Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Henchmen Week, Day 1: Generating Henchmen

Who says I can't start my week on Tuesday? Other than a calendar, that is. I meant to get this ball rolling last night, but I ended up having a meeting for my second (semi-secret) job last night that stole all the time that I planned on using for this article. Plus, I live in Michigan and, apparently, right now (due to the coldpocalypse) that's all the excuse that I need to not do anything if my coworkers are to be any pont of reference. And so, Henchmen Week begins on a Tuesday!

Before I get started talking about how I generate henchmen for my games, I want to make it clear that I do distinguish between 0-level henchmen (henchmen who have no class levels) and henchmen with class levels. Further, I draw a distinction between henchmen (who are basically like secondary PCs for the players, but that receive a smaller share of the spoils than the primary PCs) and mercenaries (who do not receive a share of spoils or experience and are less like auxiliary PCs and more like NPCs that the players can give orders to). You want a henchman when you're looking for an assistant, back-up, a second set of eyes or a general dogsbody who will do the stuff that your main PC either can't or is afraid to do for himself. Yes, henchmen will take risks (even if they have to roll a morale or loyalty check). Mercenaries, on the other hand, are weapons in and of themselves; you aren't hiring mercenaries to think on their own or to take unreasonable risks, you're hiring them to do the one specific job they're being hired for and that's it. Thus, a torchbearer could be just a mercenary if all of his jobs relate to merely carrying torches and providing you light; the minute you ask him to do something outside of the torchbearing purview, he becomes a henchman.

Generating Henchmen With Class

I'm going to readily admit here and now that I have been very highly influenced by ACKS in my process for generating henchmen, in particular henchmen with class levels. While I'll talk about my exact rules for how I handle PCs finding their potential future henches in my next post, suffice it to say that I require a player to notify me a session in advance of what sort of henchman they're looking for if they want a henchman with class levels and what sort of henchman that might be (healer, warrior, wizard, etc.).

I then do the ACKS PC-generation thing where I'll roll up 5 characters, but I do it a little differently. Rather than roll the ability scores in order, I'll roll five columns of six rows each, then allocate one ability score to each row, which leads to some interesting choices being made. Once each ability score/row is sorted out, I choose 3 of the potential henchmen to develop and then pick classes and such for them. In ACKS, this can be a sophisticated process ("Well, this guy is a traditional mage, but this other guy is clearly a warlock..."), but for most other games, it's not so tough ("magic user, magic user, magic user..."). At this point, I'll write up a brief bit about the potential henchmen to give the player something to choose between; it should be noted that I do not give the players the game stats for the different henchmen until after a decision has been made about which to hire.

Finally, after preparing a brief on each henchman, I flesh out the remaining stats. Henchmen must be no higher than one level below the hiring PC (and thus, a PC must be level 2 to hire a henchman with class levels, though some loopholes may apply). I also apply a maximum on the level of henchman that may be hired, coming in at level 5 (a post near the end of Henchman Week will talk about this transitional level and the change from Henchman to Retainer). I treat the PC's level minus one as the desired level of the henchman and roll 2d6 on the following chart:

  • 2-6: 2 levels lower than desired level
  • 7-9: 1 level lower than desired level
  • 10+: desired level.
Once I know the level, the rest is cake. Henchmen never start with magical arms or armor and tend to start with the same sort of gear that a first level adventurer starts with. More on this in a future post, as providing specific gear for a henchman may improve his loyalty. 

Henchplates In ACKS

When creating henchmen in ACKS, I keep the record keeping (and multitude of choices) down to a minimum by rolling or selecting templates from the tables in the Player's Guide. I find these templates more useful for henchmen than for players (at least my players) because they don't always reflect the "most optimal" choice of proficiency combinations. Yes, I do have some players who busy themselves by thinking about optimal proficiency choices, and that's the sort of thing I tend to think is useful only for player characters, not so much for henchmen. If a henchman gets additional proficiencies above and beyond those mentioned in his template (for high Intelligence or for levelling), I try to make sure that those proficiencies match the template as closely as possible (perhaps selecting a second instance of a previously-selected proficiency). All in all, templates are your friend for swiftly creating memorable, distinct henchmen. 

Generating 0-Level Henchmen

In some ways, generating 0-level henchmen is easier than 1st-level ones. Most of the time, when needed, I'll just visit Meatshields! and get a slew ready for whatever sort of settlement the PCs are in or that I expect them to be in. However, I don't always have Meatshields! ready to rock, and so I've cobbled together my own quick'n'dirty system for describing 0-level henchmen in game terms by answering the following questions:

How Many 0-Levels Are Available?

Roll 2d6 and subtract the settlement's Market Level, with a minimum of 1. Add 2 if during the summer or winter, subtract 2 during the spring and fall. If you're not sure what the Market Level of the settlement is, check in on ACKS. 

What Do They Do?

For each 0 available, roll d6: (1-3) Torchbearer or porter, (4-6) Man-at-arms. 

What Gear Do They Have?

Torchbearers & porters roll d6: (1-3) dagger and no armor, (4) club and no armor, (5) dagger and leather armor, (6) club and leather armor). Men-at-arms roll d6 for armor: (1) none, (2) shield, (3) leather, (4) leather and shield, (5) chain mail, (6) chain mail and shield. Men-at-arms also roll d6 for weapons: (1) club, (2) axe, (3) sword, (4) spear, (5) 2-hander [roll d4 on subtable: (1) polearm, (2) 2-h sword, (3) battleaxe, (4) maul], (6) ranged weapon [roll d4 on subtable: (1) sling, (2) crossbow, (3) short bow, (4) long bow; 2d20+4 ammo]. All men-at-arms always also have a dagger. 

Anything Else Special?

Roll 2d6 on the following chart 1d4 times per 0:
  • 2: Conspicuously bad at something (-2 modifier from one ability score), chosen randomly
  • 3: Bad at something (-1 modifier from one ability score), chosen randomly
  • 4-5: Personality or physical quirk
  • 6-8: Nothing special, move along. 
  • 9-10: Non-human, roll d4
    • 1: halfling
    • 2: dwarf
    • 3: elf
    • 4: beastman
  • 11: Pretty good at something (+1 modifier from one ability score), chosen randomly
  • 12: Really good at something (+2 modifier on one ability score), chosen randomly
For the "bad at something/good at something" results, roll 1d6 on the following chart to see which ability score is effected:
  1. Strength
  2. Intelligence
  3. Wisdom
  4. Dexterity
  5. Constitution
  6. Charisma
The ability score is set at a level appropriate to give the listed modifier in the given system. For example, in ACKS, if the result "really good at something" yields a modifier to Dexterity (+2), that 0's Dexterity score would be set at 16 (the score that gives a +2 modifier). If the same ability score is affected by multiple rolls, start with the highest die roll result and add one if positive ("really" or "pretty good") and subtract one if negative ("bad" or "conspicuously bad"). In game systems where there is no modifier greater than a +1 (Delving Deeper or S&W Whitebox), treat a +2 result as the same as a +1 result, but 1d4 points higher than the minimum score necessary for the +1 bonus. 

If the non-human result is rolled multiple times for the same character, either ignore multiples or figure out something extra weird to replace the options here. For personality quirks and physical oddments, I'm sure you, like I, have a ton of different tables to draw from in a multitude of different books. 

Easy Mode: Make The Players Do The Work

Before I close out this post, I'd like to point out one last method that I use for generating henchmen, particularly in ACKS: when the players are generating multiple PCs to choose one to play and several to "stable," I let the players hire any "stabled" PC as a henchman . This PC does not gain any of the normal benefits of stabling (ie, XP from gp spent by the main PC during carousing), but do gain gold and xp normally through adventuring following the henchmen rules laid out here shortly. These hench-PCs follow the normal (as-yet-to-be-laid-out) rules for terms and contracts, and are not exempt from normal rules for henchmen. They do, however, give the player an awful amount of choice in what sort of henchman he ends up with, and so I only make this option available to the players at certain key times (mostly only between adventures). The major down side of this schema is that once a player is completely out of stabled PCs (because they're all dead), he has to start over completely from scratch and build a new stable of level 1 PCs. There's got to be consequences somewhere, right?