Henchmen Week, Day Might-As-Well-Be Seven: Promoting the Henchman

This is the last one, the last post of Henchmen "Week," and I'm quite proud of having made it this far. The next time I do something like this (which I really should, it was fun!), I'm going to leave the word "week" out of it. No one has really complained about my misuse of the word "week," but I've also not gone around asking folks about it. Then again, when you say "week," you are implying at least seven posts on a topic, which seems to be a pretty solid number. We'll see.

Today, though, it's time to look at one last topic in henchmanry: what happens when your henchman stops being a henchman?

Promotion to PC

He used to be your henchman, now he's your PC. Deal. 
One of the reasons that some players keep henchmen around is to have a backup PC on site should things go terribly awry for the main PC. In this case, the player is likely to invest quite a bit of time and money into the henchman, so often you'll be talking about a henchman with a class other than fighter (rare!) and maybe even one who was a "stabled PC." One of the first things that the newly-promoted PC-nee-henchman is going to want to do is rifle through his old boss's crap to take the gear that he can use. At this point you and your gaming group have to decide whether this makes sense to you and your PCs. In my Iron Coast game, for example, a promoted henchman gets one pick of the prior PC's treasure before anyone can lay claim to anything else, and then the stuff that's up for grabs tends to just be the sort of stuff that the new PC can't use. In any case, there's no hoarding everything to sell it off the next time the party ends up at Av Arat.

One of the most jarring changes in promoting a henchman to a full-blooded PC is that of the other PC's attitudes toward a guy who, moments ago, used to take orders from one of their compatriots, but now is a full member of the adventuring company (with voting rights and all!). You've got two options here: one, you can hand-wave the whole thing, say "this is the guy I'm playing now, so give that character the respect you'd have given my old one," which is fine but a little "safe word-y" (if you're not familiar with the recent dust up over the suggestion that safe words be used in tabletop gaming, I recommend you look into it, it's hilarious). The second option is to roleplay that transition and work to develop bonds between your new PC and the PCs to whom your character's prior connection was "dude who works with my boss." Seriously, this stuff is worth thinking through. It can really add some depth to your game.

Promotion to NPC

Case in point: Remember, Zed was a
henchman once, too. 
Going the totally opposite direction, sometimes a player will stop paying a henchman (thus releasing him from service) or that henchman will desert, heading off to find his own way in the world. What better opportunity can you as a DM have to take a situation the players have given you and turn it into a gameable moment? For example, one of the Iron Coast's PCs, +Andy Block's very cool elven courtier Lippu, had a henchman who entered into his service through a very solid application of Charm person. Lippu kept paying the guy, named Venneman, throughout that adventure and kept the very useful henchman around but, in between adventures, Andy decided that it was time for Lippu to let Venneman go. At first, this was "Yeah, I'll just leave Venneman back at Port Scourge." But then, when I asked if he was continuing to pay Venneman's monthly wage, he said something to the effect of: "For sitting on his ass and not doing anything? I'm not the unemployment office!" Right, so, Venneman was no longer in Lippu's service, creating a great opportunity for me. Vennemen, you see, is a 2nd-level thief who right now is in Port Scourge, the Iron Coast's pirate fortress city and home to not only the adventuring party, but also to Captain Es-Ahal Marashin, the Dagganite pirate captain who wants Lippu's head after a grave insult. Vennemen, no longer under the effect of Lippu's Charm person, is probably none too happy about the fact that (a) he lost a lucrative source of income after having risked his life on Lippu's behalf and (b) his loyalty had been compelled through magical means anyway. So, dear citizens of Kickassistan, I think you understand that if I didn't put two and two together and end up with a knife in Lippu's back, I wouldn't be doing my job. Moral of the story: once the players lose interest in a henchman, do something cool with him.

Promotion to Retainer

There's a point where your apprentice stops
being your apprentice and starts being a mage
in her own right. That point is level six.
In an early post this "week," I made a comment that henchmen will only hench up to 5th level (or at least I think I did). Beyond that point, they've become powerful characters in their own right, well on their way to becoming important folks at "name level," gaining their own special doodads and fortresses and serfs and such. Thus, at sixth level, it's time to start treating them as something bigger and more important than a mere henchman: they've graduated to retainer. These are the guys your higher-level PC will rely on for advice, will invite over with their fancy spouses for feast-type dinners, will send as ambassadors to foreign nations to convince the king to give up his daughter's hand in marriage, crap like that. These guys, at sixth level, become your second-string PCs even more than they were at first level. At this point, you're less playing with a "main" and a henchman, and more playing with two PCs, which leaves you with a choice: play both (and take the xp and gp hit that that brings with it) or "stable" one while the other goes off adventuring. A third option exists, and that is to, in effect, split the party, whereby you send one group of PCs & henchmen off on one adventure while a second, similar group goes and does another thing. For example, your main PC could be leading an army to crush his foes while your PC's retainer is accomplishing a spy mission of vital importance to the war effort. Stuff like that. Whatever you decide, at sixth level, your previous henchmen are not so hench-y anymore.