Friday, February 11, 2011

Observations on Henchmen

This is a follow-up to some musings seen over on Grognardia and In Places Deep; if there are other henchmen discussions, drop a comment here and I'll check it out.

My players use henchmen extensively in the current campaign; it was one of the nice benefits returning to an older rules set.  It was no longer a burden for a single player to run two characters.  Our regular attendance is 3-5 players, so the group usually has 6-10 characters counting PC's and henchmen.

Which brings me to my first observation on how we use henchmen vs hirelings at the table:  henchmen are NPCs that are run by the  player as a follower, within limits; hirelings are run by the DM.  A henchman will perform just about any duty the player makes him do, within the dictates of the morale rules.  The hireling will have a much more limited scope of duties, like porter or mercenary.

Following the Moldvay rules, the morale of the henchman is generated when they're hired using the table on page 24.  Generous players and those with good charismas really benefit here.  I secretly log the initial Morale and track it through the campaign; after a particularly successful and lucrative adventure the morale score creeps up, and after a bad one it might shift down.

Per Moldvay, we make a Morale check after each adventure to see if any henchmen split (ie, take their treasure and leave for greener pastures).  It hasn't happened yet, but the threat of it made my players institute the Player Charter.

Morale is also rolled when a henchman is asked to take on exorbitant personal danger, or drops below half hit points.  It came into play during The Grinding Gear when they kept trying to send the halflings forward to test for traps.  "Crash test halflings", they call them.

Henchmen get 1/2 the experience and treasure of a main character.  The easiest way to figure it out is to divide the spoils by "shares".  Each PC gets two shares, and each henchman gets one share.  On a night with 3 PC's and 3 henchman, there would be 9 shares of experience at the end of the night; 2 each for the PC's, 1 each for the henchmen.

Because of the geometric progression of experience, this means the henchmen usually hover an experience level back from the PCs; I like it.

General Observations
Using henchmen this way gives the player most of the benefits of having two characters, with modest limits around morale and experience progression - the henchman remains an NPC who can opt out of any given venture.

I'm not a killer DM, but I like threats to be meaningful, and characters die from time to time.  We've had numerous henchmen receive battlefield promotions and become full-blown PC's during an adventure.

Finally, having a healthy number of NPCs in the game allows opportunities for horror that might not exist if everyone is a character.  I try to slide in a horror moment every few game sessions, because horror and D&D are like peanut butter and chocolate.  An example of a recent horror moment was when the player characters were up on the mountain top and inadvertently woke up a horde of undead; the unwitting henchmen left behind at the base camp were overrun by 3,000 ghouls.  Oops.

As Pat over at Henchman Abuse says, "Henchmen taste like chicken".


  1. Hi there,

    Don't know if you use Meatshields!: The Classic Fantasy Hireling and Henchman Generator, but you might want to take it for a spin.

  2. I checked that thing out - Meatshields is awesome. Duly bookmarked - I'd recommend it to anyone needing some quick hirelings on the fly.

    I love the artwork too. You find something new every day - thanks for the tip-off.

  3. I use the rule where henchmen have to make a morale check to stick around after a session. So henchman XP ends up not being very important - the henchies usually quit after a while (or become somebody's snack food). I'll have the retired henchies show back up at some point in the future in a rival NPC party - the angry looks of betrayal are priceless.

  4. I use the rule where henchmen have to make a morale check to stick around after a session.

    I make those rolls after each adventure - I can see in an episodic megadungeon (where each night is a new delve adventure) henchmen would be leaving all the time. I like the idea of having ex-henchmen show up in rival NPC parties.