PART ONE: MINION DEFENSES AND THE ECONOMY OF ACTIONS
Four minions are supposed to replace a standard monster.
Per DMG 184:
A level 1 skirmisher (the baseline) has about 30 HP (8 BASE+14 CON+8x1 LEVEL). A level 1 normal medium damage expression is 8.5. If PCs are hitting about 60% of the time, which they should be if they use good teamwork and are properly equipped, then 7 whacks will drop the standard monster. If you move up to the high normal damage expression, say, from a striker, then it drops in 6 rounds. In general, encounter powers, which tend to follow the Limited damage expressions, are about twice as potent as an at-will power. Soldiers and brutes may last a bit longer, artillery and lurkers a bit less.
Testing for level 8: The baseline skirmisher now has about 86 HP. A level 8 medium normal expression is 12. So with a 60% hit chance, the bad guy gets dropped in 12 rounds. The high normal expression (say, from a striker) drops the monster 6 standard actions. The limited damage expressions are about twice as much, again. While at first glance it looks like the monster got a lot more durable as far as the economy of actions go, I think in practice, they go down about as fast as there are more Encounter powers, Daily buffs, and magic item daily powers getting thrown around.
So, it is fair enough to say that a standard monster should suck up about 6 at-will standard actions, with an Encounter power being worth about 2 at-will actions and a Daily power probably being worth at least 4 at-will actions.
So, here's the numbers extrapolated by class, assuming 60% to hit vs. 4 minions:
ANYONE WITH SINGLE TARGET ATTACK (PALADIN, CLERIC, WARLOCK, WARLORD): 6.666 rounds
ROGUE WITH PIERCING STRIKE (assume +2 to hit): 5.714 rounds
RANGER WITH DUAL STRIKE: 4.762 rounds
FIGHTER WITH CLEAVE: 3.333 rounds
WIZARD WITH AOE (assume he catches 1/2 of them in the burst each round: 3.333 rounds
WIZARD WITH SCORCHING BURST (assume catches all of them in the burst each round): 1.666 rounds
So, as written, most of the single target classes are "right on" vs. 4 minions. It takes about 6 at-will standard actions for these classes to mop up four minions. The wizard and fighter with cleave tend to be twice as good in the most likely scenarios -- the wizard gets VERY good if the mob bunches up. This is probably intentional -- just as strikers will tear through an elite twice as fast as a wizard likely will, the wizard should get their chance to shine.
Use of encounter powers will tend to clean up minions faster, just like standard monsters. Depending on the power it may be more or less effective than against a standard monster. AOE will be better than single-target powers. But that's a tradeoff that I think balances out in the long run.
The problem with minions comes when they get schwacked without requiring any sort of standard action or roll to hit. Even cleave's auto-damage requires a to-hit roll. But when a warlock with rod of reaving drops a minion every round with a minor action or a wizard's Winter Wrath automatically slays four without a roll to hit, they are "beating" the expected economy of actions.
PART II: MINION OFFENSE
The general analysis on Enworld is that minions do damage equal to minimum damage for a critter of their type. Based on the standard damage tables, about 1/3 of the damage usually comes from a fixed number and 2/3 from the rolled dice, so minion damage is about 35% of normal.
So, four minions do damage equal to 140% of a standard monster. Unlike a standard monster, however, their damage output declines as they take damage.
Number of Minions Alive = 4: 140%
Number of Minions Alive = 3: 105%
Number of Minions Alive = 2: 70%
Number of Minions Alive = 1: 35%
If a standard monster lasts for 6 rounds, then it deals 100% damage x 6 rounds = 600 units of damage.
Using the previous analysis, our single target PCs kill off 0.6 minions per round. Thus, the damage output from a minion looks like this, round by round:
Round 1 = 4 minions up = 140%
Round 2 = 3.4 minions up = 119%
Round 3 = 2.8 minions up = 98%
Round 4 = 2.2 minions up = 77%
Round 5 = 1.6 minions up = 56%
Round 6 = 1.0 minions up = 35%
Round 7 = 0.4 minions up = 14%
Average damage is 539 units, compared to 600 for the standard monster -- a bit less than a normal monster. But, there is wide variation in minion damage levels, and any buff that helps out the bad guys will help minions a LOT more than normal critters (for example, CA +2 to hit or any bonus to damage from a leader type) so it seems generally ok -- we're in the same ballpark! Plus my 35% figure is a WAG so there's wiggle room there. So, this seems reasonable enough.
Against our middle of the road fighter with cleave or wizard schwacking 2 minions at a time, 1.2 minions go down per round.
Round 1 = 4 minions up = 140%
Round 2 = 2.8 minions up = 98%
Round 3 = 1.6 minions up = 56%
Round 4 = 0.4 minions up = 14%
The total damage is down to 308 units, about half that of a standard monster.
Against anything that kills them faster (bunched up minions vs. a wizard, auto-kills, etc), damage output will dwindle extremely quickly.
PART III: PROPOSED FIXES
The problem is not with single-target PCs. Those are perfectly balanced. In fact, I think that wizards and fighters with cleave are fine as well. These characters usually have a tradeoff in that they are weaker at single-target engagements compared to a striker. Killing off hordes of weaker monsters is what these classes are supposed to do. Just like a striker can tear through a standard monster almost twice as fast as someone else, its ok for a controller to tear through a mob twice as quick as the baseline.
The real problem is when (A) the minions all clump up allowing the wizard to catch more than 2 at a time in AOE or (B) when they can get bamfed instantly by no-roll-to-hit powers or by powers that take less than a standard action.
The first is a tactical issue. It is best solved by the DM's careful use of minions. Minions have mechanical incentives to bunch up (goblin cutters and CA, human rabble, etc) but at the same time they need to use smart tactics to get in close. One example could be open space so they can spread out in a "skirmish line" and then swarm in on a single PC or two. Alternatively they could benefit from cover and concealment that allows them to launch their ambush from close range. This forces with the wizard to fire at "danger close" range and risk immolating his teammates.
The second problem, that of "bamfing" minions with less than a standard action, is a mechanical "exploit."
Here's some possible brainstormed fixes:
- Any damage less than a minion's CON modifier bloodies it. A bloodied minion dies when it takes any damage.
- Any damage equal to or higher than a minion's CON modifier kills it outright.
- Note that the CON modifier is equal to 1/2 level + ability score modifier. Thus a mid-heroic minion (the Legion Devil) has a CON MOD of +5, allowing it good resistance against 1 HP minion bamfing. Anything tougher will also have resistance to standard heroic tier 5 ongoing damage.
- PRO: Relatively simple, only requires referencing one more stat (which is already printed in the critter's stat block), solves the specific problem without being too heavy handed, makes Brute minions viable (right now they suck -- lower AB and lower defenses than any other monster is bad for minions!)
- CON: Requires tracking one more number and one more condition (bloodied)
ECONOMY OF ACTIONS PRESERVATION
- Minions do not take damage from any power or source that requires less than a standard action.
- Any power or source that requires less than a standard action bloodies a minion; any additional damage from any source kills it.
- PRO: Simple in theory
- CON: Open to argument, might devalue a lot of soft-control powers that require a minor to sustain
In general, I like my first solution a lot. I think its pretty straightforward as most attacks that require a hit roll will just kill them outright. For example, a level 1 fighter will probably be doing 5 damage minimum (1W + 4 STR, or maybe +1 from a magic weapon). So I don't anticipate a lot of bloodied minions running around, except when those "auto-kill" powers are getting slung around. It also doesn't make the auto-kill powers useless, it just devalues them slightly and slows down the rate of minion carnage, which brings their expected Damage Per Round back to where it should be.
If this overpowers minions, then one could reduce the ratio of minions to standard monsters from 4:1 to 3:1.