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Friday, July 17, 2015

Henchmen and Hirelings - Yea or Nay?

Back in my early (teenage) era of gaming, henchmen were important.  When I spend my summers in the Poconos, at best we had a group of 4 - most times it was 3, and 1 of those 3 was obviously the DM.

Initially we played with DM PCs (yes, I know how bad that is) and we quickly learned that didn't work well, especially when the DM placed treasures with his PCs in mind. Therefore, we moved to using henchmen to flesh out the party.

As this was AD&D 1e, and we were mere teenagers interpreting Gary's rules for recruiting and using henchmen as best we could (or as best we could in our favor.) Our henchmen never broke ranks and ran. Never betrayed a party member. They were fodder for the PCs quest to earn gold, magic items and expo.

My group in NYC rarely lacked players and when it did, only one member of the party sought out a henchman, who later in turn became less henchman and more NPC party member (but not DM PC.)

I can only recall one instance of party members seeking out henchmen in my return to gaming these past few years (torchbearers and hirelings have been used and abused.) We ran a funnel of sorts to see which potential henchmen would survive to be hired, but that campaign wrapped up shortly thereafter and they didn't get used.

So, from my perspective, it's "nay!" for henchmen and "eh!" for hirelings.

Where do you stand?


  1. The utility of henchmen and hirelings is inversely proportionate to two things: the number of players at the table, and the complexity of the system. Henchies always help fill out a party when you're low on players, but the more a system demands effort in resource managing NPCs the more likely the GM is to dislike them, and the more players at the table the less likely there is need or time for them.

  2. We often will use them when available in AD&D. But often times we are low enough level that having them is too expensive.

  3. Henchmen and hirelings are kind of de rigueur for playing one-on-one with my grandson. Last time we played Castles and Crusades I was going to try out the Solo Heroes variants for running one player but he kind of scuttled that by hiring two more NPC's as hirelings.

  4. BITD we never, ever used them. We couldn't imagine the the drain on our earned XP/GP being worth it. If we needed extra manpower we just had everyone play 2 PCs or something.
    Since returning to D&D and the OSR etc. in the last 5-10 years, my group has used them a lot more, though not every time. Hirelings very often, henchmen more rarely. I'd like to run acampaign that was more henchperson-positive, like having the players keep a few extra henchthings for times the main PCs are occupied with domain-management or research, but it always seems like a lot of bother to plan missions that the henchpersons, being lower levels, can do...the temptation will be to send a PC or two to handle what a party of henchmen could maybe do.

  5. My experience has been that henchmen, hirelings, animal companions and familiars just become background noise. If you are playing a dungeon funnel and need some red shirts to hold a torch that is one thing but for campaign play I avoid them.The focus of the game should really be the player characters and their stories and adventures. I include NPCs to travel with the party when they are part of the story - never for cannon fodder or to damage sponge.

  6. As a GM i put an NPC with the party. He split xp and treasure as a pc but allowed me to ad advice (good or bad) at times and coukd even be killed as a warning if stupid decicisions were being made. That really set the warning in cement without being unfair or random to the PCs.

    1. I like to use hirelings as graphic examples. Sometimes they spontaneously combust, get turned into blue slime, or are eaten by gnolls while still alive and screaming.

      Then the rates for the next hireling quadruple...

  7. Never have seen a henchman in all my years of play. Quite a few hirelings though.

  8. The NPC also meant another player coukd jump in at anytime. I think thats actually how he started.

  9. Nobody ever has the money to get them, really, or the job is too dangerous to be worth it. Plus it always went against the grain of the source material I have read. Don't remember many heroes hiring a crew to brave the dangers on their behalf.

  10. Even when it was only 2 or 3 of us gaming together, we never really explored the idea of hirelings or henchmen... probably due to our ages at the time... instead we would pick and choose our adventures to be able to live another day. But more often than not, we had enough players that using the 'extras' would have made the whole situation untenable. (It's bad enough when you are arguing about whether your character should have been affected by a spell... imagine the chaos when the debate extends to how the hirelings would behave.)

    Now fast forward about 20 years, and we started playing a WFRPG game where hirelings became necessary, at least for me. We had had great success in one of the adventures and emerged with almost enough money to buy a court rank, and definitely too much to carry around. So I chose to invest in creating my own inn so that my money would continue to work for me, but that also meant that I needed to start paying attention to the hired help since I needed them to run the place while I was exploring the world. That rapidly became one of my favorite campaigns because the depth of the world was enhanced and I became much more invested in the events that took place.

  11. Players in my game definitely use them. When you have a charisma score that is high, it definitely gives that attribute more value, and that player more leverage when they have more loyal, armed men on their side than the others. Having henchmen also taught players the value of having cannon fodder and increasing their attacks per round. Finally, I don't adjust the number of opponents for the players' convenience. If they draw the wrath of a dozen orcs, and there's only four players at 1st level, they quickly learn the value of numbers.

  12. My ACKS game with a large, open-table sort of group only had one or two players who didn't use henchmen (often for lack of Charisma rather than lack of trying). We ended up imposing a "two henchmen+wardogs per player per adventure" rule on sessions with four or more players in order to prevent the marching order in the dungeon from becoming utterly unwieldy, and in several cases we had solo or two-player groups field effectively full parties. Part of this was probably due to lethality and a small party during the first couple of sessions; the henchman casualty rate was absolutely brutal through that entire campaign, and if it hadn't been for them it would've probably been PCs instead. That said, the only hirelings we ever really used were mercenaries, and those for guarding the pack mules at the dungeon entrance and fighting in wilderness encounters en route to the dungeon; I suppose the logic went that if you're going to bring a guy into the dungeon to carry loot and a torch, may as well use a guy that can fight and give him a spear in his other hand.