Limiting Party Size

Ok, so my players like Henchmen. Like…really like Henchmen. Back in the day, it wasn’t such a big deal. But now, they are a freaking mercenary company.

Some of the players are even starting to get annoyed at some of the others who bring their 5+ henchmen along on every adventure. But no one actually says or does anything about it.

But what does end up happening is that none of the modules I have really work for the party. None of them are designed, even at the height of old school ‘parties as military units’, ‘bring all you can’ style early adventures, with this many characters in mind. They have so much force they can bring to bare that they slice through anything at or around their level and blast away even higher level challenges. Short of Grimtooth style death traps that kill off half the party, what can I do to encourage them to bring fewer characters along?

I suppose I should add that I’m hesitant to simply force the issue… I do understand the desire to bring as many people as you can… I mean, if I were one of their characters it’s what I would do. So I guess I’m looking for in game solutions rather than simply saying, OOC, you can’t do this any more.

Narrow passages are extremely common underground!

My players recently had to open a secret door that was wedged into the end of a narrow, columnated cavern passage wide enough for one person at a time. Based on the dimensions, one could work the door, one could stand behind with a spear, and one more could stand behind that and give encouraging words. Changing party order involved clambering over someone’s head, and they had to change order twice to do what they wanted to do.

When you start getting up to personal armies in size, every dungeon should start to feel that cramped. Eight people very rapidly fills almost any dungeon room to its claustrophobic capacity.

And remember that monsters can use choke points as easily as PCs: an ogre just behind a door only has to face a few people at a time, no matter how much of an army there is. A group of ogres can even swap out door duties when one starts to weaken.

Enough of that, and the hireling pay is going to rapidly constrict how many people they are willing to bring: they’ll start asking themselves how many they’ll actually benefit from in the tight confines of a dungeon.

Isn’t it kind of rough on the boss’s treasure haul if he has to pay out 75% of his treasure when he brings 5 henchmen? Just start making life too expensive to be paying out that kind of percentage. I always say that the henchmen end up wasting half their cash on booze, gambling debts and mooching family members too.

You certainly don't want to force the issue, no. Here are a few thoughts (in general) about possible ramifications:

1. Part of the reason an adventuring party can enter and leave dungeons without being detected or chased down is because they are a small special-forces sized group. As a small group, it's easier to move without being detected. A large force is less likely to be able to do so. Lairs with even semi-alert guardians will certainly be more prepared should they be approached by a company of men. Finding the adventurer's base-camp where they rest is much easier when its a large group.

2. Minor wandering monsters might avoid a large party, but really powerful ones might be attracted to it.

3. Adventurers who create company-sized formations will attract considerably more attention from the local rulers, who may grow concerned over whether they are "planning something". 

4. Don't neglect the limits on availability of armor, weapons, and food in settlements. Buying iron rations for 5 is usually easy in any settlement. Buying iron rations - or warhorse fodder - for 50 can strain the logistics.

5. Pay close attention to morale. Remember that each time a henchman levels and each time he suffers a calamity, that's a morale check. In small groups, it's easy to compensate for calamities with a steady supply of bonus cash and magic items, but with lots and lots of henchmen it's harder to keep each one loyal. And what happens to the ones that leave the party's service? Maybe they start a rival party. If enough fail at once, maybe they try to overthrow the party and take the treasure!

6. More henchmen will mean slower leveling. At some point the party will find that it has leveled so slowly that it begins to hit a painful plateau where they are tackling things that are too powerful for them, despite their numbers. (This has happened in some of my campaigns). They will naturally drop the number of henchmen they take, at that point.

But let me also suggest another way of thinking about it. If your party really likes henchmen, it's possible that they may be ready to move up to a more strategic level of play - and you should take advantage of that. I could see two possibilities. 

1) An NPC approaches them with the opportunity to do a large-scale expedition into a dangerous wilderness. Once in the wilderness there'll be no easy way to get back to civilization, so they'll only have the food, water, supplies, treasure, and henchmen they bring with them. The henchmen become a non-renewable resource. You dont take all of them into the dungeon because you need some to guard the base-camp you establish in the wilderness, and so on. A module like Isle of Dread is ideal for this (and, in fact, served that purpose at around this point in the original Auran Empire campaign).

2) An NPC approaches them and asks if they'll hire into his service as a mercenary company. They can then be hired to do raids and battles on enemy towns, pillage and sack, fight engagements, and so on. This would let you introduce Domains at War mechanics.

3) An NPC offers to make one of the PCs his vassal with a minor noble title, if he will clear out location X in your sandbox. This gives them a settlement/base from which to operate for deeper forays, but will tie up many of their henchmen in guarding the base and the caravans back and forth and so on. It also raises the opportunity for mass combat.

Hope that's some helpful thoughts.

If the PCs have the Charisma to support that many henchmen, then good for them. That’s like saying that your fighter is too strong and how can you get him to wear lighter armor.

That said, I don’t know if this is helpful, but maybe make it clear that having 5 henchmen means the PC is getting less than a third of the XP earned.

Also, kill those henchmen! I mean, don’t be a jerk about it, but they can’t be too high-level (since they’re spreading the XP pretty thin). A few fireballs or some traps (you know you’re going to trigger them with 20 guys crossing a trap at 2-in-6). Keep in mind that “nearly killed” is a relative thing, so there’s some loyalty checks right there, and it takes time to hire more henchmen, and they’re even more fragile than the ones before, and you have to go to the city to find more than a few.

Oh, and running away from that dragon in the wilderness is about impossible while dragging around an army (and all of the carts full of water and food to go with that).

If the other players (characters?) are bothered, they might insist that the offender pay for his henchmen’s wages out of his own cut of the treasure.

That’s all I’ve got. You don’t want to be punitive, but if the game is in “unfun-easy-mode”, you might have to make sure that all of the rules for a crowd of dudes are being followed.

And of course Alex says all of this better, and in an ordered list, no less! :slight_smile:

Well, actually that’s not how shares work out. Party members count as 1 each, and henchmen count as .15 each…these are totaled and then the haul is divided by that total. With each PC then getting that amount and each hench getting .15 of that of that amount (this was explained in an earlier thread by Alex). So, the party members don’t feel that individual pay out as badly since everyone effectively pays for the henchmen.

And I rule that ALL hench money disappears as soon as they hit civilization. PCs have to buy everything, gear, housing, all of it.

Good point about the occasional narrow passages, but I guess I feel that if most dungeon 10’ corridors can host three abreast, than a room that is, say, 30’ by 30’ will fit even a massive group (9 across by 9 rows) before being ‘full’.

However, as to the pay…yeah, I would have thought their greed and desire to level would have prompted them to cut some henchmen loose, but nope… they view the extra bodies as too valuable and seem willing to lose out on about half the xp overall (there are over 2x as many henchmen as PCs). Their survival instinct has outweighed their greed everytime… which is probably why so many of them have survived to the level they’ve reached (6th-8th).

Mine were that way too; very slow to revise their tactics, and levelling bogged down really hard in the 6-8 range. We ended up eventually imposing a “three characters per player per expedition” rule, which I was never really happy with. I prefer the “kill 'em all” solution; the one time someone did bring five henchmen, only one of them made it out alive. The party line of advance was extended over several passageways, so attacks from the flanks were both very easy and disastrous since the fighters were in the vanguard and the rear. I do kind of like the idea of rolling one random encounter per n people, where n is some reasonable integer constant (maybe 8).

Can you fit that many people into a 30’x30’ room? Yes. But how many of them will be able to bring attacks to bear against foes standing in the 10’ hallway leading out of the room?

Also, keep in mind that just because that’s the tightest you CAN get doesn’t mean that’s how many people you WILL get in. The rules state that someone who becomes engaged in melee is incapable of moving except away from the person they’re engaged in, and a fighting withdrawal is further restricted. combatants become engaged when they move to within 5’ of an opponent. Depending on how “wide” you allow someone to be, they could potentially block off up to 15’ of area if you assume their body takes up 5’, but even if you assume they are a point, they can block a 10’ hallway by standing in the middle.

Extrapolate those tactics a bit and two orcs standing on either side of a 10’ hallway can stop anyone trying to move past them, have cover against the back rank of spears (or perhaps be unable to hit at all depending on how “hard” the hallway corner is) and be unassailable by PCs/Henchmen using bows. Suddenly having a lot of people isn’t especially useful; most party members are twiddling their thumbs.

Another option is a rear guard attack. When you roll a random encounter, it’s up to you to decide where that opposing pack comes from. It will only take one instance of the mages nearly getting squished to start having some heavily armored henchmen bringing up the rear. Suddenly having a lot of people is like having two groups: one for when you kick in the door and one for when you get snuck up on. With a little persuasion the players might agree to not bother rolling for the ones in the rear guard unless people start dropping and replacements are needed.

and just to re-emphasize: as others having pointed out, traps are much more deadly for large groups. They’re more likely to trigger and their area of effect is likely to catch several people when it goes off. In particular, consider what will happen when the slow, plate wearing rear guard is too slow to get out of the way for everyone else who needs to run from an indiana-jones esque boulder rolling down the hall towards the party line.

As one final hint: if the PCs are bringing a lot of forces to bear, the monsters should react in kind. Say you have a lair of kobolds. Anything but a 2 or a 12 reaction roll should mean they assess the party, find their numbers wanting, and run back to the next room of kobolds to bolster their numbers until a sufficiently large group is ready to fight.

I bring up all these things because it sounds like your PCs like having a lot of henchmen. Part of the fun of ACKs is being able to play the game the way you want to play. Ideally the options between having no henchmen and more loot vs. max henchmen and little loot should be even. In particular, people opting for more henchmen are saying they want to approach problems less riskily, so you probably want to let them play the way they want. The game allows for between 1 and 7 henchmen, so it’s safe to assume that a player should be able to have any number between those and have it work. Try some of the ideas I mentioned above to make sure the party is experiencing challenges that are appropriate to a large group. Ideally small and large parties should have a flow of play that feels different but where one isn’t necessarily “the right way” to play.

1. I'm not sure I said it any better than you.

2. I really like ordered lists. Anyone who has ever seen my to-do list or rules notes would probably think there's something wrong with me.

        2a. There isn't, though. I'm just orderly.

        2b. And Lawful aligned.