Monday, May 21, 2012

Lazy DM'ing pt 1: Send in the Mooks!

In a trouble? Make it double, triple, or more with more flavorful minions in your next game and beyond.  Comes with Pie, Orcs available.

Too often DMs become trapped in storyline and pacing. While these elements are essential to DMing, they serve a purpose if and only if players can become immersed through the use of interesting characters. Trust, interesting characters are what drive the story, but the next flaw which many DMs fall into regarding these ‘interesting characters’ is the idea that the ‘interest’ should apply mostly to the Big Bad Evil of your specific story arc. Yes, while in many cases a Big Bad will be the story’s driver, it is important to make flavorful minions that the PCs will remember for the rest of the campaign.

Now, this has absolutely nothing to do (necessarily) with 4e; minion, in this case, applies as a general term for any creature which serves a higher-ranking creature (the Big Bad in this case). These entries will cover a good ‘how to’ guide to what a good, memorable series of minions should be. These observations have been taken from games I have run or played in, along with discussions from others who have run or played memorable minion types.

First, we’ll cover the main flaws which players seem to have about the necessity of minions:

1.) Mooks need not be flavored. This one I have never understood until a few days ago when I was watching a long series of movies… one may know these movies, because, like D&D, there are a lot of glowing swords, monsters, and evil-doers dressed in black armor. Got where I’m coming from?  Excellent. Now, the mooks which are presented as sort of the ‘endless shooting gallery’ of this epic are usually pretty flavorless; they dress in white armor, have pretty blasé weaponry, and generally don’t go into much interaction.

Don’t fall for this trap. Uniforms are great if you’re dealing with a military outfit, but even the most common minions in D&D will have a wide variety of things they do, and with that variety probably comes many different tactics. Let the minions have something different about them, something not necessarily unique but memorable . . . otherwise, you just have a bunch of guys marked with the scarlet M wandering about your setting.

2.) Spinning Glowing Kung-Fu Grip Mooks. We all want our minions to have a large variety of things to do; maybe each type of minion focuses on something different, or has a suite of abilities ready to fend off the heroes at every turn. While this is fine in theory, it becomes downright irksome in practice. Think of minions as hardware; would I rather have a device which does a hundred things poorly at an expensive price tag, or a sleek device which does a handful of things I need it to do well for half the price? Villains are spendthrifts after all; all of those hero slaying parties take up a lot of time and money on the schedule.

3.) Mooks Go the Distance. Yes, some minions may make it out with their hides . . . and if they see a chance they should retreat if they have a couple of brain cells to rub together. However, it is better to let players get the upper hand on the minions than let all of the minions run away and leave the players feeling screwed over. After all, the Big Bad hired these guys/girls/creatures ‘at will’, and usually that means they are expendable.

4.) Every Mook is a Leader. No no no. Sometimes minions go down . . . loyal retainers aren’t really minions so much as they are cohorts (which will be discussed at a later period).

5.) The Exotic Russian Nesting Mook. Minions should be different than the Big Bad; cohorts and sidekicks can have similar powers, but a minion helps to fulfill a role which the Big Bad may not be able to do himself. For example, vampires and their spawn have certain weaknesses (light of day, stakes, getting their heads cut off) and they may need someone to protect or supplement their ranks with ways to overcome them. Renfields will probably still go down to a stake in the heart and their heads being chopped off, but at least they maneuver well in sunny Acapulco.

These are the five biggest thinking errors I see with minion builds; the next entry will cover ways to get around these issues, and hopefully present you some ideas to give those minions something to power themselves up with.

Good Gaming,