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.