Friday, January 17, 2014

Henchmen Week, Day Six: DMing Henchmen

Henchmen aren't quite NPCs in the traditional sense, and they're not quite PCs either. They occupy a strange middle ground between "tool of player agency" and "weapon of DM fiat." As such, it's important to draw a few distinctions between them, ordinary NPCs and your PCs.

Predetermined or Emergent Personalities

Not this guy, please!
Sometimes, you'll have a clear idea of what a henchman's personality is like when you start rolling him up. That's cool, that's all good. But really, you're not likely to have one for every henchman or even a clear idea of who each henchman is beyond a few chunks of stats or an occasional quirk or strange detail here or there. This stuff may suggest a personality to you, but it doesn't always. If you can't come up with a distinct personality for every henchman, don't fall into the trap of overcompensating (be careful with accents, particularly British Isles ones; I've never met an American who can do a solid-enough Scots accent, and none of them should ever try) by making up an outlandish (and thus unbelievable or unintelligible) or, worse, plagiarizing a personality from a book you read, movie you saw, whatever. Just relax. If the henchman isn't a living, breathing character at the outset, usually a small amount of play (and dice rolls, particularly loyalty checks) are enough to establish some concrete facts that you can riff off of.

Advanced Topics In Henchman Experience

"Yeah, I'm your henchman. Now
give me my share of the XP."
So, we all know that henchmen earn experience, and that they earn one-half of a PC's share of experience. That doesn't mean just figure out what each player's share is, halve that and pull some extra xp out of your ass. Rather, that means accounting for the henchmen's shares out of the initial award. Thus, if there are five players and two henchmen, you account for six shares: five whole shares and two half ones. But a mathematical goofiness comes along when you have an odd number of henchmen. Let's say it was five PCs but only one henchman. Suddenly, you're dividing by 5 1/2. Yup, I can do that with a calculator, but then I have to divide the result in half again to determine the henchman's share. Mathematical goofiness that adds a bunch of unnecessary (and somewhat confusing) math to the whole shebang.

Here's how I do it: instead of considering each henchman as 1/2 share, I consider each one to get a full share and each PC to instead get two shares. Bam. Really easy math that I can usually do without a calculator. Let's take that same group of 5 PCs and one henchman. Now, I'm figuring out 11 shares, with each PC getting a double share while the hench just gets the single. Less math, no dividing by something that includes a fraction, and players get to hear "your PC gets a double share of XP." Win, win, win. Once I started doing this, my experience calculations have really sped up and involve far less head scratching.

Zero To Hero

Ur-Hadad is a great place to train your
henchman in just about anything
While we're on the topic of experience, let's talk about the process of a zero-level henchman becoming a first level one. To get to level one, that zero-level schmuck needs to collect 100 xp. Not a lot, but still a significant amount, particularly at low party levels. The thing is, jumping from a zero-level torchbearer to a first-level ass kicker can't happen over night and requires some practice and training. ACKS recommends that zero-level characters only be allowed to become fighters at first level; this, I feel, makes sense for men-at-arms, but the torchbearer or porter, I feel, might be just as likely to become a thief or get religion and become a cleric or one of the more esoteric classes (like barbarian or ranger/explorer or venturer or what-the-hell-ever). Ye olde DCC encourages zeroes of all stripes to become whatever they want.

After accumulating 100 xp, a zero-level henchman does not accumulate any further xp. Until he has the opportunity to practice, downtime in which to develop as a character, he stays a zero. The employing PC may arrange for special training so the henchman can become a thief, take a cleric's vows or whatever, whatever the DM allows, but that will take time. If the employer wants the henchman to level up overnight (well, maybe not overnight, but after some time to practice), then fighter it is (although in some circumstances, barbarian might make just as much sense). After the period of training and downtime (at least a week, but possibly months depending on class), the henchman may acquire experience points again without trouble. If the party continues to adventure after a henchman reaches 100 xp, continue to subtract a share of xp for henchman, but he gains none of the benefit from them. What's neat, here, from a DM's perspective, is that, since experience is usually given at the end of sessions, players often have the opportunity (if not drive) to head back to town to sell off treasures found and capitalize on the gains they've made during the session. Even if you don't use training times for leveling up PCs, it's a good idea to insert some necessary training here, making the players have to invest a little more care in the upkeep of their PCs.

Consequences of Leveling Up Henchmen

One last topic and then I swear I'm done for the day. Man, I write some long posts, don't I? Anyway, when a henchman levels up, his pay grade gets bumped. That is to say, his base monthly wage (remember that chart that I forgot to include a few days back then remembered the next day? That wage.) goes up for the next month when he gains a level. This could result in either (a) fewer months having already been paid for or (b) the PC owing the henchman money. In either case, consider the current month paid for and reevaluate how much the PC would need to pay to bring the rest of the henchman's wages in line.

Any time after a henchman gains a level and between adventures, the PC may attempt to renegotiate the employment contract. Just go straight to setting up an offer and then on to negotiation. Re-roll loyalty, but here, positive amounts cancel each other out; thus, if your henchman had a 1 loyalty and the re-roll ends up with a 2, it becomes 2. If it was -1, however, and you roll a 2, it now becomes 1.