Running NPC Hirelings, Followers, & Henchmen Responsibly

NONE-PLAYER CHARACTERS ARE the heart and soul of the game. Some are stagnant (meaning that they never change) while others are mutable (meaning that they grow and react to and with the player’s characters). Today I’d like to focus more on three types which are very important to the success of the players, namely hirelings, followers, and henchmen. New Dungeon Masters and inexperienced players probably ignore these NPC’s, which is cool! Learning the basic rules are important when first starting, but eventually you want to explore more complex situations and exploit the more advanced rule-sets. This is where these NPC types sit.


Hirelings are defined as anybody which you hire to perform a service for your character, this can be short term, long term, or permanent. All hirelings are either skilled or unskilled workers, anybody from a serf (who isn’t paid but is still considered a hireling) to NPC wizards are hirelings. Anybody that the players pay to perform a service, and donate time solely to them for a wage. This can be anybody who your heart desires, and the basic reason why we keep these guys around is to bleed money from a players coffer, and the players like them because they gain their services.

This definition is very broad, but we’ll be focusing more on expert hirelings, and what the player who hires them is responsible for.

Soldiers: Sometimes, especially in advanced games, players need to amass an army. This is expensive, and can get you into trouble because if you don’t have permission to raise an army from whoever is ruling the area in which you got them, then somebody is going to be really angry with you. Soldiers are a limited resource, and while you can bribe them away from their current posts, they aren’t going to be there if there services are required at home, and yes, enemies do pay attention to that kind of thing.

Technically, you can pay as many as you can afford, assuming that you gain permission from the local lord, and he can tell you how many that he can spare. They can do any job which you feel like giving them, within reason of course. They can perform guard duty (guarding treasure from looters, wagons and camps while you play in the cave, patrol areas and borders, etc.) or can be lead to fight battles.

Of course we don’t want NPCs to do all of the playing, it is still up to the players to fight their own battles. Hireling armies will help, but they won’t do all the work! Nor will they blindly give their lives to every cause which the players deem as important, after all, they are only getting a salary out of this deal! Armies do have moral checks, these are checked anytime that they are asked to perform some dangerous job, when they are getting clobbered, or anytime when they are at risk or tempted to do something which they aren’t ordered or paid to do.

It is the hirelings job to have all of the tools that they need to perform their function. They will have their own weapons, armor, and mounts if that is required by their trade, of course the Player can provide upgrades to equipment! But upgrades are still considered property of their owners, and not the soldiers themselves.

Hiring a soldier requires more then just paying them their wages (wages are listed in the DMG), an employer is responsible for supplying them with food and shelter, if they have mounts, then they are responsible for caring for these as well. They don’t have to do this personally! Unskilled hirelings can be paid to perform these duties, but the money must come from the employers pockets.

Soldiers, as a group, are not entitled to a share of XP, nor treasure. Though, if an employer is in a giving mood, they certainly won’t refuse such gifts! Happy soldiers are easier to manage then unhappy soldiers, which makes sense, right? As far as XP goes, hireling soldiers never raise levels, a second level fighter is always going to be a second level fighter, he is static, thus, he does not get any XP. More powerful soldiers may be attracted to more powerful PCs, but this is completely up to how giving the DM is feeling so it wouldn’t hurt to bribe him from time to time with delicious snacks and name-brand cola. Not to say that this tactic will work! But, mind you, it certainly won’t hurt your odds either.

Skilled Trade Workers: Armorists, weapon smiths, miners, and their types all have the tools that they need, but require the employer to provide food, shelter, and supplies. Workers are never expected to fight, and employers are expected to also provide protection to them. Any profit made by them is the property of the employer, and many skilled workers who are employed to build or construct items such as weapons and armor are required to make ability checks to determine the quality of the item that they constructed.

It is probably also worth noting that employers are responsible for providing a work station. This can be a tent to a permanent structure. These hirelings are different from contractors, as they are full-time employees. Contracting a hireling to build a full-plate armor suit, for instance, doesn’t require you to pay for food, board, and the site, that’s his responsibility to furnish everything that he needs, and the cost of the armor itself pays for everything.

A good rule of thumb to determine employer responsibility, is if the hireling is mobile or not. An employee whose job it is to manage an employers inn, for example, is paid a set rate per month and is responsible for supplying his own food and shelter, but those on the road all the time need the employer to provide these things.


Any hirelings are specialists, but a few demand different treatment because: A. They are too expensive to hire on a full-time basis, and B. There could be considerable risks involved in hiring them.

Spellcasters: Low level mages are typically considered to be soldiers, but high level wizards and clerics employed to cast a specific feet of magic. These guys should not be abused, nor should they ever get over involved in what the PCs are doing. They will charge considerable sums, require the adventurers to perform some task, or both! The key here is to make their services so expensive that they don’t want to rely on them.

Sometimes the players are tempted to try and get the NPC to play the game for them, in cases like this you can easily get out of it by saying something like, “Oh sure, I’ll help go ahead and go on down to the underdark and de-troll the cavern, and I’ll let you handle the tanari invasion of the North Core, it’s only 430 demons capable of engulfing the entire planet in a matter of days. Does that sound good to you?”

Assassins: These guys should always be dangerous, risky, and if it gets discovered that an adventurer hired them, or even tried to hire one, then it will effect their reputation.

Finding an assassin should be an adventure all in itself, these guys aren’t like soldiers, you can’t advertise for them, typically they find you, and it could just be a trick because one of your enemies hired him to kill YOU!

Again, we don’t want to encourage this kind of behavior, and refuse to let the players try and make NPC’s play the game for them. There is no set wage for these guys, but it should be considerable, and if we are willing to let this happen, just outside of their current means.

Assassins are always paid for upfront, before any assassination takes place. Once they are hired, then you have a judgment call to make. How is this going to effect your game? If it was just to do a simple task, then simply determine if it works or not, however if it is for a specific task which could change the game considerably, then we’ll have the players actually play the roles of the assassins, and play it out as an adventure. This adventure should be as lethal as humanly possible, and the DM should actively try to kill these temp characters. If the players can accomplish the goal with the temp characters, then congrats to them! They get no XP but they did eliminate the target.

It is up to the assassin to determine what his employer is responsible for furnishing and charging him for these things up front. After a job is finished, he may also demand more money for unexpected charges, or just plain old blackmail; it’s up to you.

Sages: Sages are scholars and wise-men who look things up for a living. If you read this blog regularly, then you’ll notice that I am a big fan of these guys! Sages can be required to discover information about elements in the game which the players may not have access to knowing any other way, or to give an edge to those who have money. Say a magical item is discovered and the party wants to find out about it, they can hire an expert who can look at it and discoverer its history and maybe a power or two. If you are playing with an artifact, you definitely want to give the party access to a scholar!

Sages can also give hints or clues to an adventure, provide maps, release rumors, whatever you want! They are very versatile NPCs. It is best if they have a couple of days to work on the problem, and success can either be determined by you, or can be determined randomly if it comes to questions which you didn’t expect. Success is not always given, because a sage can only know what you as the DM knows.

Even a diviner or gypsy fortuneteller is considered a sage, hiring them should be expensive, but they should get what they pay for.

Sages expect to be paid something up front, and the rest of the cost is decided once the information has been gathered but before they reveal what it is that they have discovered. Sages may work for money, services, or both depending on how difficult or exact a question is.

Spies: Spies are as touchy as assassins, and you don’t always know what you are going to get. Besides, players are usually put in position where THEY are the spies, however if you deem it necessary then you can go ahead and grant their wish to have a spy, but, like assassination, if this is a short term mission, go ahead and have them play a very very dangerous game with temp characters, if this is a long term thing, then you’ll have to figure out a way to determine the spies success in infiltrating his targets operation, and check his continued success and moral regularly. Also keep in mind that this is a very dangerous occupation, and that if the spy is caught or exposed, then he will no doubt be murdered or worse, thus his wages are going to have to compensate him for this risk and will also cover all of his needs. An employer could also be forced to extract him once his mission is over, but this all depends on how you want to DM the situation, it should be an adventure all it’s own.


Followers are similar to hirelings, with the exception that they didn’t have to be hired, they came of their own free will. Followers are not free! They all should be paid a monthly wage, they will bring their own equipment, but it is always a good idea to upgrade this equipment as soon as possible. Followers don’t expect any shares from treasure or XP, but they do require food, water, shelter, and supplies.

It should also be noted that you will never get any more followers, if they fall, then their numbers aren’t necessarily replaced. Followers have better moral, they are more loyal, and they are capable of feats which the average soldier wouldn’t dream of doing. For this reason an adventurer should never take them anywhere! Followers serve best as a defensive force, protecting the adventurers property. Unlike regular hireling soldiers, followers do acquire XP, but on a different scale then PCs do, a system which is totally up to the Dungeon Master, so again, keep the snack dish and the fridge full. Another advantage of followers is that they don’t have any contract, they will continue to serve the PCs for as long as their needs are met and they are well treated.

Some followers, namely those who are attracted to Rangers, and aren’t human are treated more like henchmen, but don’t count towards a characters henchmen limit.


Once you start employing Henchmen, then you will realize how advanced a game truly can become! Henchmen are hirelings who for whatever reason have become close friends with the PC and serve out of loyalty.

Henchmen will risk their own skin for their friends, well as long as they are taken care of and treated right. They do have a different set of needs, Henchmen are considered almost equals with the player’s party. They expect a half share of XP, and a half share of treasure. The player isn’t allowed to borrow money or magic items from them . . . well, I guess that they could, but this will effect their overall moral.

Henchmen, unlike followers, will adventure with the PC on a full time basis, though he may expect to be furnished with living expenses until he can acquire the funds to pay his own way. And unlike any other kind of NPC, this one is ran by the player. The player is responsible for updating his character sheet, and gets to run him during combat, however the DM always has the final say on anything which he deems necessary.

The number of henchmen that a player can have is determined by his Charisma score, and this number is the total amount of henchmen that he can have in his life, not at one time. Thus, if a fighter’s CHA gives him 3 Henchmen, and all 3 of them died grisly deaths he will never get any more. EVER! Not even a wish spell can change this. It is like CON and resurrection, you can get a better CHA score at some point in the game, but you’ll still only get your original # of henchmen in your lifetime.

One final word on henchmen, if at any time the henchmen excels the player in levels, then he will leave forever to find his own path. Naturally a DM can give a PC some time to restore level draining attacks, but as a rule of thumb, the henchman will feel that it is time to move on.

Henchmen are definitely valuable, and should be cherished. There are no rules concerning just when a hireling becomes a henchmen, but that is probably a good thing. Judgment calls are always the best way to DM anyway. At least that is the way that I see it.

ART TITLED, “Won’t You Come In?” OILS, BY: Dean Morrissey


Nope said...

Perfect! I've been working on home brew rules for 4e and hirelings, followers and henchmen is something I've been wanting to attempt to add to my games but I haven't figured it out yet. This article gave me a wealth of ideas. Thanks man!

RipperX said...

Hey, kaeosdad! Glad that you liked it. I didn't realize that you played 4e. I try to keep everything around here as system neutral as possible, granted it can't always be done, but that is one of the benefits of 2e, many of the rules are abstract enough to fit any system, or make it easy enough to modify stuff to fit.

Glad that you are still reading!

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

I'm going to have to go back and reread that in 1E/OSRIC - I never thought that the henchmen/follower limit was lifetime/no substitutions. That's an interesting take.

RipperX said...

Let me know what you find out about OSRIC, but 2e treats henchmen differently then 1e.

In 1st edition, henchmen are more like Skeletor's friends. They are actual henchmen that you can hire, but 2nd Edition is more of a relationship/friendship. You can only have a few really really good friends, and this number is dictated by your CHA. These are people who you can trust to hide a body with you.

1st Edition, there really isn't any relationship going on besides money. They are advertised for, and hired under a contract. This is essentially a hireling, not a friend. At least that is how I interpret it.

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

OSRIC doesn't say if the Henchmen/Follower limit is lifetime or not. I know I've always played it as a limit at any one time, versus a lifetime limit.

I wonder if that was a 2e mechanism to try and limit henchmen/followers for some reason, maybe people were treating them like disposable heroes? Me, if I was DM'ing a situation like that, the cost would go up, and the quantity/quality would go down for people who did that.

RipperX said...

Yeah, reputation does mean something in the game world. Some adventures just demand more characters, I know that I have given everybody a henchmen during a game, to experiment how long they would last. I think that the longest that a henchman lasted was 7 sessions, and the death wasn't the fault of the player playing him, but a failed save or die.

I think that this rule is made for hardcore henchmen, but we as DM can always just give a character some NPC hireling sheets for him to run and lighten our load. I know that I am really bad about forgetting the Good Guy NPC attacks.

Thanks for your research Chgowiz.

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