Maturing minions

Aron Christensen
Published in
3 min readApr 26


With practice, we can perfect recurring villains, and because they’re major antagonists and key NPCs, we get some special opportunities. But what about the poor numerous minions? The Faceless Fascists that the characters mow through? Obviously there’s not many chances to develop them as NPCs — but when there are opportunities, play ’em for all their worth — but we still want to practice with minions and refine them.

Back in the original book that got us started on this blog, we talked about “stock” enemies; the basic minions of the Big Bad. I mean, no Big Bad can have an entire army of named lieutenants with nuanced character and unique abilities. And even if it’s possible for the Big Bad, that’s a whole lot of work for an already-busy Storyteller.

But stock enemies are useful. They give the player characters someone to mow through. And over time, they become a measuring stick — back in session one, a stock enemy might have been a deadly threat, but in later encounters those enemies are now wet paper sacks and the players get a sense of just how powerful their characters have become. Validate all those experience points you gave them!

Image: A skull-faced figure standing against a background of a runic circle and skull-shaped billows of red.
Art by Tithi Luadthong

Stock enemies can become boring enemies, though. If the players fight them over and over and over, then it just becomes a slog. I hate slogs. When does it get sloggy and how can you tell?

Well, if you’re bored in your own fight scene, then it’s obviously a slog. If you find yourself using the same two tactics again and again, and the fight plays out the same way encounter after encounter, it’s time to change things up.

You definitely don’t want your players to be bored! The first encounter with a stock enemy — or any first encounter — will be novel by nature. There’s novelty when the players get that feeling of wiping the floor with enemies that used to be a challenge. But it doesn’t have as much punch the eighth time. Beware of diminishing returns; if the players are using the same tactics to take out your minions, then change things up.

Well, how do you change things up?

You can change the environment. Fighting stock enemies that you’ve faced five times already but this time it’s on a bridge over lava definitely adds a twist. The PCs and stock enemies will spend more time trying to push each other into the lava than using their normal methods. You can change the goal of the fight, too, or have stock enemies running away with the MacGuffin! It might even turn a combat scene into a chase crisis.

This is another place you can use the rule of three. Fight the stock enemies once… twice… and then the stock enemies appear with someone special! Maybe the squad of enemies has a Heavy Weapons Fascist this time. And then one… two… now the squad has two Heavy Weapons and a Faceless Fascist Commander. Or even a Fascist with a Face!

Of course, not every combat encounter will be against the Faceless Fascists. There’ll be fights opposite the FF’s robot army or a named lieutenant with his Iron Bigot power armor. Maybe as the characters grow more powerful, the Fascists start handing out combat drugs or armor so that the game’s stock enemy gets an upgrade. And you should probably have encounters with opponents that aren’t even on the Big Bad’s team. In any given campaign, I probably use about fifty to a hundred different enemies.

But if the Faceless Fascists are going to be your main antagonists, think about slowly ramping — and mixing — up their minions.

You can also use the rule of three round by round. For instance, an enemy might attack on round one, attack on round two — but on round three, they try to grapple or disarm. It’s simple, but attack, attack, attack can get pretty repetitive and lead to slogginess more quickly than if you’ve got a couple of different moves planned.

Stock enemies and faceless minions are important for filling out a villain’s army, they make great cannon fodder for the PCs, and they help the players measure their characters up as they grow. And if the minions mature along the way, too, then even “stock” enemies will never get boring.