Henchmen in 4e D&D

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on January 21, 2011

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?

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Hans January 21, 2011 at 9:22 am

I like the idea. It would certainly help give an old-school feel to the game. A DM would have to be careful about the henchmen getting turned into cannon-fodder, though. Obviously, the DM would have to retain a Veto for any actions the player would have the henchmen take, like charging into an unexplored dungeon corridor with the implicit intention of “checking for traps.” Heroic sacrifices would probably be out, too, unless there was some sort of mechanic for loyalty.

2 Sully January 21, 2011 at 10:07 am

Great article! Having henchmen around can definitely change the dynamic of a game and give it an old-school plug-in. I like.

Hilarious typo in your opening sentence, btw.

3 Ameron January 21, 2011 at 10:22 am

@Hans
I see the henchmen being more of a utility player. They wouldn’t be the first guy through the door… ever. But they would have the ability to contribute in some meaningful way. This is also a really good way to introduce more healing to a party without a leader. However, I’d say that healing from henchmen only restores half of a healing surge’s normal amount. After all they’re just supporting characters.

@Sully
In previous editions we always had a few henchmen in the party. I agree that reintroducing them will likely bring back some of that old school nostalgia.

Thanks for the heads up on the typo. You’re right, once I noticed it I laughed out loud. I’ve corrected it now, but for those who missed it here’s the fist sentence as it appeared this morning.

“As your character earns enough XP and gains sufficient level doesn’t it make sense that he’d start to attack some followers?”

4 Al January 21, 2011 at 11:18 am

Kudos gentlemen at Dungeon’s Masters another great article this week. Plus it ties in nicely with the DDI article on Strongholds for characters earlier this week.

For a home game, I don’t think it should be necessary to spend a feat to get to acquire henchmen or a sidekick if the player (with the approval of the DM) can come up with a good story driven reason why it should happen. Also, in the past I remember some npcs at the end of an adventure asking a PC to join the group as a follower of the PC because of the interaction between the npc and PC. This was DM driven and a choice for the PC to make.

You’ll notice that I differentiate between a henchman and a sidekick. I see henchmen more as minions with the exception of a few leader types whose only purpose would be to guard a PC’s keep or horses & wagon while the PC is the one doing the actual work. Now as encounters has shown us there can be times when they do come into play. But for the most part they are story elements. DDI’s Stronghold article gives a good way to create henchmen.

A sidekick is someone along for the ride with a PC, now this can come in 2 ways as you’ve mentioned the first as a full fledged character generated exactly like a PC. I agree that running a PC and sidekick in this way would be a daunting task for even the most seasoned of players. Although some of the classes in essentials may be more manageable. The second as you allude to is more of monster type block build with a couple of abilities that can easily fit into no more than a half page.

Another place to look for a template for this type of character is how Wizards built animal companions for the Druid sentinel in essentials for determining base HPs, defenses and leveling. And based on the role that the sidekick would provide be it defender, healer, striker or controller you could grant a couple of powers appropriate for the role that could scale as the character levels. The named NPCs in last chapter of Encounters are great examples of this in particular Moxhular (young cooper dragon) is a great example of a non standard companion.

Although there should be a cost to the PC to maintain a sidekick, aside from potions or consumables I wouldn’t recommend allocating Magic items to them. Their stats and leveling should already assume that they have appropriate items of their level. It will be easier on the DM when placing items and also should the sidekick die there wont be a loot the body moment.

5 Liam Gallagher January 21, 2011 at 11:31 am

I like the premise but as you say the problem is including them in such a way that makes the game more fun rather than just slow.

It might be cool to set them up the way that summons work for druids. They have intrinsic actions that they take unless you use one of your actions to command them, the only difference would be that your henchmen wont accidentally maul your comrades, unless you have wizardly henchmen who carelessly place fireballs.

One thing I would reccomend is not associating any sort of upkeep or cost with your henchmen, the liability that they present on an adventure is enough. D&D 4th ed. is really bad at tracking resources, you get such a stupid amount of money so early in the game that you never actually have to buy anything. I also don’t know anyone who actually does a good job of keeping track of their gold, consumables, ammunition and encumberance so you know the DM is going to ventually say that your mooks died because you forgot to feed them.

6 Mike January 21, 2011 at 1:17 pm

This idea doesn’t seem too different from the Companion Characters chapter of DMG2.

7 Tourq January 21, 2011 at 8:23 pm

I love this article, and the idea of henchmen. None of my players ever actually requested henchmen or followers, but many times they came into play anyway because of the current story. It was very easy for us to handle it – I simply printed up standard stat blocks for them, or simply copied NPC “monsters” out of the book, and gave them to the players. I (as the DM) never really did anything with them, and the players loved the extra utility of having NPCs to occasionally play.

We thought it worked very well.

8 Arcade January 23, 2011 at 10:58 am

I like the premise, but I think a feat is too low of an entry requirement. An initial cost should be attached, along with a per level upkeep cost. In many ways, this henchman is treasure and as such, he should cost as appropriate. He’s like a mount, but he also can attack on his own. He can be found as a treasure parcel for the character who gets him. But you need to keep him and his equipment upgraded as you level, so you need to pay the magic item cost to increase his level. This can be paid for like a share out of party treasure, or giving the henchman a found magic item.

Once you have a henchman, a feat tree is not out of the ordinary. You can use it to give your henchman special knowledge, (ie. training in 2 skills of your choices) or just adapt any of the mount/familiar/beast feats and magic items.

9 Jason Dawson January 23, 2011 at 3:28 pm

I had an idea similar to this, but giving a henchman a level-specific gold piece value and letting them fit into the Treasure system.

10 Delpheus April 29, 2011 at 1:11 am

I would use sidekicks/companion characters as more background than combat. Yes, they’re there and they follow you but they’re more groupies than allies. A rock band has groupies but they don’t go out and play do they?

In Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, you could save people from the Templars and they would join your Brotherhood. Admittedly, they could be called on occasionally to assist you in combat, but more often than not, they were sent off to run missions that, while important, didn’t require your assistance.

They [your henchmen] could be kidnapped by the BBEG which makes for an excellent adventure. Or maybe while you were off in a dungeon and the henchmen were back at the tavern, he got into a fight to defend your name. Now you have to go fix his mess, diplomatically or violently.

11 DinksFair July 2, 2011 at 6:20 am

This is exactly what the rules for companion characters in the DMG II are designed for! It is a great and easy way to get a usable follower for the PCs, but they end up with HP and healing surges so management of a Companion Character is a bit more involved that a two hit minion. I really like the two hit minion idea though making it easier (maybe with a second wind?)

Depending on the level a decent Companion gets a couple at wills to choose from and a short list of encounter powers. I don’t give them daily powers or consumables (again to keep paperwork low), but the encounter powers are at level with the PCs so they can dish out damage or control well.

I like the idea of having a Paragon feat to start getting them and the idea of adding them into the existing treasure schema would make it really easy to decide when a PC gets the followers (after taking the feat of course). So I think in the future I will move to a combination of those.

I have made 3 different Companion characters as followers for my PCs in my current campaign. One is a healer who is a disciple of our Cleric (Cleric is a buffer and crummy healer) and has taken the pacifist stuff, but has an encounter buff and an encounter heal as well as at wills that give saves and temp HP. It is by far the go to Companion of the group and when she is hurt the whole party rallies to defend her which has made some cool story moments. The others are quasi-defender/strikers and come and go from the party as the PCs work for a king. They do damage and lock down space and are based on the Knights from Essentials. The PCs love them because they are extra bodies for combat advantage, but otherwise just slow combat down. I don’t know if that long winded comment will help, but there you go!

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