Schrödinger's Minions

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.

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11 Comments on “Schrödinger's Minions”

  1. When my cat goes into his litter box, how do I know if he’s still there or not?

    Regarding minions, your post reminds me that I have to stop slacking and read the 4e rules some time. So lazy…

  2. I usually go by a house rule:
    If the amount of damage from the “killing” blow is greater than their constitution score, they are dead. If its less than or equal to their con mod, they are still conscious, but out of the combat (whining, rolling around in pain, etc). All else: they’re unconscious.

    So a minion with 16 con (+3 mod) physically dies if hit for 17 or more damage, is still conscious (but effectively removed from battle) if hit for 3 or less. Anything between, he is unconscious, but alive.

    Perhaps this is too rule heavy for a 4E game, but I like my rules. That way PCs don’t feel screwed by the whims of the DM, it’s a rule like any other, and it’s out there.

  3. Dead, or not dead. You decide.

    Actually, that’s not true. If you’re talking about D&D 4e, then the players decide. “Monsters and characters controlled by the Dungeon Master usually die when they reach 0 hit points, unless you [the player] choose to knock them out.” -PHB, p. 295.

    But I get what you’re saying. There’s a lot of RP space to be explored, there.

  4. @Pol The key is the word “usually”. If the GM wants to add a touch of dramatic license to help the plot along, that’s a good thing. Remember that the PHB is talking from the players’ perspective. If they want to keep a monster alive for questioning, they can – but there’s nothing to stop the GM from doing the same. :D

  5. In the first 4e game I ran, the cleric of Bahamut took out a bandit minion with lance of faith, and decided the damage would be non-lethal. I decided that the shining light of the Platinum Dragon had caused the bandit to repent his thieving ways, and he fell to the ground weeping in shame. This led to some fun roleplaying and a Religion check on the way back to town, which resulted in a total conversion; when the PCs last saw our bandit, he was the acolyte caretaker of a once-abandoned shrine to Bahamut.

    Fun stuff. :)

    Jim

  6. Unless the players say that they go back to kill the maimed minions, about half of them stay alive long enough to crawl away from the battlefield.

    Dying Orc: “Please, take care of my children.” …Priceless.

    1. The fun thing about having Minions survive is that you can bring them back.

      I remember one Goblin (not a Minion, but an OD&D gobber with just 2hp) who the PCs repeatedly encountered. They soon got to recognizing him from the scars they’d left on his body :D

      Eventually, they made him really dead and I brought him back as a zombie.

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