Thursday, May 23, 2013

Henchmen: Do You Use Them, Abuse Them, Ignore Them or Avoid Them?

Henchmen seem to live in this weird alternate universe from the rest of the party in the campaigns I've played in or run. Even when they are there, they are often forgotten, which admittedly is probably the most effective way to keep them alive.

As a player, I've been in few campaigns that have actively used them. I'm not saying the players didn't have henchmen, it's just that they rarely came into play unless half the players failed to show up for the session in question.

As a DM, I've noticed that those looking for henchmen are the arcane caster types - the squishies in need of a meat shield. Even then, both myself and the player in question constantly forget he has henchmen - maybe I should give the party a portable hole so they can store their henchmen in there.

I can't imagine a party of 8 PCs with 16 henchmen and an unknown number of torchbearers, porters and the like. Actually, I can imagine it, but it swings the game more towards it's wargaming roots then I'm personally comfortable with. Ever notice that Indiana Jones' supply train and guides tend to abandon him and his friends when they get to and enter the ruins? ;)

So, how do you see henchmen? Do you use them? Are they an integral part of your campaigns or something you avoid?


  1. Henchmen are a tool that should be exploited by the clever. An extra body in the group reduces the odds of it being a particular PC that fallis in a pit or gets an arrow in the neck. Henchmen are a way to give players more characters to play while creating a cost in resources. Everyone can't be a hero, that's what the henchmen are there for, ootherwise the war of egoes between players will force some into subservient roles better filled by NPCs.

    The packbearers and torchholders that follow indie aren't henchmen they are hirelings.

  2. We had this happen last night in our IRC game. We had just lit the were-ape on fire with oil and a torch, who ran away, and we beat a strategic withdrawal. Someone said "What happened to the henchmen?" There was hemming and hawing, and then another player jokingly said, "I pull them out of my backpack."

  3. In running B/X D&D with a grab bag of players... I have observed that players tend not to get henchmen by default... but when they do get them after they realize the need for them, they tend to abuse them... and then when nobody wants to work for/with them anymore, they are shocked that their in-game actions have consequences in the wider setting.

    Having to split XP equally with the henchman is a pretty big penalty for having them. However, death rates tend to encourage their use. The average player does not see the implications of this dynamic-- and it wouldn't matter if they were actually role playing or imagining themselves in their character's situation. But that is not the case. They are mostly just bungling their way through expecting balanced set-piece encounters instead of what they actually get.

  4. We use them enough I proposed and co-authored a book on them for my game system.

    The players hire them for special purposes - an extra light source, extra carrying capacity, etc. They're easy enough to keep track of because we use miniatures. Since XP doesn't get split, and hirelings explicitly get paid a salary not a share of treasure, there isn't any downside besides their fees to hire them.

    They've so far not abused them. In fact they've gone in to rescue ones that got stranded at least twice now. That's good because I enforce their reputation - if they treat the hirelings poorly ("meatshields" or "have the hireling test for traps") they'll get more and more desperate types and less and less competent ones. :)

  5. In my DCC RPG campaign, henchmen are 0-level characters that can earn XP and Luck. They get abused and mis-used, for sure. But at least they can potentially level.

  6. Here's why I think it helps to include henchmen and hirelings in your games ...

    1. They provide extra combat power for the adventuring party, limiting the dangers of random damage as well as extending the "5 minute work day". This can extend to providing backup PCs in case of character death.

    2. They help demonstrate the exceptional nature of wizards, clerics and thieves. Otherwise it can seem like 50% of people can cast spells. It also shows off 1rst and 2nd level fighters who appear more powerful by comparison.

    3. Can be used to show a monsters awesomeness without killing PCs. (the red shirt effect)

    4. Most importantly, it give the PCs something to be concerned about other than their own wealth. This can be the first step in tying to the PCs to the larger game world and keeps the PCs from being just another band of murderous loners.

  7. I always allow them i my campaigns and never once forgotten about them -or any retainers for that matter. Ca I suggest having a mini for each member of the party inc NPC's, even if you don't actually use the miniatures in game/on mapboards etc? Just having a physical reminder of who is in the party on the table is a great way to make sure you don't forget about anybody or their special abilities.

  8. As a player, my characters find henchmen as soon as they can, and as a referee, I strongly recommend them to the players in the campaigns I run. A warrior should have his cup-bearer!

  9. Henchmen in our games tend to be 1+1 HD Fighting-Men; they don't earn XP the traditional way (but get paid on a weekly basis or so). They are usually not given a name, only after surviving an expedition or a whole a session.


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