Henchmen stealing the Glory? Or just supporting cast?

Back in 2016 I wrote a post titled The Rarely Used Henchman in Dungeons and Dragons, during which I went through 25 different "rules" for how to use henchmen, and today I want to revisit that topic.

One of the problems that concerns both players and DMs is if a henchman ever steals the glory by doing something amazing, whether it be getting the finishing blow on a villain, doing something completely awesome and unexpected, or something equally glorious.

Essentially "Henchman Steals Glory" violates two of the rules I speak of in the previous post, namely:

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

#11. Henchmen should never be center stage.

If a henchman is constantly stealing the glory then there is a problem. It makes the henchman look way more powerful than the PCs are, and the henchman should never be more powerful. There should be chronically at the back of the party, holding a torch for others to see, only lob a missile into combat and rarely use their special abilities...

However there is an exception to this.

I am less worried about henchmen getting the killing blow as long as it is players who are playing the henchmen when it happens.

eg. In a large fight 4 players might end up running 4 henchmen (so 2 characters per person), so ultimately it is still the players sharing the glory. In a huge fight, having all the PCs and henchmen on deck is very handy to be able to do.

Plus possibly players getting to play a character class they are not used to playing, such as someone accustomed to playing a warrior getting to play a wizard for the first time. They might decide they like that class and it sparks the imagination for something new in the future.

And I am all in favour of allowing players to explore new possibilities for roleplaying things that they have never done before.

Regularly allowing the players to play henchmen utilizes Rule #21.

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

While it makes sense that most of the time the henchmen are played by the DM and occupies a "supporting cast role", it also makes sense that players should be given the option to play the henchmen in the following scenarios:
  • Whenever there is a large scale combat and the group needs more help.
  • Whenever their own character is dead, knocked out, Held, trapped, asleep.
  • Whenever their own character isn't there (eg. the party got split up).
  • Whenever a player is still designing their character but still wants to play something during the game while they finish designing their character, and they don't want to slow down the party.
  • Any scenario in which a player doesn't have a character to play.
In the example of the large combat scenario you might only have 1 or a few henchmen to go around, in which case you can also do the following:
  • Roll dice and randomly determine which player controls the henchmen.
  • Assign a henchman to one player during one combat and to another player during the next combat. That way each player gets a turn.
  • Pass to the left each round. So each player gets a turn in theory, depending on the length of the combat.
  • Ask for volunteers. "Who wants to play Estrel?"
  • Hand the henchman's character sheet to the person who has never played that class before so they can get a feel for it.
  • If the character is complicated you might decide to hand the henchman's character sheet to a more experienced player since they are likely more familiar with the rules / spells / etc.
Which way you do this might depend on the DM's whim, the circumstances, the players, etc, but generally there will be some logic behind the reasoning of how the role of playing the henchmen is divided amongst players.

Ultimately the goal here should never be "the DM plays the henchman and steals all the glory".

The goal should always be "the henchman gets played by the players regularly, and it is the players who share the glory if the henchman ever manages to do something awesome".

And never forget Rule #8...

#8. Henchmen sometimes die.

 If a henchman ever becomes too powerful, for whatever reason, they should leave the party, retire, go off on their own - or even just plain die.

Hopefully the henchman dying should fulfill a narrative plot point, possibly motivating the party to do good deeds.

Other times you might determine a henchman is simply redundant and not needed. In which case killing them off with a random beholder death ray is also acceptable. No need to have a narrative sometimes if you feel the henchman isn't really needed.

In which case, if you kill off one henchman you might decide to replace them fairly soon with a new henchman who is lower level / less powerful / etc, just to fulfill a gap in the roster. Or maybe not. If the character was redundant, then having them killed off randomly would be okay.

Oh look Tasha Yar is dead. Oh well, she was redundant anyway. Hey Worf, guess who is getting a promotion? (Even Denise Crosby realized her character was redundant and chose to leave the show, hence why her Star Trek TNG character was killed off by a random blob monster.)

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