Friday, February 19, 2021

Friday Figures: How Much Info on Henchmen?

Poll: How much information do you give to players about their hirelings?

Another poll asked previously on the ODD74 forums, and related to our question on Monday -- "How much information do you give players about their hirelings?" (And here OD&D uses the term "hirelings" for what B/X called "retainers", 1E "henchmen", etc.)

You could go in several directions on this, and over the years I've wrestled with them all. For full "immersion" you might consider giving the players no game information at all, keeping the NPCs entirely masked behind the DM's screen and interactive portrayal. On the other end of the dial, the DM might simply see it as a huge hassle to shuffle possibly dozens of sheets and personalities like that (in addition to every other person or monster in the campaign world), and so for logistical efficiency, just turn over the whole henchman PC sheet to the controlling player. Or something in the middle.

When I asked on ODD74, each of the options got at least some votes, but it's that "something in the middle" option that took first place. Specifically, "Index-card size" took 10 votes (66%). Second-place went to"None" with 3 votes (20%). "Full character sheet" and "Something else" each got 1 vote (7%). 

I don't mind that top choice, and I sympathize with the rationale for it. Most recently, I was giving players a full PC sheet for their henchmen after the first adventuring session -- I'm definitely now re-thinking this. Among the things I'm not thrilled about is the need for a different recording document for henchmen (the player-facing index card) -- and then need to keep that synched with the DM document, track XP, shuffle the paper in-game, etc. (Sounds like a violation of the DRY principle.)

So at the moment I'm a bit on the edge for that. What's your preference?

Poll Discussion at ODD74 Forums
(Account Required)


10 comments:

  1. I keep track of 0-level NPC henchman's general type, basic stats (like a monster listing). Everything else (name, personality, etc.) is up to the player, and it's their responsibility to remind me of changes in AC or armament they might purchase.

    For classed NPC retainers, I keep 3x5 cards with mini character sheets for them, and the players only get their names, class, general kit, and so on, and I run them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh yeah, that makes sense. I gues when I say "henchmen", et. al., I assume they're all classed.

      Delete
  2. I do something like you. I put everything on a 3x5 card and give it to the player after the first forey. No second track. The character is then crossed out of my list of possible hirelings. The player controls the hireling, but I can veto some actions.

    ReplyDelete
  3. We play a BX clone with a domain game, so henchmen (and even sub henches) are a big part. Whenever a PC hires a henchman, they get a sheet with level , xp, stats and equipment. Now its their job to keep track of everything.

    Is that too much? I don't think so. A NPC's stats doesn't tell you everything about them. They can have secrets, loyalties, desires, etc. not on the sheet. Stats don't tell the whole story.

    Just because you know my height, weight, occupation and hair color, it doesn't mean you know me or my story.

    My $0.02

    ReplyDelete
  4. I hand any sort of henchman or friendly NPC who joins the party to the players as soon as I can. I've got enough to deal with if I'm the DM. The only info I'll hold back is if the character has some sort of secret. Also 3x5 card all the way.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That was my motivation for the last few years, too.

      Delete
  5. Hm, I have usually just given them the whole stat line up front, before hiring even. Doing it after one adventure is an interesting idea.

    ReplyDelete
  6. For me, henchmen like porters, torchbearers, 0-level NPCs, and other lackeys get little more than a name and descriptive phrase for color (e.g. Kulma Stink-eye. Huge wart on nose and dislikes footwear). 1st-level retainers and higher get a full character sheet only after remaining with (surviving) the adventuring group for at least 2 or 3 outings. Once made, the player maintains management of the retainer.
    (Sorry if this posts twice...looks like my original reply never went through).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's really interesting; I'm surprised by how many people count 0-levels as possible henchmen. Have I been unusually effected by the language in the 1E DMG, I wonder? ("As a general rule, only characters of 1st level of experience will be attracted to service with a player character.", p. 34)

      Delete
    2. Perhaps. I’d have to check when I get home, but I do not recall any such stipulation in Men & Magic, other than it stating they must be low level. In Basic, I know Moldvay specifically states that retainers can be any level (even explicitly stating that this includes 0-level and non-classed normal men), although such retainers can never be higher level than the character. Can’t recall what Holmes wrote without checking.
      I know I like to also use Moldvay’s advice about not letting retainers be abused or used as a crutch for beginning characters; therefore, I like using 0-level non-classed retainers/henchmen for 1st level characters. But that’s just me, of course.

      Delete