As your character earns enough XP and gains sufficient level doesn’t it make sense that he’d start to attract some followers? Your character is a role-model for aspiring heroes. Tales of his exploits and successes will eventually reach the ears of impressionable youngsters. Inevitably some of them will take steps to seek out your character and bask in his greatness. Whether they seek to learn from him directly or they just want to be close by the next time something awesome happens, your PC has made a name for himself and gaining henchmen is one of the consequences of his fame.
Your character’s ever-developing reputation is a big part of what defines the PC and is just as big a part of how other people will interact with him. But we’ve already written about Reputation (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3) so we won’t bother retreading over that ground again. Instead I want to look at the idea of PCs attracting henchmen of their own.
Inspiration hit me while playing the final chapter of this season’s D&D Encounter in which the PCs help defend the Keep on the Borderlands. During the previous two encounters (Week 17 | Week 18) the players were given the opportunity to run two characters. So in addition to running their own PC the players worked soldiers already on the scene. After playing these encounters I started to think about how to give a 4e D&D character his own henchmen. I’m talking about real followers who would become part of the campaign and be a meaningful aspect of the PC’s development.
Any successful mechanic to introduce another character, be it a full-fledged character or a just a minion, means that a player is suddenly running two characters. Playing Two Character is another topic we’ve explore before, but in this case I don’t think introducing another character that was built using the same mechanics as the PCs is the right way to go. If a player wants to run two characters, then that’s a discussion for him to have with the DM. I’m thinking of something more akin to the henchmen that used to be so prevalent in AD&D 2e and 3.5e D&D.
So what would a henchman in 4e D&D look like, mechanically speaking? After two weeks of running the soldier minions in D&D Encounters I think that’s a really good starting point. Being a minion represents his fragility, but perhaps too much so. I’d make him a 2-hit minion, a variation we first talked about in the article More Than Just Minions. He’s still a regular minion except he needs to be hit twice in order to fall. After one hit he becomes bloodied.
As for hit points and attack scores, we can go one of two ways. If we look at previous editions he’d be a fraction of the PCs current level. If he was built using the same mechanics as a full-fledged PC (which is how henchmen were created in 3.5e) then I’d agree with making him a lower level then the primary heroes. However, a character that find himself more than two levels behind the party will have a lot of trouble keeping up. His attack scores and defenses will be too low for him to be more than a hindrance. Since he’s already got the minion stigma attached to him, I’d recommend that he be the same level as the hero he’s following or maybe just one or two levels lower.
In order for henchmen to be useful they’re going to need some special powers and attacks. I’d continue to look at existing minions in the Monster Manual to provide suitable framework. Their attacks should make sense for their class and role. They should have at least one or two encounter powers, but nothing too overpowering. All damage output should be a set amount, just like normal minions.
When determining which PCs get henchmen and which PCs do not, I think we again need to borrow from previous editions of D&D and choose the aspects that work best. For example, in 3.5e PCs needed to take the Leadership feat before they attracted henchmen. This seems like a better way to do things then AD&D 2e where every character attracted followers when they reached a certain level, assuming they had a high enough Charisma score. So if a character in 4e D&D wants to attract henchmen then they should have to take deliberate steps to make this happen. My suggesting is to bring back the Leadership feat. However, I’d recommend it be a paragon feat. After all, by the time the PCs reach paragon they’ve really become hot stuff and attracting henchmen seems like a realistic side effect of that fame and notoriety.
After you’ve decided on how PCs can get henchmen and the mechanics of said henchmen, you need to remember the reason they’re their in the first place. There should be a really good in-story explanation for why this random stranger just shows up and professes his loyalty to the PC. Likewise once the PC and the rest of the party accept this new member they need to ensure he’s treated fairly. The PCs he’s following needs to look out for his safety and make sure that any henchmen get adequate compensation in the way of cash and magic. Henchmen might seem crazy to want to follow you, but they’re not crazy enough to do it for free.
The idea of a PC gaining henchmen in any capacity can change the direction and tone of an entire campaign, so this is not something to be undertaken lightly. If players want to go down this road they should first discuss it with the DM and then more importantly discuss it with the rest of the players. After all you’re going to have two characters (albeit one is a lot less complicated) and that will eat into everyone else’s face time. Likewise some players may resent that treasure is suddenly being divided into one more share.
The role-playing opportunities are rich should you decide to bring henchmen into your game but it certainly isn’t something that will work at every gaming table. In fact I recommend that only experienced gamers consider taking on the challenge of running henchmen in additional to your own character. If the new character ends up slowing things down then perhaps the role-playing benefits just aren’t worth it.
What do you think about the idea of introducing henchmen to 4e D&D? Did you even notice they were missing? Do you think that adding henchmen in any form will unbalance parties too much? Do you think that my guidelines for acquiring henchmen are sound? What about my proposals for how to constrict these henchmen?