Having just reading Wizards of the Coast’s D&D 4th Ed preview H1: Keep on the Shadowfell and Excerpt: Minions article and I have concluded that I like minions.
A minion in D&D 4th Ed is a moderately competent opponent for the PC/Heroes until it gets hit, at which point they die. In a typical D&D combat session they are supporting cannon fodder that will tangle up the PC’s for a couple rounds while the real opposition pounds on them. They have enough damage dealing capabilities that the heroes can’t ignore them, and good enough defenses that the heroes won’t hit them every time. These facts, coupled with a few special abilities, a weapon, and an undeniable urge to cause physical harm to the heroes.
We now have game mechanic for drunken patrons in a bar fight; the pike men in a battle; the hapless grunts that guard the temple of the evil master and every red shirt extra you have ever seen.
Most of the common NPC’s (non-plot important) that the heroes will interact with are of minion caliber when it comes to combat. The mayor of the town dosen’t needs to be a Fighter 9 with all of the stats and mechanical complexity. Just call the mayor a human minion of an appropriate level and move on. The temple priest is granted a few feats to make them useful as a resource, but will not be able to defend the village against the vampire. The bartender can now match the PC’s in damage dealing and defense without being a potential player killer.
So, as I said, I like minions and I look forward to seeing wave upon wave of hapless expendables break upon the shores of my heroes.