Discussion:
An Army in the Dungeon
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Ubiquitous
2018-07-14 21:10:46 UTC
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Dungeons & Dragons' roots stretch all the way back to wargaming and it
has a subtle influence on play that's sometimes forgotten today. Early
D&D relied heavily on henchmen and hirelings, who often rounded out a
group that could number as high as 20 members. This sort of play
affected the kinds of D&D, from expectations on mortality rate to
distribution of treasure.

Hirelings
Hirelings were hired soldiers of a variety of types, the true
cannonfodder who were risking their lives for coin. Hirelings were
governed primarily by how much the PC could spend, but Charisma played
a role in attracting them. Additionally, PCs could attract more by
establishing a stronghold.

Morale was an important part of managing hirelings. Rather than make
these NPCs suicidal drones who did whatever the PC wanted, morale was
introduced to provide a mechanic to manage them without requiring the
DM to control all of their movements. A PC who abused his hirelings
risked them quitting.

Henchmen
Henchmen were non-player characters who had a wide range of abilities,
like player characters. They could be just about anything, but their
loyalties varied by their relationship with the PCs.

The distinction is significant. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons often
presented classes in Dragon Magazine that were considered too powerful
for players to use but could make interesting henchmen. This practice
gave rise to the "NPC class" which was often used by players anyway,
from anti-paladins to death masters.

Henchmen were a part of regular play -- they gained experience points
at a slower rate than PCs, but they still advanced -- and were thus
these additional characters were usually run by the player herself. In
this regard henchman served a variety of roles, including as backup PCs
should the PC die. As an extension of the PC, the number of henchmen
were dictated by the PC's Charisma stat. Henchmen filled important
support: healers, torchbearers, and baggage carriers who took loot out
of the dungeon while the PCs continued on.

How it Affected the Game
A mass of people moving through a dungeon changes a lot of dynamics in
adventure design. Loot that could be pried up, that was heavy, that was
not easy to carry, could be relegated to hirelings. Traps could be
numerous because few PCs would put themselves at the front of the
party. Non-combat characters like wizards could use their henchmen and
hirelings to fill in their own combat weakness. Henchmen and hirelings
were part of the army-building that was D&D's roots, as we discussed
back when "name level" was a goal for PCs to aspire to. Peter V.
Dell'Orto, who co-wrote the GURPS supplement, Henchmen, said:

Personally, I think the "meatshields," "mine detector," and
"potion drinker" approach shows the wargaming roots of D&D.
In a persistent wargame setting, it makes perfect sense to
risk your least experienced and least valuable resources on
the unknown. In a game growing out of a tabletop wargame,
where you are moving your characters like pieces and promoting
them between expeditions when they do well and survive . . .
doing anything but expending your pawns and husbanding your
queens and bishops and rooks and such would be foolish.

Henchmen and hirelings complicated the game considerably from an
inventory and character management perspective, something that would
likely not be nearly as feasible for later (and more complicated)
editions of D&D. Encounters were freer with cash as well, because it
was assumed to be spread out among the (very large) party. James
Maliszewski explains:

The very fact that Grenadier produced an entire boxed set
filled with torch bearers, guys toting treasure chests, and
even a "potion tester" (he's figure E in the image above)
tells you far more about the way D&D was played back in the
day than I ever could. Old school D&D was not a game in which
a small band of hyper-competent heroes braved the dangers of
the world with only their swords, spells, and wits to protect
them. No, they had a veritable army of hirelings and henchmen
to assist them and these guys all got a share of the loot in
exchange for their assistance. Considering that the life
expectancy of a hireling could be measured in minutes in some
cases, those that survived the dungeon certainly earned their
share.

Although we don't use them nearly as much today, henchmen and hirelings
were an important transitional step between PCs as leaders of armies
and PCs as heroes. As D&D became more focused on the party and less
about the army, they fell out of favor.

:Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author,
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2018-07-16 03:06:13 UTC
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Post by Ubiquitous
Dungeons & Dragons' roots stretch all the way back to wargaming and it
has a subtle influence on play that's sometimes forgotten today. Early
D&D relied heavily on henchmen and hirelings, who often rounded out a
group that could number as high as 20 members. This sort of play
affected the kinds of D&D, from expectations on mortality rate to
distribution of treasure.
Hirelings
Hirelings were hired soldiers of a variety of types, the true
cannonfodder who were risking their lives for coin. Hirelings were
governed primarily by how much the PC could spend, but Charisma played
a role in attracting them. Additionally, PCs could attract more by
establishing a stronghold.
Morale was an important part of managing hirelings. Rather than make
these NPCs suicidal drones who did whatever the PC wanted, morale was
introduced to provide a mechanic to manage them without requiring the
DM to control all of their movements. A PC who abused his hirelings
risked them quitting.
Henchmen
Henchmen were non-player characters who had a wide range of abilities,
like player characters. They could be just about anything, but their
loyalties varied by their relationship with the PCs.
The distinction is significant. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons often
presented classes in Dragon Magazine that were considered too powerful
for players to use but could make interesting henchmen. This practice
gave rise to the "NPC class" which was often used by players anyway,
from anti-paladins to death masters.
the NPC classes were much less about producing henchmen and much more about producing opponents for PCs.
Justisaur
2018-07-17 20:34:02 UTC
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Raw Message
Post by Ubiquitous
Dungeons & Dragons' roots stretch all the way back to wargaming and it
has a subtle influence on play that's sometimes forgotten today. Early
D&D relied heavily on henchmen and hirelings, who often rounded out a
group that could number as high as 20 members. This sort of play
affected the kinds of D&D, from expectations on mortality rate to
distribution of treasure.
I remember using them in my first games, they were there, and I was often playing solo with my best friend, or small groups.

I tried running some 0e clone with them, but one person didn't want to use them, and inter-player tensions over it killed the game.

Other than those very early games in the late 70's I've not had a lot of luck getting players to use them. I've had some success by having NPCs join organically though, not as Henchmen exactly, but as more equals/hangers on.

- Justisaur

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