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  • Writer's pictureJoe Thelawyer

Hirelings, Henchmen, Mercenaries and Followers

Hirelings, Henchmen, Mercenaries and Followers

(A lot of this is taken from the Hyperborea RPG, with edits)

Many successful adventuring groups employ some combination of Hirelings, Mercenaries, and Henchmen to help with their explorations.

A Hireling is a type of unskilled laborer, usually used as a torchbearer, as someone who carries armor, gear and weapons, or someone who carries the treasure. The type of hirelings, mercenaries or henchmen which may potentially be available, as well as their daily cost, is listed below. They generally want half of their money upfront, and half upon successful completion of the mission. PC’s are also required to provide rations for the duration of the adventure to those they employ.

Probably the most important thing to know about hirelings, mercenaries, followers and henchmen for players of old school games is that no one except newbies or kids treat the hired help as Red Shirts, cannon fodder, openers of suspected trapped doors, or as expendable in any way. They are junior members of the group. Leaving with hirelings and mercenaries and coming back with none will seriously affect the PC’s chances of getting others in the future. Woe to PC’s that loot and keep the gear of those they hire, if those they hire die.

Note that the group as a whole cannot hire a person to help. Each hireling is employed by a specific adventurer, and all tests of loyalty and morale are in relation to that particular adventurer who hired him.

In any case, acceptances of offers of employment are not automatic. Past history with the PC is taken into account, of course, and a reaction roll is made by the DM. This determines if they accept the offer or not. In some cases providing gear, paying them more money or other enticements can sweeten the offer. Also, buying them and their friends rounds of booze helps too, along with grand speeches made in character by the player for his PC boasting of his own personal tales of past successful missions and conquests, rewards gained, bravery and valor, as well as promises of future rewards. In other words, it helps if the PC’s sell not only themselves but their mission, in the bar, in character.

Advancement of Hirelings and Mercenaries

Most, but not all hirelings are working their way up to becoming full-blown classed adventurers like the PC’s. They generally start out as torchbearers, after several successful adventures work their way up to those trusted enough to carry treasure and noncombat gear, and then ultimately to those trusted enough to hold their nerve and be loyal during tough combats to carry armor and weapons beside their employer in the middle of the chaos of battle. Eventually, after picking up bits and pieces of training and gear, they progress to being mercenaries. Hirelings really appreciate gifts of leather armor, or anything else that will help keep them alive. Usually they aren’t gifted with gear much heavier than that, as they need to preserve their agility to stay alive, and their carrying capacity for the PC’s stuff.

Neither hirelings nor mercenaries typically get a share of the treasure. A torch bearer advances to porter after two successful dangerous adventures wherein they did not fail any morale or loyalty checks. To go from porter to weapon/armor bearer takes two more sessions with no fails. After three more dangerous adventures with no failed checks, armor/weapon bearers advance to apprentice mercenaries.

Note that these three designations of hirelings do not mean that they must be carrying out those job duties to advance. After a while even someone who is a torchbearer by job duty, but who has seen enough time in the dungeon, will advance to mercenary. These three classifications are the typical advancement route, however. It’s the “career path” they hear in the bars and taverns of the world. As such, they expect that as they go on more adventures, and gain the trust and loyalty of their employers, that they will advance in job duties. A PC, however, can have a hireling do whatever they want. If the hireling agrees, its all good.

Mercenaries get a half share of the xp gained in an adventure. They are generally working towards becoming Fighters, Thieves, and Rangers. Once a novice mercenary gains 1000 xp he becomes a journeyman mercenary, then after 1500 more he becomes a master mercenary. After gaining 2000 more xp and further training with a member of the group (see below) he becomes a classed individual if he so chooses. They cannot advance to classes which involve learning spell casting and stay with the adventuring group for further training by members of the group, as the initial training for spellcasters is measured in years of intense study in either a temple or as an apprentice mage.

It is assumed that during their time as a mercenary they are being trained in fighting and how to use armor and shields by members of the group in their off time. That’s how they improve and become a classed character. There must be a fighter in the group to train with for a mercenary to advance to a classed fighter and stay with the group. Likewise for Rangers and Thieves. The time required for training to become a classed character varies depending on the class. To go from master mercenary to a Fighter it takes two months of intense focused training, and the trainee and trainer cannot go on adventures during that time. To advance to a thief, a mercenary must spend six months of training time in a city large enough to live the life of a person who steals for a living. For a ranger, the master mercenary spends 18-24 months as an apprentice ranger.

A Mage or Priest based class takes upwards of five to eight years to become a first level adventurer in that profession. During the training time, these adventurers in training do not go out on missions as mercenaries. They are effectively retired, but may later be an NPC in the campaign if it spans years.

A person who progresses to master mercenary and gains 10 hp, and then progresses to be a classed character, will start as a first level classed character with 10 hp regardless of the class they choose to train in. Afterwards they use the die of their class and roll for hp every level. They retain the ability to use the weapons and armor they were proficient with when they were mercenaries, though certain class restrictions like mages not being able to cast spells may prevent them from making full use of those items.

Mercenaries who become classed characters who were trained by a PC’s often become a Henchmen of the PC that trained them.

Hirelings and Mercenaries in Combat

Torchbearers/lanternbearers usually don’t contribute much of anything to the combat other than occasionally throwing a flask of burning oil into the mix. They need to be brave, because they need to stay in the area of melee combat, with swords clashing, spells going off, and monsters trying to kill them, but they can’t fight. The need to keep the area lit so that those who will be fighting to protect them can see during the fight. They are also good to have for minor camp chores like gathering firewood, filling water flasks, tending to horses, cooking the meals, etc. Agility is helpful because they need to be quick on their feet to avoid being hit in combat.

Those who carry armor, weapons, gear and treasure must also be brave because they don’t even usually have flaming oil to throw. Their hands are generally full. Those who carry treasure generally stay near the back during a combat, but those who carry the armor, weapons, and gear must, like a squire of old, be near the one who hired them to be able to pass them stuff when needed. Both their morale and loyalty must be as strong as their backs.

Hirelings have d6 hp plus con modifier to start. Any oil they have is of course provided by their employer. A torchbearer starts with either a club, javelin, dagger or sling. It is a rare torchbearer that starts with more. If they do, it’s usually with an item that’s been in the family for a while, like the spear Uncle Hank killed the orc with 35 years ago. That sort of thing. Armor/Weapon bearers are sometimes trusted with rare curative potions that treat diseases, cure wounds, etc. that they can pour down their employer’s throats if they are injured in combat.

A Mercenary is a skilled combatant, but they do not have a character class. Mercenaries have 6 hp as Apprentices, 8 as Journeymen, and 10 as Masters. Their cost and the weapons they typically carry are described below.

The Saving Throw are as for zero level warriors on the saving throw chart.


(Taken mostly from Hyperborea)

Henchmen are classed NPC’s for hire. They are often of similar class, race, and culture, though exceptions are possible. Henchmen begin at 1st level, unless the PC is 9th level or greater, in which case a henchman of 2nd or 3rd level is possible. Initially they are paid 500 gp per level per month, and may be given additional perks or bonuses by the PC. Note that although they are NPC’s, they are full blown classed adventurers, and as such demand an equal share of both the treasure and XP. A henchman often enjoys a special relationship with the one he serves; thus, henchmen usually possess high morale and loyalty to that person. They are not simply hired hands, but elite exceptional followers, in a sense. Because of this nature, charisma limits the number of henchmen a character may attract to his service.

Henchmen are neither automatically attracted nor guaranteed; they might be drawn to the service of a PC due to that one’s heroic deeds or reputation, or if the PC has established a suitable stronghold. A hireling or mercenary can become a henchman, if circumstances are appropriate. Furthermore, in the event of a PC’s death, or if the PC is otherwise disposed and not available to adventure, a henchman may be used temporarily or even permanently as a replacement PC. Combat related details regarding Hirelings and Mercenaries are explained and summarized below:

You’ll notice there are not any mounted mercenaries for hire. That’s because they are rare and usually recruited by someone as a follower. However, PC’s may come across one, or may want to train an existing mercenary to become skilled in mounted combat. PC’s must provide horses for those they want to train, and spend at least 3-4 weeks training them. Of course, this assumes the PC training them is skilled in such warfare himself, like a fighter, paladin, or ranger would be. Mercenaries who are trained in fighting on horse also charge more than those who are not. Typically, it’s 10-20 gp more per day, depending on if they are light, medium or heavy horsemen. If a PC outfits and trains a mercenary in fighting from horseback, and provides him with a horse, weaponry, armor and gear, his loyalty and morale definitely go up.

Loyalty and Morale

Each person hired by the adventurers has both a loyalty score and a morale score which is known only to the DM. The DM will roll in secret against these scores in order to determine whether or not the hired help will stand strong in the face of tests of loyalty or morale. A good description of the differences between loyalty and morale and the situations wherein each would be tested is in the Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea Second Edition rule book. The following is copied and pasted from that book, with some edits

The steadfastness of NPC hirelings and henchmen is challenged in times of adventure and battle. Loyalty is impacted by the charisma of the employing PC. Morale measures NPC reactions to extremely adverse circumstances; e.g., those that involve death, dismemberment, incarceration, great personal loss, and the like.

When a henchman or hireling’s loyalty to his employer is put to the test, or pushed to its (potential) limit, a loyalty check must be rolled, using 2d6. If the result is greater than their loyalty score, then they will abandon, betray, or (at worst) attack the character, as determined by the DM, who must weigh the prevailing circumstances. Over the course of the campaign, the referee is at liberty to upgrade or downgrade the base value of henchman and hireling loyalty.

If during battle (or otherwise) the DM judges that circumstances demand a morale check, a roll of 2d6 is made. Certain situational modifiers may apply. If the roll is higher than the morale score, that’s a failure and the DM will determine the outcome. Over the course of the campaign, the DM can upgrade or downgrade the base value of henchman and hireling morale.

Interpreting Henchman and Hireling Loyalty and Morale

Referee discretion is advised when judging hireling behavior. For instance, how can a trustworthy hireling also be half-hearted? He is not prone to lie, cheat, or steal, and in general he has his employer’s back in times of duress, but if he were asked to take point in the marching order when entering a cave mouth lined with dead soldiers, he may lack the courage to do as asked; this cowardice does not make him any less trustworthy, per se. Such circumstances may require a morale check or DM adjudication.

During the adventure, the player/employer decides what he wants his hired help to do, the DM makes a morale or loyalty check if appropriate, then if that goes well the player makes any appropriate rolls to determine the success or failure of the request. The DM will also act in character for each person hired when appropriate. It is usually more likely than not that a henchman will have more to say than a mercenary, who will, in turn, have more to say than a hireling.

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4 Kommentare

will t
will t
21. Dez. 2022

Really enjoyed this! Came here to check it out after seeing your video. I have a question, instead of having hirelings advance after 2-3 dangerous encounters, I'm thinking of allowing them 10% of xp from encounters, and at 1500xp they would advance up the ranks (then 3000, 4500...). Do you think that makes sense and could or should I forget about this? Thanks!

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19. Dez. 2022

I rolled a 2 on your loyalty table so unfortunately Im going to steal your docs...... Nice job Joe

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19. Dez. 2022

Great work!!! It followed a lot of how I ran NPCs for my parties, but you fleshed it out much more in Depth. Definitely stealing your work! Incorporating it into my Hyperborea campaign...

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Joe Thelawyer
Joe Thelawyer
19. Dez. 2022
Antwort an

Excellent! That's where i took a lot of it from anyway. :)

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