The Rarely Used Henchman in Dungeons and Dragons Games

Ah, the Henchman.

Not to be confused with the Hireling. Or the lowly Halfling. Or the Hireling Halfling.

Hirelings are basically hired help. They get wages and are mercenaries, blacksmiths, assassins, cooks, servants, laborers, minstrels, messengers, etc. Halfings are a race of wee folk approx. 3 feet tall, similar to Hobbits, and should not be confused with Hirelings at all.

In Dungeons and Dragons, the Henchman is a Non-Player Character who serves as a permanent retainer / ally to a character or a group of characters. They might be:

Squires to a Paladin or Fighter.

Acolytes following a Priest.

Apprentices following a Wizard, Druid or Thief.

The Proverbial Sidekick, eg. Batman's loyal sidekick Robin.

Or even the loyal servant, eg. Bruce Wayne's Butler Alfred Pennyworth.

They could even be a familial role such as a Wife, Husband, Son, Daughter, Nephew, Niece, Distant Relative, etc.

Ally - Henchmen aren't necessary lower level than PCs either. They might also be equal in level and get an equal share of party loot. But they should *rarely* be higher level than the party, otherwise they might outshine the party members and would properly be an Ally instead of a Henchman.

The Problem of Henchmen

In recent years it has become a habit during D&D games that people don't always make use of Henchmen any more. When 3rd Edition D&D appeared the concept of Henchmen was replaced with the Leadership feat, in which a person gets 1 Henchman for taking the feat. This dramatically reduced the use of such a character to fulfill the roles of apprentices, squires, etc. As 4th and 5th Edition appeared, the concept of having Henchmen in the game was basically forgotten and players of those games sort of lost touch with the whole Henchmen concept.

The problem therefore is that many DMs and players have forgotten that they have the option to bring henchmen and hirelings with them on adventures. It is an old school way of doing things, and something I would like to see revived.

Speaking for myself, when 4th Edition appeared I boycotted it completely and went back to playing 1st Edition AD&D, and sometimes also 2nd Edition AD&D. To me it was a matter of enjoying the old school feel of D&D and a rejection of the power-gaming routine of dice rolling and monty haul adventures with way too much magical loot.

My current long running campaign is a 1st Edition game with a long list of house rules and I have adopted a concept of a 'Party Henchman' who is a member of party of adventurers and stays with the party until the party's activities no longer match their own activities. Sometimes the party has multiple henchmen with them, sometimes the party leaves their henchmen at home.

At present in my campaign we have (or have had):

Maya, a wizard the party freed from statue at the Obsidian Tower. She later left the party after 4 years of game time to go do her own thing and no one has seen her since, creating a mystery around her disappearance. (Update, she later reappeared after a year of game time - as a villain. The party slew her during the final bossfight, not knowing who she was until the polymorph wore off...)

Wulfric, a fighter who was a vassal of the king and allied himself with the party when the king and queen were abducted. He was later killed by a beholder. Unknown to the party Wulfric was actually a clone created by a Deep Spawn.

Introsia, the sister of the party's assassin Indrasen, who sometimes joins the party, but most of the time she is with her tribe of elves.

King Finger, a powerful ally the party met while slaves in a gladiator pit. The Finger was a halfling gladiator known for dealing a finishing blow to his enemies with his finger. After escaping from the gladiator pit, the party and the Finger led a Spartacus-like rebellion and overthrew the city, freeing all of the halfling slaves from their human oppressors. The Finger became King Finger and has ruled there ever since. He is basically an ex-Henchman, but still an important ally of the party whenever the party is in that part of the world.

Mugug, the ogre the party freed when they were on a quest to kill trolls. "Mugug smash trolls. Mugug help." Mugug only helps the party if there are trolls involved.

Lyra the Sirine, which the party freed while in the Tomb of Xorek (which was really the Tomb of Horrors in disguise). [Xorek himself is my own version of a powerful lich-god, similar to the demi-lich Acererak from the Tomb of Horrors, the lich Vecna from Vecna Lives!, Voldemort from the Harry Potter series, Sauron from The Lord of the Rings, etc. Whereas Vecna is a lich, Acererak is a demi-lich, Sauron is a disembodied lich with a phylactery in the form of the One Ring, and Voldemort has his 6 "horcruxes" and the 7th horcrux he didn't mean to make - Xorek has multiple bodies, many phylacteries, multiple forms of himself which are clones, demi-liches, liches, ghosts, shades, etc. He makes Voldemort and the others look like amateurs in comparison.]

Various characters that party members married like Ivana Gorstag (who one party member was forced to marry in a political marriage), and Vega (the barbarian wife of one of the party members). Note - With Ivana also came her father Lord Gorstag, who is now an important ally and the father-in-law of one of the characters.

The children of various party members who have reached an age where they can start adventuring, but thus far have been left at home to defend their holdfasts. (Our game has been going long enough that 17 years of game time has gone by since the start of the game and a few PCs now have children who are 15 years old, and thus old enough to adventure.)

Using Henchmen More Often

However the list of above henchmen barely scratches the surface of what is possible to do with henchmen as NPCs. As per 2nd Edition AD&D rules, having a Charisma of 9, 10 or 11 gives a PC a maximum of 4 Henchmen. Lets say you have 6 player characters in your gaming group, if they all had a Charisma between 9 and 11 they could potentially have up to 24 different henchmen. Or way more than that if their average Charisma scores were considerably higher. Even a character with a 2 Charisma is allowed 1 henchman.

A single PC with a 17 Charisma could have a maximum of 10 henchmen, according to the rules. 18 Charisma nets them a maximum of 15. Above that it increases by 5 henchmen by every 1 point of Charisma. And yet Henchmen, despite its potential to build a small army, is rarely used by DMs.

Even I don't use it to that ridiculous extent, but I do see it as a rule I would like to make more use of in future campaigns which are more roleplaying intensive - when our current campaign goes into semi-retirement, my goal is to restart the PCs at 1st level and play a more roleplaying oriented campaign with more mysteries, more gothic villains (vampires, werewolves, etc), more court intrigue - and it is during such a campaign that we could make a whole roster of ally henchmen, allowing henchmen and hirelings to truly shine.

During our current campaign the party has been active for 17 years, has strongholds and holdfasts, lots of Followers (as per the Followers rules for building strongholds), they spend their downtime collecting taxes and improving their strongholds, and adventuring happens less frequently as they are now semi-retired - which means weeks or months of game time can sometimes go by in 1 minute, and the party is then ready for new adventure hooks.

The Rules of Playing Henchmen in D&D

#1. Alignment.

Henchmen are not necessarily the same alignment of the character. For fun you can make them a slightly different alignment or even sometimes a radically different alignment (maybe they drank a love potion and fell in love with the PC... "But my love, opposites attract! We may be different, but I still love you!"

#2. Henchmen are usually adventurers.

But not always. They could also be monsters, pets, animals the PC befriended, etc. This could include things like faeries, unicorns, flying mounts (giant talking ravens for example), ogres, humanoids or demi-humanoids, hatchling dragons, etc. Thus if a PC gets a giant raven, a faerie, and a human squire you might want to check their Charisma and confirm how many henchmen this PC is allowed.

#3. Charm spells temporarily give the PC a henchman.

The effects of a Charm spell are such that the PC is considered to be a friend to the person or creature who failed the charm spell. This means that they *might* fight to protect their friend, or they might let them inside a door they are guarding, and they might even follow the PC willingly into danger. Taking a Charmed individual with the party for an extended period of time effectively makes them into a Henchman, and they should be treated as such. They will want an equal share of treasure and to be treated as a valuable ally. Mistreatment or a lack of fair treatment will result in them getting additional saving throws to break free from the charm spell.

#4. Henchmen are Loyal. Sometimes to a fault.

A Henchmen might knock their friend unconscious in a bad situation and then carry their body from the dungeon in a hurry if they felt their friend was in such a bad condition that they needed saving. They might also get tortured to death by refusing to reveal secrets to enemies. They might get themselves killed trying to save their friend. Any number of situations could arise in which a Henchmen could get themselves killed, jeopardize a mission by doing something unexpected, etc.

#5. Ideally Henchmen should be Likeable.

However sometimes as the DM you might accidentally make a Henchman that the PC or party members dislike because they find him/her annoying. Oh well. If that happens try to at least make the Henchman helpful / funny. eg. The annoying goblin keeps following the elf warrior-princess around, muttering "my precious" to himself in a creepy fashion, but hey, at least he is good at carrying her stuff and stays out of the way most of the time.

#6. Henchmen deserve a share of treasure.

If they are adventurers they should get an equal share. If they are more like servants then the party might only give the Henchmen items or treasure that they the party doesn't actually want. Animal or monster henchmen may not be interested in treasure, depending on the circumstances. Henchmen who don't get a share of treasure will feel mistreated by the party and then leave. If the Henchman is more of a loyal servant they should at least be paid like a Hireling does, but treated better as a sign of favouritism.

#7. It is possible to have a Henchman at level one.

In theory a PC could start off as a sort of "Batman Begins" character, already having a loyal vassal with them like Alfred Pennyworth. The henchman could be a bodyguard, a servant, a family member or some similar role. Could even be a pet. However to do this it is important to get the DMs permission, which basically requires that the DM likes the idea of having henchmen in the party.

#8. Henchmen sometimes die.

Stuff happens. The party gets betrayed, the dragon was unexpectedly hungry, the evil villain "Governor" decides to chop off Hershel's head with a katana, the henchman slips and falls while climbing a cliff. If it can happen to a PC, it can happen to a Henchman. The good news is that Henchmen are replaceable. Player Characters have a maximum number of henchmen, and how many henchmen they have may change over time if the henchmen dies in combat, is killed by a trap, or is poisoned while at the inn. If the PCs are upset by the death of a particular henchman they might even go on a quest to raise them from the dead.

#9. Reward the PCs who make the effort to roleplay meetings with NPCs.

Or in some cases you might also punish them. Remember that barmaid you seduced with last week? Well she quit her job, bought some armour and now wants you to teach her how to swing a sword. Roleplaying situations, literally any roleplaying situation, has the potential for PCs to find themselves a new Henchman. This could be anything from seducing the barmaid, complimenting a member of the town guard while bribing them to keep silent on you murdering the local criminals, flirting with the priestess of the sea dragon god, or even praising a lowly ratman on keeping his fur so clean. Any character who has no ties to keep them at home and can serve as either an ally or servant has the potential to become a Henchman.

#10. A Henchman could be higher level, but should still be weaker than the PC.

But this should be extremely rare and their skills should be highly specialized. eg. They might be a thief who specializes in picking pockets and they are utterly useless in combat, and only marginally good at other thief skills. They could even be elderly sages who know lots of information due to their high level, but due to age and a low Constitution they are horrible in combat. A good example of a sage is the flea-demon "Myoga" from the Japanese anime TV show Inuyasha, who is completely useless in combat and disappears whenever there is a danger, but is sometimes around when Inuyasha or one of his comrades needs advice or historical info.

The 2nd Edition AD&D rules are contradictory on this matter. One line says "Some may be higher level" and then in the next paragraph the first sentence is "A henchman is always lower level than the PC." How can some be higher level if the henchman is always lower level? Well, it is poorly written but what they probably really meant to say is that henchmen should always be less powerful than the PCs. They could be higher level and have a handy ability, but they should always be less powerful compared to the main party members.

If the henchman eventually becomes more powerful than a party member they should leave the party. This is what happened to Maya and King Finger above. In Maya's case she was becoming very powerful as a wizard and had established her own wizardry school. It was time for her to leave. For King Finger, his royal duties meant that he now had an army of halflings under his command and he likewise could no longer be a henchman.

#11. Henchmen should never be centre stage.

Unless it is briefly important to a plot, the henchmen should stay with the wagon train of followers, hirelings, mounts, etc. They should be guarding the horses, riding on the back of the wagon, only speak with spoken to or when it is important to the plot, should never outshine the characters unless they have a specific skill that they are particularly good at, and should rarely draw attention to themselves.

#12. If a PC is knocked unconscious, captured or killed let the player play the Henchman.

Sometimes a character gets severely injured or worse and the player doesn't have anyone to play. Having one or two henchmen handy in such circumstances means that they can now play the Henchman instead. Remember Maya up above? When I first introduced her character my primary goal was to give the party members a backup character that they could play whenever their own character was too injured to fight. Having Henchmen for that purpose is exceptionally handy.

#13. No player should feel left out when it comes to Followers.

At 9th level fighters with strongholds gain a large number of Followers. Rangers at 10th level get 2d6 Followers, Paladins get a warhorse at level 4, 8th level Clerics attract a group of 2d10x10 fanatical believers, Druids attract animal and fey Henchmen, 10th level Thieves attract a band of thieves, Wizards have their lowly familiar, and a 9th level Bard with a stronghold can attract 10d6 warriors. However circumstances may arise in which some players feel left out - in which case that is a golden opportunity to set up a situation wherein an orphan child could become a squire to the paladin, or an apprentice to the wizard, or backup minstrel to the bard. Having a few Henchmen is a great equalizer to making players feel like their PC is important.

#14. Henchmen should be trusted allies.

If they are treated in a distrustful way they will become disenfranchised with the PCs and leave. Unless they have an important reason to stay, they will simply give up and realize that they are not wanted. Any kind of abuse or distrust should be treated on a case by case situation. A minor offense might mean that they ask for an apology. A major offense might result in them leaving immediately, without even a goodbye. Although for roleplaying purposes you might wish to leave a note telling the PC why they decided to quit. Depending on their alignment they might even steal a few things on their way out the door.

#15. Henchmen can switch to a different PC.

In the event a Henchman is abused or treated unfairly, it might be a golden opportunity for a different PC to gain a new Henchman by treating them in a manner which is more befitting. "Tada, I am with Boris now. I am sorry Aragthorn, but you just never treated me with the respect I deserve. Especially when you used me as dragon bait and Boris rescued me."

#16. PC Henchman or Party Henchman. Hmm.

In 2nd Edition AD&D there is a line that states that "henchman attach themselves to a particular player character, not a group of player characters. Thus it is only under the direst of circumstances that a henchman accepts the orders of another PC." I find this to be silly. Why can the party not have allies or henchmen as a group? There is no real logic for it. Yes, sometimes a Henchman might be smitten with a particular PC, but there is no real reason why they cannot be treated as a Party Henchman (especially if the party met the Henchman through circumstances in which they all rescued the new Henchman from danger, each person playing an equal role). The downside to this is that they count as a Henchman to everyone, can take orders from anyone, and might even refuse orders due to roleplaying circumstances / alignment / etc.

#17. Lifetime limit or maximum at any one time. Hmm.

In 2nd Edition AD&D it clearly states that the maximum number of henchmen a character can have "is a lifetime limit, not just a maximum possible at any given time." However I would like to point out several things. (1). Characters eventually retire because they reach such a high level (or old age) that the players start to get bored of killing demons and dragons every week. As such, if they have not exhausted their maximum number of henchmen, they never will anyway. (2). Even if they do reach the maximum, how is it the player's fault if the DM is running a deadly campaign where both PCs and henchmen die regularly? Or likewise, how is it the player's fault if the Henchman decides to retire from the group, becomes royalty, becomes too powerful, leaves due to roleplaying reasons, leaves for any number of reasons that are out of player's control?

In my games I follow the idea that it is a maximum at any one time, and only Henchmen who either leave in disgust, or die due to the PC's negligence count against the character's maximum number of henchmen. In other words it is only those henchmen who leave due to the player's own fault which count against the maximum number. Any deaths due to flooding, DM mischief, assassins trying to kill the whole party and the henchman bit the dust, etc - those deaths simply don't count against the maximum.

However I should note that since characters rarely get more than 1 or 2 henchmen, this isn't too big of a deal. However if the DM is running a campaign wherein there are lots of henchmen and they are integral the plots, it makes sense that the DM should keep careful track of how many henchmen each PC has, how well they are treated, and so forth.

#18. Former Henchmen can become Villains.

Are you familiar with the Batman villain named "Red Hood"? No? Well spoiler alert, the Red Hood is actually Robin. Specifically he is Jason Todd, one of multiple characters who have been Robin. Todd was killed by the Joker and later brought back to life with the Lazarus Pit, becoming the villain Red Hood.

Now apply that idea to a former henchman who was mistreated. They might seek vengeance immediately, or they might spend years becoming a powerful villain and seek to destroy or defeat their former master.

#19. Henchmen might not be real henchmen.

They might be spies, assassins, thieves, people with their vendetta against the PCs or possibly an important NPC that the party is allied with. They might have been encountered in a similar fashion to other henchmen, but like a cursed magical item their appearances are not always what they seem.

#20. How hard or easy it is to gain henchmen depends on the DM and the Players.

The rules state that "Attracting a henchman is fairly difficult." But it doesn't have to be, especially if it is written in to the adventure. eg. The sirine in the Tomb of Horrors is right there, waiting to become a Henchman. If the DM takes the time to sprinkle lots of NPCs around, those NPCs have the potential to become allies, hirelings, and henchmen. Some might start off as allies or hirelings and later become henchmen, or they might be people the party rescued and became instantly devoted to a PC or to the party.

#21. Who plays the Henchmen, Players or the DM. Hmm.

This is more a matter of interpretation and circumstances. Sometimes the players might play the Henchman and other times it might be the DM. Especially if the Henchman is actually a spy, the DM might wish to retain control of the Henchman. Or if it is a Party Henchman, the DM might control them 90% of the time and the players only play the Henchman when their own character is knocked out / captured / dead. In my games the Henchmen character sheets stay in my possession and I only hand the henchmen character sheets to players when the time is appropriate. This way they are not tempted to metagame the distribution of items, the choosing of spells and the henchman is making their own decisions most of the time.

The DM can overrule any action a player attempts to take with a henchman that the DM feels is inappropriate to the Henchman's character.

#22. Henchmen "do not give away or loan magical items." Or do they?

Their friend is dying and they need a healing potion. The henchman has three healing potions, do they give one to their friend? Yes, yes they do. Again this really depends on the circumstances. Obviously they would not give away their ancestral family heirloom +2 sword, but they would be a bit more free-thinking about giving up a healing potion or something they don't need when there are circumstances that warrant it.

#23. Henchmen can mutiny.

Imagine what might happen if multiple henchmen and hirelings are aboard a ship and are being mistreated by their masters. Clearly that is a situation wherein they could mutiny if they all decide at roughly the same time that they have had enough of their mistreatment. A little rebellion would teach the PCs a lesson about the value of respect. It could even lead to a party wipe or near party wipe if all or most of the PCs are guilty of mistreatment and the henchmen outnumber the PCs and take them by surprise.

#24. Et tu Brute?

Sometimes the henchman might actually have a better sense of morals than the PC. A good henchman might decide to assassinate a PC who has become a dictator or tyrant, just as Brutus did to Julius Caesar. After returning to Rome a war hero Julius Caesar quickly established himself as a dictator and began a series of constitutional reforms, appointed many senators who were loyal to him, impeached his political opponents, and even started printing coins with his likeness. One month before his assassination he declared himself dictator for life. Brutus and his compatriots killed Julius Caesar because they saw him for the ruthless dictator he had become.

It wouldn't take much for a PC to become a ruthless dictator. Many D&D groups are basically playing characters who are a bunch of murder hobos anyway, traveling from place to place, doing all sorts of questionable activities. A Henchman who witnessed such atrocities might develop an opinion that their master is actually evil and needs to be stopped, by any means necessary.

#25. Henchmen can do anything a Player Character can do.

Which includes having their own Henchmen, their own allies, their own stronghold, their own followers, their own goals and ambitions. They are effectively adventuring NPCs and as such can do anything a PC can do. However their followers, their stronghold, their monetary wealth should always be off-limits to the players. They might bring their followers to a major battle during a time of warrior, but if mistreated they might just as easily show up and launch several volleys of arrows at the party's troops before turning tail and leaving.

Happy Gaming!

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