Benefit of Followers?

As a 10th-level Thief starting at the Conqueror tier, I found that my 7 automatic 1st-level followers were not nearly sufficient to my needs, and have been snatching up every available cutpurse, miscreant, and ne’er-do-well since. My recent hires already outnumber my ‘free’ followers considerably.

This made me wonder: Other than the fact that they appear automatically (and thus don’t have to be hired and don’t require Reaction Rolls), what benefit is there to followers gained via leveling vis-a-vis normal hirelings? Their inclusion at 9th level seems to imply that they’re supposed to be ‘special’ or significant somehow, but I’m just not seeing it when 9th level characters command the amounts of money, prestige, and influence that they do and likely already employ numerous hirelings and henchmen. It’s a rather minor bonus when one can simply hire people to fulfill the same roles.

Am I missing something?

It’s not that they’re special, per se, but getting started is harder without them. Without them:

  1. Market class limits you to a smaller number.
  2. Reaction rolls cuts that down further.
  3. If your Judge is the right kind of rat bastard, you’re time-crunched, which limits you further.

In short, they make an excellent bootstrap, and since you get them early, you can start leveling them early as well, and may have some real proper henchmen well before you would without them.

Plus, and this is speculation, really, they seem like “not-quite-henchmen”. They’re often mentioned as equivalent with henchmen in things like the congregation rules. They have classes and a sense of loyalty unlike your typical hired goons. I feel like they’re an almost end-run around the allowed number of henchmen. (Almost, because I don’t think they can serve directly as vassals, for example).

Speaking of vassals! Am I correct in interpreting the rules as only henchmen can be vassals/underbosses?

It seems a bit strange that a character’s vassals should be limited so sharply by his Charisma, or that a character at his henchman maximum would be, for example, unable to accept the surrender and pledge of fealty of a minor princeling.

Your henchmen can have henchmen, so it’s really only a strong limit on how many guys you can have near the top of the food chain. A 10th-level guy can have over 80,000 vassals with no charisma modifiers anywhere if he sub-henches all the way down to 0th level.

In practice, if the guy surrendering to you is too high of a level to serve under one of your existing henchmen, that guy is a sufficient threat to your rule that you should keep him under your personal supervision (or just execute him and replace him with one of your own). Implicitly, you’ll have less time for your existing henchmen and if you aren’t charismatic enough this lack of attention will eventually lead to resentment.

You may be able to mitigate this by restructuring your realm such that one of your henchmen takes control of some others.

Hi folks:
Thomas and Ludanto have answered the initial question as to why followers are valuable.

Reynard, you are correct that only henchmen can be vassals/underbosses. There is nothing preventing you from having one of your preferred followers be a henchman, though.

“It seems a bit strange that a character’s vassals should be limited so sharply by his Charisma, or that a character at his henchman maximum would be, for example, unable to accept the surrender and pledge of fealty of a minor princeling.”

The limit on the number of vassals being equal to the number of henchmen is a game mechanic designed to emulate the decentralized power structures that existed in most times and places historically.

Within the game world, political situations might arise that do not precisely mesh with the game mechanics. The best way to handle those situations is in the short term to do what seems logical within the game world and in the long term to assume that the game world will eventually adapt itself to the realities of the game mechanics.

For example, let’s assume that Marcus has his maximum number of vassals (6). He now accepts the surrender of a subjugated baron, giving him seven vassals. Rather than say “you can’t do that because that means you have too many vassals,” the Judge allows Marcus to have a seventh vassal.

He then secretly makes reaction rolls for each of the six vassals. He notes down which vassal had the worst reaction; this vassal is outraged that Marcus did not assign the new baron as his sub-vassal, and as a result he becomes a traitor. In the next month, he only pays 75% of his taxes. The month following its 50% and he starts talking to adjacent lords about a possible change of fealty.

The maximum number of vassals rule is thus, really, the maximum number of vassals a PC can sustain while knowing that “the rules have his back”, e.g. as long as he doesn’t demand more duties than normal from his vassals, he can count on a measure of loyalty. But more than that and he’s opening himself up to treachery, infighting, and drama.

(Think of it as similar to the situation where a Charm Person spell has worn off. If he’s halfway intelligent, the formerly charmed victim is not likely to all-of-sudden reveal to his master that he’s no longer charmed. It would require role-play to figure this out.)

We ended up throwing this particular rule (about vassals) out in the Palladins of Pippin campaign because from a historical context it doesn’t really make any sense. If we simply look at historical examples, we will find that the number of direct vassals for important people number in the hundreds or even thousands. Charlemagne was known to have at least 1800 direct vassals and Duke Guyver (the NPC liege lord of our PCs) historically would have had at least 100 if not more. Granted, some of these direct vassals are of a rank that we don’t consider in game (manorial lords, for instance) but if we look at Guyver, for instance, we’d see that historically he would have approximately 40-50 landed counts, a dozen bishops, and another 20 abbots, which doesn’t even include anybody of “baron” rank.

As far as approximating centralization, I’d argue that a broad tree of direct vassals does indeed lead to a more decentralized government. If a ruler only has 6 vassals to deal with, then he should be able to control those 6 with relative ease, which would lead to increased centralization, especially if those 6 have a sense of personal loyalty (as we expect from henchmen).

In contrast (and based on the historical example of what happens following the Viking raids/Charlemagne’s death), a larger number of relatively powerful nobles makes it difficult for the ruler to exert their own power. Now they don’t need to convince 4 vassals and threaten force against the other 2, they have to convince dozens of them, a far harder task.

Finally, making henchmen into vassal lords seems to violate the lawful expectations of service owed to a liege lord. We hire henchmen to serve us all the time, but why would someone we’ve made into a baron want to follow us around into caves any more? Furthermore, do we have to keep paying them thousands of gp/month in their henchmen wages? Do we continue to pay them 15% of the loot? Ostensibly, making a henchman into my vassal to be lord over some land loses me their usefulness as a companion.

Now, that being said, the historical record (at least from 8th century Aquitaine/France) provides us with a perfect example of henchmen. Duke Guyver (and the Frankish kings) were known to have “counts” who didn’t actually own any land. They were titled counts based on the size of their incomes (which presumably come from their noble lord) and were expected to provide military service (and provide troops in addition to themselves). These “special counts” were used by the various kings to carry out special operations, temporarily administer recently conquered regions, etc.

Finally, land is very valuable and giving someone land and titles is like giving them a lot of money. As long as they know that you can take it away from them, why would they not be grateful to you, pay their taxes, and serve you? This doesn’t take the same kind of personal loyalty necessary to go follow some chump 4th level fighter into a dungeon to go fight some scary monsters.

I think the note about the “rules having your back” puts it all into good perspective. So a character can have as many vassals, in-game, as he can convince or conquer, but can only be certain of the loyalty of a handful. Assigning henchmen to manage sub-domains increases oversight and stability at the price of an increased bureaucratic burden on that hench’s resources and availability. The high-level game, then, becomes increasingly about politics and domain-building and much less about dungeons and fighting–presumably, those things are delegated to characters at the Adventurer tier.

This is all explicitly or implicitly spelled out in the book, of course, but actually playing it reveals just how different the roleplaying experience can be. I will happily admit that years of standard-fare RPGs have conditioned me for a different style, and the adjustment–not unpleasant!–is still a little jarring. This is to be expected, perhaps, after jumping in at the Conqueror level.

If you’re willing to share, Alex, I am kind of curious as to the logic behind these numbers. Are you riffing off a particular historical precedent? Is it designed to limit the income a character can receive from his vassals? Did it just math out right given the sizes of domains?

I was re-reading this thread and thought of an extra consideration:

Could restructuring your command structure to make room for a new henchman force a moral roll? Suddenly, a newly acquired henchman forces you to put one of your long-time loyal henchmen into under the leadership of one of his former peer henchmen, turning him into a sub-henchman? Now I’d think that one would attempt to put the new henchman into the position of sub-vassal, but a high level, geographic issues, or the like may make that impossible.

Could there be resentment from a henchman or his sub-henchmen if you force them to reorganize their power structure pushing a favored vassal down in prestige?

Are land holdings, class-level, or achievements considered most important in assigning a pecking order? For example: If I had a new large land holder swear fealty to me and I placed him as sub-vassal under a vassal of higher level, but with relatively small holdings of land, is that likely to cause friction from either party? The new vassal could seem insulted by being placed below a less wealthy lord while the old henchman would be put in an awkward position of having a potentially more powerful underling (in military strength if not one-on-one combat). I take it that re-assigning land could cause even MORE problems, though such actions are not unheard of, especially if the new vassal was annexed in a less-than-friendly manner.