GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 15: Henchmen provides templates for three uses:
The first are third uses tend to be pretty clear. If you generate an ally you need some templates for sub-250 point characters and generally know what you want from your sidekick. As lower-point PCs, again, pretty straightforward.
But I've found players running 250-point PCs tend to struggle with hired help. Both with what they aren't - not full-powered delvers, not even close (even 125s leave 125 points of upgrades on the table, somewhat similar to a 250 vs. a 375 in terms of choices) - and with what the are.
First off, let's just get this out of the way - 62-point and 125-point hirelings are no where as capable of, nor can they hope to replace, 250-point delvers. They simply can't. "Can't we hire a 125-point healing cleric that can turn the undead and remove curses and exorcise altars?" Sure, if he does most of that on a 9 or less or so. "How come these 125-point skirmishers don't stand up in the front lines as well as martial artists and scouts?" Because they can't. Even a specialist won't always be able to do their specialty as well as most 250-point delver does their secondary job.
Remembering that they won't be pegged at 25% or 50% of your point total thanks to being Allies and don't get 5 xp just because you did is easy.
The main struggle seems to be knowing what to use them for.
Leaving aside what they aren't for now, I want to look at how I've seen hired help used effectively and how I think they can be used effectively. What is hired help good for?
I'm deliberately leaving aside the whole "use them as suicidal mine detectors and meat shields" approach, as my group generally doesn't do that and it's not conducive to long-term hireling market access.
Freeing up PCs for PC-level work.
Some parties struggle during adventures just from sheer lack of numbers. It's hard in a small team to have two guys lifting a heavy portcullis while someone stands ready to fight and three others watch the intersected corridors behind you - even without taking the squishy mage and cleric off of those duties. It's hard to carry lots of sacks of loot when sacks take two hands (or are slung off a two-handed pole.) If someone goes down, you need a person to carry him or her without taking your other fighters out of the line - and the clerics and wizards aren't likely to be strong enough to manage well.
Often you need a pair of eyes, a body to occupy a space, and so on. Some specific roles I find where hireling fit is:
- bodyguard for wizards, cleric, etc. You just need someone who can force an attacker to stop and deal with them, even if only to slow them down, until a better combatant can finish the job.
- Filling in flanks. In a large corridor or in the wilderness, you need people who can occupy space and ensure the enemy can't just run around you. Even a 62-point bargain henchman can do this; a 125 does it better. They won't be able to stand and fight against threats that worry 250-point guys, but they can prevent you from getting cut off or surrounded.
- Fighting over the front ranks with polearms. This is a marginal use - it sounds great, but only works if the players really buy into formation fighting. As soon as someone says, "I need room to Retreat" or "I had to run out of formation, otherwise that demon-wizard would have killed us the next turn with a spell" - right or wrong - this falls apart.
- a tripwire against attacks. A rear guard who isn't capable of winning a fight is still potentially able to guard your rear just by being there.
- standing guard along with higher-value PCs when camping. No matter how well you explain your careful setup to the GM, they never seem to believe you can watch the skies, the ground, listen for noises, watch in a 360-degree circle, and move around silently so no one can draw a bead on you. Extra bodies mean you really can watch multiple directions if you've got multiple people doing it.
- carrying things. More bodies means more gear needed, and more supplies needed, but especially for dungeon delves with a surface base you always benefit from more hands once treasure is discovered.
- junk work. Guarding the horses so the GM doesn't say, "You're seriously just leaving your horses in the owlbear-infested Orcwood and going into the dungeon?" or cooking your meals so you don't have to explain why everyone is engaged in fully restful leisure but somehow the stew gets made.
All of those things can be done by PCs, but it's easier if you can relegate that to hired help. You basically turn money, Leadership, and positive reaction bonuses into more work done and your PC free to do dangerous stuff.
Doing jobs the PCs can't do at all.
Not every party has a barbarian, a scout, a thief, and a cleric. You can hire a specific skill out of those skillsets (usually) by turning to hirelings. You can also augment skills:
- Missing skills like Area Knowledge, specific Hidden Lore specialties, languages, and odd Survival specialties are often more easily hired than learned. Especially if you don't plan to stay in the Lands of Terror after you've cleared out the Death Brain infestation from the Lost Crypt. Thief specialties and outdoors specialties usually play well into being hired out; cleric skills to a much lesser extent (Surgery, perhaps, everyone should have First Aid anyway), and make-it-or-die skills like Traps or Exorcism work better on PCs than on lower-point hired help.
- Missing spells are a good reason to hire casters. You don't always want to learn them yourself, or they'll need prereqs you'd rather hire for than spend points to learn.
- Backing up existing skills. Many adventures have ground to a halt as people realize one guy with Boating or one guy with Seamanship doesn't help when you need two craft to travel. Other times you need a backup person with Survival because of additional numbers or for complementary rolls, a guy with good ST for moving things, solid Per for helping to search, and Lifting for picking things up can help.
Overall, I find those are broadly the ways to use hirelings - fill in gaps where a body matter enough that point value is the second consideration, and add in/supplement skills and skill sets. All the while acknowledging that they're not going to be up to the challenge outside of their specialty. Or even in it, versus a PC - the strongest Laborer or toughest Squire is no Barbarian in ST or Knight in combat skill, respectively.
The big mistakes seem to be using them as if they were 250 ("Put Pigsticker Paul in the front line, he's a fighter"), or thinking of them as such ("Hey, we've got a 125-point cleric, so we're good on healing forever, so don't make a cleric"). A second one is thinking everyone is a Laborer with a side specialty ("The NPCs will carry everything - tell the archer to sling his bow and carry these orc swords for us.") But the main issue is, even knowing what they aren't, is what to use them for?
Hopefully the above will help a bit.