Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Henchmen and Hirelings in 4e


I've been thinking today about henchmen and hirelings in 4e. Although a sort of token effort was taken late in 4e's life to present henchmen and hirelings, I wanted to take it a little further. But how? And why? In 4e, with the toughness of the PCs, you don't necessarily need cannon fodder like the old days. In other editions you automatically attracted followers at higher levels; in 4e there's no mechanism for that. Plus they suffer from 'ritual syndrome', which is where they cost too much money to encourage their use. Furthermore from a DM standpoint the last thing you really need on a 4e table is more HP, what with the proliferation of summons, animal companions, familiars, and everything else. Despite all of these apparent challenges, I think its possible to make it work and be fun in 4e. Here are my ideas. There are some close similarities with retro-games but some tweaks have been made to fit in with how 4e plays.

1. Screw balance. I mean, seriously
Don't get me wrong, I love balance in 4e but sometimes, especially in combat situations, I think you can let it go a bit. Basically the PCs never run in 4e. They have no fear. Rarely will they deliberately avoid combat. Not only that but there are assumptions in the game about monster abilities and powers. So surprise your players. Make them need some help. Amaze them with the large numbers of minis you put down. Leave traps all over the place. Or maybe despite the PCs high Arcana scores, for once they dont know something about an artifact automatically; they have to seek out a Sage that doesn't give out info for free. Let them know there are hirelings to be had and that they might be needed, and if your players are high enough level, have henchmen approach them. More on this below.

2. Make hirelings cheap but limited
Some cool stuff in 4e doesnt get used. Part of the reason is the cost of some things, such as rituals. Also some flavorful items and rituals can be really situational. Hirelings should cost their level X 20 gold apiece for initial hire. That is cheap enough to be easily affordable. I suggest limiting the number each party member can have. Say no more than 2-3 hirelings apiece on adventures at any given time, unless you specifically want to design around that much activity. If they just need a service somewhere, such as speaking to a Sage, do it as it comes up. PCs cannot hire a hireling above their level to accompany them on an adventure. However, if the pcs need information or some kind of service that does not involve the hireling putting his life to risk, they can utilize one of higher level at the DMs discretion.

3. Make them weak and strong at the same time
Give hirelings 1 HP, just like a minion, but they can be brought back from 0 HP once; if they hit 0 again, even days later, they cannot be raised. Sound too weak? Well hear me out. 

The hireling gets the same to-hit numbers as monsters, as well as defenses. So a level 10 hireling has a +15 to hit AC, +13 to hit NADS. AC 24 FORT 22 REF 22 WILL 22. Each hireling is assigned a theme from 4e by the DM, as well as one trained skill (5+1/2 level check). Give them 1/2 level only on all other skills. I think generic themes (such as "explorer") work really well. Now the hireling has some other talents and flavor, and the mechanics (themes/skills) already exist so its easy to use. 

In addition to the skill and theme, a hireling also has a basic attack that does 1/2 level +4 damage. Hirelings do not level up, and a hireling cannot be found that is higher than 10th level. Once you hit Paragon you likely rely on henchmen only for combat situations. Don't pick too many themes, it is too much to track. Pick 1-4 themes based on the situation. For example, a bunch of outlaws and mercenaries might accompany the PCs on an adventure that has moral abiguity.

4. Assign hireling morale 
Check hireling morale after they have been targeted with an attack the first time in an encounter, or if they are in a position of extreme danger. If they are not attacked, even if the encounter was dangerous, they will stay with the adventurers. As all adventuring is inherently dangerous, a DM should only use an extreme out-of-combat situation to trigger a morale check, such as barely being missed by a falling rock. Hirelings will always attempt to avoid an automatic damage effect.  

Their morale score is 6. roll 2d6 to check morale. If the DM rolls a 7 or above they will quit the party at the first chance

It is also suggested that the players pay them some stipend, but it should be low to encourage play. Paying the group of hirelings level times 10 for a completed adventure is fair; most of them will die anyway, and if one or two manage to survive they should be rewarded. The DM can also add or subtract from the morale die rolls based on roleplay if he or she wishes

5. Henchmen are attracted automatically and are not as limited
Henchmen in 4e are attracted to PCs by their deeds and achievements. They are the same mechanically as hirelings except their morale score is 8 and they can be brought back from 0 HP twice. Like hirelings, henchmen check morale after they have been targeted with an attack the first time in an encounter or are in grave danger, BUT henchmen also check morale after dying and being raised. A henchmen will always attempt to avoid an automatic damage effect. 

They also have greater economic requirements. PCs attract a number of henchmen equal to one-fourth of their level (round down) starting upon 8th level and each time they level up after that. The PC cannot have a number of henchmen that exceeds one-fourth of his level at any time unless DM allows it. So for example a PC just hitting 13th level is allowed 3 henchmen. Say the PC later hits level 14, and has 2 henchmen that havent died or deserted him yet. A DM can then allow one more to be drawn to him as he levels up. You might be thinking 'that could end up being a lot', and its true it could seem that way, but just think of the AOEs you can drop on them! But seriously, for one they cost a little more. Surviving henchmen are paid as a group after completing a quest. Level times 20 gold is a good formula for a group of henchmen to be paid in the Heroic Tier. Move to level times 40 starting at 11th level, and level times 100 at Epic Tier. Henchmen in 4e are not limited in level but stay the same level forever.

6. Pitch these ideas to your group, and let them see them in play
Players will initially get into this based primarily on your enthusiasm. If you encourage it, it can become part of your game. You could allow players to control their henchmen and hirelings, put on a one man show, or do a combination of the two. Let them know there are people for hire in the towns. Step up the threat in your games.

That's it. But the big question is why? Why add these things at all? Well it adds old school flavor and role play opportunities, and even for optimizers there is the extra striker damage vibe. In other words, its fun for everybody. You can also be less uptight with game balance.

Here are a couple of quick samples, you can just make these on the fly.

Braddock, Level 14 Henchman
Guardian theme
MBA +19 vs AC, 11 damage
Skill-Endurance ( +12)
This dude has a big ol scar down one cheek. Mostly quiet. Cleans his boots like every day.

Pipkins, Level 2 Hireling
Harper Agent theme (Forgotten Realms)
RBA, Ranged 10, +5  vs REF, 5 damage
Skill-Stealth (+6)
Pipkins is a little too confident and you wouldn't trust her with the money

I hope ya'll like these ideas. If you have any thoughts about it plz leave a post. If you use these rules let me know how it goes!! You'll see more stuff like this in my upcoming zine 4e Forever


  1. I definitely like the idea of giving the hirelings a theme and one skill for extra flavor and durability. Currently I allow my hirelings to operate on the following premise: they can take two hits before they die permanently. In a way they are super minions. After an extended rest they are back up to their two hits before they die again.

    I'm definitely going to steal the theme and skill idea. It's utterly inspired!

  2. hey thanks for the feedback! its an interesting method you use regarding their durability. im trying to find a balance there. if i was going to let them 'recharge' like you are doing, i might make them more expensive...but then im afraid if i make them more expensive they wont hire them. ill keep playtesting and see what i like best, but im leaning towards them being cheap and fragile.

  3. It definitely is a tough balance. The reason I allow them to "recharge" as you put it is that I've plenty of hirelings get hired and then not make it past the first round of combat, thus wasting effort and expense. I typically keep their price the same, but if that's an issue in your games, try rewarding them as alternate rewards in place of gold or loot.

    For example, the party stopped some highwaymen from slaughtering and robbing a caravan, a member (or a few) decided to join up with the PCs by way of thanks or to hunt down the highwaymen.

    Just an idea. Again, I love the themes and skills idea! Definitely implementing that!