Call them Mooks, or Minions, or Goons, these are the disposable NPCs that heroes blast and cut their way through wholesale. Most RPGs do not have specific rules for handling Mooks, which I think is a big oversight. In this week’s article I am going to discuss what a Mook is, how RPGs should address them in their rules, and what you can do with them in your games.
The Anatomy Of The Mook
The Mook is a special type of NPC. Free of any specific system, the Mook is a faceless NPC whose sole job is to get killed in combat. Mooks do not pose any serious threat to the players (one-on-one) and take on the role of opponents typically dispatched with a single thrust of the sword. Their role in an RPG is to be the unimportant members of the city guard, enemy soldiers, etc. who get in the way of the players,but are not important enough to be real challenges to the party.
Very few RPG systems have specific rules for handling Mooks. The few exceptions that I have encountered directly are: Mutants & Masterminds and True 20. In both of these systems, which are highly related to one another, the Mook is defined as a special type of NPC. They have normal stats, but if they are struck in combat, they die or are knocked out, based on the lethal level of the attack. No damage rolls, no hit points, nothing; one hit, one kill. They are designed for PCs to mow through without effort. For the sake of our discussion today, we will define the Mook as an NPC that is killed on a single successful strike.
I came upon the idea of adding Mooks, last year, while running my Iron Heroes campaign. In my game, I have a caste of demons called Demon Soldiers. They are the lowest caste and have the stats of a 3rd level warrior. They average about 25 hit points, more than what a single sword blow could kill. When my campaign first started, the heroes were 5th level, so a group of Demon Soldiers standing in their way was a serious threat. The Demon Soldiers had bonuses to hit that were in the range of the heroes, and their 1d6+1 damage was enough to wear the heroes down in the course of a normal combat. When my players reached 10th level, I saw that Demon Soldiers were no longer a challenge for the players. The Demon Soldiers bonus to hit was too low to hit on much more than a threatened crit, and their 1d6+1 damage was OK, but not on par with the higher castes of demons that the heroes were now facing.
I did not want to remove the Demon Solider from my game, because as the lowest caste and “worker bees,” Demon Soldiers are everywhere in the game world. I decided to Mook them instead. I kept the same stat block, but told the players that from now on, in combat, one hit to these guys, and they are dead. This allowed me to do some cool things in my game that I would not have done in a traditional D&D game. First, I was able to put hordes of Demon Soldiers on the battle mat and not have to keep track of their hit point totals on paper. That was a great time saver during long combats. If a player attacked one and hit, we removed the counter from the board. Simple.
Second, it allowed me to run what I felt would be more realistic combats. The mid-level demons always traveled with a group of soldiers, so I had no problem putting down 20 or more Demon Soldiers into a scene. The players liked the way it looked when the four PCs squared off against several Demons Knights and a horde of Demon Soldiers. Every player fantasizes about wading through the carnage of a field of minions to square off at the big baddie, and I was more than happy to deliver.
Third, the Mooks also created fodder during the combat. I am able to stretch out the length of the combat by surrounding the major NPC with Demon Soldiers. The heroes then have to spend turns cutting through them to get in range of the NPC, giving the NPC time for either ranged attacks, a spell, or some other activity. I also used the Mooks to harass the heroes during combat. I can use them to flank a PC or block a space that could be used to flank their enemy. They are great at blocking lines of sight, preventing charges, etc. While they are fodder, they can still threaten weak NPCs, carry off important treasure, activate the switch to the main gates, etc. Don’t underestimate their usefulness with their combat frailty.
Finally, it gave the heroes a chance to show off. Iron Heroes is all about cool combat moves, so the heroes would set up these elaborate attacks and cleaves to mow down piles of Mooks. Sure they were just Mooks, but the players loved it. Each of them has their favorite way to cut Mooks down: Kelven, the Archer, will use his Storm of Arrows special ability to rain arrows down on the Soldiers and watch clusters of them die off.
Making Your Own Mooks
Making Mooks in any game system is pretty easy. You make them up as normal NPCs and just attach the one hit-one kill rule to them. Some game systems nerf Mooks further, by restricting their ability to score critical hits, access to things like action points, etc. If you want to do that as well that’s also fine.
The other thing you should consider is a rule for combining attacks of multiple Mooks into a more potent attack. Indvidual Mooks may not be threatening, but in numbers they should pose somewhat of a threat to your players. For d20, I allow up to 5 Mooks to participate in a group attack that give them a +2 bonus to hit and +1 to damage for each helper, for a max bonus of +10 to hit/+5 to damage. Also, Mooks can assist in grapples where they become even more potent.
What creatures should you make into Mooks? There is no good formula for when to take a creature and make it into a Mook. I go by how threatening the creature is in combat. If the creature, on its own, can no longer really hit the characters, and the characters can pretty much hit it at will, then the creature is a good candidate for being a Mook.
From time to time in your campaign, you can go back and designate other levels of creatures as Mooks. When my players hit 15th level, I plan on re-evaluating which castes of demons would be considered Mooks and allowing some of the mid-range Demons to become Mooks. Again, the criteria is: if they no longer pose a threat to the PCs, Mook them.
So those are my thoughts on Mooks. If you have not used Mooks before, I highly recommend it. I don’t think there is a game system out there that cannot benefit from Mook rules. They are a great tool for creating more cinematic combats and are great time savers for the GM when running big combats. So look at your list of monsters and NPCs in your campaign, and I bet you can find some Mook candidates. Make them Mooks, mix a horde of them with a few more challenging NPCs, and let your players wade through them. I guarantee that you will all enjoy it.