub editing:

Read the comments and weigh them against your own thoughts. If you both agree and think it relevant, edit. If you don't, don't. Take everyone's opinions in the highest respect, but don't let other's comments dictate what you post.

/unsolicited advice
Voted MysticMoon
March 25, 2013, 11:50
Only voted
March 27, 2013, 11:06

An interesting sub, one that I'm surprised doesn't already exist.

Welcome, and well done.
Voted Kassy
May 21, 2013, 10:36

Revisiting this. Why did I only give it a 3.0? Boosted to 4.0
May 21, 2013, 10:47
Thank you so much, Kassy. I am deeply honoured for the mere suggestion of this, my very first sub belonging in HoH!
Voted Longspeak
October 17, 2013, 12:58
There is some good advice here, and not just for new or inexperienced GMs. It's something to revisit periodically, to make sure you as GM are placing the right NPC into a scene for the right reason. There's nothing WRONG with a minion who's role in the story is just to be killed or to delay the heroes, if that's what you INTENDED. But not every NPC is there for the same reason and this helps a GM think about those reasons.

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