Extras are one of our more unique mechanics, so many GMs may not be sure how to make best use of them. This article will help by going over what an extra is, why you would want to include them in a battle, and tactics for them.
Who is an Extra?
Extras represent characters who are inclined to try fighting, but individually pose no threat. However, in groups, they can pose a danger. This is distinct from a mook, who is a capable combatant that individually presents risk, but is somewhat weaker than other combatants of their tier. A mook is going to take attacks to bring down, likely a few, whilst extras are barely going to slow down the heroes.
What this means is very context dependent. A well equipped guard may be a real threat to normal humans, but if the story is revolving around demonic incursions or superheros punching each other through walls, the guard isn’t much of a danger.
Picture the scene like a movie – your heroes walk into the scene, and are surrounded by enemies. If those enemies rush the heroes, to be taken down one by one by a single blow, they are extras. This could be the horde of shadow ninjas suffering from conservation of ninjutsu, a swarm of cat sized spiders coming from their tunnels, someone’s dog that has more spunk than sense, or members of an angry mob.
When to use Extras?
Extras are never worthy of an encounter on their own, no matter how many you have. Even if you can overwhelm them by sheer numbers (which may or may not work depending on their abilities and the situation), it’s not going to be interesting to play through. In most cases where only extras are present, you can just hand them the win. So, you want to use them to enhance another combat or challenge.
The first reason to include them would be because it makes narrative sense for the situation. You attack a military base with forces that render common soldiers into extras, and there will be a lot of extras around.
The second reason is to get more bodies on the battlefield. This can overlap with the first reason- you often want more bodies because narratively there should be a lot of guys present. It can also be helpful to make a battlefield feel more occupied.
Another reason would be to suit the thematics of a character. If your boss is a giant spider, even if it’s a proper challenge for the party alone, giving it a bunch of spider extras can help give a brood-mother feel. Another character could command a swarm of animals, which would be a host of extras.
Yet another would be to add to the tactical complexity of the battle. It’s generally more interesting to make a battle more difficult by adding to the tactical wrinkles that must be dealt with, rather than just inflating numbers, and extras can be a great way to do that.
The final reason is giving the PCs a chance to feel awesome. If you effortlessly chew through a large group of extras, it can really make you feel more badass, in much the same way the hero in an action movie clearing a room full of nobodies makes them seem more amazing. This can also create a contrast to make the real threats seem more threatening.
How Extras Impact the Battle
The primary thing extras will do is slow down the PCs. They block movement, so proper placement of them can force PCs to either take a longer route or spend steps to kill them to clear a path. They can also make certain areas dangerous to enter until enough extras are cleared out that you won’t get flanked. And a PC taking time to go and clear out extras can divert them from otherwise advantageous maneuvering. It can also bait them into using different actions, like using an AoE to catch some extras.
Don’t expect extras to be dealing a lot of damage. Generally speaking, if an extra managed to attack a PC , that PC either messed up, or decided to eat the damage in exchange for whatever they did that put them in that position. Instead, view them as a hindrance to the PCs, an obstacle, much like difficult terrain would be.
A group of extras can be someplace an enemy can force PCs into, allowing them to surround the PC and make it harder for them to move free. A group of extras at a chokepoint can make moving through it take longer. A group of extras around a melee enemy can make engaging with that enemy in melee much riskier.
While it can be tempting to just rush all of the extras at the PCs and try to dogpile them, and sometimes that is exactly what the extras would do, it can often be better to hold them back and position them better. Remember, hindrances more than threats. Oftentimes the extras would be nervous about actually attacking something as powerful as the PC, so holding back in a defensive posture somewhere can make sense, only moving into combat if there is an actual opening for them, or potentially to give their leader a flanking chance. What behavior makes sense depends on what the extras are.
Extras can also be useful for an endless wave of reinforcements, where you move new extras into combat each round from someplace appropriate. This can also add to the sense of being overrun, or there being an elevated level of danger and a pressure to act quickly.
Tips for using them easily
Extras should not bog down combat. You will typically be moving them in groups, so try to move one near the front of the group, then move others relative to that one, rather than counting out the motion of all of them. For instance, if one extra is 2 hexes behind the leader, move the leader their movement, then move the other extra so it’s 2 hexes behind the new location. Unless they flank, thats all you need to do with them,so move them quickly then move on to the next part of battle. You often don’t need to comment on the movement, but if you do, talk about the entire group you just moved. “This group moved up through the hallway”.