Geek Ken has some useful advice on how 4e DMs should use minions, particularly in the use of attack waves and Glimm's Workshop introduces the Resolve concept to make minions a little tougher but clearly something is not quite right with the rules for minions as they stand.
In OSR (or retroclones) a monster is generally ranked by its Hit Dice (HD) which in most cases equates to 1d8 of HP. The DM can simply turn any monster into a 1 hit wonder by reducing the number of HP it has to a value below the minimum damage dealt by the majority of the party. Even at 1st level this is usually around the 4HP mark and will increase slowly as the party's levels and damage bonuses increase.
HOW I HOUSERULE MINIONS OLD SCHOOL STYLE
How the DM assigns this HP reduction is up to them, for me this depends on what type of monster I am stocking the encounter with. If it's a creature with animal intelligence or lower with no social structure then I'll either randomly roll or just assign every creature the same value say 4HP per HD. However, if it's a creature with higher than animal intelligence or an animal which has a clear social aspect then I like to use the following system:
- ALPHA - (8HP per HD) - This is the pack leader or alpha, the toughest member of the encountered group and will be the one giving the orders. There can never be more than one Alpha in a group regardless of its size.
- BETA - (6HP per HD) - These are the Alpha's bullies, they do what the Alpha tells them to and will bully the norms into doing what the Alpha demands. Their number depends largely on the size of the group but I like to use the ratio of 1 Beta to every 5 Norms.
- NORM - (4 HP per HD ) - The rank and file version of the creature who will be goaded into action by the BETA or ALPHA. In some cases I'll keep the actual value of Norm HP fluid just in case the PCs have excessively bad rolls, after all there's no point in them falling at the first hurdle and getting slaughtered by minions.
If players have the opportunity to observe a group before engaging they should be able to identify each ALPHA and BETA. This may have a bearing on their plan of attack, particularly if they have ranged specialists which can target the ALPHA and BETA types and take them out provoking a morale check which may result in the norms fleeing or surrendering and giving the PCs the victory but morale for minions is another thing all together and maybe a subject for a future article.