Octopus Carnival is back from is hiatus! I’ll resume my writing here with an article that’s not directly related to any of my ongoing projects. One goes where inspiration strikes, after all.
Inspiration in this case came from this post from Peter V. Dell’Orto over at Dungeon Fantastic, about how the mook rules he uses on his Dungeon Fantasy campaign. That got me thinking about the several different iteration of these rules present both in GURPS itself and on other systems. In this article I’ll talk a bit about those and introduce a variation on them that I’ll likely use for my own games.
Minions With Many Names
Mooks, Minions, Extras… by now the concept of them is probably well-known to most roleplayers, as a bunch of RPG systems has been codifying the concept for decades now. Since every game has a different name for this rule and I don’t want to keep listing them all, I’ll use the name “Minions” in this article.
Simply put, minions are weak enemies that pose little threat to player characters individually, and who are present in the game mostly to show case how competent said PCs are. They have simplified statistics and usually go down with one good hit from a PC. They take inspiration from a long line of action and adventure movies, where it’s common for the badass protagonists to mow through a large group of minions over the course of an action scene, or on the way to fighting a tough, named foe. They also tend to feature heavily in chase scenes, where their narrative purpose is to crash and burn with every maneuver the hero pulls off to confound them.
The concept of minions has been around since the early days of D&D and its hordes of low-HD enemies pitted against mid- or high-level parties. The first time I saw it explicitly named and codified was with Exalted and its rules for Extras, though it almost certainly wasn’t the first system to do so. Many others tried their hand at it, including D&D 4th Edition with its Minion rules.
GURPS itself multiple sets of minion rules. In the core book, each minion is an individual opponent: they always go down in one hit, and they never use Active Defenses (but also never All-Out-Attack either). GURPS Action and GURPS Dungeon Fantasy toughen them up a bit by allowing active defenses and allowing for several different grades of opposition. Swarms are large groups of “minions” treated like a single, abstract creature, and again we have a version in the Basic Set and a couple more elaborate ones in Dungeon Fantasy and other sources. I’m sure people have come up with their own variations as well. So here’s mine! It’s focused on distinct individuals rather than on swarms. For now, I’ll use the standard published rules for those.
This is how I intend to grade my opposition from now on, from weakest to strongest. The system takes inspiration from the existing GURPS rules, and also from the several different grades of opposition presented by D&D 4th Edition and early Shadowrun (with its Professional Levels).
Please note that this system is most appropriate for cinematic games that follow at least some “action movie” conventions regardless of their point level. Grimly realistic games should stick to the Basic Set rules (which are the equivalent of making all enemies Elite under this system). Campaigns that sit somewhere in the middle could ellide the lower opposition grades and make everyone at least a Worthy.
While higher-grade opposition is usually more skilled at fighting than lower-grade foes, its final grade is as much a matter of narrative importance as of pure power. In a campaign following action-movie narrative rules, you are more likely to find higher-grade enemies the closer you are to the story’s climax, or to your mission objective. Named NPCs are also more likely to be of a higher grade than the troops they command even if they are equally skilled, because the GM usually wants the NPC to stick around for a bit longer and be memorable.
This also means that it’s perfectly possible for a given individual to move between these grades depending on the circumstances of the story. That one lucky goblin minion that managed to inflict significant damage on the party and escape without a scratch might return as a worthy or better at a latter date if the players become obsessed with defeating it. In the case of Horde Ninjas, this progression could happen over the course of a single fight!
Belonging to a specific grade is always a “campaign feature” and as such never costs or gives points.
Minions are the equivalent of fodder in Dungeon Fantasy or Action. They fight and defend themselves normally, but it only takes a single point of damage getting past their DR to bring them down. This doesn’t necessarily represent killing. A “downed” minion might be unconscious, wounded, or even actively fleeing! Whatever happens, though, they are 100% out of the fight at that point. Obviously, it’s still possible to interact with a defeated minion who is still alive after the fight.
While minions can theoretically have very high skill levels and fight with fancy techniques, they usually don’t. They tend to come in large numbers and their tactics leverage that. This grade is appropriate for those goblin and dinoman hordes, cheap hired thugs, or the regular forces of the evil Star Empire. Any monster called out as fodder in official materials would be a minion under this system.
Also known as “purple” minions for entirely jocular reasons. They’re like regular minions, but a little more ornery. A tough minion has an HP total like a normal character, but always fails combat-related HT rolls. This means that any hit that forces a “Knockdown and Stunning” roll will take them out, as will reaching 0 HP or less. They can take a few scratches and keep going, but a solid hit still breaks them. These are basically Petter V. Dell’Orto’s fodder monsters, though they never recover from stunning before the fight ends. They do recover in time afterwards, of course.
This grade is appropriate for pretty much the same types of foe as normal minions in those cases where the GM wants to make things a bit more challenging, or when the group in question has a reputation for strength but the GM doesn’t want them to steal the scene. They’re your goblin veterans, experienced mobsters, or those Imperial soldiers with the black armor that talk in sinister coded radio transmissions.
Worthies are the “standard” level of opposition. They defend themselves normally, including making HT rolls to avoid and recover from knockdown and stunning, but go down once they reach 0 HP or less. They’re a significant obstacle, but you still don’t want them to stick around too long. The same examples listed for Tough Minions also make suitable worthies, as does any monster from the books not specifically listed as fodder.
Worthies still tend to come in groups, though these will be smaller than groups of minions. A movie fight against five or six opponents who keep getting back up after being hit is employing worthies instead of minions! Note that this doesn’t mean worthies are necessarily low-skill opponents. At this level, there is no inconsistency whathosever in making them as skilled as the PCs themselves.
Elite enemies are treated just like PCs. They make full use of all of the campaign’s combat rules. When they reach 0 HP or less, they’ll keep making HT rolls to stay conscious and alive, and might fight to the death if they think it’s warranted. When they don’t, retreating is always their own decision rather than something the rules force them to do. Elites are almost always named NPCs with their own personalities and motivations. They are rarely less skilled than the PCs themselves, and are often better. A fight against such an opponent usually marks an important plot milestone in adventures following movie logic.
Any enemy from the books who is supposed to still pose a threat when under 0 HP is probably an Elite. Boss Monsters from Dungeon Fantasy also fit here - they are usually more powerful in terms of statistics, but they receive the same level of plot protection as the PCs.
Every category system needs a catch-all! Special opposition has something that gives it even more narrative protection than the PCs, or that makes it not quite fit in the ranking system above. Colossi with multiple parts that must be destroyed in order? Multi-stage bosses that switch character sheets entirely when defeated? Anything goes!