The Armsmen’s Guild

As you may know, Hack & Slash is a goldmine of good ideas. I saw this post on henchmen a while back and have been trying to think of a way to incorporate something like that into my game, as it would allow small bodies of men-at-arms to accompany the party without too much rolling. After discussing it with my brother, we concluded that dungeons were a bit too confined to make these fun — a fighter and his shieldwall might dominate the narrow halls and doorways and leave the rest of the party with nothing to do. But the more I thought about it, this seemed very appropriate to wilderness adventuring, since the foes outdoors are often in larger numbers or more formidable, and the field of combat is more spacious. Also, it seems like a nice intermediate step between dungeon crawls and mass battles. A rough draft follows (I’m beginning to question whether it is really a good fit for Telengard but maybe it would work for something like the Dark Tower game I imagined last year; but I may keep the idea of ‘large shields’):

The Armsmen’s Guild

Armsmen are hireling men-at-arms. They are trained to fight but are 0-level human NPCs. However any group of Armsmen hired by a party will include a Captain who is a henchman and gets a share of XP.

Unlike other hirelings and henchmen, Armsmen do not normally hire on for dungeon expeditions; instead they serve as guards in strongholds and as bodyguards on wilderness expeditions or in battle.

Kinds of Armsmen

Armsmen are of three types: Shieldbearers, Pikemen, and Archers.

Shieldbearers are armed with heavy armor and helms, side arms (typically swords, axes, or maces), and large shields. Unlike ordinary shields, large shields cannot be “splintered” to avoid a hit — large shields are not as easy to maneuver and are normally strapped over a shoulder and/or onto the arm rather than merely held in the hand. (To use real world analogues, a regular, splinterable shield would thus be any shield held by a handle behind the boss or center, like a parma, Viking shield, buckler, targe, or even a scutum; a “large shield” would be a hoplon, kite shield, adarga, or a large heater.) Sheildbearers are trained to from a shield wall with their employer, covering his flanks and helping to present a strong front to enemies. Large shields only provide the same +1 to AC that regular shields provide, except when used in part of a shield wall. In a shield wall, each shield bearer adds another +1 AC to each of his neighbors, so that a PC with a shield bearer on either side gains a +2 AC (as do all members of a shield wall except the two “ends”). Shield walls can be maintained only while all participants remain in a straight line and stand close enough to each other to overlap shields. There is not normally sufficient space or good enough footing to form a shield wall in a dungeon. Only men-at-arms, fighters, clerics, and demi-humans may be part of a shield wall. (Some highly disciplined humanoids may use shield walls too.) Shieldbearers also add a +1 to damage to their employer’s attacks for each shieldbearer in contact with the PC.

Pikemen may be armed with polearms, spears, or actual pikes. All are trained to fight in formations, and favor attacking from the second rank (or even the third, fourth, or fifth if pike-armed). Each pikeman adjacent to (i.e. next to or behind) their employer adds a +1 to hit and damage to the employers’ attacks, representing their feints, jabs, and actual attacks impacting the fight. Up to five pikemen may add this bonus at a time (one on each side, one directly behind, two diagonally behind).

Archers may use bows, longbows, slings, or crossbows, but all add +1 to hit and damage to their employer’s missile weapon attacks, representing the effect of their volley which is directed at the same foe as the employer. At most 5 archers may add their bonuses to any attack.

Captains may be of any of these types. They fight “independently” –i.e. they make their own attack rolls rather than add bonuses to an employer, although they do enjoy the same benefits from being in a shieldwall, and may also be the recipients of the bonuses from other Armsmen. A captain will usually have an above-average Charisma (roll 4d6 and keep the best 3). Captains advance slowly (using the Elf XP table) but attack as Fighters and use a d8 for HD.

All armsmen are assumed to have 5 HP; captains get 8 plus d8 per level over one.  Intelligent monsters will often choose to pick off Armsmen before focusing their attacks on the “heroes” (PCs) they support.

Hiring Armsmen

A PC may employ up to [Charisma-7 (minimum 1)] Armsmen. So a Fighter with CHA 10 can employ up to three Armsmen; one with an 18 Charisma could have 11!

Player Characters of “Hero” level (8) or higher add d4 rather 1 to damage for each Armsman.

Up to [Charisma reaction modifier, minimum 1] Armsmen can be “splintered” per round to avoid a hit, like splintering a shield, but this causes a morale test for the remaining Armsmen.

Cost to hire: 5 GP + cost of equipment hiring fee; wages of 1 GP/day on adventure or 1 SP/day on guard duty at a stronghold. When an Armsman leaves employment because he is fired or there is a lapse in salary, he takes all his equipment with him.

Captains command the same hiring fee, and double wages. They also demand 1/2 of a share of monetary treasure gained on expeditions.

Large shield: Cost: 20 GP. Adds +1 AC; weighs 15 lbs. Does not “splinter” (absorb the hit) as regular shields do. Trained warriors (men-at-arms, fighters, demi-humans, humanoids, and certain monsters and undead) may use them to form shield walls, granting an additional +1 AC for each large shield armed ally on either flank. Thus an unarmored man in a shield wall with one fellow on either side has a 13 AC if using ascending ACs (descending AC = 7 in AD&D, 6 in B/X). The man on either end of a shield wall would have a 12 (or 8/7) AC.*

*What a PITA ascending vs. descending AC is. What’s really weird is that I started with AD&D and “think” in descending AC, but use ascending and find it a lot more convenient in-game since I can just rattle off a target number.

Published in: on May 20, 2011 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Hireling’s Guild

In Skara Brae, hirelings may be hired in the usual manner, or you may stop by the Hireling’s Guild. Guild members come to the job fully equipped and generally meet or exceed all reasonable expectations in terms of professionalism and morale. The Guild also offers specialists in many areas of service.

All Guild members must be supplied with five day’s trail rations and a water skin upon hiring. This, and the cost of all their equipment, is included in the fee listed for each hireling. After the initial hire fee, guild hirelings generally command 2 GP per day on expedition. Although they are technically non-combatants, many carry arms of some kind and all will defend themselves and other guild members if attacked by monsters. The guild trains all its members to form a defensive circle (ideally behind a protective wall of adventurers) and make a fighting withdrawl whenever foes make contact with them. For these reasons they have slightly better than normal survival rates for hirelings. Also, any time three or more guild members are hired by a party, they will elect their own steward to voice their concerns and negotiate with the party. The steward is usually the oldest hireling. Finally it should be noted that guild hirelings will not hire onto expeditions employing “scabs” (non-guild member hirelings) except in cases where no guild member can perform the same function (for example, alchemists and sages).

(In game terms, players may not more noncombatant hirelings into combat.  Guild hirelings will shoot/throw ranged weapons at monsters, and will fight in hand to hand only if necessary.)


Stabby John. Lantern bearer. Equipment: Broadsword, bullseye lantern, backpack, five flasks of lantern oil, belt pouch, leather armor, helm. 40 GP.

Stabby John

Humbert the Nightwatchman. Lantern bearer. Equiment: Spear, sword, mail armor, helm, backpack, hooded lantern, five flasks of lantern oil, blanket. 100 GP.

Drogo the Linkboy. Torchbearer. Equipment: Hand axe, dagger, belt pouch, eight torches, flint & steel. 10 GP.

Sansha. Torchbearer. Equiment: Spear, sword, mail armor, helm, backpack, ten torches, flint & steel. 94 GP.

Giselda the Grim, Drogo the linkboy, Stabby John, Schnozzi Thunnarson, Blazin’ Bjorn

Griselda the Grim. Lantern bearer. Equiment: Crossbow, 10 bolts in case, shortsword, mail armor, wooden shield, hooded lantern, backpack, five flasks of lantern oil, wineskin. 130 GP.

Blazin’ Bjorn. Lantern bearer. Equiment: Mattock, mail armor, helm, bullseye lantern, belt pouch, five flasks of lantern oil, five candles, skin of ale. 103 GP.

Otto E. Radek. Torchbeaer. Equipment: Spear, longsword, dagger, mail armor, helm, backpack, ten torches, flint & steel. 96 GP.

The Late Torchy L’Flamer. Lantern bearer. Equipment: Hooded lantern, two flasks of oil. 25 GP. Undead hirelings cannot speak, do not eat or rest, and are subject to turning. (A Speak with Dead spell will allow communication with an undead hireling for the spells duration).

L to R: Jonno, The Late Torchy L’flamer, Jacko

Tor the Cautious. Lanternbearer. Equimpent: Plate armor, longsword, bullseye lantern, five flasks of oil, five candles, flint & steel. 470 GP.

Schnozzi Thunnarson. Mail armor, small wooden shield, short sword, bullseye lantern, backpack, six flasks of oil. 100 GP.

Schnozzi Thunnarson


Godfrey. Porter. Dagger, 50′ rope, large sack. 6 GP.

Saxo. Porter. Helmet, sword, dagger, belt pouch. 20 GP.

L to R: Flux and Emesis, Mr. Growly, Sansha, Saxo, Gonzolez the Unlucky, Dipsy, Humbert the nightwatchman, Heinzie

Heinzie. Porter. Beret, dagger, two large pouches. 6 GP.

Gonzolez the Unlucky. Porter. Hand axe, helmet, belt pouch. 10 GP. Gonzolez often finds himself carting bodies back to town rather than loot.

Mr. Growly. Porter. Frame backpack. 40 GP. Mr. Growly is an ape (probably a gorilla) and can understand simple commands as well as sign language. He can climb anything that can bear his weight and provided minimal handholds. He cannot swim. His great strength lets him carry as much as pack mule (400 lb.)

Jacko and Jonno. Porters.  Skeletons (see The Late Torchy above). 15 GP each.

Flux and Emesis. Porters. Mail armor, long swords, hand axe (Flux), Dagger (Emesis), backpacks. 175 GP. Flux & Emsis are experienced porters and always work as a team, and so must be hired together.

Flux and Emesis


Squire Murphy. Weapon caddy. Leather armor, backpack, blanket. 10 GP. Will carry an extra shield and up to three spare weapons, and hand them to his boss on demand.

Sven the Torch. Torch, ten flasks of oil, belt pouch, 50′ rope, dagger. 12 GP. Sven specializes in hurling flaming oil.

L to R: Slim and Swifty, Sven the Torch, Hammerin' Hank, Squire Murphy

Slim and Swifty. Scouts. Spear, daggers, leather armor, cloaks. 30 GP. Slim and Swifty will act as lookouts and take a two to four hour watch shift at camp.

Hammerin’ Hank. Door spiker. Backpack, short sword, dagger, helmet, leather armor, bag of 20 iron spikes, hammer, three wooden stakes. 30 GP.

Dipsy. Potion tester. Wooden shield, short sword, padded armor. 30 GP. Dispy will test potions, and can identify poison by smell 50% of the time and by taste (if he makes his save) 100% of the time. He can identify other potions with a 50% accuracy. He will immediately consume Sweetwater and Longevity potions if he tastes them. No refunds.

More to come.

Published in: on September 29, 2010 at 6:00 am  Comments (7)  
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Hirelings — some specialists

Click to embiggen! Not all of these guys were sold as hirelings & henchmen but that is how I think of them. On the far left, the Grenadier halfling lookouts, one of my all-time favorite models. Next to them is a Grenadier AD&D thief throwing oil, and a hireling, the door-spiker.  Last is an elf squire made by WizKids for the MageKnight game, rebased and repainted. (more…)

Published in: on August 29, 2010 at 10:00 am  Comments (2)  
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Occupational outlook: Porters, pack bearers, and related trades

Continuing our Bureau of Labor Statistics series: Pack Bearers.

Porters, pack bearers, and related trades

Nature of the Work: Porters* carry various burdens for adventurers, typically in a dungeon, cavern, tomb, or other underground setting.  Ideally these will be iron rations, flammable oil, and other consumable goods on the way to adventure and recovered loot on the way back. They may also be expected to take turns at campsite watch duty, and defend themselves from monsters**.

*”Porter” and “pack bearer” were once distinct professions represented by separate guilds but since the two job descriptions have been amalgamated by the Hireling’s Guild, these terms will be used interchangeably throughout this report.

**Some employers will expect hirelings to open questionable doors, chests, and otherwise probe for possible traps. This falls outside the the job description and should be reported to your steward, if possible.


That’s gonna hurt!  Don’t carry a chest this way.  Your triceps will give out after a few miles.

Up on your shoulder– that’s better, but hell on your lower back and hip.

These experienced Porters share the load. Note the metal helms, mail waders, and most importantly one hand free to hold a weapon.  They are ready to drop the chest and flee or put up a fighting retreat.  They have belted swords and hold throwable hand weapons (a hand axe and a dagger).

Work Environment: Porters usually find themselves in extremely hazardous environments and face a high on-the-job mortality rate. The casualty rate is high because porters and pack bearers usually lack armor, experience, and weaponry, and also because they are carrying heavy burdens which encumber them and reduce their movement rate.  Moreover most porters are considered a convenient source of protein by monsters.

In the dark days before the Hirelings’ Union, unethical employers often made unreasonable demands of their Porters. (Not my figures; reposted from catalog site. Ral Partha did a similar chariot but with just two yoked men.)

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement: Porters and pack bearers generally require very little training, although the ability to lift at least 500 GP or the equivalent is required. Experienced pack bearers are likely to develop skills in self-defense and quickly dropping burdens and fleeing. After a series of successful dungeon delves, a pack bearer may expect to be promoted to potion taster, scroll caddy, or muleskinner. In rare cases, the death of employers may even result in porters being promoted from non-player character (NPC) to player character (PC) which can lead to vast increases in standard of living, ability to express free will, and further advancement opportunities.  In other cases, deaths simply add “human hearse” to the job description.

Job Outlook: Porters and pack bearers are in relatively high demand among optimistic adventurers and in games that have detailed encumbrance rules. Employment opportunities depend to a large extent on the nature of the local adventure sites and adventurers.  Logistics-heavy, old-school games are more likely to have call for this profession.  However, newer-school games may have less call for treasure porters  due to storytelling technologies that de-emphasize logistics, and the general promotion of missions rather than looting expeditions.

A pack ape.   One must admit the superiority simians enjoy regarding physical strength.  Their inability to speak coherently and primitive minds suit them to subservience.  For little more than the price of a few bushels of bananas, a pack ape will transport huge weights in any non-marine environment.

The Hirelings Union is trying to raise awareness of the pack ape’s propensity for poo flinging and running amok — known as ‘going apeshit’ in technical terms.  Accept no simian substitute, hire only accredited professionals!

Earnings & Wages: Despite the relatively valuable cargo ported by bearers, the supply of willing workers tends to outstrip demand and cause relatively low wages. The modest requirements to enter the profession (average physical strength, stoicism, and greed marginally exceeding cowardice) allow the market to be somewhat crowded; however, the most capable and best-equipped job seekers can demand higher pay. Like most dungeon-oriented professions, though, even relatively low wages for the industry are much better than the rewards of honest labor in other industries. The typical porter earns 1-3 gp per day. This is sometimes pre-paid as a bounty of 50 or 75 gp at the beginning of an expedition.  Certain non-human or demi-human porters may command higher or lower wages.  For example, Dwarves are notoriously strong-backed and may make up to 5 gp per day, while Halfling porters are lucky to make 1 gp per day in this profession.  Wages are also depressed by the prevalence of Pack apes (who work for bananas and have the highly valued skill of climbing extremely well) and Undead or Unseen servants created by magic users, which have a slightly higher initial cost to make but work for zero pay.  Other pack animals are available as well, which effectively provide slave labor but do require expensive specialist muleskinners.

Undead servants. They rarely unionize and work tirelessly, making them the scourge of the profession.  The Hirelings Union would like to remind all adventurers that Necromancy is frowned on in most municipalities and higher planes.

Published in: on May 15, 2010 at 3:38 am  Comments (5)  
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“Light! More light!”

The latest batch of figures I’ve painted.

There’s a ton of good stuff at Philotomy’s OD&D Musings. One thing I’ve been intrigued by lately is that in OD&D, demi-humans could not see in the dark. The ability to see in the dark was a big motivation for me when I made nonhuman AD&D characters way back when. Because we rarely got to high enough levels to worry about level limits, there was usually no reason to be a human unless you wanted to play a human-only class like a Paladin or Monk. Being able to see in the dark (with “infravision” in AD&D, or with more logical kinds of night vision in later editions, which followed the lead of pretty much every other RPG in this regard) far outweighed the nominal benefits of being human. When I read about the original restrictions on infravision in Philotomy’s essay, it helped me make sense of the many several old D&D figures that appear to be demi-humans carrying torches and lanterns, not to mention certain classic illustrations of the AD&D Player’s Handbook .

What do AD&D dwarves need with a torch?

I really like the idea of denying demihuman PCs infravision. And not just because it would encourage the use of awesome torch and lantern bearers, but that is certainly part of it.

A Citadel Dwarf. He was actually made for their fairly recent boxed set of Warhammer Fantasy Battles (“Battle for Skull Pass“). There is a whole unit of miners with candles on their helmets in that set, which is totally awesome.  A lantern plus three candles on his helmet…this guy is gonna light up a hallway.  And with that beard, may spontaneously combust.

An old Citadel Dwarf. One of my favorites, although almost every Citadel Dwarf from the late 19080s is pretty cool, pumpkin-sized heads or not.

That’s one HELL of a nose, too.  Also n.b. that old school Dwarves are not always carrying those iconic* axes.  Why don’t more Dwarves carry swords?  They’re expert smiths, and making an axe is not exactly the high water mark of the weapon smith.

A Grenadier hireling from the hirelings set, circa 1980?

A Heritage Dwarf adventurer, circa 1979 or 1980, from the Dungeon Dwellers line. N.b. she has no beard. Sorry about the blurry pic.  She has a crossbow, which is not a bad idea for a hireling.  No sense rushing in to close combat.

The group from behind.  Note the backpacks.  All dungeon delvers should have backpacks.

The lone human, also a Grenadier figure from the Hirelings set. The camera is looking slightly down on all these guys, making them look a little distorted, but only slightly more so than they really are.

The quote used as the title of this post? Supposedly Goethe’s last words. And the last words of many an adventurer, I suspect.

*Every time WotC uses the term iconic character,  as if there is exactly one Platonic ideal for each race/class, I want to hammer a nail into the floor with my forehead.  I almost never actually do, though.

Published in: on May 13, 2010 at 2:06 am  Comments (6)  
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Occupational outlook: Lantern bearer & related trades

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, sadly, covers only real-world occupations. This disappointed me once before, in 7th grade, when we had to research a profession for Social Studies. I couldn’t find anything about becoming an alchemist, assassin, or sword for hire, and had to content myself with writing up a mercenary’s occupational outlook (which my teacher, Abraham Stein, did think was pretty interesting). Fortunately I’ve been able to pick up the slack and humbly offer this prospectus for aspiring hirelings.

(left to right: a Heritage Dwarf, a Grenadier Halfling, a Grenadier human, a Citadel Dwarf, and a plastic Citadel Dwarf. More of these guys in a later post.)

Lantern bearer, torch bearer, etc. (more…)

Published in: on May 12, 2010 at 12:54 pm  Comments (5)  
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Townsfolk, and a new pic of the hirelings

As always, click to embiggen!

Merchants. Left to right, a Reaper blacksmith, a Citadel merchant, a Grenadier dwarf, and some guy with a book I can’t quite place. (more…)

Published in: on April 9, 2010 at 9:08 pm  Comments (6)  
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Good help is hard to find!

Reviewing the Grenadier AD&D range (which got me hooked on miniatures lo these many years ago) I am struck by the fact that there just aren’t many decent hireling miniatures in production now. Greg Gillespie posted some pics of some mostly suitable plastic WotC miniatures but they just don’t hold a candle to the Grenadier stuff. Kenzer & Co. had two sort of whimsical sets — one of a pack ape and pixie lantern bearer; the other a scroll caddy and halfling torchbearer:


Published in: on February 26, 2010 at 1:43 am  Comments (3)  
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Who would Gary send?

(Gary’s portrait on the 8001 insert)

Yeah, terrible half-pun. Anyway, I recently noticed that there is at least one set of minatures depicting a dungeon party designed by Gary Gygax — Grenadier’s old Action Art set 8001. (Insert & box images from the Lost Minis Wiki)


Published in: on February 24, 2010 at 3:20 am  Comments (7)  
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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. (more…)

Published in: on January 29, 2010 at 2:16 am  Comments (9)  
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