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.
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.