Thinking about summon magic has me thinking about what’s wrong with it now. I mean, it has me thinking about minions and companions and everything that makes the summoning system kind of broken in concept already. I started by thinking about zombies and why they don’t work … and how to make them work. I mean, summoning doesn’t seem to have any real-world comparisons.

Or does it? I was trying to think about what kinds of things exist in the real world that work the way minions do in games. Are there any machines that can be trained to follow their master’s commands? I tried to go back and justify how zombies work — why would they follow a creator’s commands anyway? Why would an automaton follow the orders of its creator? Why does an attack dog work the way it does?

There’s an inherent disconnect between what’s expected of a minion and how they actually work. Mooks and minions are a narrative device, I don’t think there’s a real-world justification for their existence — unless they’re meant to represent the ho-hum of daily life. Heroes and adventurers cut through minions the same way we might cut the lawn or rake the leaves. We also want to make them work for us.

There are few things as satisfying as just annihilating one’s chores, maybe dispatching them so handily that they require barely even a second thought. Of course, when there are lots of them, they can overwhelm us, but that doesn’t tend to happen in adventure stories … the heroes don’t usually have to deal with their chores the same way we have to deal with ours. And then there’s something more, a greater goal.

I think maybe one of the places where player-controlled minions fall short is in just how much energy they take to bring about, not to mention how they’re justified. The fighter or warlord should be able to call up a sidekick or the cavalry the same way a wizard should be able to call up skeletal minions or the druid calls up a pack of wolves for reinforcements. They can work like gear — additional options for your character.

The next question would be … where do your companions come from, and how do they arrive on the scene? One of the problems you might run into is that an encounter forbids the entrance of reinforcements to build a specific type of dramatic tension, but if one kind of power can be denied, shouldn’t all powers have an equal chance, for gameplay balance? It’s only fair to the players, I think.