Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Why no hirelings or henchmen?

Even though I played D&D in the early days of its popularity, I never took full advantage of the rules pertaining to hirelings and henchmen. Although I confess ignorance of 2e D&D, the Charisma attribute has no relevance to the recruiting of henchmen in 3.5e or 4e.

James over at Grognardia blogged about an old set of hireling miniatures. In the comments, I confessed that I never used henchmen or hirelings. Most people in the comments also confessed that they never really used them either. Why not?

When I returned to D&D after 2000 and actually started playing again in 2005, I felt that they were sorely missed. Without hirelings, who is going to watch the camp outside the dungeon and help carry your loot? Without henchmen, how else does one start a fiefdom?

I saw Robert Zemeckis' Beowulf last year. It's a great inspiration for D&D adventure. I pictured the hero as a high-level fighter with a large group of henchmen. I lament the fact that such an arrangement is no longer a part of the rule mechanics of D&D. Any henchmen or hirelings are now adjudicated by the DM and do not have anything to do with on Charisma scores. There are no guidelines.

Even though Gary Gygax provided some rules in the DMG for hirelings and henchmen, how they are found by the PCs is left up to the DM. Like much of early D&D rules, knowledge of medieval culture is assumed to be already known by the players. Rules governing such NPCs was largely open-ended.

In my opinion, hirelings and henchmen should be an integral part of old school campaigns. If there were some sort of splat book dedicated to the subject, common usage might increase.

Is there any rules about them Hackmaster? Other game systems? Splat books I don't know about?

How about some tables indicating the chance of finding a particular type of hireling or henchman in a different types of towns and cities? Check once per day, perhaps. Just a thought I'd throw out there.

Jeff posted some nice box art. Take a look!


mhensley said...

Hackmaster greatly expanded the rules for hirelings from AD&D. I especially like the rules for proteges (npcs who you are teaching so that they can take your place when you die).

.o. said...

Wow, I had no idea so many people used and liked hirelings/henchmen. I've been DMing D&D for more or less 20 years and never really used them. There were two exceptions - a 2nd ed Bard with followers, and a 3rd ed fighter with Leadership, who had hirelings in addition to his cohorts. In both cases, they were used primarily for "off-camera" actions and role-playing.

My complaint was always that more minis = more bookkeeping, more dice rolling, longer turns, and less excitement and less roleplaying. Smaller parties without henchmen meant faster, more enjoyable play.

I would love to see a simple system for using henchmen in a campaign - particularly for off-camera things like starting and running a fiefdom. I am less excited about adding them to combat - 4e combats last long enough as is.

Alexis said...

I've been adding two kinds of henchmen to the party roster of my players since the mid-eighties; NPCs, who increase their loyalty over time and must be paid, and fanatical followers who basically become additional player characters for the party (enabling them to enjoy different classes and races without having to sacrifice their principle character).

I'll have to blog about it sometime.

PatrickWR said...

My thing with henchmen is they're often forgotten about until a specific situation arises where you need hired help. So the party might be adventuring across the dungeon, slaying orcs and goblins or whatever, and then the GM asks who's carrying the paladin's great shield.

A henchman, of course -- and suddenly everyone remembers that five or six dudes have been following the party around through the dungeon, miraculously surviving each encounter or living just long enough to transport a load of loot to the base camp.

That said, I'm all for including them if they're given a role beyond simply pack animal and meat shield. :)

M.gunnerQuist said...

Hackmaster greatly expanded the rules for hirelings from AD&D. I especially like the rules for proteges (npcs who you are teaching so that they can take your place when you die).

I am going to have to get a copy of the Hackmaster rules.

septembervirgin said...

Actually I remember that there were expanded rules for hirelings and henchmen. These appeared in Dragon magazine. Also one might glean sufficient rules from the 1st edition DMG and a meager knowledge of Renaissance and High Medieval life (as well as pulp swords and sorcery fantasy) to gather how these people operate and how they might be found.

On retrospect, most systems in the 1e AD&D rules are sufficient. Magical crafting rules from 3e are useful if a bit lenient. Also old wargame rules for Area of Control can suggest better ideas than AoO. AoC is inclusive of thrown and missile ranges too -- and takes into account countering AoC with cover.

It's not that 3e messed up -- it's just that someone didn't think to draw strongly from wargames and to consider using hirelings & profession instead of Skills. Also no one seemed to understand how Surprise can be used as a non-thief Stealth -- good rules can be structured to implement effort and planning in regard to Surprise rolls.

Furthermore, one must assume that all combatants are capable, that all characters are socially aware (if not always successful), and that lore is not often had except by those who study for decades as a sage.

Donjon Master said...

Other possible reasons for the underuse of hirelings and henchmen: they "steal" XP awards and bleed off wealth, and it can be ambiguous who controls them (player or DM).