Rise of the SuperMinion: Dealing with Absent Players in 4E

"Yeah, so what if we are bloodied in one hit?"

"Yeah, so what if we are bloodied in one hit?"

Every gaming group has to deal with players who can’t make it on game night at some point. Every group deals with it in a different way, but there’s never been a perfect solution. Until now! The current DM of my 4th Edition campaign, Ryk Perry, has developed a simple, useful set of rules for keeping the party rolling when the cleric has to work the late shift. I’ll be poking my nose in to explain why the rules have worked so well for us.

Our current gaming group is actually 8 people (7 players and a DM). One of the reasons that we have such a large group is because we frequently encounter short-term player attrition. Any given game night, there’s bound to be one or two people who have other commitments and can’t make it. With a large group, even if we’re three PCs down, we still have enough to play. But what to do with the characters usually run by the missing players?

All the usual solutions have their usual flaws: the DM has his hands full already; the other players don’t want to run someone else’s character, and don’t know the powers and feats anyway; the hand-waving, “they just step out for a minute” solution is unappealing from a role-playing perspective, and leaves the party short-handed for the tougher combats. On top of that, often the absent player forgets to leave his character sheet behind. Hence, the SuperMinion.

SuperMinion:  the character is converted into a party SuperMinion (SM). SMs can move normally (as a move action) and have the following power:

Attack

Standard, At-will. Melee or ranged, depending on class and equipment.

No roll – automatically hits any targeted enemy and deals damage equal to the SM’s level.

When it comes to defense, there are no hit points to track. All defenses are simply the SM’s level plus 10.  The first time a SuperMinion is hit, she’s bloodied. If hit while bloodied, the SM falls unconscious. SMs are automatically stable and should be considered untouchable while they are down. The only way a super minion should actually die is in the event of a Total Party Kill. They return to full strength after a short rest.

At the end of a fight, tally up the XP total, then give 100 XP to each SM before dividing up the rest among the other characters. This keeps absent players’ characters from falling too far behind, but especially at higher levels won’t represent a major XP drain on everyone else.

SuperMinions also get a handful of special abilities based on party role:


Defender: the target of any attack is immobilized until the beginning of the SM’s next turn.

Striker: attacks cause +2 damage.

Controller: The target of the controller SM’s attack is marked until the beginning of the SM’s next turn. If the target moves from its square before then, the target takes damage equal to the SM’s level.

Leader: as a minor encounter action, allow one ally to use a healing surge.

The concept is that there would be no dice rolling and essentially no options for the SuperMinion. This system worked out pretty well. There were still 6 PCs on the board (one of our players is gone for the summer), and they were able to put out a good bit of damage over time and could be used to shape the battlefield and pin down foes rather effectively. I’m sure that there are some tweaks that will need to be made, like maybe having each player submit a super minion version of his/her character that’s a little different than these vanilla rules, but keeps some of the character’s flavor in the fighting.  But, at the end of the day, the characters are still all together and the returned player’s second-hand knowledge of the fighting (assuming his buddies fill him in) can be more easily explained due to the overcharge of adrenaline or concussions than explaining why his character left to powder his nose before attacking the Deurgar slavers of the Horned Hold.

Ed’s comments: This worked really well for a number of reasons. We could still have the benefit of the additional party members around, but no one was stuck with bookkeeping someone else’s hit points, daily power uses and all the other stuff that’s just an unfun pain when you’re doing it for some character that isn’t even yours. If nothing else, they sponged up some damage, but we found that over a long fight they really dealt out a fair share as well. We made extensive use of the defender’s ability to pin down some annoying foes, and I’m sure the other abilities will come in handy too. In practice, each turn the party seemed to come to a very quick consensus about what to do with the SuperMinions, then we moved on.

The only drawback I see is that the SMs are very vulnerable to blasts and bursts. If you’re having one of those nights where two or three people don’t show up, a burst power can cut your party in half in two turns. We’ll just have to adjust our strategy to avoid that (never put the SuperMinions next to each other!).

Thanks Ryk!

11 Responses to Rise of the SuperMinion: Dealing with Absent Players in 4E

  1. That’s a great rule for running n-pcs (non-present characters) if that’s what the group wants to do.

    The problem I aklways have as a DM is that my group is -so- role-play intensive I just can’t run a game if a character is present but its player missing. too much ally-ing, romanincg, advice-asking and general social character development gets stymied.

    I may run a game soon where I just throw characters into a situation where one or more of them may actually dissappear for periods of time due to mystic complications. At least that way everyone knows in-character what’s going on.

    Or a curse of mental zombisim, so then I could use the super-minion rules for times characters have “zoned out” through no fault of thier own.

  2. Did the Defender and Controller special abilities get switched, or am I just being too narrow-minded in my conception of what each should do?

    This sounds like an awesome idea, and its simplicity probably makes it really easy to port to other systems. OStephens makes a good point about roleplay-intensive sessions though, but I doubt there’s really any solution at all for an MIA player in that situation.

  3. Yes Owen, this is definitely not a fix for roleplaying intensive campaigns ( it sounds like your players roleplay heavily within the party). However, we only play about 3-4 hours a week so I jealously hoard my roleplaying time. If i couldn’t play every time we were short a player, I’d be distraught. This fix was meant to make it possible to continue a game on a weekly basis when we are down at least one player almost every week. Tonight we had a full house with 6 players at the table. (our 7th is on summer vacation so we were as full as possible). Therefore we didn’t have to further test the SM.

    @ Disquisition, I think the defender is supposed to be like a lineman. He holds the soldiers and brutes from sacking the controllers and other ranged characters. The controller should be better able to shape the battlefield and annihilate regular minions, but letting a super minions do those things seemed like stealing too much thunder from the regular characters.

  4. We just make up cheap excuses “oh uh…I need to…research these….runes further! Go on without me!” & if I am the storyteller, I then make those runes MEAN something, so it isn’t narratively stupid

  5. So would you scale the encounter to the full group size or the PRESENT group size? Or perhaps somewhere in between? S-Mins sound like a great idea, but they won’t be able to contribute to a fight as MUCH as an actual player, so you can’t count them as an actual PC in terms of Encounter budget?

    Do you sort of inverse the XP spread, where you scale the encounter for the party who are present, then add 100XP of additional encounter per S-Min?

    That might work, except you may want to have that encounter bonus be some kind of level-based sliding scale, as 100XP worth of enemies becomes less and less as levels increase, obviously.

    Perhaps add 2 minions for each S-Min?

  6. I remember once i couldn’t make my WFRPG game at short notice, so the GM and players made up a 1d6 table to determine my actions. There were options like “Hit it with a hammer”, “have a drink”, “mutter darkly about Sigmar”.

    I was shocked with the accuracy of the portrayal.

  7. Joe: Should we name the “Thanks for Coming Award” after you?

    walstafa: Haha, this could be an excellent character generation exercise for DMs to put their players through. Before you can play, you have to make a d6 table for your character’s action when you’re not there to play him.

  8. I thought of making a table like that for Samel. Things like:

    1: Inquires about the location of the closest brewhouse.
    2: Tells a nonsensical story about a place he may or may not have been in his or someone else’s past life.
    3: Casts a spell or something.
    4: THUNDERWAVE (this may no longer apply, but he still tries, and you know you still duck)
    5: Manifests a divine power consisting of several paragraphs of descriptive dialogue with little to no real effect in game.
    6: Out of character penis joke.

    That about sums it up.

  9. Nephelim: I haven’t scaled the encounters to be different when there are superminions present. Our group is large enough that we will still have 4-5 regular characters with a couple SMs as auxiliaries in most situations. Therefore the standard published encounters are still within range (at least theoretically) of the party’s abilities. If you were running even shorter on regular characters, I’d say you should chop it down some.

    The rule of thumb is supposed to be 1 monster for each character at approximately the same level or 4 minions for 1 character. So perhaps 2 super minions = 1 regular monster of the party’s level or 1 SM = 2 minions (regular variety).

    So if you had a fight with 4 lvl 5 monsters and 4 minions and you were using 3 regular characters and 2 SMs then you could either get rid of 1 monster or all of the minions to even the fight out.

    Same scenario but 4 PCs and 1 SM you could lose 2 minions.

    Like I said, I haven’t tried scaling any encounters back and the party has been successful at everthing they’ve hit in Thunderspire since we implemented the SM rule, but we have a lot of players too.

    Hope that helps

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