Tuesday, April 12, 2011

This Henchman Thing Gets Out Of Hand

I have a couple of times referred to my Henchman system, here and here ... and I play the system exactly as written.  In brief, all characters except the druid receive additional characters at 5th level and every second level thereafter, that they are allowed to play as nominally fanatical henchmen (basically, additional player characters).  Druids get henchmen at 5th level and every 3rd level thereafter, because they receive an animal friend who behaves somewhat like a henchman at 4th level and every 2nd level thereafter.

This last running on Saturday, it was necessary to put together an account of who exactly is the henchman of whom, and who is running in who's campaign (we have three ongoing campaigns, one run by my daughter and two run by me).  And here's what it looks like:

This looks like I have more people running in my world than I actually do.  Three of the characters who do not have henchman 'trees' - Dael, Echorian and Theo - are being run by the same person, one in each different campaign.  He started late, and hasn't brought any of his characters up to the level where they could have henchmen.  The two players who control Falcon and Lorell don't have enough characters to run in three campaigns, so they play Feela and Daniel, respectively, in my daughter's campaign.

The four main characters on the top have been running in my world the longest, and as such have the largest trees.  The mage Garalzapan has the largest tree, because the Druid needs to be 11th to get a third henchman, and both the monk and the ranger go up levels more slowly.  However, the druid Pikel chose a thief as his first henchman, while Garalzapan took a paladin as her first ... because of that, Pikel's henchmen have a greater total in levels (24) than Garalzapan's (20).

What isn't shown here are the 16 followers of the ranger Fayln, who aren't fanatical but still present a formidable group, that make up the ranger's full complement ... since the ranger has hit 8th, and therefore name level.

As the reader can see, the four big trees at the top are set to expand very quickly, as various henchmen his fifth and seventh level.  Virtually every really big treasure gained in the campaign sprouts new henchmen ... whom the players then roll ... all over the place.  The huge battle we fought last year ended in almost every player getting one new character; which pushed for me to run a second campaign, in order to keep the party from playing a massive battle force every time they took on an enemy.

For me, it makes sense that people would come out of the woodwork to 'join' a party that just wiped out 350 goblins, hobgoblins, ogres and drow elves.  And its fun for the party to have new people to play, to decide to put some characters on the back burner for a running or two (or more), while pushing to get the lower leveled henchmen up.

The danger is that a tree could become seriously broken ... something that hasn't happened yet, mostly because henchmen who have been lost were of lower level.  The rule is, however, that you can't continue to run henchmen that are not 'your' henchmen.  Let me explain what I mean.

If I may expand Pikel's tree, thusly:

Ivan has, on four different occasions, come within 1 hit point and within 1 round of death.  He is both the unluckiest and luckiest character running in the campaign.  His nickname, "Ivan the Pincushion," comes from an odd quirk of the dice.  If I have NPC's firing missiles at the party, and I roll to see who the missile will be directed against, Ivan always presents as a target.  This is declining, as often I can't add Ivan to the possible targets because he's hiding in shadows.  But if he fails to hide, you bet the die will say the crossbow bolt is bound for him.

Now let's say Ivan dies, and that he either can't be resurrected because they can't find the body, or he fails the resurrection survival roll.  According to the rules, Pikel is entitled to roll up a new henchman to replace Ivan.  But ... and this is a very large 'but' ... Pikel is not entitled to go on running Lyrial, Lovi or Urlgen.  They don't die, but they revert to ordinary NPCs ... people who know Pikel and who might have a certain fondness for him.  But while Lyrial and Lovi were fanatical towards Ivan, and Urlgen is fanatical towards Lyrial, to them Pikel is just Ivan's boss.  They might hang around, get on the payroll, or they might wish Pikel well and go on their way.

Moreover, Lovi is not bound to Lyrial, nor Lyrial to Lovi.  They were bound together by Ivan.  And now that Ivan is gone, it's unlikely that Lovi will feel any necessary kinship with Lyrial, apart from the fact that they knew each other.

In exactly the same way, if the player who controls Pikel decides to retire the druid indefinitely, Zephan and Ivan can't be run together.  The player must choose one or the other and move forward.  Granted, Zephan would probably go on running in my daughter's campaign, and Ivan in mine - but they would never run together again, unless Pikel came out of retirement.

As such, all the players in my world are always considering what would happen in so-and-so died.  If a major character or one of the major henchmen dies, it's a great loss for the player.  It's a harsh rule, but them's the breaks.  The rule encourages the players to cultivate their henchmen with some respect, and not treat them casually - at least, not after those henchmen have reached fifth level.

I just wanted to throw out some general observations today, to get the tree up on the system (for the benefit of the players, really, who will no doubt tell me that I have some of the levels wrong) and throw out some of the rules about controlling so many henchmen as they accumulate.  I don't expect there's much room here for comment.  I may write another post later today, just to give people something to talk about.


Zzarchov said...


Is is possible in your system to have a henchman surpass their "master" in terms of level?

My 1st ed has gotten shaky over the years but I remember some XP differences in 2nd ed where that would be possible (thief and mage I believe)

Alexis said...

I can give you a circumstance where that could happen easily. A fighter of fifth level obtains a thief, who then strikes out on his own while the fighter rests at home. There's nothing that says the fighter can lay about now, while the thief adventures. The thief's experience point gains are not halved if the thief is adventuring on his own (and XP for damage suffered and done is rewarded equally in my system at any rate), so the thief could in the space of a year's adventuring pile up forty or fifty thousand experience.

Thus, the thief comes home to the fighter as a 7th level, with a tree of henchmen himself, actually possessing not just a greater level, but more experience than his 'master.'

It should make no difference. Something about the fighter made the thief adore him when the thief first stepped forward, saying, "You're amazing, let me be your henchman." That love is based upon the thief's innate sense of the fighter as someone special. I may someday be richer, better known, more talented, more worldly than my father ... but he is still my father, after all.

ckutalik said...

I am surprised that I hadn't seen the two posts you refer to here, They were both interesting reads, so thanks for pointing them out. (Or may I had seen the End Game one, subsumed it deep, and then channeled it?)

I like the whole idea of a fealty chain. It gives a real material incentive for not sacrificing followers as readily as most people do and it gives the band a feeling of having a larger web of relationships.

What kind of in-game reason do you give for the sudden attraction of a fanatic follower though? A spreading reputation or fame or what?

And do these characters become the back-up characters for PCs when they fall?

Alexis said...

I had actually posted this before even reading your post about end games today, ckutalik. Synchronicity.

Generally, a spreading reputation is the accepted reason. And yes, they do become the back-up characters ... if the player wants it that way. I'm open to letting the player throw out the whole tree and start from scratch. That's not likely.

Anthony said...

I love henchmen and hirelings and your system tickles me pink.

One problem I have with 'modern' D&D players is that hirelings and henchmen are almost never used or even considered. But for 'old-school' play where encounters are not tailored to levels and there is no guarantee of a 'balanced' party, they can be essential.

Have any good ideas on how to impart this wisdom on a 18-22 year old who has never played anything older than 3.5? Of course, automatically gained henchmen is one way; but I'd rather not rip off your system directly (at least while you are looking).

My typical response (TPK) doesn't immediately suggest henchmen as the answer...

James C. said...

Anthony, I'll tell you that my group has always been turned-off by having henchman and we're mostly 35+ and go as far back as AD&D and older. XP sponges is what they are called 'round our parts.

But when I outlined what was essentially Alexis's system to them in advance of implementing it for our game they were excited. I believe that the explicitness of the henchman being truly fanatical (i.e. run by the player) and also there as a back-up PC is what turned them. Now the XP investment was providing a more tangible, long-term reward beyond surviving the encounter.

Also, my players have known for some time that they can walk away from an encounter or adventure, so the henchmen aren't seen as necessary unless there's a very specific goal in mind (i.e. "Let's go kill a dragon!) They mostly lack the implicit desire to necessarily beat the "level" or "boss" that newer gamers sometimes have as a result of being exposed to RPGs first through video games.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

So, if Ivan died, would the player be able to drop Pikel (and probably Zephan, though they're in different campaigns at the moment, so maybe not) and keep Lyrial?

If so, then the system isn't quite as harsh as you're saying - Lyrial and Urigen are both going to get a(nother) henchman at their next level, thus giving a fairly full tree.

Alexis said...

If the player wanted to give up Pikel, sure. But I'd bet the player who runs Pikel will choke and laugh derisively at your suggestion, C'nor.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

True, in this case. But, in the case of someone who's been sitting back and letting their henchman run around, it might be worth it.

Alexis said...

You misunderstand, C'nor. If the character chose to play Lyrial instead of Pikel, the retirement of the druid would be permanent. Pikel would become an NPC, someone I ran, and would never, ever be permitted to run in my world again. It wouldn't be like letting the henchmen running around, and then the druid having a turn.

There is a cost to death. For that cost to be real, I have to be inflexible.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

I think you may have misunderstood what I was saying - I was thinking of someone like the 5th level fighter above, who has a 7th level thief as a henchman. Although it might have to be a bit more extreme than that (Depending on how high a level the other henchmen were). Using this, if Degaris dies then there's a pretty good chance that the person will drop Dervel (who's been sitting back doing nothing anyway) and start using Cetara or Telrik

Alexis said...

Fair enough. Dervel would have had be doing an awful lot of nothing to be only 7th when Degaris was 9th.

Because of a character rolling rule I use, this rarely happens. Usually, I don't allow the principal, front character to start without at least one stat of 15 and one stat of 16. This is simply because I took note years ago that better stats tended to mean longer-term interest in a character, and so I adopted that policy. When I created the rule about henchmen a few years later, I did not allow that policy ... you got what you rolled. It was, after all, only a henchman.

Therefore, in the example you provide, Dervel would be much more likely to have great, high stats, while Degaris would likely have a good dexterity and little else. This is not always true. In the example from my own post, the character Zephan (the paladin) has four 17s. The player was just really, really lucky.

Perhaps Dervel in the above has only a 16 intelligence and 15 dexterity, with a lot of nothing stats, and Degaris has an 18 dex, 16 constitution, 17 strength and 15 charisma ... and that's why he gets used all the time.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

That makes sense. Of course, if they've been doing a lot of things where they've needed a thief, it could just be that Degaris and Cetara have advanced faster because of that. Also, Degaris is 7th, although that raises the question of why Cetara has passed him when she's the same class. Maybe they're running in different campaigns in the same world, one of which meets more often?