Extended party growth: How big is yours?

Okay, a little background: The party I played with (we’re currently on hiatus) first approached ACKS like they would a 3.5-ish game, no henchmen, just a bunch of B.A. PCs going on an adventure. They were promptly slaughtered to a man by goblins.

Since then, amassing a large amount of henchmen has been considered vital, if only as cannon fodder for some. My character, having started as a henchman recruited just after the goblins’ massacre of the PCs, actually prefers to take the hits for his henchmen and party (as a 3rd level fighter in a 1~2 level party with a con bonus and nice hp rolls helps in this regard). Almost every town was scoured for henchmen of every sort.

Everyone who could maxed their henchman count, myself having arguably the most powerful arcane and divine casters in the group as henchmen (mage 2 and bladedancer 2) as well as a fighter 1 and an explorer 1. The explorer had a dog and a hawk. We had plenty of normal men, some former mercenaries with combat training, while others were had special skills like a doctor with healing 2 and a bone-saw. We also had a mule and a warhorse or two.

My party, being lower level, has mostly had 0-level men, while I have had 1st and 2nd level henchmen, so there is definitely a difference there in what the henchmen can do.

So I was wondering: How do other parties do this sort of thing? Do you quickly amass henchmen, or are you more selective? Are henchmen more often placed in the front lines to tank, back a rank to support with spears, or kept back and retained for special skills like alchemy and healing? When do you find it reasonable to start having your henchmen gather henchmen?

I’m curious about all levels of play, but my experience is limited to lower levels.

my players split off into two groups of 3 and 2 PCs, respectively, here are their breakdowns:

group 1:
Mage 3
-Vaultguard 2
-Mage 1
-Bladedancer 2
-Paladin 1
Bladedancer 4
-Fighter 2
-Cleric 3
Vaultguard 3
-Fighter 3
-Fighter 2
-Cleric 2
-Fighter 1

Group 2 (mostly worked in a dwarven settlement):
Cleric 4 (+2 CHA)
-Dwarven Delver 3
–Vaultguard 1
-Vaultguard 2
–Vaultguard 1
-Craftpriest 2
-Fury 2
–Fury 1
-Craftpriest 2
-Elven Enchanter 2
Elven Spellsword 1
-Vaultguard 1
-Vaultguard 1
-Vaultguard 1

I skipped the early formation part for my game; the PCs started out 5th level with as many henchmen as they wanted to be responsible for paying. Though the limit was one at level 3, two at level 2 and any remaining were level 1.

Everyone ensured they had a Charisma bonus and maxed out their retinues from the start! I think it was partly motivated by having lots of meatshields, since they knew it was a historical game with no magic. Plus its given all of them a sense of being a person of substance who has a train of followers, it certainly means they are treated seriously by society at large.

Their entourage covers a range; everyone has at least some combatants in the mix, though not all are muscle. The Fighter has a mini-phalanx who can form on him (and they're hellaciously deadly as a unit); the Warlord has a bodyguard of fanatically-loyal cavalry; the Diplomat has some philosophers, some assassins and some pirates; and the Explorer has a unit of archers and his nephew who's one of the most gifted doctors of his generation.

Looks like most of them (though not all) seem to have opted to surround themselves with henchmen who fit a similar role to themselves (Fighter has a phalanx, warlord has cavalry, explorer has archers, etc.) I tended to lean toward filling in for my weaknesses with my followers, giving myself more varied options than I would as a mere fighter. I can see how the phalanx or elite cavalry could have a synergistic effect, however.

I wonder how mass combat will work with each set-up. If all your followers are cavalry, or all are infantry, then you might have trouble fielding a balanced force if you want them as commanders. However, if you are going to command a division in an army controlled by the party as a whole, having similarly equipped/trained lieutenants is perfect.

In my party, I had them use their extra ability scores for their starting henches, so that informed their choices. I also started them with a couple thousand XP, to get them past level 1, but not much past it.

The wizard grabbed two smaller wizards, reasoning that he could teach them any good spells he found and thus triple his low-level wizardly output. He also picked up a fighter to protect the Fragile Brigade, as I’ve just now decided to call them.

The thief picked up a mystic and an assassin.

The cleric and the wonderworker disregarded henches entirely, dismissing them as too much paperwork, if I remember right.

The Paladin… I’m not sure. I don’t recall ever seeing him with a henchman, but he had no objection to them.

Almost all the party members grabbed some mercenaries though; their total group is somewhere around 30 strong.

Yeah, in our group we have only one henchman (for 3 PCs, and he’s planning to resign after failing a save vs poison and being brought back via a healing throw to neutralize it last session), but we use a lot of mercenaries.

As the party treasurer and generally paperwork-guy, I usually select a number of mercenaries that I think is appropriate for the particular travel we’re doing. It usually ranges between ten and thirty.

I am planning to recruit a henchman of my own after I hit 5th level, though, which should happen in a session or two. Haven’t decided on class yet; my massive penalty to reaction rolls with humans and elves limits my choices. I keep trying to get our thri-kreen to recruit the thri-kreen psychometabolist we’ve met as a hench, but he doesn’t want to take that tribe’s only psionicist away from them.

We were limited by availability since we had gone to the borderlands quickly. There just aren’t that many exotic classed NPCs in the middle of nowhere that want to hench. We actually plotted a route to a pair of fortified churches to increase our chances of getting divine casters as we were hurting for lack of healers (around this time we were buying up all the comfrey in every market we passed).

While we did hire a handful of mercenaries for travel occasionally, we tended to need more help in dungeons than between them (and no mercenary wants to go down a dark, cramped hole of death).

Did you actually do many dungeon-crawls with this group? They’ve been our main source of cash (and death).

Mostly, though they all took at least one “support” henchman doing something else. The Fighter has his dodgy valet (who the players love, he brained some thug with a wooden plate in a dockside wineshop brawl), the Warlord her groom and body servant, the Explorer his doctor nephew.

We’ve had a large-scale personal combat with them against seventy-odd Ligurians, and they went through them like a hot knife through butter. Better equipment and higher levels really told.

But yes, in a mass combat, there’s obvious divisional commanders for cavalry, heavy infantry and skirmishers/light infantry, with the Diplomat acting as logistician and strategist. Plus a lot of the lieutenants can train soldiers to fight in their style, which is part of the initial premise of the game - they were hired to train the city militia.

We’ve done a mix of dungeon crawls and more wildernessy adventures (one recent adventure was to wipe out a small bandit camp; another was to take out a defiler and his undead minions, which did a good job showing off how it’s dangerous to be a wizard necromancer when a cleric necromancer comes calling).

However, our Judge does scale things down from what the book would say as encounter tables, because we’re a small group and never going to get any bigger (in terms of PCs). I don’t think we’ve ever encountered more than 10-12 monsters in a single dungeon encounter. Although admittedly, we’ve never had a beastman encounter in the dungeon; that would probably skew the numbers low for anyone. The largest dungeon encounter I remember was an undead encounter, a mix of skeletons and zombies; I commanded half of them to kill the other half and then we sat back and watched.

We’re also based out of a class I market (it’s a Dark Sun campaign, so every city in the world is basically either Class I or Class 4-6; we’re based out of Balic), so availability is limited almost exclusively by money.

Our biggest sources of cash have been random rolls for treasure, helped by my propensity to find a way to get loot out of every possible encounter. For example, the wyvern we killed last session (via an exploding animal corpse + invisible fighters ambush trap) had a 10,000 gp gem in its lair.

In summary, I think it’s probably weird that we have not been murdered most severely given our party size, but that’s because the Judge adjusts for it; in this particular imagining of Dark Sun, it is safe to go dungeon delving with only a few people, as long as you hire mercenaries for the wilderness journey. (And some of our wilderness encounters have been pretty brutal; there was one fairly recently that killed a dozen infantry and maimed our thri-kreen, though being based in a class I market, we just bought him a Restore Life and Limb which he came out of with no side effects other than needing a week of rest. I forget the exact monster name, but it was some sort of horrible maw beast.)

If you’ve posted the details elsewhere (and maybe it’s been here and I missed it) I’d love to know what all you’re doing in Dark Sun ACKS. Including how the Kreen is handled.

I have not posted most of it (basically everything but psionics), because most of it isn’t very good >.>

We designed the races without having read the guide to race design, and haven’t gotten around to fixing them; as a result just about all of the races are either overpowered or underpowered. (Kreen is the former; built on a Thrassian chassis, but with two extra claws, with str mod and damage bonus, gives them a crazy level of damage output with natural weapons. Even costing two more custom powers, it’s just too much damage.)

Eight or so sessions in, my group is still solidly in what you describe as the 3.5 mindset. Every time I mention henchmen, I’m met with a barrage of “I just want to play one character!”, “If I wanted to lead a squad, I’d play Warhammer Fantasy Battles.”, “Our group is already so large we shouldn’t need henchmen.”, and so on.

A couple sessions ago, the Ruinguard hired the group’s first (and so far only) henchman, specifically to send her off to a class II market so she can try to buy the group some higher-end equipment. I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he fires her as soon as she returns. (Assuming she returns… I haven’t checked yet to see whether she just runs off with everyone’s money and retires.)

After last session, in which two PCs rolled on the Mortal Wounds Table and one of those players insisted that one of his backup PCs just happened to be outside with the horses, I added a ruling that backup PCs can be hired automatically as henchmen (no availability rolls required, but you still have to make the hiring roll to determine starting morale) and, if they’re not henched, then they’re in town, not out in the field with you. That got some comments from the other player whose character went down (and is now on a month’s bed rest with a crushed jaw) suggesting that he’s likely to hench his backup PCs, although it remains to be seen whether they’ll actually face danger in that role or not.

And then, of course, they complain about every fight ending with all the PCs battered to hell and low on HP, but they never consider hiring some extra muscle to help prevent that…

My PCs collected a huge number of henchmen, henchmen of henchmen, and henchmen of henchmen. At the end of the last session before the campaign fell apart, the roster looked like this:

PC1: Milnos-Sim – M Lv 3 Atlantean Tycoon
PC1: Sablain-Xee – M Lv 1 Fighter
PC1: Amab-Rah – M Lv 1 Fighter
PC1: Omor-Kar – M Lv 2 Bard
PC1: Abghai-Fam – M Lv 1 Assassin
PC1: Ulea-Bu – F Lv 1 Thief
PC1: Mandeez – M Lv 2 Thief
PC1: Mandeez: Ilompha-Vo – M Lv1 Thief
PC1: Mandeez: Ilompha-Vo: Sabban-Mu – M Lv1 Carouser
PC1: Mandeez: Ilompha-Vo: Gausnoc-Ret – M Lv1 Carouser
PC1: Mandeez: Ilompha-Vo: Cushneah-Mi – F Lv1 Carouser
PC1: Mandeez: Ilompha-Vo: Valompha – M Lv1 Carouser
PC1: Mandeez: Fulcand-Tnep – M Lv1 Thief
PC1: Mandeez: Fulcand-Tnep: Elylla – F Lv1 Carouser
PC1: Mandeez: Fulcand-Tnep: Zaneah – F Lv1 Carouser
PC1: Mandeez: Fulcand-Tnep: Naznur-Ya – M Lv1 Carouser
PC1: Mandeez: Fulcand-Tnep: Naznur-Ujua – M Lv1 Carouser
PC1: Mandeez: Hoaghai-Tnek – M Lv1 Thief
PC1: Mandeez: Hoaghai-Tnek: Ilalmah-Dal – F Lv1 Carouser
PC1: Mandeez: Hoaghai-Tnek: Famdok-Abn – M Lv1 Carouser
PC1: Mandeez: Hoaghai-Tnek: Simlain – M Lv1 Carouser
PC1: Mandeez: Hoaghai-Tnek: Fuldotia – F Lv1 Carouser
PC2: Thjolstoff – M Lv 3 Barbarian
PC2: Arther – M Lv 2 Templar
PC2: Urbrec mag Esteger – M Lv 2 Templar
PC2: Kennerd of Rugstowe – M Lv 2 Templar
PC3: Amalaith – F Lv 4 Bladedancer
PC3: Selexah – F Lv 2 Bladedancer
PC3: Manatha-Sab – F Lv 1 Bladedancer
PC3: Thirleiro – M Lv 2 Thief
PC3: Hestmon-Zo – M Lv2 Fighter
PC3: Porotha-Dal – F Lv1 Bladedancer
PC3: Belatha-Ou – F Lv 2 Bladedancer
PC3: Belatha-Ou: Soalia-Tnep – F Lv1 Bladedancer
PC3: Belatha-Ou: Poreeti-Il – F Lv1 Bladedancer
PC3: Belatha-Ou: Arcbiniah-Lap – F Lv1 Bladedancer
PC4: Aisha Alendi – Lv 2 Atlantean Stormtrooper
PC4: Lunatha-Sim – Lv 2 Fighter
PC5: Spinello di Lombabasso – Lv 4 Bard
PC5: Meldotia-Nar – Lv 2 Fighter
PC5: Dalili-Lu – Lv 1 Bard
PC5: Jozez Yazimakusht – Lv 2 Telkaynie Kazevok
PC5:Jozez: Golej Yazimakusht – Lv 1 Telkaynie Kazevok
PC5:Jozez: Bozek Yazimakusht – Lv 1 Telkaynie Kazevok
PC5:Jozez: Kovez Yazimakusht – Lv 1 Telkaynie Kazevok
PC5:Jozez: Boleg Yazimakusht – Lv 1 Telkaynie Kazevok
PC5:Jozez: Golep Yazimakusht – Lv 1 Telkaynie Kazevok

Making payroll must be a bit of a challenge some months, I take it?

I believe they had control of the entire city of Cinidicea by this point, and had looted much of the ruins above it, not to mention the stronghold of the beastmen across the cavern. Once they also saved the populous by defeating a vengeful God, payroll probably wasn’t such a problem.

…missing edit button…

That’s about right. However, since they didn’t have the military strength to occupy the associated beastman domain, Cynidicea was actually a money-losing proposition for the PCs. They were shoveling gold out of dungeons and into henchman pay and stronghold and settlement upkeep as quickly as they could. Fortunately, there were 130 rooms of dungeon very close by, but they were on the verge of exhausting that when the campaign ended.

Heh. My response was mostly meant to be tongue-in-cheek. I really enjoyed your session write-ups. I love that module, and it suits ACKS very, very well.

which module was this? I might look into plundering it if it works well with ACKs

The Lost City (B4). Along with B2 (Keep on the Borderlands) and X1 (Isle of Dread), it’s one of my preferred modules, because it’s sandboxy.