Balancing Minions: An Experiment

I’ve been thinking for a while that D&D minions needed some beefing up. As a player, I’d rather face four minions than one regular opponent. They only take a round or two to wipe out, and it feels like they usually don’t end up doing a lot of damage.

But what good are my anecdotal experiences with minions? D&D is SCIENCE! Since I was home sick from work, I decided to employ the Scientific Method in a series of laborious experiments.


I hyphothesize that four minions fighting a single standard creature with similar stats will be crushed. If that’s the case, then I think minions are underpowered and not worth the XP they provide.

Control Group

I chose a representative, low-level creature, the Human Guard, for my experiment. He’s a level 3 soldier with 47 HP. He has no burst or area attacks; just a couple of melee attacks which are, for our purposes, identical, since doing extra damage or knocking prone on a hit can never affect a minion.

For the minions, I uses minionized human guards: same statistics, 1hp, and a basic attack which did 4 HP damage.

To give the minions every break, I played the battle on a vast, featureless plain, so the minions would have no obstacles in setting up their flanks. I began the battle with the minions in a battle line, 5 squares away from the guard. Then I rolled initiative.

In the first battle, the human guard won initiative. He jumped forward and killed a minion at the end of the line. The minions tried to flank, but dropped quickly: the guard, just like the minions, hit on an 8 or better, and I don’t think he missed once. He finished off the last minion with 35 HP left.

I repeated the battle 9 more times. The end result: 9 wins for the human guard, and 1 win for the minions.

I tracked the human guard’s HP: including the loss (which I ran until the guard killed all the minions; he had -9 HP at that point) his average finishing HP were 11. The minions had done significant damage to him, but even with their advantages – no minion-clearing attacks, and no impediment to flanking – they were no match for him.

I decided to re-run the experiment using various minion-fixing ideas that had occurred to me.

Trial 1: 5 Minions

The DMG2 admits that 4 minions don’t balance at at high levels, and suggests using 5 minions at paragon level and 6 at epic. I think this is a good start, but decided to try 5 minions at heroic. I ran the human guard against 5 human guard minions another 10 times (remember, home sick from work: yes, I did have a lot of time on my hands).

This time, the human guard had a lot more trouble. The first round was brutal: he would usually get hit for around 8-12 damage. Assuming he dropped his opponent in the first round, he would now be facing 4 minions – basically, repeating the battles from the Control group – except with an average of 10 less HP. If he missed his first attack, he was in even worse straits.

The minions ended up winning 6 battles this time, and the guard won 4. Since I tracked negative HP in losses until the last minion was killed, I determined that the guard’s average finishing HP total was -8.

Trial 2: Tougher Minions

For this trial, I used some minion-boosting ideas that I’ve had for a while.

1) Minions do double damage on a 20.

2) Not every hit kills a minion. If you connect a solid blow, don’t bother to calculate damage, you killed the minion; but if you do minor damage, say 3 damage from your Cleave, you just bloody him. Here’s how it works:
-Any damage done to a minion Bloodies him.
-Any damage done to a bloodied minion kills him.
-If you hit a minion and exceed a certain low damage threshold, you can kill him in one shot. I set this at 6 + 1/2 the attacker’s level.
This replaces the “Minions are never damaged on a miss.” rule.

I did the 10 battles again. I found that the double damage on a 20 came up three times, and, qualitatively, it was fun when it came up. The guard usually killed the minions in one hit, but failed twice, leaving bloodied minions around to hit him next turn. I don’t know how fun this part was, though. The fact that I had to roll damage against the minions slowed down the combats a lot.

The results: 3 wins for the minions and 7 wins for the guard. The guard finished with an average of 9 HP, 2 less than the control group. A slightly better outcome for the minions, but still tilted towards the human guard.

Trial 3: More Damaging Minions

For this trial, I just made the minions do 5 HP damage, instead of 4, on a hit. Instead of running more battles, I just used the numbers for the Control run, and increased all damage to the Human Guard by 20%.

This worked out very well. With the new numbers, the human guard would have won 5 battles and the minions five battles. Furthermore, the human guard finished his 10 combats with an average of 2 HP remaining.


For heroic tier, adding +1 to the damage of all minions may go a long way towards winning them respect. Since minion damage goes up with level, you may want to make that +1/+2/+3 damage in heroic/paragon/epic.

Additionally, while letting minions do double damage on a 20 doesn’t greatly improve their damage output (it increases per-attack damage expectation for my human guard minions by about .2 of a HP) it is way funner than not doing it.

Alternatively, you can just throw in one extra minion into each battle: 5/6/7 minions at heroic/paragon/epic, instead of 4/5/6.

I think that my experimental method was very generous to the minions. It let them avoid their weakness (area attacks) while maximizing their strengths (flanking). It also denied regular monsters the benefit of encounter or recharge powers. Instituting either of my suggested changes will probably still leave minions underpowered compared to regular monsters, but it will make them a little more threatening.

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