MAKE MINE MINIONS
One of the fun but oft-overlooked elements of Mutants & Masterminds is the minions that some villains bring to the table. What’s the point of fighting a Malador the Mystic without plowing through a horde of zombies to reach him? Who even is Grandmaster if he’s not backed up by a fleet of chess-themed cyborgs? Minions can help develop the character of a villain, increase the threat they pose to heroes, or let the heroes unload and feel unbeatable, depending on how you choose to use them.
As a basic refresher, minions are opponents that are quick and easy to take down, and pose very little individual threat to superheroes:
- Minions cannot score critical hits on non-minions.
- Non-minions can make attack checks against minions as routine checks.
- If a minion fails a resistance check, the minion suffers the worst degree of effect, regardless of the actual degree.
- Some traits, like the Takedown advantage, work specifically against minions.
Minion or Not a Minion?
One of the first questions you should ask yourself when building an encounter is whether or not the villain’s henchpeople are minions or full characters. Some minion statblocks—such as the Robot Jockey, Elite Soldier, and Mystic Ninja—are powerful enough they can pose some risk to superheroes, especially with a critical hit! Others—the Colossal Robot, Tyrannosaurus, and Dragon—are as powerful as PL 10 superheroes. You can easily use these statblocks for lieutenants and treat them as normal characters. While not as powerful as a PL 10 superhero, a PL 7 lieutenant can take more than one solid blow from a hero, might get a lucky critical, and can take 10 on attack checks against any minions supporting the heroes.
On the other side of that coin, you may want to apply the minion rules to a villain archetype to represent extremely dangerous opponents that the heroes can confront quickly, but not without some risk. Applying the minion rules to any of the sample PL 10 hero archetypes from the Deluxe Hero’s Handbook, for example, can provide a small army of deadly alien invaders, potent robots, or ninja assassins whose threat comes from their skill rather than their staying power. You might also apply the minion rules to “C-list” supervillains who might have potent abilities, but largely serve as easily-defeated comic relief in your campaign.
Finally, the minion rules are something you can apply gradually to help reflect the heroes’ growth. If your adventure focuses around a secret government program producing robots to police and victimize people with powers, you might treat the robots themselves as normal characters for the first few encounters, presenting a formidable threat the heroes must push themselves to confront, and eventually begin treating the robots as minions to reflect the heroes learning more about their tactics and weaknesses, allowing them to tackle much larger groups.
Remember, the minion rules exist to speed up combat and to reduce the swingy-ness that critical hits can cause. If you want an encounter to run faster—often as a lead-up to a bigger encounter—the minion rules are your friend. But if you want to slow an encounter down to emphasize tension or increase the risk, then toss them out and use standard character rules.
Customizing Your Minions
The minion archetypes presented across various Mutants & Masterminds supplements are generic ideals. Like the hero archetypes in the Deluxe Hero’s Handbook, they’re blank canvasses you can paint any sort of costume or personality on. Your ninjas may be standard silent warriors in black outfits, or with a fresh coat of paint you can use the same statblock for a music-focused street gang who fight with capoeira or criminal circus acrobats. How you describe your villain’s minions helps define the villain as well. Your Brute villain might be backed up by a team of Goon minions, but those minions wearing black suits and sunglasses sends a different message about who their boss is than if they dress like wrestlers or who are spliced with bear DNA.
If you want to put in a few extra minutes, consider the villain and what abilities they might provide their henchpeople, particularly in the form of equipment (though a criminal geneticist or cyberneticist might grant other, more permanent boons). A villain like Chakram from Rogues Gallery is a cool-headed professional who probably hires Soldiers as her team, but provides them with scaled-down versions of her own trick throwing rings rather than the rifles described in their statblocks. You can use the exact same ability description—Ranged Multiattack Damage 5—but describe it as throwing disks rather than a hail of bullets. You might also provide a few other trick rings like her crash-foam ring or knockout ring, lowering the effect rank to 5 but using the same Affliction effects. Other villains may provide entire suites of abilities; Madam Zero from Freedom City might provide “Ice Chests” to the generic Goons she hires. These technological breastplates grant the minions immunity to cold and the ice ramp power like Madame Zero’s, and replaces their Pistol attack with an Ice Blast with the same bonus and damage rank—it may even provide other powers like those in Madame Zero’s Cold Control array as alternate effects, likewise limited to rank 3 or 4. You don’t need to track the Power Point costs for these changes, just make sure you keep any new effects within the minion’s existing Power Level.
More Ways to Use Minions
Chapter 3 of the Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide includes a sidebar with recommendations to get the most out of your minions. Ideas include using them as ablative villain armor by granting them the Interpose advantage or pooling them for Aid action and team Attacks. Here are a few more ideas that don’t quite use the Mutants & Masterminds rules as written, but can still add fun variety to your game table.
How Do You Defeat Them?
With their low Power Levels and the heroes’ ability to take 10 on attack checks, minion encounters can just be fun opportunities for the heroes to describe how cool or powerful their abilities are. Rather than rolling dice, you can simply turn to each player and say “There are 12 minions left. How do you defeat three of them?” Let players be creative in how they use and describe their abilities or skills; this may even be a chance for rarely-used powers or features to come up. This approach allows players to define more of their character than just rolling dice until everyone stops moving; they can be as skilled, powerful, sneaky, clever, or merciful as they want.
If you don’t want a minion encounter to serve solely as a Roleplaying scene, or there are some consequences to not taking down the minions quickly—perhaps taking more than one round means any surviving minion trips the alarm, for example—you can split the difference. Have each player roll an attack check or effect check of their choice, instantly taking down one minion with a successful check and one additional minion for every additional Degree of Success. The Takedown advantage plays a slightly different role here, automatically granting a hero one additional minion subdued per rank. This arrangement still lets heroes describe how exactly they take down multiple foes while still leaving room for consequences.
While trifling on their own, minions can augment a villain’s abilities, making them a far greater challenge to the heroes. Rather than attack the heroes directly with the minions, describe them as coordinating with their boss, using attacks to distract and herd heroes or coordinate the villain’s defenses. Mechanically, the minions make Routine Checks each round to perform Aid actions. A single minion can boost their villain’s attack check or active defenses by +2 each round. Two minions working together can boost both attacks and defenses. Three minions can work together to provide three degrees of success, increasing the bonus to +5 and six minions coordinating with their boss can increase both their attack and defenses bonuses by +5 each round. This approach takes some liberties with the Routine Check rules (which normally can’t be used in combat, except against minions) and the Aid rules (normally, the Defense bonus only applies against attacks from a single opponent), but greatly simplifies the math involved in minion-heavy fights. It also creates a scenario where villains surrounded by their henchpeople start out very dangerous and gradually become more vulnerable as heroes peel away their allies. Heroes must decide if they want to focus on the more vulnerable minions, gradually reducing the villain’s threat, or strike directly at the mastermind who can more readily avoid their attacks and more reliably strike back. It’s an effective tactic for villains specializing in cunning, like Conundrum or Killshot, or villains who rely on armies of loyal soldiers like Overshadow.
To increase the danger of this tactic, combine it with the Ablative Minions recommendation from the Deluxe Gamemaster’s Guide to prevent the heroes from defeating the mastermind until all their assistants have been dispatched. This combination transforms minions into a “health bar” for the villain, creating extremely challenging encounters with villains who might normally pose little threat to an entire team of heroes.
Villains aren’t the only ones who can benefit from assistance. Teams of minions can coordinate to great effect. The simplest way to track multiple minions working as a group is to group them into batches of four, then increase the attack check, defenses, and damage by +2—the assumption being that one minion acts as the leader, with one augmenting their defenses, another aiding their attack, and a third using a Team attack to improve their damage. The unit fights as a single opponent, and every failed Toughness check by the unit eliminates one of the upgrades—attack, defense, or damage—while a failed save against any area effect wipes out the unit. You can push the limits and use a group of ten minions to augment the same statistics by +5; in this case, two failed Toughness checks reduce a single bonus to +2 before the bonus is lost entirely with another failed check; an area attack wipes out half the minions from a large unit rather than all of them. For this use of minions, the Takedown advantage lets you knock out one additional minion per rank rather than its normal function.
Like the Boss Boosters technique mentioned above, this plays a little loose with the rules for Routine Checks and Aid, but greatly simplifies the math in running large groups of minions, effectively transforming a large group of minions into a single supervillain whose abilities gradually weaken over time. Heroes face a deadly opponent up front, but things get gradually easier as they wade into the fight and start knocking out goons. For tactically-minded villains, you might even combine this tactic with the Boss Booster, with one squad of minions intended to protect and augment their leader and remaining minions broken out into smaller units. The villain can use a Move Action on their turn to issue commands, reorganizing any minions left into full units once again so long as enough of them remain.
However you decide to use minions in your game, have fun tinkering with what the system can do and the new ways to threaten—or bolster—your heroes.