When a Minion is hit is he alive, or dead? In game terms, very often it doesn’t matter – what counts is that he’s out of the combat. He could be flat-out stone cold deceased, merely unconscious, crouched on the ground nursing a twisted damaged leg or fleeing in terror off the battlefield.
But, like many things, it doesn’t matter until it matters. Like Schrödinger’s cat, until that point the Minion is both alive and dead, in a quasi-paradoxical state of uncertainty right up until the point where the GM decides whether the adventure would be best served with having him dead or alive and able to talk.
Sometimes a Minion is better off dead. It’s quicker that way and the adventurers can progress merrily along knowing there’s one less Goblin/Rust Monster/Gnome in the world. In some way that single representative Hit Point acts like a binary switch – set it to one, and the critter is alive. Set to zero, and he’s dead. I guess that means you could also set it to minus one and he becomes Undead. I once ran a Classic D&D scenario where the Undead had negative Hit Points and therefore weapon damage actually made them stronger. The adventurers finally defeated them by dipping their weapons in Potions of Healing and using the flat of the blade. Ahh, happy times.
But I digress.
Occasionally though, it’s worth keeping the Minion breathing just a while longer. A wounded Goblin is far more likely to give up the location of the Seekrit Lair than a dead one, and having monsters live beyond combat is a great way to inject a dash of personality and (dare I say it?) role-playing into the game. When an Orc looks in the Paladin’s eyes and says with his dying breath “Please. Take care of my children.” you’ve struck role-playing gold. Try it and see.
Dead, or not dead. You decide.
Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to find a cat, a Geiger counter and a flask of hydrocyanic acid.