Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Help Costs

I let my players bully me into giving them a session on Saturday and it was a mistake.  The night went very well, the party finished Ternketh Keep and walked with a mess of treasure.  People died and tension was very high going into the end game and the treasure took three hours to separate and manage, what with five of the party's nine characters and henchmen progressing up a level and two of those players having an option to roll up a new henchman each.

However, it drained me creatively and I haven't written a damn word since Friday.  That is death at this point since I'm working against a deadline I've already extended from May to June because I worked for a month and now I'm terrified I'm going to miss my planned date in June.  To feel better I remind myself that the album Chinese Democracy took 15 years and then I feel like crap all over again when I remember that album was total shit from end to end.  So there we are.

I'm set to give the rest of the day to the book, with interruptions - so I hope I can move forward from the present expository situation and into the next reveal, plot turn and following expository dialogue.  This is writing: we move steadily forward from telling the readers something about what's going on so we can take them to the next place to tell them something about what's going on.  They've been doing it this way since Aeschylus.

Meanwhile, I wanted to write a little about henchmen and followers.  For a change in pace, rather than defining these, I just want to talk about how much players love them.

That is, if players can be encouraged to believe that hirelings are not in-house enemies waiting to stab them in the back.  I haven't created a traitor NPC in a player's party since, oh, must be around 1990.  Never with this particular party and never in the online campaign.  Once I had a fellow that had just been met on the road who proved to be a criminal and his wife as well - but these were not people the party had reason to trust.

The result of this is that parties in my game will overload their activities with additional NPCs, when those NPCs will take orders.  The party entered Ternketh Keep with eleven follower NPCs.  If this seems excessive, you're right: but it made the party feel safer, it helped them feel confident in tackling a scary enemy and ultimately this number was winnowed down as the NPCs were injured and forced to retreat or hang back.

The downside is, for some, that it means a lot more accounting and slower combat rounds, though it means the party can handle six or seven hard battles in a row instead of one or two before having to retreat.  The upside is that the party will take greater risks if they know there's someone there to carry them off the field of battle, especially if the healer is one of the people on their backs or the healing has just run out because this is combat #6.

One thing I like about a large party like this is the eternal money drain it represents.  Three to five tough characters can easily provide for and equip themselves - but with the party's henchman total now climbing up to seven additional persons that must be fed, bought passage for, bought equipment for and considered in dividing experience and treasure, the cost fulfills that thing that DMs have always felt justified a thief popping out from the woods just to deplete the party's resources.  I don't have to create circumstances to do that.  Every additional follower is another complete set of equipment - and an encouragement for the players to spend ludicrous amounts in an effort to "complete" their experience.

Here I speak of an obsessive compulsive behaviour that makes the player want to buy the highest quality armor possible for every henchman and follower, wants to make sure everyone has at least two silver weapons, wants to buy everyone a horse of the highest quality, etcetera.  This kind of thinking, not promoted by me, is a terrific money soak where it comes to ridding a player of their coin.

I encourage other DMs to recognize that, while it seems a good idea for drama purposes to make followers into traitors, or that it seems irrational to use followers to actually fight for player characters faithfully and obediently (it somehow seems like the player is getting a free ride), it is a terrific motivation when the player is told that food for the month, for all the party, is 715 pounds and that food for adventurers here is 3 gold pieces a pound.  Ouch.

To which the players say, "Woah.  We better get to adventuring."

Words to joy a DM's heart.

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