Saturday, February 11, 2012

Hirelings & Henchmen: My Players Hate Them!

OK, "Hate" may be hyperbole, but my two players have never once used a "hired sword" in all the times we've gamed.  The reason for this is simple: they don't want to split the XP and GP with them, and I think they just prefer the smaller party dynamic.  And they know that I will normally design adventures for a duo of PCs - since they like to run one character each.  So these past couple years I've carefully scaled my dungeons to make them challenging yet "beatable" for a smartly played party of two.

However, it can be much more fun to put in powerful encounters from time to time.  So I've suggested, cajoled, and tried to convince them that taking hirelings and henchmen will open up a whole new world of possibilities.  But to no avail. 

I suppose I could fundamentally change my adventure designs and make things tougher - perhaps too challenging for the duo.  They would then have no choice but to take hirelings.  But I haven't gone that route because I still enjoy running the game for two and they do not want to use hirelings.  In short, they dislike using hirelings much more than I dislike designing a dungeon for two.

My players don't mind hiring a specialist, such as a sage or a high level cleric.  But these are for one-shot requests like raise dead spells or magical research.  They aren't invited to the dungeon delve.

What has been your experience with henchmen and hirelings?  Do you like to use them as a player?  Why?  Does your referee create difficult enough adventures that you are compelled to take hirelings?  For the DM's out there, does it matter to you whether your players use these resources?  Do you design your adventures so that the extra help is needed?

The reasons I'd like to see them use these hirelings is because (1) I can design much tougher encounters and traps, and (2) it just seems like the way that D&D was put together.  An entire stat (CHA) becomes much more useful if hirelings are used.  Many pages are devoted to this topic in the old school rulebooks.  So it MUST have been an important part of the game to Gygax, et al.

Just wondering what you all think.

21 comments:

  1. Same here, from the DM's perspective. I've never done anything (that I remember) to either encourage or discourage the use of hirelings, but the players have never even mentioned it. Even the ones whose characters have high CHA.

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  2. I've found they aren't terribly popular, because:

    - they live, and you need to split rewards with them, or pay them.

    or

    - they die, and you have to haul your own loot away, and it's harder to hire new ones (probably).

    So it's two downsides. Henchmen and hirelings only make sense if having them means you get more loot than they cost, and scored more rewards than if they didn't come along. If they're just reward-sucking weak sauce spear carriers who need protection more than they enhance your success, no one will bring them along.

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  3. When I first started playing it was just me and the DM, or me and my player (we swapped), so NPCs were necessary. but they weren't hirelings. Never used them until recently, and my level 1 fighter wouldn't go without them!

    Of course coming back alive makes more sense to him than anything else...

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    1. David - makes sense. Is your L1 fighter the only PC? If so, hirelings are an awesome idea. You're right - coming home alive is key.

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  4. As a player I love retainers. Probably because I love having minions. This is also one of the reasons that the necromancer is one of my favorite archetypes.

    My players don't seem interested in them though. It's unfortunate, because I think they bring a lot of interest to the game, and can also serve as next-in-line PCs if a PC dies. Maybe if we allow players to roll up their own hirelings they will be more interested in them?

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    1. I also love minions! Even at work - in real life. :)

      Good point about succession planning. Allowing the players to roll their own? Not bad.

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  5. Well I helped create Meatshields: The Classic Fantasy Hireling and Henchmen Generator so I have a bias :)

    My group weren't hep on the idea but have come to understand they are essential.

    I run a very lethal game, so they are needed. If you are easier on your bunch they won't feel the need to use them.

    You can find meatshields at www.barrowmaze.com

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    1. Mr. Kilted Yaksman - I love that generator!! I didn't know about it before but I'll be using it for sure. Now I just need the players to get some hirelings.

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  6. I think that if there is one adventure I've run over the years that encourages hirelings more than any other, it's B2: KotB. The last time I ran it, the party must have gone through 4-5 meatshields*, a torchbearer, and a 1hp MU that had no business being out of a library (killed by stirges before he got in the crawl).

    *And yes, I used Kilt's generator for the stat cards. :-)

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  7. As a player, I've always loved hirelings. Not so much henchmen (though, as noted above, if they were allowed to be successor PCs, I'd be much more comfortable with them; also, this would entail the Referee disallowing multiple-character play, which seems reasonable anyway) due to the XP suck problem. Ever since my first character in my first game, hiring people to do the dirty work has been my preference. Referees who don't allow them sort of dampen my enthusiasm.

    As a Referee, I also love henchmen and hirelings, because I am always interested in the political and social aspects of the game. I want my players to reach Name level and build a stronghold, so that they can get involved in the political machinations of the setting. To me, that's the point of the game: making a mark on the setting by building something and working to make it lasting. It's why I love miniatures rules that attempt to match the probabilities of the normal combat system (the best attempts so far being Battlesystem and Daniel "Delta" Collins's Book of War, though Swords & Spells was a noble effort). Plus, as a wargamer, I see the adventuring campaign phase as a prelude to a wargame campaign phase. Perhaps I should write a post about that.

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    1. I'm a wargamer too (fantasy stuff, mostly). Very interesting comment about the adventuring campaign being a prelude to a wargame phase. Have you ever combined the two (RPG's and Wargames)? Let me know if you write a post about that.

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  8. Never hire Lings or Henchmen. Because CHA is my dumpstat. Wouldn't know how to roleplay a high CHA. I mean, I know it's a Fantasy game, but somethings are just too far-fetched to consider.

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  9. My advice if you'd like to see some of this in play is to use a carrot: let them find out about some fabulous treasures they could possibly get but make it clear that it's too big a job for a pair of adventurers. Then if they want to stay small-time, shrug and let them play their penny-ante adventures. You might point up what they missed out on by having a rival adventuring party come back from a big adventure your players spurned with enough loot to set themselves up as lords, but in the end if what the players actually find fun is the personal level of derring-do and not supervising a bunch of hireling it's best to stick to what they find fun as long as it's not tedious for you.

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  10. Joshua - well said all the way around. Good idea about using the carrot instead of the stick.

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  11. Kiltedyaksman: I love Meatshields and have enjoyed using it in the past. My nephews went on a hiring spree a couple of adventures back. It was useful and entertaining for us all. But as to the question, it depends. I find it is like most things in the game: variety is the spice of play.

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  12. I'm just half of the operation, Cr0m really makes it happen with his programming-fu.

    BTW we are working on an update for meatshields, so stay tuned.

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  13. I enjoy the PC's having hirelings and henchmen. If you introduce an encounter with an arrow fired into someone's throat the players tend to appreciate it not being the throat of a PC.

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  14. My newbie players immediately started hiring when they realized that it was possible and that I approved of it. My players also didn't understand how I computed monster XP, so they didn't mind me distributing monster XP per capita. I also use the spending gold XP rule, which simplifies things: At first, hirelings get a gold a day, and thus don't really cost a lot of XP. Once I determine that they gain a level (usually after a big fight against manticores or the like), they will demand a third of a treasure share. If the players agree to split treasure this way, this automatically means that they are also sharing XP, but it's indirect enough for my players to ignore.

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    1. Alex - this sounds interesting. But I'm not quite clear on what you're saying. So you only give NPCs XP for treasure (gold)? And initially it's very cheap, but then after they gain a level they may demand a 1/3 share? It sounds reasonable. So the PCs have to share SOME XP, but not too much XP. Is that right?

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    2. The way it works is this: hirelings are 0 level humans and want 1 gp/day if they are to fight (men-at-arms). XP for monsters are distributed per party member, but in my Labyrinth Lord game, XP for monsters has been an estimated 10% of the XP total gained. Most of the XP is gained for treasure. Now, if a hoard of 1000 gp is found, I don't distribute 1000 XP per party member. Players distribute the gold amongst the player characters, and if they make it back to town and waste it, this gains them 90% of their XP. Thus, 0-level hirelings including men-at-arms don't eat into this 90% share.

      When I the 0-level hirelings have gained 100 XP, they gain their first level. I don't keep count thus I usually just use the rule of thumb that if a player character gets more than 100 XP because of monsters, all the hirelings part of that expedition will gain a level. From then on, they are considered to be henchmen, no longer need to roll morale checks at the beginning of every expedition and they demand one third of a treasure share. This is when players end up sharing a lot of XP. By now, however, players either no longer want henchmen, or they really love them, or they feel it's only fair to give them a little bit of gold. In any case, none of my players have said "we don't want to split the XP and GP with them."

      I'm not sure how exactly you are splitting XP and gold between player characters and hirelings, but perhaps tweaking your method will make hirelings more interesting to your players. I hope it'll work out for you because I find interactions with hirelings to be a fun light-weight role-playing opportunity.

      You can role-play as you hire them for an expedition, as they make demands (don't want to sleep in caves, prefer the other alehouse), as they talk about their family at the fireplace, as they demand their share (remember the icelander acting as a guide in Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth? I love that scene!) -- I like role-playing hirelings that retire from the adventuring life as they fail their morale checks at the beginning of the next expedition, as they roll terrible results on the Death & Dismemberment table...

      Damn, this has turned out to be so long, I need to cross-post this on my blog! :)

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    3. Alex - that is one long comment! :) But I thank you for it because it's giving me some really good ideas. I'm intrigued by your per capita monster XP. This wouldn't break the game because, like you, only about 10% of my XP is monster-related.

      And I like the idea of 1gp per day for 0-level hirelings and a 1/3 treasure share for leveled hirelings.

      Good stuff.

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