An interesting situation came up at the game table on Saturday. It’s been about a week but in my defense, my brain is a bit addled ’cause I’m fighting off some kind of infection. I haven’t had a lot of time to think on this.

Minions, in the “mook” sense, fill an important narrative niche. They’re nigh-infinite in the right circumstances and while they have the potential to overwhelm characters, they’re intended to be cut down in droves. They show up in fantasy fiction the world over, but my favorites are usually found in Chinese cinema.

Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons presents special rules for minions in the game: they have one hit point but never take damage from a missed attack – even attacks that would otherwise normally deal damage when they miss (many area attacks).

On Saturday, our group was confronted by lots of minions, led by some tougher monsters, and eventually joined by reinforcements. Minions don’t normally represent a huge threat, but without a controller in the group, they persisted through quite a bit of the battle until I used my character’s Close-Burst Fear attack.

A thought occurred to me then, shaped somewhat by my character’s general disposition toward the use of fear tactics – even though it was not stated outright in the rules, perhaps certain effects should treat minions differently.

There exist a number of features and powers that “ignore” minions for balance purposes — mostly “kill skill” type powers that would trigger many more times in an encounter than might seem plausible — for instance, why shouldn’t some attacks automatically hit minions? Intimidate seems an ideal skill for minion-removal.

Of course to combat this, certain creatures built around the use of minions should be able to replace them, strange though it may seem given some circumstances. But in the name of game balance… how does the expression go?

“Sacrificing minions: is there any problem it won’t solve?”

In Magic: the Gathering, this is perhaps best reflected in the concept of “chump blocking” – (usually) inexpensive creatures sacrificed to delay incoming attackers. You’d think there would be rules supporting this play style in D&D too…

For me, the main reason I don’t see it working is that minions add lots of extra pieces to the board and it’s difficult to justify multiple players have minions when it clutters up the field. But, there are arguments for them if you simplify creature rules.

Again, it’s about sharing actions with your creatures.

I’m going to stop here, but I think it’d be brilliant if there were rules allowances for minions in the hands of the players, in addition to the game master. More players using the rules means a better understanding of the rules all around.