Rule Zero: Underlings (PFRPG) PDF

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Behind Every Villain is a Horde of Minions!

Somebody has to clean up the dungeon while the master plots his next evil scheme. Fortunately, that is where the underlings come in. These groveling bootlicks live to serve their evil lord, hoping only to curry favor and avoid his wrath. Unfortunately, representing these lesser foes in combat can be a chore, especially if there are a lot of them. Tracking their hit points, conditions, and abilities can turn an exciting combat into a real grind. Rule Zero: Underlings gives busy GMs a way to incorporate a horde of these lesser monsters into any combat without slowing the game down to a crawl.

Inside this PDF, you'll find a new system for including a new type of monster, the underling, into your game. Underlings are made using simple statistics that don’t bog down the GM with unnecessary statistics and details, while still providing a threat to the players. The system includes complete rules for creating thousands of different underlings, suitable for any adventure. In total, this PDF contains:

  • 21 Underling Statistics, ranging from CR 1/2 to CR 20
  • 47 Unique Underling Types, from goblins and kobolds to demons and devils
  • 4 New Universal Monster Rules, unique to underlings
  • 6 Simple Templates to customize your underlings
Rule Zero states that the game belongs to the players and their Game Master and each group should make it their own. This series of short, easy to integrate PDFs are designed to give GMs the tools to tailor the game to fit their needs. Each PDF in the series features an entirely reimagined mechanic, designed to give a new perspective on an existing rule! Written by veteran game designer, Jason Bulmahn, you can be sure that these rules will fit seamlessly into your game.

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What would Grue be without his minions?

5/5

(If your first reaction to anything I say below is "but, hang on, it's...", I know.)

There are many things to like about many d20 derivative games, and one thing that several of them have done is some form of "minions" rules, to represent the hordes of cannon fodder that every Machiavellian Master of Manipulation surrounds himself with.

With four bestiaries, the Monster Codex, the NPC Codex, and more monsters than you can shake a stick at in Adventure Paths, Pathfinder is still lacking a way to have those "trash mobs" represented in the game. And then along comes this one-man-band Third Party Publisher called Minotaur Games showing that they have the design chops to play with the big boys and show them how it's done.

The Good
Normally I shy away from describing rules in reviews, but for this product it's pretty much unavoidable. For the low low price of four "underlings" equals one full creature of a given CR, you get to add lots of the easiest to manage creatures ever. No tracking hit points (they're either fine, hurt, or toast, depending on how much damage your attack does), no worrying that the damage modifier might have been calculated incorrectly (just roll these dice here), and no hassles with "damn, what's this guy's AC again?". Modify the base underling stats for your chosen CR with a lovely array of common racial types (angel underling, check), or throw on a class template for suitable bad guys. Watch as your players squeak in fear as you plonk 15 miniatures on the table with a sly grin, then cheer twenty minutes later after the fight of their lives, because damnit that was epic.

The Bad
I've decided something while writing this review. Endzeitgeist has his Seal of Approval, and I have something I once said about another product I love: This should be core. Honestly, that's the worst thing about this product. It's easy to read, well balanced, simple to implement, and you can see the class templates in a more sophisticated form in the Monster Codex. If I want hordes of goblins, this is the book I open up. Ditto a pack of ghouls. I even once used it at CR 20 with some epically nasty beasties for a high-level game. It will generally work best at lower levels (why have 3 Orc warrior 2 when you can have 12 underling Orc warrior 2?), but can really sway the action economy back in favour of the bad guys with no real added risk to the PCs.

The Conclusion
Absolutely top-notch, brilliantly designed, and an excellent way to implement minion rules into Pathfinder without having to either write another 4+ bestiaries or borrow rules from some other game.


A versatile GMing tool which can represent all sorts of villainous minions!

5/5

I love Pathfinder. I love its versatile options for characters. I love the plethora of material, both official and third party. I love the myriad adventures and adventure paths, and all the cool settings. I love the cool hybrid classes like the alchemist and the magus. I love the Bestiaries and the Tome of Horrors for the 1,000+ monsters these books present as neat options, both classic and original.

But there are things I don't like about Pathfinder. Namely how the rules can stack up over time to the point that they can bog down the game. This is especially prominent in combat, where managing large numbers of monsters can be tough, and even low-CR opponents can get a lot of hit points. The archetype of a master swordsman cutting down hordes of enemies in mere seconds is very hard to do in Pathfinder, unless you're a spellcaster with an Area of Effect spell. Stat blocks can be a pain to build, especially when it comes to spellcasters.

Rule Zero: Underlings is an attempted fix to the above problems, by designing a new kind of enemy known as an Underling whose primary purpose is to be quickly-statted mooks who challenge the PCs in groups of 4 or more and yet can be easily defeated while still outputting a reasonable amount of damage. As one who's been using Rule Zero's content for several months in my Pathfinder games, the Underling option works very well for its intended purpose.

Basically Underlings are streamlined NPCs whose core abilities are factored off of the Group Challenge Rating, which represents 4 Underlings of the same type. Regardless of whether the Underling's are meant to represent giants, mages, vampires, or the like, Armor Class, skill bonus, attack bonus and damage, saving throws and Wound/Kill Threshold are based off of the Group CR. Instead of tracking hit points, Underlings are dropped if a single damaging attack exceeds their Kill Threshold, or get wounded twice (like Kill Threshold, only half value of the Kill Threshold); damage below this does not affect the Underling. This, combined with a static attack and damage dice (the latter which can take the average in lieu of rolling) really speeds up the creation process, it's far quicker to design an Underling stat block than a typical NPC, and their low power levels make fights with a large number of opponents more manageable if they're used as the excess minions.

An Underling's "race" (which can represent humans and dwarves as well as broad and popular monster types such as giants and demons) factors in special abilities, which skills their "Class Skill Bonus" applies to, and which saving throws have the "good" and "bad" progressions along with some other minor things. Finally, Templates are things which can grant Underlings a special attack or mimic the class features of iconic archetypes such as Sneak Attack. Generating spellcasting Underlings is a simple affair of choosing a total number of spell levels from the cleric or sorcerer/wizard list equal to half the Group CR, and said spells are cast 1/day as spell-like abilities (or at-will for 0 level spells).

One of the best features is that there are Underling races for otherwise high hp, high CR monsters such as the Fire Giant or Mummy. As the Underling Group CR is a recommended guideline rather than a restriction, there's nothing preventing you from making CR 12 kobolds or CR 1 Ogres. With this, even a Fighter of middling ability can cleave through several towering brutes in a single round, something which doesn't really happen in core Pathfinder unless you're building a min-maxed Barbarian ubercharger or something to that effect.

Concluding Thoughts

Although it's a short 10 pages, Rule Zero: Underlings is more than worth its $3 price tag, and it's one of my favorite DMing tools for the game. The toolbox of races and templates are versatile enough to mimic all kinds of fiendish minions and monsters, and even evil assassin-thief archetypes meant to challenge mid-level adventurers can be built in 1-2 minutes with these rules!


Underlings! Surround them!

5/5

Rule Zero: Underlings is an amazing product that is well worth your time.

The three best things that Rule Zero: Underlings adds to my games are:

1) The ease with which you track great numbers of minions greatly improves the flow of the game whenever large combats occur.

2) The speed with which I can throw together any random encounters the party may happen across is significantly increased due to the flexibility of underlings.

3) The dramatic tension and excitement that my payers experience when I nearly fill the map with underlings between them and their favorite (most hated) BBEG makes Rule Zero: Underlings worth more than the $2.99 that Paizo.com sells it for.

Thanks for another amazing product Jason.


Minions, Mooks & Underlings

5/5

One thing D&D introduced (and up to this point has been sadly missing from Pathfinder) was the concept of minions. These monsters are essentially normal threats, which die the moment they take a single point of damage. They fill an unusual monster design space enabling a GM to create large cinematic battles reminiscent of movies and video games in which the heroes cut through the boss guy’s lackeys before the climactic battle.

The difficulty arises because you want these creatures to die quickly but still represent a danger to the party.

Picture the last encounter in a dungeon where the party, now level 3, finally confronts the ogre chieftain (CR 3). Presented as a single target the party fall upon him concentrating whatever resource they have remaining and the chieftain dies a rather quick and pathetic death. As the GM you could add a couple of loyal ogre guards to protect the chieftain but this raises the encounter CR beyond the PCs capability. What you intended to create was a set-piece grand melee in which the PCs fought through the guards, while the chieftain taunted them from the back of the room, then a desperate fight against the brutish ogre boss.

One solution is to put a group of low CR creatures into the encounter – maybe four orc guards (CR1/3 each). However, CR1/3 monsters are not much of a threat for the PCs. Due to the math baked into the system these low level creatures have a very low chance to hit the PCs and are themselves glorified meat-bags, an annoyance which results in drawing out the climactic encounter of the adventure!
This is where minions work well. Firstly, they are able to hit the PCs for enough damage that they cannot simply be ignored. And secondly, they die quickly, so the pace of combat is maintained. Never underestimate how good it feels as a player to fight through a large group of minions! Never underestimate how much GM’ing respect you get from your players when you pull off a memorable epic battle that didn’t take the entire session to run!

Various game systems have implemented minions, mooks and cohorts and many of them have issues – Ogre minions (or demon’s or dragon’s) dyeing after taking a single point of damage are just silly! I have experimented with minion rules for Pathfinder but always secretly wished that Paizo would release official rules.

Jason Bulmahn (the lead designer of the Pathfinder RPG rules for Paizo) under the guise of his Minotaur Games imprint has just released the pdf supplement Rule Zero: Underlings. And, it’s good, really, really good!

I have run a couple of simulated encounters using the underling monster rules as presented in the supplement. They are simple and comprehensive – a natural graft of the current monster rules. Best of all they answer many of the failings of previous minion mechanics. These are threats that a party has to take seriously, but don’t die the moment they get poked in the eye with a stick!

I highly recommend any Pathfinder GM to pickup Rule Zero: Underlings.
Interestingly Paizo recently published “troop” rules (large groups of lower level monsters treated like a distributed swarm monster) in Rasputin Must Die, but these serve a very different purpose in creating cinematic combats. My hope is that the underling rules (or a refined version of them) find their way into the next official Pathfinder bestiary.

This review was originally posted on enderrin.com



Paizo Charter Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion, Pathfinder Accessories Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Very nice! Ordered!

EDIT: Somewhat later - what an awesome and useful concept. Excellent!

Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 4

Purchased!

Larger than some PDFs. I would say about 8.5 pages of content (10 pages in total, one is the cover and about a half page is lost to credits and OGL).

Looks quite comprehensive with tools to design your own underlings, though there are many provided.


HEllo Jason,

Since you know very well Way Of the Wicked as you wrote a couple of articles for it. How much would these rules complement, reimplace the great rules for minions done by Gary Mc Bride in the 2nd tome of one of the greatest campaign ?
I love the simple and effective concept he made up.


I think these might be usable as an alternate system to the one Gary came up with. Similar I am sure, but not quite the same.

As an aside, thanks to everyone who picked up this PDF, making it #1 here on the Paizo site for PDFs from other Publishers. You guys rock!

Jason Bulmahn
Minotaur Games


Pathfinder Maps Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

I have used underlings on three occasions already (Tavern brawlers, Owlbear Cubs and Ice Monomentals) and I'm loving the way they work.

Thanks Jason.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Reviewed! (Because the world needs more reviews.)


I am continually amazed by the solid sales and reception of this PDF, now just over 2 years after its release. Glad to see folks are still getting good use out of these rules.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

I imagine it helps that it's simply awesome.

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