WOTC posted an article on minions in fourth edition D&D recently and it has gotten quite a bit more reaction than I expected on blogs and in forums. The idea of easy to kill hordes of followers is apparently new to many people. Perhaps I’m unique, but I’ve been using the minion idea since about 1980. I even called them minions (although one of my regular players always called them “mini-onions” as a joke).
You have to understand that I find combat boring — especially combats that drag on and on. I don’t mind quite a bit of combat in an adventure session so long as most of them are over very quickly. After a few years of streamlining combat to make it play fast, I “inherited” a couple of good players from another much more combat oriented GM. They liked combat with lots of opponents — trouncing three dozen orcs in the temple of Orcus before they could reach the Evil High Priest was their idea of fun. Even though the orcs were not real threats.
Tracking hit points of a couple of dozen orcs was a pain and if they took two or three hits to kill, combat ended up taking up way too much time for me. This was especially true as the combat with those 30+ orcs was only there because they liked it.
It did not take me long to come up with the idea of monsters who were minions: the hordes of often fanatical, but minor followers of some important enemy. I started giving them 1 hit point per hit die. They still had all their powers, AC, etc. They could still dish out damage to adventurers and would be almost as much threat to non-adventurer “normal men” as the standard non-minion version of the monster. They just could be killed quickly by adventurers able to hit them with a sword or mow them down with a fireball.
It worked well. My two combat-oriented players could have the large battles they liked and the rest of us could have the fast combats we wanted. It did not really hurt realism. After all, if you are an evil leader, you are likely to hire bunches of weak troops because because they are cheap and use them as cannon fodder shock troops to delay the your powerful enemies while you and your important followers get away or get in position to turn the tables. Your minions may be cannon fodder to your real enemies, but normal people — non-adventurers — aren’t any better so you can still use your masses of minions to take over villages and rob merchant caravans.
I continued to use minions long after those two combat-loving players had moved away because they made game much easier to run and much more fun for the players to play in. Therefore I find myself in the odd position of defending some fourth edition rules as a really good idea. While fourth edition minion rules apparently only give minions one hit point each so that one hit will surely kill them, that really isn’t much different my 1 hit point per hit die minions — one hit from an average character is all it takes to kill either of them.