Henchman risk/reward, or: why would anyone do this?

I’ve run a few sessions of ACKS (more than 5, less than 10), and it is generally a load of fun and has been a huge hit with my group. I can’t figure out how to handle henchmen, though, because I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why anybody would ever sign up to be a henchman.

The party consists of a mage, a thief, and a nightblade, mixed between 1st and 2nd level, so armored henchmen are practically a necessity to stand between them and the many sharp pointy things coming their way. But from a henchman’s point of view, why would you agree to take all of the risk for only a 15% share of treasure?!

To make matters worse, the mage and the thief both have high charisma scores (+2 bonuses) and at least 1 proficiency giving them a further bonus on reaction rolls (2 in the mage’s case), so I can’t even reasonably have the henchmen demand higher pay, because the reaction to hiring/loyalty rolls are, worst case scenario, a 6–and there are lots of loyalty rolls; the rate of henchman turnover is horrific.

So I guess, I’m wondering if we’re doing something wrong, or if the world of ACKS is just full of poor saps willing to throw away their lives to protect brilliantly powerful wizard and his beautiful thief friend in exchange for a pittance?

On a semi-related note, the party has a lot of henchman. Between 3 players, they are fielding about 10 people at any given time. How have other groups handled that size when going into a dungeon? It’s already causing some serious logistical problems when going down 10’ corridors, and I can only expect it to grow worse with time. Is it expected that all the henchmen will go along with the party into the dungeon?

The party decided to leave about half their henchmen at the entrance of the dungeon to guard their bags for the last adventure, and it just happened to be the one time that a group of assassins was stalking the party, and the assassins took advantage of the opportunity to kill the henchmen and steal all the party’s equipment, stranding them in the mountains, so it seems like the group is likely going to never leave anybody or anything up at the entrance ever again.

I’ve seen henchmen treated as disposable shields, and I’ve seen them treated as valued allies and resources. It all depends on the players.

Also remember that the rules are just the barest outline of what is happening in the world. A group of callous bastards using henchmen as disposable shields should get a reputation, and may not be able to hire henchmen at any price, regardless of what the Morale and Hiring rules mechanics say about the default situation.

It’s not that they are treating them as disposable shields, nor are they being callous.

They are doing everything possible to keep them alive, outfitting them to the best of their abilities, playing cautiously and using every tactical and situational advantage they can, but the henchmen are still 0th level men, so there’s only so much to be done.

When one does fall, then they provide the family with recompense, donate to local temples to pray for the dead, ensure a proper burial, and so forth. The party definitely treats their henchmen like valued allies and resources. Each is named, given a backstory, and role played appropriately.

So I don’t feel right saddling them with a penalty for their high rate of turnover, because it isn’t their fault the world seems to be so hard on 0th-level men. I guess I’m wondering if this is a common occurrence, or if we’re doing something wrong with the henchmen.

If it helps, we are having also a good turnover of henchmen in our games. It is evened out by the characters perishing too, the world is equally rough to everyone.

The players are treating the henchmen well; they bought a house and let them use it to rest when needed (several rolls in the mortal wounds table), so I am not giving them any hard time hiring more. The limitation comes from the type of market that they are in (type V), so there is only 1d6 level 0 men available at a given time.

Stuff we know about the world in general:

- Zero-levels become mercenaries because of a lack of opportunities, it's easy work compared to other options, and life is hard and dangerouns whereever you are - we see this from the wandering encounter tables, or a look at life in the ancient/medieval world.

- Henchmen are like this, except they fall under the sway of the PC's glamour - we know this because their charisma is a deciding factor. They are willing to take extra risk because the PCs have (or at least firmly believe they will) descended into dungeons and come out with treasure and glory.

Here's a house rule for providing some versimilitude and roleplaying opportunities in the henchman hiring process. When the reaction roll is a double, consult this table:

1's - The henchman lost all their kin to disease, war, famine, etc. and has nowhere to go and a fatalistic outlook on life. They may get +1 on morale checks but -1 on the roll to continue employment, as they may attempt to drink themselves to death once they are paid.

2's - The henchman wishes to impress their beloved, with whom they otherwise have no chance. They may be eager to learn spells like charm person, and may trade a lesser share of treasure overall for the chance to select the prettiest bangles in a hoard.

3's - The henchman is a heretic or political dissident, whose views are persecuted locally. The henchman gets +1 on rolls to continue employment as long as they are in the area where this applies, -1 if they are taken to a place where their views are mainstream.

4's - The henchman is fleeing justice. Their crime may be civil or against an insider group - they may have broken the code of a guild, or violated a clan tattoo. The Mark of Justice spell from the house rule forum may tip off the party, or they may learn of the situation through the interview process.

5's - The henchman is fleeing a romantic entanglement. Their spouse, or another's spouse, or an angry parent may cause trouble for the party.

6's - The henchman is insane. They have deranged ideas which drive them to follow the party; they may have delusions of grandeur, believe themselves to be the reincarnation of an ancient dungeon-lord, or simply be a sociopathic murder-hobo.

Very nice!

I typed up a really nice response, then my internet access did something stupid when I hit post and it didn’t show up.

The simple answer is money. At low levels, henchman wages = gp threshold, so basically they make as much money as they would as an adventurer + they get a 15% share of what a higher level adventurer makes.

A level 1 henchman hired by a level 2 adventurer expects to make 36 gp rather than just 25 (level 1 gp threshold).

It gets a little less rewarding at higher levels, but keeping higher level henchmen ends up requiring quite a few morale checks (one every time they level).

A level 8 henchman hired by a level 9 adventurer, for instance, makes only 4800 gp/mo rather than the 5000/mo dictated by xp threshold, however they also have the benefit of not needing to provide their own equipment or pay the expenses of any expeditions. Furthermore, at high level, henchmen may be expecting to gain land and titles by serving higher-level adventurers.

To add a few more examples, a level 4 henchman hired by a level 5 PC makes 298 (compared to a gp threshold of 300).

As long as the PC is 2 levels higher and is making their GP threshold in loot, the henchmen will be making more money than an adventurer at their level.

Henchmen are natural born followers. The PCs are natural leaders.

Why do some people go to work for the corporate ladder and some start their own businesses?

“But, I could go off on my own and make more money!” Of course, but then you have to do all the work instead of just showing up and doing your job.

Consider henchmen and mercenaries the type of people who just don’t have the drive, ambition or whatever to set off on their own. Maybe they do eventually (loyalty checks when they level up), but for now, hell, just show up and do my work and get paid.

Here I think the issue is not “Why not strike off on their own?”, but rather, “Why be a first-to-die meatshield for a party of low-level thieves and mages?” To mangle Grouch Marx, you’d think a man-at-arms wouldn’t want to work for anyone that needed to hire him.

Inspired by Jeff Rients, perhaps? http://jrients.blogspot.ca/2008/12/party-like-its-999.html :slight_smile:

Excellent idea, regardless.

Not having read the billion or so blog entries Jeff had already logged before I started reading him in '08 I hesitate to say any of my ideas are not inspired by him. This one definitely is!

A few thoughts here:

1. Return on Risk: The likely income of a laborer or man-at-arms ranges from 1sp per day to 4sp per day. Cost of living at working class levels is about 3gp per month per person. One day's adventure could thus net him a month, a year, a lifetime's wages.

2. Adrenalin Junkie: Some people simply like adventurer. Consider base-jumpers or extreme mountaineers, a sport in which the best practicioners in the world regularly die, for no compensation at all.

3. Fantasy F**king Vietnam: Exposure to a horrific incident may leave the henchman too traumatized for normal life. "After my family got wiped out by orcs, I couldn't hold down the labor job anymore. I just wanted to shove a sword into the guts of those beasts. I needed a quest..."