12
Apr
11

Emergent Behaviors: Don’t Sacrifice That Hireling!

A year ago, I posted about how players try to ditch their hirelings in order to avoid giving them a share of treasure. While not exactly counter-intuitive, this is a situation that doesn’t always go hand in hand with the DM’s preferred style of play. But it’s an emergent behavior that comes out of the intersection between rules and player goals: if the aim is to acquire gold and XP, and hirelings bleed off gold and XP, then it’s in the PCs’ interest to ensure that the hirelings perish in the line of duty before they can get their share.

(It also leads to weird situations, such as when a PC becomes an NPC and the party decides to stop giving him a full share of treasure for no apparent in-game reason. Which is perfectly explicable from a player perspective but utterly silly from an in-game perspective!)

In the following year, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no reason not to twiddle the rules in order to create a more desirable outcome. So, how might one go about encouraging players to keep their hirelings alive — or at least not discouraging them from doing so? By tweaking the distribution of gold and XP.

1) Hirelings that demand a flat fee instead of (or in addition to) a share of the profits will spend or cache that money before going on an adventure. This avoids the ghoulish prospect of PCs looting their hirelings for their fees.

2) If the PCs give a share of treasure to a hireling, give the PCs some of the XP value of that share of treasure! Now, you probably don’t want to give the PCs full value here — hirelings already provide significant benefits in play, and you may not want the choice of whether to use (or betray!) hirelings to be a total no-brainer. But if the players know that their characters gain at least some XP from rewarding their hirelings, then those who want to play their characters as decent employers don’t have to feel like total chumps for doing so.


32 Responses to “Emergent Behaviors: Don’t Sacrifice That Hireling!”


  1. April 12, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    Interesting conundrum. At some point, perhaps before we started playing more ‘published adventures’ that suggested that the players needed X number of PCs of Y level to attempt this scenario or that, the assumption was that one could not have XP levels that one did not earn. EVERY PC had to start out at level 1… At some point, however, in my childhood gaming group, we started rolling up PCs that would be of the appropriate level if we did not already have one. And I think that was a step in the wrong direction (or it seems so in retrospect).

    One of the things I proposed to the group of guys I play with is a campaign where players all had to start out at level 1 but players could have more than character (but only 1 character could be his “active” PC at a time — all others would be temporary NPCs while the primary PC was under the player’s full control.

    Although I thought the idea had merit, the players who expressed an opinion didn’t like the idea. I was not (and still am not) running a game at the time.

  2. 2 Adam Morse
    April 12, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    I tend to apply the “hirelings get XP even if they died” rule to address this, which is sorta the stick version of your “give them XP for paying the hirelings.” Also, of course, PCs who mysteriously always come back without their hirelings should stop being able to recruit new hirelings… except maybe for the hirelings who ambush them after they’ve bled off some resources in a tough fight. (I’m not saying this should be done by pure fiat, but rather that reputation should matter. People who are being hired for a dangerous job will care about what their survival chances are.)

  3. 3 1d30
    April 12, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    Adam has it. Social pressure should make people want to keep their hirelings alive – and even give them bonuses! You want the best possible hirelings available for hire, you have to have the reputation for success. Nobody is going to hire on with a band of ruffians who kill all the hired help every time.

    Hirelings in my game always ask for an up-front bonus payment of a month’s wages, which they stash or give to family. They similarly either blow their money in town or give it to family or stash it every time they return – if they were good with money, maybe they wouldn’t be hirelings. Hirelings don’t get XP in my game, because they can’t rise in level, but henchmen do.

    Likewise all hirelings (and henchmen!) try to get some kind of death benefit agreement. Generally they expect that any unpaid wages and anything on their corpses should be sent back to their family in town (and not split up among the adventurers). They also try for about a month to 3 months’ wage in bonus as a death benefit. Hirelings who witness the PCs not honoring such agreements will mention it in town to others. If all the hirelings died, the family in town will come up and ask about the poor unfortunate torch-bearer’s wages, and if unpaid will of course gossip about it.

    Yes, all hirelings have at least some family. Third cousins, uncles-in-law, etc.

    And if the PCs don’t do what’s right and pay up the pittance these poor folks earned? Other hirelings won’t go with them. That’s the whole penalty. If these were the kind of PCs who didn’t care about hirelings, they wouldn’t have hired any in the first place, so I think the social penalty is enough to deter employer negligence.

  4. April 12, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    In Alex Macris’s Auran Empire campaign, they use carousing for the same world-building aims as we do, but the benefit is that the gold you spend equals XP for your backup character. If giving the henchmen gold earns XP for the henchmen, maybe they become attractive as a source of backup PCs?

  5. 5 kiltedyaksman
    April 12, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    If the players are abusing hirelings that’s the DMs fault. There’s a bunch of ways around that.

    Players should be paying several days in advance IMO.

    Why can’t they loot dead hirelings? I let my players recover hireling (and PC) bodies and burn them on a funeral pyre for XP too.

  6. April 12, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    Party reputation looks like an issue ripe for a simplistic old-school mechanic in the vein of the Morale subsystem. The party (or, alternatively, the town in the vicinity of each dungeon) has a rating indicating the likelihood of obtaining worthwhile hirelings. A subtable will indicate what sorts of troublesome hirelings might plague a party with a poor reputation. The tables and appropriate modifiers would be known to the players so they know what they’re getting into.

    I’ll write up something appropriate for an upcoming blog post.

  7. April 13, 2011 at 1:09 am

    Eric, don’t listen to these people suggesting a bigger stick. Carrot is the way to go here. The idea of spending carousing XP, not for your OWN advancement, but for your back-up character, is absolutely brilliant.

    I am omitting a long tirade on hirelings and how much I hate them.

  8. April 13, 2011 at 1:40 am

    Another solution would be: pay the hireling for the hireling’s utility.

    What drives me wild with hatred for hirelings is that he or she is only useful to me upon the moment of his or her death death, but so long as she’s alive she’s competing with me for the only resource the game has to offer.

    On the other hand, I think I would be totally fine with policies such as:

    * Nobody gets paid for doing nothing
    * You carry torches and gear? $1 per turn.
    * You carry heavy sacks of gold out of the dungeon? Earn encumbrance in silver pieces.
    * Do something potentially dangerous (open chest; brief scouting). $50 per risk.
    * You die in the line of duty? Full share (with a minimum $100) paid to your next of kin
    * If you use a class ability successfully, you earn $5 per level per usage
    * If you let us talk about you amongst ourselves like you’re not there, $1 per turn
    * If you tell me about your personal problems, then you pay me $5

    This gives the hireling incentives to behave in a helpful way. The exact rate of pay of course would be subject to bargaining.

  9. 9 richard
    April 13, 2011 at 9:06 am

    players could have multiple characters but only 1 character could be his “active” PC at a time — all others would be temporary NPCs

    This is known as troupe play in Ars Magica and I’ve run and played it very successfully: I’m in favour of non-PC party members being full parts of the team, go-to characters if your active PC dies, and available for play at all times, allowing players to try out different roles when they want and distributing their emotional “eggs” between baskets. There is a direct incentive to level up all characters in the group and nothing produces buy-in like active character history.

    For this gamist reason, and not simulation, do I dislike the hireling/henchman distinction. All categories except “character” only support status differences that divide parties, as shown in the post. Sure, have wages, different levels of shares, even in-game slavery if you like, but know that every system has its costs and employees are generally less fun in a game than partners (except for the DM, who has more leeway then to have them mutiny/rebel/defect/turn out to be illithids in disguise).

    The tendency for PCs to act like psychopaths is understandable: pyschopaths don’t engage with the world or other people like they matter: it’s a problem of suspension of disbelief. I don’t think there’s any way around this beside getting the players to believe in the reality of the world, which means making it as real-feeling and consequence-laden as the one we live in.

    History is not authoritative, but it does come up with good ideas. 1D30’s suggestions operated aboard many pirate ships and were formalised on privateers: pretty much the same social milieu as the PC party. A sailor on a Dutch privateer in 1600 could expect 2 months advance, one share of all loot (captain could get 4-8 shares) and compensation in the event of disabling or death, paid to a named beneficiary. This was handled by independent money men ashore so everyone knew it was equitable. For privateers there were legal consequences to reneging on the deal, for pirates only reputation, but that could kill too. Privateering also offers a model for PCs to have a social status other than bandit/gangsta/warlord. They could be respectable citizens with a direct stake both in the business and government of the city. And still go sailing.

  10. April 13, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    Eric, don’t listen to these people suggesting a bigger stick.

    James, I’m all for adding a carrot, but I’m not removing the stick just because players don’t like it. Old-school play is big on logical negative consequences, and suffering the consequences of a well-earned bad reputation is part and parcel of that.

    Look at it this way. I already take the party’s reputation into account with regard to retainer availability. But right now I handle that purely by fiat. Am I handling it in a reasonable way? Who knows?

    Carrot is the way to go here. The idea of spending carousing XP, not for your OWN advancement, but for your back-up character, is absolutely brilliant.

    Thanks! I’ll work out some details and we’ll test it out.

  11. April 13, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    The tendency for PCs to act like psychopaths is understandable: pyschopaths don’t engage with the world or other people like they matter: it’s a problem of suspension of disbelief. I don’t think there’s any way around this beside getting the players to believe in the reality of the world, which means making it as real-feeling and consequence-laden as the one we live in.

    Yeah. But while the DM can encourage the players to believe in the reality of the world, you can’t make them do so. And there are few things more uncomfortable, as a DM, than trying to believe in your imaginary world when your players aren’t doing the same!

    A sailor on a Dutch privateer in 1600 could expect 2 months advance, one share of all loot (captain could get 4-8 shares) and compensation in the event of disabling or death, paid to a named beneficiary.

    Sadly, one emergent property of the “carouse away your gold for experience” house rule is that players’ psychopathic drive to hoard every experience point spills over into a psychopathic drive to hoard every gold piece.

  12. 12 Bobjester
    April 13, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    I like hirelings & henchmen as a player, and I always try to encourage their use when I DM. I’ve been playing D&D since 1980, so I look at hirelings & henchmen as resources, and “you get what you pay for”. If a player hires some MAAs to guard the horses while the party is in the dungeon, there is a good chance that the horses & hireling(s) will survive. If the PCs don’t have any guards on horses while they’re in the dungeon, then any Wandering Monsters I roll up will have little trouble in eating or running off the horses.

    Considering how expensive horses are, I think that a few gold coins a month is a good investment for the PCs.

    I don’t like the idea of the NPC hirelings & henchmen competing for the same resources as the PCs, and this has always been a wrong idea, whether the DM assumes this competition as a necessary evil, or if the players automatically assume this is how its always going to be in the game. Reversing this philosophy can bring hirelings & henchmen back into favor in D&D games, and for realistic reasons too, not just the XP & GP mechanical reasons too.

    Guarding the horses is just one realistic idea, but I know of a counter that players have pulled in my game: “We just won’t buy any horses, we’ll walk to the dungeon.” Well, this presents a lot of logistical problems for the party that this attitude does not compensate: walking may take days, how are you going to carry all that food & gear? If you come upon a treasure hoard, how are you getting it back to town? You can’t just leave the treasure there unguarded, more monsters will move back into the cleared dungeon and you’ll have to fight for it all over again!

    Horses & hirelings are essential for successful dungeon-plundering in my games, and fortunately, this attracts players who like to think realistically & logistically, as well as “outside the box” when it comes to completing tasks.

    Yes, there is a “stick” in my games, but I think by taking the carrot, the PCs would all benefit from it far more than getting beat by the stick.

  13. 13 Greengoat
    April 13, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    I think the real solution is not to tweak existing rules but to make the hiring process more of a pain that what usually happens at the table. RP it out. The main issue, I believe, is that acting as a human resources coordinator at the local inn is unfun at the table.

    And so the whole painful hiring process is skipped and hand-waved to get to the exploring. At most, the players throw cash around for a quick reaction roll and blaze away with a pack of dungeon interns who are mostly nameless.

    The book itself says Hirelings are meant to get a share of xp and are treated as characters with a variable rate of pay. However, it is clear that they are there for more than carrying a torch and not there for sass-mouth. Mercenaries are for the menial guard duty and other tasks that don’t earn them xp shares.

    The problem is when retainers are at a roughly equivalent level with the PCs. The basic book itself says this should be avoided until later levels and favors multiple PCs for harder sessions.

    If there is a situation where the PCs are continuously tackling too hard of sessions, that is separate issue.

  14. April 14, 2011 at 12:35 am

    I guess from my personal perspective:

    * Hirelings aren’t any fun for (some) players
    * Players mistreat hirelings, which isn’t any fun for (some) DM’s
    * Some proposals to ensure players won’t mistreat hirelings are to make them less fun for players

    This seems like a feedback loop of unhappiness. If so, it’s better to avoid hirelings entirely, which may explain why so many people ignored them back in the day.

    There are many problems with the whole “hireling” concept, but the most fundamental is that they are spare tires purchased on a very costly subscription plan. You’re only going to need your spare tire on very rare occasions, but you’re paying a significant cost frequently. It shouldn’t come as a shock that customers resent being forced into this transaction. (Another example of this model: insurance.)

    One option is to change the subscription plan, as I outlined above, so that you’re paying based on the hireling’s performance. Even if the prices I’m quoting are way off, I don’t end up feeling like I’m the host for a parasite.

    Another option is to do what my anti-virus software does: periodically try to ingratiate itself with me even though it’s not doing very much.
    * When wandering monsters occur, the hireling spots them
    * When standing watch at camp, the hireling volunteers to do a double-shift
    * The hireling praises the party
    * The hireling castigates someone who insults the party
    * The hireling is (genuinely) cute or funny
    * The hireling is driven in an entertaining way by a Guest PC. (I have never played with “Red Marley,” but even as a casual player in Glantri I like this character because Crom has so much goodwill. Same goes for that Dwarf that Paul played.)

    Or, the hireling can actually do something, y’know, awesome:
    * Special ability
    * speaks useful language
    * has unique spell
    * kills big monster at a crucial juncture
    * dies heroic death
    * succeeds at a Thief skill (automatically earns you legendary status)

  15. 15 DrDucker
    April 14, 2011 at 9:38 am

    I think the solution is pretty simple: Spent gold converts to XP, paying a hireling counts as spent gold.

    Monster XP is really small potatoes compared to GP->XP. And if the Hireling isn’t an adventurer class you could even give some minor benefit when they “level-up”: the Torch-Bearer’s torches last a few minutes longer, the Porter can lug an extra 25 pounds, etc.

  16. April 14, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    I am also increasingly leaning towards giving XP for gold spent in just about any circumstance, hiring henchmen included.

  17. April 14, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    “GP spent on hirelings -> XP for player characters” seems like a good principle.

    Also, it’s interesting to see how different groups have widely divergent experiences with hirelings. It seems that some parties hire mostly torch-bearers, mule-guards and porters. Our party has traditionally hired people to stand in the front rank and shield the precious PCs with their bodies for half a share of treasure, hence James’ “hirelings are only valuable when they die for me” approach. While this appears to be supported in early material (at least by my reading), it can only persist if one refuses to believe in the reality of the setting and treat the hirelings as faceless game pieces rather than fictional people.

  18. 18 nak
    April 14, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    Beyond the emotional investment players often have even for characters just rolled up, there is little incentive in (for example) a B/X campaign to treat hirelings with much deference. It is a system that rewards cowardice and risk-aversion, where death is startling and swift. Hirelings at low level are generally equivalent to the player characters, while at higher level they are an afterthought. In a system of random ability rolls, the party may generally tilt toward being filled by non-combatants, since the front line gets weeded out. As is, hirelings are only valuable filling the role of front or second line fighters. Otherwise, of course, they are only taking up valuable resources.

    PC chargen is reduced to a series of die rolls and broad strokes, with the promise of character background to come out in the course of play. Hirelings unfortunately fall into the same pattern — it is hard to care about some guy in leather armor and a pole arm, especially when with one hit they may die.

    I can imagine an attractive system where hirelings are much more valuable, with clear personalities and abilities, desires, and so on – but this would require vast effort. Sancho Panza is more of a henchman or follower, but what a rich one, narratively! The guys following Indiana Jones into the boulder-spewing Mayan temple in Raiders of the Lost Ark are determinedly unreliable hirelings — but how can this be done in the system?

    Perhaps if hirelings were easier to coddle, to nurture in strength, there would be reason to pay attention to them more. Perhaps if they had emergent strengths and powers – a novice cleric, or fledgling magic-user. Or if there were requirements for their employ — Role-play requirements in hiring, or benefits to keeping them steadily employed…

    A lot of interesting ideas in these comments. They certainly are mistreated, but the system does seem geared agaisnt them: gold is needed for carousing experience… if they are hired, it is to make a party more formidable, but only if they actually fight… but the deadliness of combat puts them greatly at risk… at higher PC levels, they quickly decrease in importance with little chance of filling their roles… because of the quickness of character generation and fluidity of play, they rarely are much more than a name and a couple pieces of equipment…

  19. 19 Charlatan
    April 14, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    I wonder how much of the funneling of low-level hirelings to a melee-combatant role isn’t a function of gaps in party composition, and available fillers for said gaps. Most any PC can be an archer; the availability of a level 2+ cleric as a hireling seems unlikely and thus also a PC; but fighting-type is both a role that a PC may feel inadequate to statistically and a role that generic hirelings are most likely able to fill. I will say in our game that a desire for henchman types to fight in front has not at all been a desire for them to die, but rather a function of PCs being squishy, or spell-casters, or both. Maybe that requires greater recompense up front?

  20. April 14, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    “It is recommended that the DM not allow beginning players to hire retainers. New players tend to use retainers as a crutch, letting them take all the risks.” (Moldvay Basic, p.21)

  21. 21 nak
    April 14, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    “It is recommended that the DM not allow BEGINNING PLAYERS to hire retainers. New players tend to use retainers as a crutch, letting them take all the risks.”

    He’s not saying anything about the level of the characters, of course; he’s saying players new to the game of D&D would tend to hide behind NPCs. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case here.

  22. April 14, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    He’s not saying anything about the level of the characters, of course; he’s saying players new to the game of D&D would tend to hide behind NPCs. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case here.

    Whatever his intention at the time, my experience leads me to believe that A) this applies meaningfully to players who are starting off fresh with this edition, whether or not they’ve played other editions of D&D before, and B) that players who start out by using retainers as a crutch will not necessarily “grow out of it” over time.

  23. April 14, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    “Our party has traditionally hired people to stand in the front rank and shield the precious PCs with their bodies for half a share of treasure”

    It’s been a while since I was a regular player in the Glantri game, but my recollection is that hirelings were forced into combat roles appropriate to their class. If you were a Fighter-type and we were short on front-rank guys, guess what: front-rank. If you were a Thief-type or a Magic-User-type, then PC warriors would interpose themselves between your d4-hit-die-ass and bloody mayhem. Maybe that’s changed.

    Hirelings are hired to mitigate risks associated with dungeon exploring. “Help carry this heavy load so we can get out of here faster,” “carry this torch so we don’t get lost in this darkness,” “peek around this corner and tell me what you see,” “help us kill this hellspawn before it devours everyone and our money”.

    Unless the party needs help overcoming a risky situation, there’s no job opening.

    However, in the game of Dungeons & Dragons, virtually all risks are lethal to 1 HD characters. “Oops a pit trap,” “oops you failed your save vs. horrible death.”

    Therefore, hirelings are hired with the expectation that they may die, and better them than us. That is the fundamental basis of the PC/hireling relationship: without it, no hirelings get hired.

    If no hirelings want that sort of job, that’s fine! Or, if they want to get paid less to do less, that’s fine! Or, if they want to earn their pay by being better-than-awful, that’s fine! (I, at least, have no interest in abusing or mistreating hirelings: I just don’t want them at all.) But at present the extremely dubious utility of hirelings is dwarfed by their expense. That’s a table-level calculation.

    To put it another way: hirelings are like dungeon insurance. If you collect on your dungeon insurance, that’s unfortunate but hey, at least you were insured! What you’re proposing is that if you collect on your dungeon insurance, the premiums will go up to cover the loss to the insurance company. This may be “realistic” but it will result in players viewing hirelings the same way people in the real world view insurance companies.

    ==========
    “A retainer’s morale is determined by the employer’s Charisma score, and is not checked for every situation occurring in the description above. Instead, a retainer’s morale is only checked during an adventure
    if:

    1. The employer orders the retainer to endanger himself (or herself) while the party is in less danger;

    2. [or if the retainer is badly hurt].”
    –Mentzer Basic DMG 19, which also suggests against using retainers if the game involves 3 or more players and they’re reasonably competent.

    But I think the morale rules are a really good thing here: charismatic characters who treat their retainers well have better luck persuading them to take unshared risks.

  24. April 14, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    It’s been a while since I was a regular player in the Glantri game, but my recollection is that hirelings were forced into combat roles appropriate to their class. If you were a Fighter-type and we were short on front-rank guys, guess what: front-rank. If you were a Thief-type or a Magic-User-type, then PC warriors would interpose themselves between your d4-hit-die-ass and bloody mayhem. Maybe that’s changed.

    Both then and now, many of our PC fighters have pressed their hirelings to stand in front of them. That’s how fellows like Pog the Dwarf lived so long: by getting some farmboy with leather armor and a spear to take the front rank and get eaten by ghouls in their place.

    To put it another way: hirelings are like dungeon insurance. If you collect on your dungeon insurance, that’s unfortunate but hey, at least you were insured! What you’re proposing is that if you collect on your dungeon insurance, the premiums will go up to cover the loss to the insurance company. This may be “realistic” but it will result in players viewing hirelings the same way people in the real world view insurance companies.

    I’m afraid I don’t follow you. If we start rewarding players by giving them XP for paying their hirelings or for keeping their hirelings alive, they’ll be less inclined to pay their hirelings or try to keep their hirelings alive? Could you elaborate?

    Instead, a retainer’s morale is only checked during an adventure if … The employer orders the retainer to endanger himself (or herself) while the party is in less danger;

    Huh, that’s useful. In Moldvay, it simply says, “Retainers do not need to check morale in combat unless the danger is greater than might reasonably be expected,” which is a lot less clear. I like the Mentzer language you quoted and will be sure to make use of it in future.

  25. April 14, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    A key element of the retainer rules that I simply didn’t pick up on — I blame B1/B2 — is that retainers can’t hack the dungeon themselves. I mean, yeah, obviously a single adventurer won’t go into the dungeon alone, but an adventurer won’t sign on as a retainer in the first place if there’s any chance that they could join up with an adventuring party as a full member. So if someone’s hiring on with the PCs, they’re either:

    A) untrained ‘normal men’;
    B) wholly impoverished and unequipped, so that they need the PCs to loan them weapons and armor and adventuring gear; or
    C) they’re low-level adventurers needing to hook up with high-level PCs to make it in a high-level dungeon.

    These issues give the retainer a reason to accept crappy working conditions and crappy pay: they don’t have a choice if they want some of that sweet, juicy treasure! But it also means that the PCs both A: get what they pay for, and B: have to pay up front. None of which, mind you, is as significant as “XP for paying retainers” and “remove retainers’ XP drain on the party,” but nonetheless help provide a measure of verisimilitude.

    (The Moldvay rules, of course, actually point to option D: the retainer is working for a partial share and a guaranteed minimum fee, so that s/he still makes a profit even if the adventure doesn’t pan out.)

  26. 27 nak
    April 14, 2011 at 7:14 pm

    I also like what could possibly be the craven nature of hirelings — grabbing the idol and diving under the stone tablet door, when they have the chance. Paying a wage is not equivalent to loyalty, which must be earned.

    I regret that the rules for chargen/start up, which are so immensely flexible and shoot new characters out the gate very quickly, have an impact on hirelings — it is difficult to come up with memorable NPCs on the fly, or at least guys the party might be interested in keeping alive/keeping around. Given the fluctuating weekly membership of a Glantri session, a hireling may not be needed at any given time, and tend to depreciate in memory. I wonder if there is a way around this.

  27. April 14, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    I suspect the solution is the same as it is for all NPCs: play them with broad two-dimensional strokes, and see which ones the players latch onto. If they find a hireling interesting, they’ll look to hire him/her again. If they don’t find a hireling interesting, let that hireling fade!

  28. April 14, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    To Eric @ post 26:

    Yes, the analogy I’m thinking of is that a hireling signing on with an adventuring party is sort of like a musician signing on with a major record label, back in the days when this model made sense. Sure, the label’s going to exploit you and sign you to a shitty contract. But the label’s also got a lot of institutional wisdom, access to the most lucrative markets, and you can go a LOT farther if you’re lucky and persistent. For people with a big appetite for risk, the chance to make it big is worth the degrading conditions along the way.

    In the same way, a competent adventuring party is supplying a lot of capital: at the most basic level, the party has the treasure map. They are also “heroes” or “enchanters” with the Cube of Power and Adironne’s Sword and so forth. Granted, it’ll be a long time before they treat you as an equal, but so long as you’re traveling in their wake you’ve got a shot at the Dragon’s Hoard that you never had before.

    I agree that players who are downright abusive to hirelings (i.e., killing them simply to avoid paying them) ought to deal with the consequences for bad behavior. Whether “forward he cried from the rear” qualifies as abuse seems a tougher question.

    To Eric @ post 25
    “if we start rewarding players by giving them XP for paying their hirelings or for keeping their hirelings alive, they’ll be less inclined to pay their hirelings or try to keep their hirelings alive? Could you elaborate?”

    Gladly: I was misunderstanding your proposal.

  29. April 17, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    I’ve done a little research, and I can find no indication in either OD&D or 1e/2e AD&D that henchmen get a share of XP. The rule thus seems to be an artifact of B/X alone. I suspect it’s there to discourage players from taking on henchmen, though it may also be a method to allow henchmen to level up. I don’t see any information in those other editions about how henchmen can gain levels.

  30. April 26, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    Once upon a time, I made a retainer generating web app (based on Robert Lionheart’s article for Knockspell #1) where nearly 1 in 6 retainers had the Background “traitor”, and another 1 in 6 was “Greedy: turns traitor if not paid well”.

    The version of the retainer generator that I made with kiltedyaksman of RB Niagara is a little kinder and gentler, but it still has shady backgrounds for retainers (criminal on the run, etc) that lend themselves to broad personalities if the DM is up for it: http://nerd.christophergeisel.com/index.php/hireling

    At RBV, we have our share of retainer abuse. Three things tend to mitigate it:

    1. A Normal Man who gains xp gets a class (and by house rule, stats). This makes any torch-bearing jerk who manages not to die suddenly a heck of a lot more interesting, when he reveals himself to have been a highly educated (ie M-U/Cleric) or secretly militant (ie Fighter) torch-bearing jerk all along.

    2. Any gear given to a retainer during the course of his employment is considered his by the retainer. This varies by DM, but generally this means it pays to keep your retainer happy, so he doesn’t bail after the adventure (the post-adventure reaction check) with the shiny new plate mail, shield and polearm you gave him.

    3. If a PC dies, the player takes over a nearby retainer and immediately assigns him stats/class (per James’ Black Peaks rules). So it pays to keep your retainers in some semblance of shape, or else you might find yourself deep underground with nothing but a club and a loincloth.

    Rampant retainer abuse does get a little old, but considering how poorly PCs are treated by their players, it’s difficult for me to get too worked up about it. Retainers are the bottom-feeders of the adventuring world–sort of “there but for the grace of Cuthbert go I”, cautionary tales for our PCs…


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Past Adventures of the Mule

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