Thursday, November 20, 2014

Henchmen and Hirelings: My Experiences

+Douglas Cole at Gaming Ballistic and +Peter V. Dell'Orto at Dungeon Fantastic are writing about the use of henchmen and hirelings in role-playing games, so I thought I would follow them as I often do.

I've had various experiences with henchmen, depending on the game and the group.

Online Dungeon Fantasy: Saga of the Westmarch

In my first Westmarch game, I was running the game online for varied and changing group of players. I encouraged some use of henchmen, but only in a limited way (this was long before most of the DF line was written, so we had to come up with our own house rules instead of reading PDFs).

My view was that henchmen and hirelings were road companions, guards, navigators, or porters, but that they were NOT going into the dungeon itself. I did this to reduce my logistical load (less people in the dungeon made the game go faster) and to keep the focus on the PCs. Hirelings might fight during random encounters on the way to the dungeon, but they were not involved in the most important part of the story.

The trade-off was an explicit promise that a group with camp guards could guarantee that their tents, spare food, horses, and whatever could safely be left behind while the delvers were in the dungeon. This meant that the delvers could raid the dungeon over a couple of days, carrying out choice bits of loot and leaving it with the guards.

Since the henchmen didn't go into the dungeons, there really weren't many opportunities to treat them well or poorly. There was a primitive loyalty system (more expensive Guild warriors were less likely to steal stuff than cheap street thugs) but it didn't really come up because everyone splurged for reliable guards.

Dark Fantasy: the Dreadknights

I played in a F2F game in which the PCs were explicitly evil overlords seeking to reconquer the land from the forces of goodness and light. Henchmen, hirelings, and armies were an important part of the game, but there was no real requirement that we treated them well, and plenty of reasons why we wouldn't. Attitudes toward the hirelings were mixed.

One PC was a mad Dr. Frankenstein type, and treated our hirelings awfully. Rebellions were brutally put down with excessive bloodshed, and then the corpses were re-animated into shambling monstrosities. Repeatedly, if necessary. His attitude was that hirelings were disposable and recyclable, and they needed to fear and obey the Dreadknights if they didn't want to be disposed of and recycled.

Another player just didn't want to deal with the hassle of henchmen. He didn't want to track them or think about them or deal with them. So he just excused himself from that part of the game, which I think was a valid option.

My character was the general of the Dreadknights, and my concept was that he was tough but fair. I treated my hirelings well as long as they served me, didn't expose them to unnecessary risk, and rewarded them for success. I also had a bunch of orcs that were routed in battle brutally executed, because that was not the type of behavior I wanted to encourage.

It was a strange game, but a lot of fun.

Superheroes: the Rise and Fall of HYDRA

One of the early events in the Fall of HYDRA game was the PCs rescuing a bunch of potential Captain Americas from HYDRA. Compared to the PCs, they're all fairly low powered, but there's something like sixty of them. They're not regular henchmen, but more of a highly motivated, volunteer militia that the PCs can call upon when they need additional manpower.

The players have been respectful of this resource, which is unsurprising since this is supposed to be a positive, hopeful superhero game. They don't send them on suicide missions or anything like that.

The relevance to this article is that it created a pool of super-powered folk that we can use for new players. I think that's one of the best use of henchmen: potential heroes or replacements that are already somewhat connected to the backstory, but haven't needed to step up until now.

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