I love the minion rule in 4th edition D&D. I think it is an absolutely fantastic idea to have low level mooks which are useful, but which don’t have any hit points or other wound statistics to keep track of – a single die roll determines their fate. This seems like a wonderful improvement over the agents in Champions, which were super-easy to hit but often took two attacks to defeat. I’ve seen the minion idea in other games, but they were either less simplified (as in Torg) or they were worthless cannon fodder. D&D minions are useful cannon fodder that can fit in to a challenging tactical combat. I plan to use some variation of the minion concept when I next work on new RPG rules.
However, while I think the concept is fantastic, in playing D&D I’ve noticed some flaws in the execution. The stated idea behind a D&D minion is that it is worth the same XP as a much lower level monster, but is designed to be much more fun to play. In effect, the monster has been “game adjusted” to replace much of his offensive powers with a higher attack bonus, and to replace his hit points with higher defenses. A level 12 minion isn’t really some frail, sickly creature that can be killed by one bite from the neighbor’s poodle. It is just that one good, solid hit from a paragon-level adventurer is enough to put him down. To make sure that this is the case, there is even a special rule that damage from missed attacks can’t kill a minions. This prevents attacks from instantly auto-killing minions.
Unfortunately, this rule is totally inadequate because there are so many other methods of causing damage, often in very small quantitites, without needing an attack roll, and there is no rule to prevent these from auto-killing minions. These powers really take away the flavor of minions. Minions are no longer real creatures that require one good hit to bring down. Instead they become some sort of infestation, to be dealt with using your “pest control” powers. Once the players have enough of these powers, minions start dropping like flies. For game balance, you can try to compensate by adding more minions, but flavor-wise, this only makes the problem worse; it really emphasizes the idea that minions are so numerous and puny, they aren’t worth wasting a “real” attack on. Also, the rule that that misses cannot damage minions begins to seem rather arbitary and unfair; why is it that 7 points of damage from my missed fireball has no effect, but the same damage from a flaming sphere is an automatic minion vacuum cleaner?