Archive for Torchbearers

Henchmen, Men-at-arms and Torchbearers, Oh My!

Posted in Dungeons & Dragons with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2017 by Kullervo

One of the things I love about old-school D&D is the expectation of tons of retainers.  To me, it adds another level of fun and personality to the game, and an interesting layer of resource management (it also mitigates a lot of the game balance and niche protection problems of newer D&D editions).  However, I have found that most of the older D&D editions and their simulacra don’t have very fleshed-out or consistent rules for this.  So here’s how I run retainers in my games, because I have found that it works and is fun.

I always assume that all NPCs have 10s in each stat unless there is a very good reason for it to be otherwise. This is just to keep me sane as the DM, because then all that matters is their weapons, armor, class and level, and I don’t have to also think about other modifiers for anything.

I also divide retainers into the following three categories:

Henchmen: Henchmen are like sidekicks. They can be any character class. They have names (often funny ones) and personalities.  They come completely unequipped, depending on the PC to outfit them (I think I got this from 1e), which means that the PC has to provide, at a minimum, workable weapons and armor and a basic adventurer’s kit. They don’t work for a per diem rate, but they take a 1/2 share of treasure and get a 1/2 share of xp. They are willing to enter into combat and even fight on the front lines, but if the PC orders them into dangerous situations that the PC will not himself go into (i.e., uses the henchman as a 10′ pole), the henchman will have to make a morale check. And I always warn players of this beforehand and remind them of it often. If a henchman dies, the PC has to pay 50gp/level to the henchman’s family/hometown/clan or have a hard time attracting future retainers of any kind. If a PC dies, we usually promote his henchman into the player’s new PC.

Men-at-arms: Men-at-arms are mercenaries. They are usually level 1 fighters, and they come fully equipped and usually in a unit (e.g., 5 archers with scale mail, shortbows and handaxes) with a leader, and only the leader counts against the hiring PC’s retainer limit. They work for a per diem rate, typically in the realm of 1-5 gp per day each (I use the Mercenaries Table from p. 133 from the Rules Cyclopedia, but it’s per day instead of per month for mercenaries who will go into the dungeon). They will fight, even on the front lines, but won’t carry stuff or otherwise engage in “adventuring” (they certainly won’t test out dangerous areas, sketchy looking bridges, etc.). They’ll just flat-out refuse. They don’t gain levels or experience or take a share of treasure (if you want higher level men at arms, you have to hire elite soldiers at a substantially higher pay rate). If any of them die, the PC has to pay 50gp to the mercenary’s family/hometown/clan or all of the rest of the band will quit and the PC will have a harder time attracting future retainers of any kind.

Torchbearers: Torchbearers are 1-HD humans who serve as porters, etc. They work for a low per diem rate of something like 1 sp per day. They won’t fight or engage in adventuring beyond basically following the PCs around holding things. If any of them die, the PC has to pay 50sp to the torchbearer’s family/hometown/clan or the PC will have a harder time attracting future retainers of any kind. They don’t gain levels or experience or take a share of treasure.