Monday, January 20, 2014

How I Stat Hirelings in GURPS DF

I have done a series of posts featuring the NPC hirelings who have made it into sessions of my GURPS Dungeon Fantasy campaign. They are collected here.

Tne thing about GURPS is that it front-loads character design. You need to do a fair amount of work ahead of time, even with tools like templates to speed you along. Yet I am often called on to stat someone up right now without slowing my game down. "We find a torchbearer." "We need another shieldbearer." "We need missile-firing guys, no matter what the weapon." Or I suddenly need some bandits or something else, and want some uniqueness to them.

So how do I do that? Here is my plan of action, in order. This all assumes you have GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 15: Henchmen. If not, you can get close with any template based system or with DF On The Cheap.

WYSIWIG Equipment - What You See Is What You Get

We use miniatures for our games, even if only to visualize a character but more often to actually play out battles. So when called on to provide an NPC, I first select an appropriate miniature, Cardboard Hero, or counter. Whatever you see on that figure is what the character is equipped with.

We will make exceptions for "logical" stuff, like ammunition for missile weapons (often lacking on minis - they have a bow but no quiver quite often), a pouch or bag, a helmet (lots of helmet-less guys), or mismatched armor (we'll assume a match) or clothing. But for gross characteristics and weaponry, it's purely WYSIWIG. This is why Deadeye Slim has a knife as his melee weapon, why Lucky Pete had one hand, and

For PCs we'll forgive anything, really - Red Raggi's mini has an eyepatch and no shirt or helmet, yet Raggi has two eyes and wears a mail hauberk and helmet. Still the mini conveys a lot and we know what he's really got. For short-hire NPCs we just have no idea.

Eyeball the encumbrance, and if you're not sure, set it to the next level up and assume they've got some extra stuff. That'll cover them if they get handed loot to carry, like my players always do. "The sling guy can carry these twelve broadswords we just found." Or grab a loadout and check - it's what DF13 is for, doing all that work for you. Don't sweat it if they slightly over or under shoot their actual pool of money. It usually doesn't matter.

Pick a Template

The real upside to templates is they are pick-lists. So pick a pick-list from the evocative and descriptive names, and go from there. Missile troops are Archers, lightly armored types are Skirmishers or Killers, armored types are Brutes or Squires, low-rent versions of any are Guards. That's what they are there for.

Just the Basics to Start

Templates have some basic skills, and some discretionary ones. They also have discretionary points. The best thing I found is to quickly assign out the larger discretionary pool of points, pick a big defining disadvantage or two, and skip the skills until they come up in play. The group is climbing? Decide then if the NPC has it or not. Fall in the water? That's when you decide if they can swim or not. Etc.

You don't even need to look it up - decide yes or no, then assign the skill at Stat+0 and you're probably close. It doesn't really matter if you "break" the template by picking something wrong - customization is totally fine and makes the NPCs more interesting.

If they're non-human, assume that eats up their discretionary points from advantages and just forget them. It'll probably work out in the long run.

Two Quick Rolls

Roll Loyalty (per DF15 p. 30) and on the Random Hireling Trait Table (p. 31) and note the results. They'll matter. Feel free to just pick one off the table if it matches the mini. It's fun to pick or roll Secret Menace, and even funnier when the Secret Menace gets whacked with a critical hit on turn one of his first fight and dies.

Pick a Name

Anything will do, in most games. I grab random names out of the air or from games Vryce's player's son is playing on the old game machines our friend collects. Thats how we get gems like "Zed Shieldbearer" or "Grace the Slick" or "Gort of the Shining Force." If a counter I use has a name (say, from my old Cry Havoc sets), then it keeps that name.

And GO!

It took me longer to write this than it'll take you to follow these steps.

That's really it. You can write down what they do and what gets tested in play and then fill in the template later. if you ever have to. Anything defined in play is true, regardless of templates, points, or anything else. Should have had Stealth-14 and you said 12? This guy sucks at Stealth or he learned from experience and now he's got a 14 for the next trip! Hurrah! Should have had a 12 and you said 14? Damn, he's good! And so on. It doesn't really matter. These guys are extras and walk-ons, not the stars. Consistency with actual play matters more than fidelity to what should have been if you had more time to get ready.

And that's how I get these guys.


  1. It's been a while, but when I GMed and henchmen came into play I gave them a basic set of skills and maybe a surprise skill. Then if he or she live long enough to warrant statting then I would go with 50 to 75 points.

    1. That's pretty much the way to do it - go with the necessaries and then expand later if you need them.

  2. Knowing how OCD I am, I'd probably end up prepping dozens of Hirelings in advance, just in case :)

    Btw, not directly related but you guys all use GURPS Character Assistant actively to keep track of everything right? Ever planned to give a list of which files you use/allow in your usual GURPS campaign?

    1. I'll do that this week, actually. We do use GCA to track everything except wealth, since it's so ephemeral.

  3. I just open up DF 15 and my DF notebook and whenever a choice on the template becomes relevant in play, I make one and note it. I may be insane, however.

  4. I have major issues with the way that GCA handles racial costs, breaking them down and redistributing them in a way that costs against disadvantage limits.

    1. That's not GCA, that's the GURPS 4e rules as written. Races are meta-traits, and meta-traits are treated as a single chunk. I can't think of a single place in GURPS that races are treated exactly as other templates. It's a package not a pick list, and only if the final cost is negative does it affect your disadvantage limit.

      DF even does this with lenses, which include a new disad that breaks the 50-point limit suggested in DF1.

    2. You know what, I just realized I may have misread you entirely. I'm not sure that it does that though, at least not how I'm seeing it. Taking, say, Borriz the Dwarf, he has 50 points in disads on his own, from his template (he's a DF Knight), 5 quriks, and a further -20 from his race. The total shows at -55, which is correct - his -20 from his race are part of a package deal. The other -55 are his own. He's not showing in violation of the disadvantage limit at -55, which if I add a Quirk, say, goes to -56 and shows red not black.

      So I'm just not seeing that.

    3. I don't have GCA, but my online players keep sending me files that show everything broken down and alphabetized that are often counting the racial Disads against the total. Takes me hours to reformat them into readable and properly balanced pc's.

    4. There is probably an option to do that, but if so I don't know about it.

      Might just be printing it out as PDFs does so - I'll have to try. You can ask Armin if there is something they should be doing to prevent that, too:


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