5e/Pathfinder/13th Age: Guide to Minions

In a previous post, I wrote up a guide to mini-bosses. The thing about mini-bosses, they’re nothing without those to boss around. Today we are following that post up with the group that makes the last group possible: minions.

Minions come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of willingness. While fantasy and science fiction races that are weak, selfish, and not particularly clever are typically seen as the normal minion groups, always remember the Empire in Star Wars treated Wookiees as minions and that species is anything but weak or selfish and Chewbacca proved they are quite clever. So what makes a minion a minion?

1) Minions are Controlled in Some Fashion

Whether it is a psychic link that takes over a mind or a security of a regular pay check, the mini-boss gives orders and the minion follows. That at the end of the day that is what makes a minion a minion. Does that make most of the civilized world someone’s minion? Yes actually it does. However, I am not advocating you overthrow your boss. Remember it is both the organization treats those minions as well as those outside the organization that determines whether the company is evil or not. A lumber company that hires orcs and hill giants as a way to give them honest work as opposed to raiding human villages, gets all the appropriate permits in an above board fashion, works with the local fey to remove select trees with their permission, and hires orcs to guard the logs on their way to the mill still uses minion even if those minions are working for a good company. Compare that with the human only lumber company that bribed officials to work a section of forest right next to the good company. They attack the fey and fight the hill giants and ogres whenever they leave the human permitted area and enter the other company’s territory prompting both to defend themselves and possibly attack back. Not only does the human company fail to plant new trees but they also try to steal the felled trees from the other lumber company. This company as well uses minions. The first one controls their people with a regular pay check and a desire to be law-abiding citizens; the second controls their minions through a desire for violence and quick cash.

While the word minion has negative connotations, it covers employee, freelance contractor, slave, indentured servant, thrall, and many others just to name a few. Use the full breadth of the term to give real variation to your organizations, evil or otherwise.

2) Minions Fill a Variety of Roles and Can Be Found at Every Level

Frequently, I hear the question, “Why doesn’t [insert name of ultra high level NPC in the setting] just take care of this minor problem?” The answer is simple: they can’t handle everything. Take a modern world variation of that problem: if you have a question on your taxes, do you go to the best accountant in the world or do you go to the local accounting firm and ask someone there (an accounting minion to use a gamified term)? The best in the world is busy handling other cases that can pay more. Instead, we get it handled by an accounting minion. Now if you start a business and it becomes rather sizable, you’ll need higher level accounting minions. You wouldn’t ask them to do plumbing work because they do not fill that role. You would need a minion that is trained in plumbing.

Same is true for fantasy games. Kobolds are the go-to minions when mining, gnolls when taking slaves, hobgoblins when needing military like precision, goblins for random violence, and orcs when slaughtering people indiscriminately. Each of these has their own role. So why not just have a higher level one handle this? Well the higher level hobgoblin is training the next group of recruits, the higher level gnolls are working their connections to sell their slaves, higher level kobolds are scouting out potential caves to mine, and on and on. The higher level ones have better uses for their time than to do the same thing as their lower level compatriots.

So when you get to a higher level, you need new minions to fight. Demons, devil’s, undead, and giants are the classics. Unless you are playing a convention/organized play-style game where one session has nothing to do with the other, these higher level minions are working towards the same end (if a different aspect of the overall plan) as those same low level minions. Why would the giants and devils be working towards the same ends as the kobolds and gnolls? The simple answer is ‘because the big boss of the whole campaign is all having them work towards a single goal.’ While you could train up a bunch of orcs to do your bidding instead of working with a number of different groups, it would be much simpler to take advantage of some other group of minions’ natural strengths when they lend themselves to solving a particular problem. Just like you don’t ask an accountant to do plumbing, you don’t ask a goblin to solve a problem that a requires patience and planning, things devils excel at. So change up the monsters you are using as minions to fulfill a different aspect of your big bad’s overall plan.

3) Minions Have Similar Stats, Despite Being Individuals

Minions are a collection of individuals. Each one has different stats if you wanted to take the time to create unique stats for each. However, minions can instead be represented by a single stat block. Sure, that single stat block is not going to catch the nuance of one loving to solve true crime mysteries while another appreciates listening to music, but if all you are having them do is fight the PCs, then those abilities don’t really matter. Making a minion stat block that presents average stats for a group saves considerable time.

Back to that accounting example for a second. All those accountants at the tax firm can be represented by a single stat block. You don’t need to assign stats for their individual hobbies and other life events unless it is somehow relevant. You’ll need their ability to crunch numbers and use their stapler offensively. Maybe wield a letter opener if you want to be cute about it. Remember these are supposed to be average stats for the group, not specific stats for everyone. Making a single stat block for the whole group doesn’t prevent you from making a single stat block for a specific accountant. So you can have a stat block for the NPC that discovered the company’s fraud and became the whistle blower. Had that NPC not done that and just stayed another face in the crowd, they would still be just another minion with the same minion stats. As always, the Order of the Stick has a great comic that exemplifies what it is like going from a minion to a named NPC.

Quick tangent here: feel free to change the stats of any monster in the monster books. If the book says a lizardfolk has 5 hit dice (as an example), feel free to make it 3 if it fits your needs that way. Five is just an average. Maybe this tribe is composed of young lizardfolk. Maybe they’ve been starved or are sickly. The book has average stats. Raise or lower them as your game needs. This goes doubly true for specific NPCs instead of minions. Individuals can vary widely from the average of their kind. Just remember to change its level of difficulty to match the new stats.

Speaking of monster books, be sure to download our monster books for Pathfinder 1e, DnD 5e, and Mongoose Traveller 2e.

3 Reasons to Run Published Adventures

For the JBE “office” game, I run Tales of the Yawning Portal for the group. I mean, I can’t run anything that we ourselves published because we know each adventure so well. And honestly, who can pass up a collection of classic adventures. Last week, we finished up the first adventure, the Sunless Citadel, and it reminded me why I love running published adventures these days.

A little background: I use to never run published adventures. The first campaign I GMed was Exalted 1e. There was exactly 1 adventure for that entire edition. Not only that, I was able to make the campaign based in what characters the players made. I was 30 before I ran my first published adventure, and I don’t see myself going back to that anytime soon.

So if you create your own campaign, here are some reasons why you might want to consider checking out published adventures.

1) They Save Time

Oh my goodness do published adventures save time. The last campaign I ran that I created myself, I ran it on a Sunday, and I spent my entire Saturday prepping for it. I’d stat out every possible NPC they’d meet, even if it was only for a quick conversation because “you never knew what the PC’s were going to do.” I wrote mounds and mounds of read aloud text I never used. I’d read over source books in case they went off in some other direction I had not planned for or looking for some awesome treasure for them to get their hands on or … The list goes on.

When did I start prepping last week’s session? 20 minutes before we started. I don’t recommend doing that, but I was running late and work ate into my prep time. That right there is one of the biggest reasons why I use published adventures these days: because I no longer have the time to create an adventure for a specific group. The thing was, I still ran a good game. It would have been better if I had spent even an hour on it, but for such a short prep time, it was good.

Having said that, I still made the game unique. I rewrote the entire beginning. I added NPCs to the town. I created my own twists and turns. All of these modifications did take time—more than last week’s 20 min prep—but far less than the full day each session use to require. On the whole, I can run a great game at a fraction of the time required.

2) More Focused Characters

As any GM knows, players can do anything at any time. That is one of the things that make running a campaign so difficult—you have to be prepared for anything at any time. When I created my own campaign, I designed the adventures around the characters. Yet when I run a published campaign, the players make their characters around the adventures. Who is reacting to whom is reversed.

Think if it like this, if you let the players make whatever they want from any available source book, they will make characters that have little if anything to do with each other. Give them some direction and they will make characters around those ideas. Tell them you are running a specific campaign and they will make characters that fit that specific theme.

By giving them direction, you are channelling their creativity not hindering it, and you will get far less of the “the PCs can go any direction” that I talked about in the point above. A group where the players make characters without direction can result in an out of place character: three heroes, and a thief that wants nothing but violence and money, as an example. Then as the GM it is your job to figure a way to make them work together. Instead if you tell the players you are running a campaign where isolated villages are being attacked and you’re helping them, like in our adventures Deadly Delves: Along Came a Spider and Rescue from Trykaven (available for Pathfinder and 5e), then the players will all be thinking about how the character they want to play fits in the adventure.

3) You’re Creating a Shared Experience

By running a published adventure, you are giving your fellow gamers an experience that they can talk about with their fellow gamers that other gamers can bond over. Look at it another way: adventures are stories. One crafted for a specific group is the campfire story while the published adventure is the novel or movie. How many times have each of us bonded with someone we just met while talking about a Marvel movie? The campfire stories, the only way I have found to bond with someone about that is to repeat that same story; bumping into someone that knows that exact same story has yet to happen for me.

So when we go to conventions, having played a published adventure is giving us something in common with someone we never met before. That is another opportunity to make friends and play new campaigns.

So do you prefer to run your own campaigns or do you run published adventures? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Looking for some awesome adventure? Our Deadly Delves line of adventures provides you with game sessions that your players will remember. On top of that, they are designed for busy GMs like you and me. Download our 5e, 13th Age, and Pathfinder adventures at the JBE Shop today.

5e/Pathfinder/13th Age: Guide to Mini-Bosses

There’s a short story by Janni Lee Simner called Practical Villany that I particularly love. It’s from the villain’s point of view. The opening line is “The first thing I want you to know is that I drowned those kittens for a reason.” It’s a dark comedy about a villain talking to his latest kidnapee about his rebellious daughter that turned hero, betraying the family business. In the story, the author talks about how evil is a business while heroes are just one person. That is where mini-bosses come in. Mini-bosses are akin to mid-level managers. The real question is why would someone in a fantasy RPG world need them.

No matter which level-based fantasy game you play, you get more powerful by level. You are obviously more powerful at level 2 than level 1 and even still more powerful at level 3 and so on. The same is true for your main enemy. They didn’t try to take over the world at level 1. They worked to amass enough wealth and influence and easily outclass the adventurers at the start of the campaign. So why are they employing people that can’t hold their own against a plucky group of low levels?

1) Your Big Bad Has a Source of Revenue and Power that Must be Maintained

Your big bad has a source of income that still needs to be maintained, and they are busy with taking over the city/country/worlds. So the actual job of generating that income has to be in the hands of some trusted aid to oversee the operation. Whether that operation is a kobold mining company digging up gold, orc hunters that sell skins for leather armor, or an ogre timber consortium, they have to perform operations far to trivial for the big bad to do. The problem comes in when they interact with the humanoid races. Do the kobolds breech into a dwarven mine or a gnome village? Do the orcs kill the cows of a small hamlet? Are the elves upset the trees are being felled? The people doing the work need direction and someone to pay them for their work, someone that represents the big bad to the workers. That is a mini-boss. Remember, any good business has lots of moving parts to it (different managers in charge of different workers at different locations all doing the same job, different departments doing different jobs, etc.). That is a lot of different mini-bosses at a number of different difficulty levels. In this case, the employees are minions.

2) Your Big Bad Doesn’t Have Every Skill or Ability

The person at the top simply can’t have every skill or talent possible in the whole world. CEOs hire accountants and lawyers to help them navigate those arenas. Your big bad trying to take over the city/country/world needs someone to advise them on the way to the crown and how to finance it. So your mini-bosses can be advisers to the big bad in their specialty field. Other possible advisers include a cleric of an influential church and the big bad isn’t a follower of the deity or doesn’t have any divine casting ability, a public relations bard to smooth over incidents like the kobolds invading the dwarven mines, and a spiritual advisory monk.

The important thing to remember with advisers is that they should fill two roles: the official one and an unofficial one. The official one is the job for which they are known. This is their day job, how this adviser is presented in the public. The unofficial one should be the real reason that person in particular was hired by the big bad. Does the financial advisory funnel money from the crown to the big bad? Does the cleric get people (more minions) to act against their interests in the name of the religion? Is the public relations bard in charge of spreading disinformation? All of these roles a big bad needs done and these make great mini-bosses.

3) Dirty Workers

Bad guys are not known for fighting fair. Once the adventurers have been identified as disrupting some small plans, they should have someone to deal with them. Assassination attempts have been done and the players will see that coming. Instead, trying having the big bad hire the adventurers for a job they are not qualified, like killing a monster that is more powerful than they can handle. Have the public relations bard hire them, apologizing for any previous incidents involving low-level managers, and praise them for bringing such bad actors in their organization to light. The job is something like clearing out a cave where some new miners will be going soon. The adventurers aren’t told there’s a dragon in there. The dragon will be warned and compensated for it’s trouble. Naturally the dragon will have his own minions to soften you up in your way there. The idea behind this is that if the adventurers never return, no one will miss them or possibly figure they left for another problem elsewhere. As an added bonus, the public relations bard can claim they had bad information and apologize for their near deaths. By doing this, you turn what would otherwise be a single encounter into a night’s game session and they might even believe the big bad isn’t so bad.

Every mini-boss need minions and we have some excellent ones in the Book of Beasts series, available now for Pathfinder, Fifth Edition, and 13th Age. Download them now.

The Big Meeting

There have been quite a good many decisions that needed to be made concerning the direction of JBE for the next few months. Yesterday, I decided that we needed a company-wide meeting to resolve them. That happened this morning. Here are the results:

  1. Focus on Fifth Edition, Traveller, and 13th Age for the next few months. This is to clear out the backlog of stuff we wanted to publish last year but didn’t because official Pathfinder support is ending. We have plans to continue supporting these games after the backlog is complete. We discussed adventures for Traveller and 5e, ships and monsters for Traveller, subclasses and more for 5e, and a PHB2-like print book for 13th Age.
  2. No final decision on Pathfinder 2e support. We are waiting to see the final rules and license before making a determination on that front.
  3. Continued support of Pathfinder 1e. That is right, JBE will continue with PFRPG 1e. We do not have anything ready to go immediately so do not expect to see anything from us before summer, but we love this game and will continue to support it and its fans. How this will interact with possible PF2 support is yet to be determined.

We are really excited about all of this and hope that you are on board as well. Tell us your thoughts and what you want to see from us in the comments below.

Final Thoughts on the Switching to PF2e Poll

Just shy of 3 weeks ago, I posted a poll asking if you were planning to switch from first edition Pathfinder to Pathfinder 2e. The results were quite amazing and not at all what I expected. So lets go over them.

The answers can be broken down into these basic answers: yes, yes with reservations, maybe, eventually, no, both, and this poll doesn’t apply to me but I want to vote anyways. The “yes” answer of “We already switched to the playtest and will switch to 2e when it is released,” was what I had assumed to be the top answer, yet that only got about 14% of the vote. That honor went to the “no” vote of “We’re not switching (tried the playtest and don’t like the direction, feel 1e is the perfect game, etc),” with about 35%. Sandwiched between them is “maybe” with “Our group is ignoring the playtest, and we will see what the final version is before we decide,” with 18%. “Eventually” got the fourth highest at 12% with “It will take years for all the classes/archetypes/feats/spells/etc we enjoy in 1e are in 2e, and we plan to keep with 1e until that happens.” 5th place goes to “yes with reservations” with 9% as “We’re sticking with 1e for the time being. We anticipate converting over shortly after the new edition is released.” “Both, thank you” is obviously the “both” answer, capturing 8%. The final 5% goes to “this poll doesn’t apply to me but I want to vote anyways” with “I don’t play Pathfinder 1e now and don’t anticipate playing 2e either.”

To put those answers another way that us gamers easily understand:

Answer 1d20
Yes 18-20
Yes with Reservations 16-17
Maybe 12-15
Eventually 10-11
No 3-9
Both 2
N/A 1

The real question is: what does this mean for JBE? First and foremost, we will take another look at continued support for PF1e. I had anticipated our final 1e Pathfinder book to be Deadly Delves: Temple of Luminescence. Now, I can’t say for sure. Am I saying that we definitely will be supporting Pathfinder 1e going forward? No. Am I ruling out further Pathfinder 1e plans? No. What I am saying is, “We’ll see.” If I had to guess how things will shake out in a year is that we’ll release products for Pathfinder 1e and 2e at the same time or one shortly after the other, but even then, that is not a guarantee.

In the short run, we will be continuing to focus on Fifth Edition, Traveller, and 13th Age since we have been ignoring them while trying to finish up those last few Pathfinder titles. Even then, we will not be doing much for the rest of the year. If you haven’t heard, my wife and I changed day jobs and moved from New Jersey to Missouri earlier this year. Well, we are closing on a house soon and will be moving again. Two moves in under six months makes finishing up projects difficult. Having said that, we should be back to normal in the new year.

Be sure to download Pathfinder books you have been wanting at the JBE Shop. We have all of our Pathfinder 1e, Fifth Edition, 13th Age, and 1e Mongoose Traveller titles there for you to download and order in print when we have that available in print. It really helps us out when you order direct from us. You can also find our titles at DriveThruRPG/RPGNow, Paizo, and the Open Gaming Store.

Pathfinder: Are You Switching to 2e?

When I ask a question, anticipating a certain answer is when I get the most surprising answers. Recently on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, and MeWe, we asked two simple questions: are you still playing Pathfinder 1e, and do you see yourself changing to 2e (or the playtest) anytime soon? I anticipated a mix of everything from already switched to never gonna switch with the majority going to “skipping the playtest but converting at some point in the future.”

That was not what I had gotten. Not even close.

So I am putting up a poll to find out how you feel about the transition and what game you think you will be playing. Please answer and share your thoughts in the comments below. Make your voice heard. Please share this poll with your gaming group and other gaming friends. The poll closes Nov 9th so respond and share now.

Remember you can always find our Pathfinder products like the Book of Heroic Races: Advanced Compendium in print and in PDF at the JBE Shop. You can also find all our Pathfinder goodness at DriveThruRPG/RPGNow, Paizo, and the Open Gaming Store. You’ll find some highly rated monster books, adventure modules, and player supplements that you should download now. If you are planning on continuing with PF1e, show your support to those that support the game.

Watchtower Balleron

You would be forgiven if you were not aware that the kingdom’s forced still operated out if Watchtower Balleron long after the hobgoblins took it over. Few in the kingdom did, including the hobgoblins. The lower level had a secret door to a staircase that led to the caves below. The Stone Breakers, the Queen’s elite dwarven commandos, listening (aided by magic) to the hobgoblins plans from below, slipping into the watchtower itself when vital to the mission, and stealing maps and committing various acts of sabotage.

Because of the kingdom’s internal politics, the kingdom could not strike openly against the hobgoblins so the reigning queen took steps to make sure they were ineffective. She let them operate out of Watchtower Balleron as a concession to the local Lord since he was taking bribes from the hobgoblins. However, the queen had her people to think about and detached a small force to serve as an information source. So frequently when the hobgoblins go out on raids, away from the lord’s lands, they mysteriously found the local guards prepared for an attack.

Since the queen cannot act openly against the aggressors, she hopes a group of adventurers show up and handle the problem for her. One of her advisors suggested holding a fighting competition to attract such persons but to do so they need enough advanced warning to advertise the competition so they can attract such seasoned adventurers. As things stand, they fear that only new adventurers will be present and answer the call and will likely die in the fight. She may not have much choice, however, as keeping up current operations costs more than the kingdom’s treasury can afford.

Even then, once the hobgoblins are dealt with, the lord that was backing the hobgoblins will be upset and may have against the royal court or he may run away. To catch the lord, the queen knows she’ll need the help of the adventurers to keep her hands out of it. She may have to have the Stone Breakers leave evidence of the lord’s collusion with hobgoblins and escape before the adventurers show up. But then again, they are elite troops, specializing in information gathering, stealth, and subterfuge over combat. Should the queen’s roll in all of this be made public, there could be considerable complications for her.

Watchtower Balleron

LE large fortification
Government military overlord
Population 1,300 (1,000 hobgoblins; 100 dwarves; 200 other)

Notable NPCs


Captain Teurik Deathaxe, military overlord (LE male hobgoblin fighter 5 [13A: 3rd level leader])
Lieutenant Ooknar Bloodvengence, lead raider (LE female hobgoblin ranger 3 [13A: 2nd level archer])
Iknix Flamecloak, priest of goblinoid god (NE male goblin cleric 2 [13A: 1st level caster])
Lieutenant Harnask Silverheart, leader of the Stone Breakers (LG male dwarf rogue 6 [13A: 3rd level spoiler])

Be sure to also check out Fort Strange and let us know if you want to see more locations like this.

Support our efforts to bring you more awesome material like this by downloading our Pathfinder RPG, D&D 5e, 13th Age, and Swords and Wizardry books directly from the JBE Shop.

Pathfinder Playtest: My 4 Predictions

A few hours ago, the public playtest of Pathfinder Second Edition was announced. My guess was always the Gen Con 4 years after the launch of Pathfinder Unchained, which looks to be spot on (2 years to gather feedback from that book, 2 years to incorporate). My second clue that I was on the right track was when the point person on several of the RPG books was given to James Jacobs, a gentlemen more closely associated with the setting development instead of system development. This told me the RPG team had other priorities. The most likely guess to me was Pathfinder Second Edition.

With the core engine of the game nearly 20 years old, it is time for an overhaul, in the way that Wizards did with 4th and 5th editions in that time span. So what kind of changes should we expect to see in the new edition and what should stay the same. These are my predictions as to what we will see in the Pathfinder Playtest. Mind you: I have absolutely no more insider information than you; this is just the mad ramblings of someone else on the internet, except that I do have the perspective of being a publisher and I know how that affects certain decisions. So without further ado, here are my thoughts.

1. The Game Will Feel Familiar

A decent amount of the game will be something that you know already. Dwarven fighters wielding axes will join forced with half-orc barbarians and elven wizards to save the day. You will still have levels for characters and spells and of course they will not be the same thing. Your hat of disguise will still be your halfling rogue’s favorite accessory, and gnomes will still only be taken by gnome fans. You will all break down doors, kill monsters, and take their stuff all while rolling a d20 as the core die for the game. I do not see any need to fear here.

2. Some Classes Will Get an Overhaul

The cleric is a great class, really. However, its design is really showing its age. Both the oracle and warpriests are exceptional healers and have many more class options that the cleric lacks. Then there are secondary healers like the bard, druid, shaman, and witch which can heal as well but do so with considerably more versatility than just healing. For the cleric to be anything but an undead killer and healing wand, it needs much more in the way of class options.

Then there’s the rogue. The alchemist has trapfinding, and the ninja has sneak attack. Both of these have considerably more versatility than the rogue, and there are other classes do something similar to the rogue. It lacks abilities that it can call its own. Expect the rogue to be more distinct.

Other classes like the fighter and maybe even the wizard are could be considerably enhanced.

3. Borrowing Ideas from Starfinder/D&D 5e

I do not believe it a stretch to say that Pathfinder took the idea of alternate class options and ran with it more than any other before. They did such a good job with it, that design idea is evident in D&D 5e with their subclasses, hard-coding it into each class instead of bolting it on at a later date. Starfinder refined it even further by having the sub-classes/archetypes at the same levels, allowing a fighter or a wizard to take the same subclass. This idea, I expect to see in Pathfinder as well, if not exactly as in Starfinder, then the next evolution in the idea—whatever that may be.

In both Starfinder and 5e there are far less types of bonus to be applied to skills and consolidated skill lists; it seems only natural to see that in PF2e as well.

The last idea taken straight from Starfinder (originally from Pathfinder Unchained) is the monster creation system. As someone that built many monsters, I can say that the Unchained/Starfinder rules are the way to go.

4. Pathfinder Setting is Inseparable from the System

This is where my concern starts to show. As a compatible publisher, books that mix setting and system make it more difficult to separate one from the other. While I not have any doubt that I can accomplish this without any real issue, I do see this as a reoccurring issue for new publishers. Even still, it will be harder for me. I may be allowed to refer to a new spell called ray of light, but if it is listed in the spell section under D because the spell refers to a certain goddess that flowers at dawn, then it will only make my books that much harder to use. While I doubt this will be much of a problem for the core book, I do this as an issue for future expansion books down the road.

Like I said above, these are only guesses. It will be interesting to see come August how close those guesses are.

Visit JonBrazer.com for monsters, races, and other ideas you can use during the playtest (if we are allowed).

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