I’ve always had a soft spot for henchmen, but never been happy with the Leadership feat in 3e (and Pathfinder). I have fond memories of 1st edition D&D when you could have up to 15 henchmen (if you could afford to keep them and were charismatic enough).
Sadly it seems we are destined never to see quite that many henchmen again!
Of course, characters are a lot easier to run in 1st Edition than they are in Pathfinder/3.5 which is probably part of the reason for Leadership (that and the curse of balance). 1st edition was gloriously unbalanced so often the presence of henchmen spelled the difference between victory and defeat. Pathfinder is a much more balanced—or dare I say “fair” game—in which the challenges are normally carefully designed to fit the PCs.
In 2012, Raging Swan Press released Henchfolk & Hirelings—my own take on hiring henchmen based on the notes in the 1st Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. Excitingly, in my home campaign, when some of the PCs hit 3rd-level they hired henchmen using these very rules! This got me thinking of henchmen again and so I revisited the Dungeon Master’s Guide to see if I could find any more nuggets of information.
So what did Gary have to say?
“Henchmen, whether male or female, are greatly desired by the discerning players, for they usually spell the difference between failure and success in the long term view. They are useful in individual adventures as a safety measure against the machinations of rival player characters, provide strength to the character and his stronghold, and lastly serve as a means of adventuring when the player character is unable to.”
Dungeon Master’s Guide (page 34), Gary Gygax
I find Gary’s thoughts very interesting (mainly because I agree with them).
Characters that rise in level enough to gain a stronghold or kingdom really, really need to have trusted associates to crush monstrous incursions and generally look after the fief while the master is off adventuring (or, of course, accompany their master on adventures).
What I found particularly interesting, though, is that henchmen help to guard against the machinations of rival player characters! That suggests to me Gary’s campaigns were not all sweetness and light and that at least some PCs were probably evil (or at the least very, very selfish folk). Indeed, if you look in the original Rogue’s Gallery you’ll see several evil characters. I’ve allowed evil characters in my campaigns (sporadically) but thus far we’ve shied away from player on player action. It’s sounds like that at least some form of that was part of the very first campaign!
What Do You Think?
Do you lament the disappearance of henchmen and hirelings from the game or could you care less? Let me know, in the comments below!
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