Sunday, January 11, 2009

Some more thoughts on hirelings and henchmen


I'm quite sure that of those who even remember the prevalence of hirelings and henchman in the early days of RPGs, quite a number of them don't really miss them.  I've heard comments from people to the effect of "hirelings don't make for a heroic story", or "Conan didn't hire a torchbearer."  While I can see these points, I would argue that especially at low levels, the PCs are not mighty heroes of literature, they are adventurers, adventurers on a journey often into the uncharted depths of the earth.  To me, hirelings and henchmen accentuate the send of an expedition.  I think back to the days of watching the old Tarzan movies, where the explorers surrounded themselves with no end of bearers, guides and other assorted local-help, not to mention hiring Tarzan to save them when things got really tough.

In games terms there is sometimes some confusion between hirelings and henchmen (sometimes called retainers).  This was in my opinion caused by the somewhat inconsistent terminology used in the early days, but for the most part, the confusion was cleared up by the first edition AD&D Players Handbook.

Hirelings are individuals such as Bearers, crossbowmen, men-at-arms, teamsters, etc.  They are employed by the PCs for a set fee.  They generally are employed for a set period of time and do not usually gain experience.  In the case of crossbowmen or men-at-arms, they will fight with the party as that's what they are payed to do, but the other non-combat hirelings will generally only fight when it is necessary for their own survival.  The PC's charism, while affecting the loyalty and morale of Hirelings, does not restrict the number of hirelings a PC may have.

Henchmen are a different story.  Henchmen are considered to be followers of the PC.  They travel with the PC for lodging, supports and a share of the adventuring spoils.  They also gain experience, albeit at a slower rate than the PCs, gaining only 50% of earned experience.  This is because they are not involved in the decision making process of and adventure and while controlled by the gamemaster, they generally follow the orders of the PCs, except of course in situations where the orders are not of an agregious nature.   Charisma is an important factor with henchmen, as it limits the number that a PC may have as well as affecting their loyalty.  Thus, when using hirelings and henchmen, charisma becomes a more important stat in the game and not the dump stat that it has become in later days.

Henchmen provide not only addition muscle and skill son an adventure, they can also provide a source of replacement characters.  Dungeons in the old days were deadly places, and having a henchmen along when your PC fails a save vs. poison can be a godsend.  this becomes even more important later in a campaign.  Imagine if you will, a party of 4th level character wandering deep beneath the earth, when disaster strikes.  Suppose that one of the PCs is slain, perhaps in a manner that precludes his or her being raised from the dead such as a pool of lava or acid (no body, no raise dead).  So, what is the player to do?  Go home?  Roll up a brand new first level character?  Well, if there was a henchman around, the day would be saved.   He would most likely be only second level and while that might not be ideal, that character would still be more survivable than a level 1.  

Of course hirelings and henchmen do require a bit more record keeping on the part of the GM, but I think that the benefits that they can bring to a game are numerous.  From rounding out a weak party to providing a source of easy and logical PC replacements it's hard to argue their potential value.  So, I say, "Bring on the hirelings and henchmen!"   
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