Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Who runs the hirelings?

When players hire help, who runs the help?

The GURPS standard for allies, summoned creatures, etc. is that the GM runs them. I take a different approach. In my games, I generally let my players run their direct hirelings and henchmen, and any mindless servitors (undead, usually). I'll run major NPCs, strange summoned creatures, and take over any NPCs if they get misused.

Generally I do this because I've got enough to do as a GM. Also, I want the players to be responsible for anything good or bad that happens to their hired help. They get the credit if it goes well, they can't look elsewhere if it goes poorly. Like their PCs, it's all on them. Plus it helps make truly independent types stand out more - you order your spear carriers around but you need to negotiate with the barbarian NPC who joined up for the expedition.

Looking back at AD&D, I don't see much discussion of who plays the NPCs. I checked the 1st edition Dungeon Masters Guide, and it doesn't specify. It seems to assume you negotiate with NPCs to hire them, but it doesn't have much about ordering them, moving them around on the map, deciding on actions, etc.

In my AD&D days, hirelings and henchmen were really rare. We either had a lot of players and didn't need them, or a few players with multiple PCs. The one guy with hirelings was my friend's Unearthed Arcana-era paladin, who had a bunch of followers. I can't tell you now who ran them. Probably him with my input, but I'm not sure.

I threw up a poll on the side - how do you guys do it in your games?


  1. I think that it's best to let the players run their hirelings and henchmen with the possibility of Referee veto. (That includes the Referee taking control of the NPC in appropriate situations, ranging from passive failures of loyalty and morale to all-out, active betrayal.) Taking work off of the Referee's shoulders is a good thing.

  2. AD&D is vague about it because that was the transition point between the old meaning and new meaning of "NPC". In OD&D, players ran their characters, the GM ran the monsters -- which means absolutely any creature or human who could potentially be an opponent, even one that turns out to be friendly.

    A "non-player character" originally was a character that is neither a monster nor a player character; in other words, jointly owned by players and the GM. *Only* hirelings are NPCs. The players basically say what the NPCs do, in the same way a boss says what an employee does. The GM occasionally makes morale checks or reaction rolls to see if the character obeys.

    Henchmen -- hirelings with class and level -- were kind of an exception. They are hirelings when their boss is present, but players took them over and ran them as PCs when their main character was unable to go on an expedition. Morale checks only apply in the former situation, not the latter.

  3. Your approach makes way more sense, especially in DF style games. But even in non-DF games high on social interaction, etc., it is often best to have the player run Allies (subject to GM veto) except in specific circumstances. Even henchmen, servants, etc., are easier dealt with in this fashion, provided that they are loyal enough. This makes it all the more shocking when Dudley the Lackey betrays Sir Awesome. And all the more horrific when Sartus the Spearbearer is killed in battle.

  4. I like to run the hirelings. The PCs tell them what they want them to do and if it is reasonable I let the hirelings follow orders but if it is unreasonable then I make a morale check to see if they follow it. I prefer to have the PCs character be the center of attention while the hirelings are just hired help.

    1. @faoladh - That's my reasoning, too. I have enough to do!

      @Talysman - yeah, I suspected as much (but didn't feel like reading all of my OD&D books to find out). I suspect a good portion of that is from wargaming, like so many other aspects of early play. You order around your army (hirelings) and move them about, but your henchmen are more like allies and might not always listen.

      @ulfgard: I totally agree! When you suddenly take over an NPC hitheto run by the PCs, it does make them sit up and take notice.

      @b-dog: I can see that approach, but ironically I let the PCs control their hirelings in order to further put them at the center of attention. The leader-types get to be leaders if they move the pieces around; if they tell me what they want done and I do it, that level of remove seems to make them feel less special. IME.

  5. In my games the GM runs them as NPC unless they are zombies/mind whammied/constructs or the like.

    Its rarely comes up though, the PC's don't use them.

  6. I like to use a blended approach. I role play the hirelings. (most people find talking to your self a little weird) The players roll the dice. Like for skill rolls and defense and whatnot. They keep up with the hirelings expendables (arrows, HP etc.) I would allow them to play the henchman if they were sent off on a mission alone. (troupe style play) I step in and shoot down behavior inappropriate to the character.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...