Mastering Epic Levels part 4

The game itself is broken up into three different playing styles. Levels 1-4 is all about exploring the world, and the characters that are in it. Short battles with powerful enemies who have short plots of destruction, and stopping these plots before they spiral out of control, and the monster becomes an even bigger menace to society.

5-10th levels are able to stop even greater enemies, on a much larger scale. They can survive week long excursions into dark dungeons, thrilling battles at sea, and will become a great asset to any kingdom that they choose to serve.

10th level, is regularly designed to command large armies . . . But for this essay, our characters just aren’t right to do this. Well, they still should get the rewards of their toils, just because a fighter owns a small fort, doesn’t mean that he can’t entrust it to a trusted henchman. It will give him a place to keep his treasures, and a free bed! What adventurer can complain about that? We don’t need to constantly threaten the fort unless the player is wondering why this isn’t being addressed. One of the biggest drawbacks to games that take place around personal property, is that they are normally one sided, and more suited as a 1-on-1 session. It also gives the player some more options . . . Does he want to play as a Henchman, to build him up a level, does he want to take a few of his soldiers with him on adventures (this is a huge risk, as followers are not easy to replace), or does he want to simply have henchmen take the thing over and collect a paycheck every couple of weeks? It is totally up to the player!

Clerics get a reputation at 8th level, and at 9th can build a stronghold that is recognized by the clerics superiors, thus becoming a superior! Thieves get promoted or form guilds of their own, and Wizards can build a property at anytime, which is good for storing magical texts, and creating a lab. Purchasing property should be a priority for high level characters . . . Unless of course they are too much into the thick of trouble all of the time to focus on such things. In all cases, if a player gets followers, they should be independent thinkers.


I can hear you hiss and moan as you read this! Followers and henchmen are one of the most misunderstood and underutilized things in the game. Now, if a player spends his entire career battling the evils of the underdark, well, chances are that nobody is going to hear about the guy.

HOWEVER, if he is a hero, he will start attracting people who consider him/her and idol and seek to train with them. The PHB calls some of these people “Fanatics” which I always felt to be grossly misleading. They won’t be acting like teenage girls spooning over getting Elvis sweat on them. No, they will be strong men and women who believe in these heroes enough to support them in any way that the hero will let them. They will seek to impress the hero with their usefulness and courage!

For the sake of this essay, we’ll be assuming that the hero in question is a great fighter! All of these suggestions and methods can be translated to the other classes with equal ease.

The Leader

Now this is probably the most important person that your hero will ever meet. He has somehow learned everything about you, through stories and song, and seeks to aid you. He has collected like minded men who HE controls. He isn’t some crazy fan, his alignment will be the same as the heroes, and he will first seek out the heroes friendship.

Player Participation

At this stage, sharing the work with the Player is essential! You shouldn’t get stuck with doing all the work, and this is stuff that is totally up to the Player, even if he doesn’t WANT to be a Lord, he should still be interested in his henchman, but before we can introduce the two, we have to first create him. Have the player roll him up, and give him full PC stats, as the player may chose at any time to put his main hero away and build this guy up some. The player should roll him up in front of you, or if you trust them enough, he can work on it at home and bring it into on the next session, so that you can look it over and figure out a way to introduce the character into the game.

Rath, meet Htar!

When you chose to introduce this new hero is up to you. You can do it as heroically (saving all of the players from what appears to be certain death) or the other way around (Heroes save the new hero from certain death) it is totally up to you!

Handling Henchmen

It’s not like we DM’s don’t have enough responsibility, that we’ve got time to run a NPC. The player should have the henchman’s stats right there, we just have to make sure that he is treating the henchman properly, if he doesn’t, then the henchman will leave, and might not ever come back.

The player should decide what the henchman does, especially during combat, however the henchman will have a moral rating that must be followed, but other then that, the PC gets to roll the henchman’s attack and damages, he rolls up all saving throws and all of the other goodies that you don’t want to bother with. However you do have to remember that the henchman also gets a cut of any experience points earned, and if you use individual XP points, he’ll get them too. A henchman is NOT a static character. He will grow and learn exactly like a Player Character, and at the Players option, he can chose to play as his henchman instead of as himself.


The henchman may or may not come with his own army, the army is created as described in the PHB, but they aren’t as cool as henchmen. Armies are broken down into two groups. Standard Troops, and Elite Units.

Creating Armies

If you are anything like me, you may not be happy with the chart in the PHB, but the good news is that since this is D&D you can create your own charts or simply over-rule the chart and use it as a guideline, ignoring any result of some races that wouldn’t make sense and turning them into races that make perfect sense!

Rath, meet the guys!

Logic, of course, must take center stage. The army may or may not be with the leader, but you should also incorporate this into your story, it is always best to role-play big events and this should be a big event in a heroes career, but you don’t have to. Simply supply the troops, and the building and they stay in the background like all of the other NPCs.

Handling Troops

Troops always start out at 0th level, and gain level 1 after one year of service. These people work as a team and grow evenly, so they are basically pretty stagnant. They can’t be roleplayed by the player, and are always treated as NPCs. They are subject to moral checks during combat, but gain no experience from the combat cut like a PC or henchman would, and will probably max out at 5th level, but that is up to you as the DM. More experience can be earned by actual battles, perhaps 1 level per battle fought.

A Player can do whatever he wishes with his troops, however he must be made aware that these people aren’t mercenaries, and if they are killed, then he will never attract any more like them. It is their primary function to serve as guards for the fort, and as students to the heroes fighting styles.

Handling Elite Units

Now these guys are COOL!!! You can make these men as stagnant or as individuals depending on how much the player is getting into it. It is the Players job to come up with names and stats of specific elite officers, which he can play individually if he chooses, if he doesn’t then they can stay stagnant and gain levels as you see fit for surviving combat.

Elite Units are your heroes officers and teachers, they will also be students of the hero and follow his orders, they will still be subject to a moral rating, however it will be better then the standard troops. Great care must be taken with these guys as well. If you lose them, then you’re fort will fall apart and you’ll never get any more. If you chose to employ mercenaries, you have your Elite Units command them if you wish.

Followers and Storylines

Large scale battles have their own rules, and you must be the right kind of DM to be interested in war gaming, I DO recommend it for a 1-on-1 game where it’s just a DM and a single player in charge of his side, as it can be a very rewarding experience, and if you can DM THAT, then you have reached the Mecca of DMing! But as far as stories and entertaining more then one player goes, there are some circumstances in which a PC may wish to have his troops summoned, for example holding off an enemies army while the heroes sneak attack from behind and fight inside of the castle. You will have to develop your own rules for how these fights are decided, but for the most part the PC need not worry about the outcome as his leader will stay outside and command the troops for him, leaving him free to be the glory hog that he is!

Most of the time, these followers can be completely ignored, and will only come into play as the player sees fit. You need not be forced to WARGAME with them.

Millitary Warfare

Before we move on, I just want to throw one more thing out there in regards to military warfare. One simply has too look at the numbers of casualties in a real battle. One of the most infamous battles that ever took place on American soil was the Battle of Gettysburg, 50% of the people who fought in that battle which decided the fate of the entire Civil War died, but that also means that 50% of the men lived to talk about it. A bloodbath isn’t needed in combat, your job as a soldier isn’t to kill everyone, it’s to hurt the other side and make them stop while saving your own neck and the necks of your troops in the process.

If the PC’s win inside of the castle, then the troops fighting should win too, yes you will suffer casualties, but you’ll also have prisoners.

The effects of Property

The effects of owning property is that it gives the player more money. Depending on the level of the troops that he commands, the more income that the stronghold will earn him, same for all of the classes. The better the thieves that fill up the ranks in your guild, the more money they will make you. Exactly how much money is up to you. Again, you don’t need to wargame it out where you figure out all of the bills and force the PC to keep detailed records of his money . . . This is a game!!!! Keep it simple, (unless you and your players are into that kind of stuff) depending on the amount of money that you want to give to them, a fair income would be 100gp per level of your troops, thus a stronghold wouldn’t make any money the first year, but as the troops who actually run it get better, then you’ll start making extra money. Thus, a stronghold maintained by 5th level troops would make 500gp per year. Again, this is just a suggestion, it can be more or less depending on how much money the adventures need.

You can also employ skilled workers in your stronghold, thus your need to purchase and maintain weapons and armor could be eliminated. A fair wage should be paid, and this can be taken directly out of the strongholds yearly income so that you and the players never have to deal with it. This gives the players more time to focus on the actual game, and less with purchasing the tools that they need to play.
More Player’s Shared Responsibility

The actual map of the stronghold should be designed by the player, this is his baby! This should be added to your city map, which is shared with the player for his own personal reference. His home city should not be a secret to him, he’ll know everything that goes on and be aware of new buildings and business’s operating around him.

Again, this stronghold need not ever come into play! But it would be a nice thing to have. The player can keep his original copy, and map key that he has written, and give a photo copied version to you for your own records.

This actually will help him learn what you go through every adventure, and it will also allow him to create. You CAN use the stronghold in story adventures, they give many hooks and offer extra plot devices that you just can’t get. You can use property as a motivation, but like a players life, don’t destroy it yourself, this is a job for the PC’s. You can endanger it, but don’t outright burn it to the ground, or kill troops just for the sake of making a story more dramatic . . . That isn’t dramatic, it’s uncool! It took a lot of work on the players part to earn this bonus, and you should use the armies to make the character shine! It should always be a positive, and never a negative. We don’t want to make PC’s fear relationships with NPCs, we want them to interact with our world, and this is the perfect method! Use it!

A Heroes Responsibility

As a general theme to this article, you can see that you can make this have as much or as little impact on the actual story as you want to. But this situation does offer story related impact that can be used to further challenge epic heroes.

A hero with property in a city will be expected to deal with any large problems that occur, which if he is busy adventuring, can be handled by the characters man-at-arms and need not directly effect play. The responsibilities of being a Lord can be avoided by simply being a training camp or mercenary guild, that is a decision that is up to both you and the player to tailor it into your campaign.

A hero is responsible for training people that come to him. In the case of a wizard who owns property, there will be enough fear there to keep people away except for a few apprentices and other folks that would allow the wizard to continue his work, again, it’s up to the player to decide how much of what he wants. This doesn’t have to be role-played. Back to our hero Rath, his elite units will train folks who come to learn to fight like the master.

A Heroes Dilemma

Who trains the master’s?

Levels are gained by talking about your adventures and others singing your praises, Non-weapon Proficiencies can be gained by training with lower level NPC’s, but what about weapon proficiencies? The higher up in level that you get, the harder it is to find an NPC that can train you on how to fight with new weapons, or specialize in new fighting styles.

As 9th level wizard spells won’t be found in every nook and cranny of a evil lords house, a fighter will have some difficulty in locating a hero powerful enough to teach him. We’ll have to supply him with rumors of where one may be, and him finding this man and seeking the training that he needs can be an adventure in itself! Thankfully proficiencies need not be used right away.

One way of handling this problem is to have the fighter fight with a weapon and earn the proficiency the old fashion way, by simply teaching himself. He’ll have a negative to his attack (YAY!!!) but he’ll slowly learn the weapon until he’s proficient in its use. Fighting styles can be self taught as well, just remember that this stuff takes time and dedication. A bit of a negative to an epic hero isn’t as drastic as the negative on a lower level character, so this can work to your advantage. . . Well, at least a little bit.

Henchman and Role-playing

One more quick note about henchman. Watch the player, I know some players that can easily run 5 different characters at once, and I know some that have a hard time running 1! If somebody is struggling with running their henchman, you can easily think of a reason why they won’t participate and have to head back, or separate from the party.

It is also in the parties best interests to keep the henchman limited, as they will take part in the XP cut, and this will slow the evolution of the party down. How much work you want to give to the players is up to you. They can keep track of henchmen XP too if you clearly explain to them how this is calculated. Just make sure that there is a need for the party to have a henchman present, they can serve functions that the players may not want to do, such as guard a gate, contain captured enemies, aid in fights that the PC’s don’t want to deal with, whatever! So there really is no need to be afraid of using henchmen either! They can really enhance a game, and allow you to play at that truly epic level feel that you are going for.

Epic stories can be hard to think up, and leveling up a henchman can keep the party busy while you concoct a master plan so evil, and so dastardly that it takes an Epic Hero to crush it. It allows you to stay true to the world, and hold off on retiring that 17th level Cleric for a while.


Noumenon said...

however he must be made aware that these people aren’t mercenaries, and if they are killed, then he will never attract any more like them.

I suppose the best way to handle this would be to work a group into the campaign and have them decide to follow him. That way he won't be like, "I hired these guys, I'll hire more," he'll realize they're special.

50% of the people who fought in that battle which decided the fate of the entire Civil War died, but that also means that 50% of the men lived to talk about it.

Wikipedia says it was even less a bloodbath that that: killed and wounded together totalled 28%, and total killed in action were 7850 / 165,000 = 4.8%.

If you read the book On Killing by David Grossman, war is a lot less violent thing than generals and poets would have you believe. In the Civil War armies would regularly fire against each others lines for hours and hours at short range, without hardly causing any casualties at all. Not because it's hard to hit a target at that range, but because people hate the conflict. After the battles they would round up weapons that had been loaded again and again, but never fired.

In World War II they did surveys and found it was the same way, so they introduced better training to break down people's psychological resistance to killing and that's one reason the U.S. army is so effective today.

RipperX said...

Very good research noumenon.

I as a player was always trapped in this knowledge that to win a battle, you had to kill every last one of the enemy.

Thank god for the rule of "Hanging on Deaths Door". We'll never get a really realistic combat . . . well, not without sacrificing to much game speed which I'm never willing to do, but it can allow for wounded, versus casualties.

I would like to develop a quick and easy system of determining outside battles, but so far I've just used my own judgment.

I think fairness will always be an issue.

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