Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Hireling or Dependent?

Thinking more on a favorite subject of mine - NPC hired help in the GURPS Dungeon Fantasy dungeon. Since my players often take hirelings but also protect them most strenuously, I've been thinking about this particular angle. Sometimes this happens due to disadvantages (Sense of Duty most strongly, but also Code of Honor) but just as often due to on-the-spot decisions about who they like.

Hireling or Dependent??

I read an interesting argument that one of the great failings of General McClellan was that he loved his men too much, and was too shocked by the horrific casualties of the Penninsular Compaign, to inflict useless casualties on them. This led to his refusal to take risks with his men and always seek more and more reinforcements to ensure a flawless and bloodless victory. Grant, on the other hand, would take casualties for victory if that is what it cost. Historically accurate or not, it's an interesting idea - that it's hard to be a leader if you aren't willing to take losses to accomplish the goal you're leading people toward.

Applying this to hirelings: If you're unwilling to accept casualties to get the job done, hirelings are not cannon fodder or helpful companions or anything in between. They're dependents. They cost resources. They take up space. They require protections and careful screening to keep them alive. They distract you from risk and act as weak points instead of strengthening.

If you can't accept casualties, then unless NPCs are at least as capable as the PCs it's better not to bring them along. This is quite different than treating NPCs like dirt. That's a whole sociopathic tendency of a different kind.

This is turning "You will never betray [your allies], abandon them when they're in trouble, or let them suffer [. . .] if you can help" (Sense of Duty, p. B153) into making NPC fellow adventurers into "an NPC for whom you are responsible" and whom "you must go to the rescue as soon as possible." (Dependent, p. B131) This is especially true if you have neither a Sense of Duty nor is the NPC a Dependent. (It's worth noting someone can be both Ally and Dependent, but that's a side issue for this discussion.)

It's a tough line - doing enough to safeguard your companions but also accepting that yes, if you send a few guys into the line a few less of them might return. Accepting that putting a spearman here might mean he dies horribly but it saves someone else from a surprise attack, or slows down a foe. At the same time your disadvantage might mean giving them potions, buffing them with spells, and saving them from injury if you can. It might make sense tactically and according to the personality of your character to protect them, parry for them, or put yourself in more danger than they are in. It's a balancing act. But it's worth a thought - can you afford to bring anyone along you aren't willing to see risk death since you're all risking death?

Like I said, it's tough. But if you're going to turn from a leader of men hoping to minimize casualties into a chaperone keeping your NPCs safe from all harm, is it worth bringing them? Or do you need to accept that ideal wars are won without fighting but not all wars are ideal?

I just wanted to raise this up as a conversation here and among my group.


  1. This is an excellent post. Hjalmarr has Sense of Duty: Adventuring Companions and Code of Honor: Soldier, and he's probably WAAAAAAAY too much like McClellan. He may need to fight those impulses at times and be riskier if there's a big reward to be had.

    1. I figure if you can't risk the NPCs getting hurt, it's better not to bring them. And if you're hiring people to fight but can't risk them fighting (or their injury, loss, etc. drives all tactics after that) it's a double-bind - you're averse to having them do what they've been brought to do.

      Hjalmarr is appropriately risk-averse with Brother Ike, but that's understandable - he's vital to your success but isn't as sturdy as the other delvers. Apportioning risk by role and ability makes sense.

      Just keep in mind that Code of Honor (Soldier's) doesn't say anything about "don't let you guys get hurt" or even "don't let anyone die." It's all about being willing to fight and die for your cause, leading from the front, being tough but fair as an officer and leader, following orders, etc. If you couldn't have that code and risk death of your troops, it would actually inappropriate for most actual officers and soldiers!

    2. How does Ike get paid? Does he get a share? What's he do with his dough?

      In theory letting hirelings fight should bring enough advantage to keep them alive, and spread out suffered damage

    3. He gets 125-point hireling rates in lieu of a share. He spend it on upkeep and donates his little profit to the church. If he needs gear upgrades, that's on Hjalmarr.

      And yeah, in theory, having hirelings means everyone spreads out the damage more. It never works that way in theory. Ask Ken - the average per person damage was less than 3 points, but he took all 21 and died.

    4. Ken might have suffered from sub optimal battle formation . . . wouldn't that hit have only reduced Louis, Bob, or a Meeposian to negatives but not to Death Check land?

    5. Tactically, he was hit instead of Mo getting hit with a back shot or Gale getting hit, or Bob getting hit while down. Once the minis hit the map, it's hard to do equivalencies like that - not everyone was withing a sweep of that ogre's club. Ken served a purpose getting killed, in that sense, but equally it shows what I mean - extra bodies doesn't always mean damage is spread out more. It matter who is where.

  2. Has Hjalmarr upgraded Ike's kit?

    One reason our group hasn't DF Allies from DF 15 is DF 15s rule that Allies get shares . . . so people are dubious about that

    1. Ike does have fortified lightened leather armor that he bought for him after their Lost City adventures before heading into Felltower. He also has a small scale power item (4 FP) but not much else.

  3. I let my players use their Karma rerolls (campaign-level luck, more or less) for hirelings: save the hireling at the cost of maybe not saving yourself later.


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