The care and feeding of hirelings

In the Castles & Crusades game my group is playing, our last session involved hiring several men-at-arms and a lantern bearer.  One player was unable to make it and although we have a fairly reliable ranger henchman, I thought we needed a little extra manpower to face the thouls we knew were lurking in the dungeon.  (Thouls, if you haven’t heard of ’em, are part troll, part ghoul, part hobgoblin aberrations first described, as far as I know, in the D&D Basic “red book” rules.  I can’t find a picture from that but there is a nice picture at Curmugeons & Dragons.)

So at some considerable expense we managed to hire three men-at-arms (Jimmo, Jakko, and Jonno) and a lanternbearer (Torchy Flamer, esq., who we also equipped with a 10′ pole since he is not a fighting-man!).   Hirelings are a fairly new concept for our party.  I never used to hire them back in old days, because I worried about giving up precious XP and because we used to always have a ton of players.  This time there were three PCs so we were feeling cautious.

Now, I was planning to use them as personal bodyguard (I play a feeble Illusionist) but another PC was adamant that if they get “danger pay” they should be in the front lines fighting, so as a compromise we had Torchy & Jakko stay in the rear with my illusionist (Dagodart Stav) and the other two in the very front.  Needless to say, the hirelings were quickly lost.  Now to some extent the we could not have avoided casualties, as the first thing we did was wake up a flock of ten striges, and they pretty much swarmed us, as striges do.

But the bigger takeaway lesson is that men-at-arms are not meant to be in the front lines.  425 GP down the drain, and I don’t think anyone in Erados (the village we hired them in) will ever apply for a job with us again.  Dang.

But this has been a persistent feature of the campaign — we are re-learning all the “old school” dungeoneering principles.  Some I used to know, some are totally new to us.  One player who hadn’t been playing a lot before joining our group wondered what we’d do about traps after our thief was killed a few sessions back, and was surprised to hear that original D&D didn’t have thieves!  Well, I was surprised too, but I had played enough AD&D to remember the exhaustive checklist of searching doors, floors, walls, and ceilings in the days before “Spot checks.”  We’ve all been playing mostly 3rd-4th ed. D&D in the past few years so it is both trying and exciting to relearn the old school approach.

The whole campaign has been like a refresher course in old-school gaming.  Thouls, striges, rumors of Perytons, magic daggers and swords glow, hirelings, henchmen, and on and on.  We just bought some horses to speed up travel and I think we’ll be hiring a groom soon.  And replacing poor Torchy.

Published in: on January 29, 2010 at 2:16 am  Comments (9)  
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  1. Henchmen can be a valuable asset– they can protect your flanks, add skills and spells not normally available, and they can be replacements for dead PCs. You should treat them well, even as equals if they are equally competent as a party member. On a roleplaying basis they often spread word of the PCs’ heroics.

    Recently my group recruited some Henchmen to explore a dungeon. I told them prior entering the dungeon that they were 1HD humans, but they insisted using them as trap lures and meat shields. The PCs in group openly discussed that. When the henchman asked who was the battle leader, the party said “you do whatever anyone tells you”. They entered a 3rd level dungeon and were surprised that they were defeated quickly.

    It gets worse. The party began talking about looting the fallen hirelings’ bodies and selling their equipment in front of their sole remaining Henchman. This henchman has been with them from the beginning and has been fiercely loyal and even extols their virtues everywhere they have gone. Next session he is going to announce that he is leaving the party. The funniest part was the entire party is LG.

  2. Hi Tom! Fascinating to hear the DM’s side of the story, and that it should be so incredibly negative. Just to clarify, I absolutely did not hear anything about what the m-a-a were (I wrongly assumed first level fighters). Also, the hirelings did agree when hired to take vanguard, whether or not that was a good idea. The looting talk was table talk, I thought, but I could be wrong about that.

  3. Mike,

    You know I do count on your (as does most of our gaming group)gaming experience. The hiring of the men-at-arms the other night and then losing all of them within about 30 minutes was rather discouraging. I think part of that was just some bad luck on the creatures we encountered and the rolls from our DM. There isn’t much that could be done when the first group we encountered ended up being touch attack creatures that latch onto their victims. I wouldn’t think any single HD character would last very long against a dozen of those foes.

    It was certainly a learning experience for myself as it relates to type of creatures and the frailty of our henchmen/hirelings.

    Excellent post though! I have a lot of reading to get caught up on your WP site here. I didn’t even realize this existed until this week.

    • Thanks, Chad.
      I can understand Tom’s frustration to some extent, too. I think one of these session there needs to be some metagame discussion about what Tom expects, though, and also whether or not there is a party leader etc.

  4. I was trying to be funny with the post it just did not work at all sorry guys.

    I might have not been clear that they were 1HD creatures. I thought I explained it when I said these are 0 level 1HD Humans from the monster treasure book. But I will make more of effort to look each one of you in the eye and say critical information. As mike has pointed out to sometimes I gloss over important stuff in secret hopes that you will fuck up. I was really getting pissed off too. I knew Mike wanted bodyguards so I wanted to help but you guys (primarily Richard) were being such prick about demeaning them. They should have refused to join you.

    I thought about it and it was the second session that I explained that hireling/henchmen would all require about 100gp to join the party in dangerous pursuits. And I know I said at that time that once zero level guys gained 500 xp with you they would gain a class. Like Théoden did. But that was a long time ago (in Richard defense he was not there)

    I thought I was doing a good job of describing everyone with a class as such (Saying thinks like a knight, Bard, Wizard, what have you) for example the knight you had take over running Riverbend and his hirelings. The Bard with merchants etc. But if I am not please ask, I am not running a module and there have been many times that stuff you guys have asked or pointed out have made the whole game more logical and better. (All doors opening into a room closet doors opening into room). This not an open invitation to argue every point.

    So everyone is clear Classed Characters are rare. Most people are unclassed 1HD creatures. Mercenary, Man at arms does not equal fighters. Fighters are just as rare as say Rangers. They are the cream of the crop when it comes to …well fighting. Just to push this point home one more time. You guys at 1rst level are the Heroes of Riverbend. Only you had the power to stand against the Goblins, defeat the ogre, and inspire the people. The only other classed characters you have meet all have Names.

    So I guess I will say a few more things about hirelings and henchman. I have not been good at distinguishing between them, because like mike said in his post above we rarely used them since the PCs did not like sharing the loot and xps.
    A henchman is generally a classed NPC (or greater than one hit dice like a druid’s bear or a Paladin’s horse) a hireling is a normal man who could become skilled but generally lacks any adventuring skills (may have lots other skills and knowledge’s though). Hirelings have fill out an adventurer’s party and protect soft characters like Wizards, Illusionist, and Rogues. But not spear head a charge. A henchman Fighter could be every bit as good as the Heroes (but I like them to lag a little behind as not to ellipse the PCs). Whether you hiring a henchman or hireling generally you better expect to cough up a life insurance policy (100 gp) unless they complete concur with your goals like the villagers in Riverbend and the Jordis. Going into a dungeon seems like almost certain death to 1HD creature.

    • PS, as an addendum: Tom, great posts. I loved hearing what other DMs have to say about their games and how they run NPCs, as I’m always looking for tips on how to better run my solo game that I DM for my wife.

  5. Love the post! I found your blog through Eric Minton’s comment board, and this is a great post. I’m in the process of making an RPG myself that emphasizes the best (imo) features of old-school roleplaying without actually being a retroclone of “the original fantasy role playing game”. Hirelings (both sacrificial and not) will play a large part of this 😉

  6. “Dagodart Staf” is a great M-U name. 🙂

    • He was an apprentice of Duggenning.

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