I’m a huge fan of Robot Viking. I get pumped every time Ed Grabianowski shows up in my reader. And in light of yesterday’s post on my in-game alterations to 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, I thought I’d discuss my thoughts on one of my favorite meta-game, rules adjudication alterations, the SuperMinion House Rule.
It’s not wholly accurate to say that I’m re-visiting the SuperMinion, since it’s Ryk Perry’s invention. If you’re at all interested in 4E D&D or in being a good Game Master (seriously – what GM doesn’t agonize over how to deal with absent players?), take a look at the article. It’s really that good.
What’s Already Been Said
The tl;dr version of the article goes something like this: an absent player’s character becomes a SuperMinion, who can move as a move action, and as a standard action, make an attack that automatically hits and deals damage equal to their level. Defenses are simply the character’s level plus 10. SuperMinions are immediately bloodied on a hit, and are unconscious when hit while blooded – they go down and the Dungeon Master leaves ’em alone (with the exception of a TPK). That’s a generic SuperMinion, which is then altered by role (not class):
- 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 SuperMinion’s attack is marked until the beginning of the SuperMinion’s next turn. If the target moves from its square before then, the target takes damage equal to the SuperMinion’s level.
- Leader: As a minor encounter action, allow one ally to use a healing surge.
And that’s about it. The promise is a way to keep a role or character present in a group (if the leader doesn’t show up, the DM doesn’t need to hand out potions of healing or alter the encounters – everybody still gets healed), without any bookkeeping or die rolling. The only negative referenced is the susceptibility to bursts and blasts, which admittedly is severe.
As a one-shot solution to an absent player, I think the SuperMinion is a fantastic idea, both in concept and execution. Yet, I think it fails to address the problem of a recurrently absent player. I’m sure some of you wonder why a player is recurrently absent and still a part of the group, but most of you probably know. Sometimes players have life complications, or can only come in every other Saturday, or work on-call. Whatever the reason, sometimes players repeatedly are absent.
The problem with repeated absences is it makes the character less memorable. Virtually every solution to player absence, with the exception of the bookkeeping intensive “player double-fisting the die and rolling for two characters” option, never allows for a character to make a splash. When you have a group that games for a while, with one character taking a back seat, you end up with a party consisting of
Quicella, the hunted barbarian princess, Cossio, wooer of women and slitter of throats, Iania, the aged mistress of arcane secrets, Boanold, the dwarven dunce with the dulcimer, and uh, whatisname, Frankie’s sorcerer, the, uh, the tiefling. I think.
I think the solution lies within the SuperMinion concept, but must allow for variations beyond just defender and controller. If you don’t incentivize the table to roleplay the absent character, the dragging nature of 4th Edition combat and the constant crush of table dynamics means that Frankie’s sorcerer is not being roleplayed.
There’s no easy solution to this problem. Simplicity and memorability are opposite ends of the spectrum (this is a contextual claim, mind you), and the SuperMinion principle is meant to maximize simplicity. By increasing the complexity (and memorability) of the character, we’re also robbing the SuperMinion of its entire purpose. Can we make the character more memorable and still leave it as a super minion? I say yes. It all comes down to doing some paperwork beforehand.
Option One – SuperMinion At-Wills: Give the player controlling the SuperMinion some options! This can be done by creating SuperMinion versions of the missing character’s at-wills. Choose an at-will power that, on average, will do more damage* than SuperMinion damage (1 per level). Instead of using the SuperMinion modifier (for example, +2 damage for a Striker), add whatever the power does. If it slides someone, slide them. If it slows them, it slows them. This allows the SuperMinion to still have that feel that they have when they’re actually played. (*Note: For powers like the Invoker’s Grasping Shards, which do middling damage, either have it do 1 point of damage (for minion destruction), or none. The SuperMinion damage shouldn’t be more than the damage the power regularly does.)
Option Two – Regular Defenses: This one is easy. Give the character the defenses it actually has. Forget the SuperMinion defense – just use their actual Fortitude, etc.
Option Three – Static Options: Let the present players utilize any and all non-consumable powers and options that don’t involve die rolling possessed by the absent character. Also, allow for any die rolling out of combat. Rituals? Cast ’em! Skills (that either none of the PCs have, or none have in spades)? Use ’em! Mind Spike and Fey Step? Absolutely! Spice your character up. No dice are involved, so just have someone familiarize themselves with the character sheet before you sit down to play.
Option Four – Pinch Hitter: This is a fun one. If a present player’s character goes down (unconscious or dead), the absent player’s character takes their place. Hand them the character sheet. If the SuperMinion hasn’t been hit, they’re halfway between healthy and bloodied. If they’ve been bloodied, start them at bloodied. It’s up the Dungeon Master to what extent they still have their dailies and encounters. This way, the unconscious character doesn’t have to spend three turns rolling to save against death.
What am I missing?