Hiring and followers in Fifth Edition

Gishi Shozo Sanshi (Annotated Portraits of Loyal Retainers)In my last play session, we noted that the players probably need to hire torchbearers or similar companions. I took a look at the rules in 5e and some other games before deciding what to do, and ended up merging them into a simple system that I hope will work for us.

D&D Fifth Edition

The hiring rules[0] in 5e left me feeling really underwhelmed. And after I compared them with the rules in a number of other games, I felt even more underwhelmed. “Skilled” cost 2 gold pieces per day, and “unskilled” cost 2 silver pieces per day. I’d increase that significantly for NPCs asked to go into harm’s way, like torchbearers in a dungeon. Note that this only means hired workers, not “retainers” or “low-level followers”. In those cases, they get a share of treasure and experience points. They make good replacement characters when a regular player character dies, too.

Page 93 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide provides a nice loyalty system tied to the Charisma score of the party. The NPC’s Loyalty score starts at half of the highest Charisma in the party, with that Charisma being the maximum. When you help them achieve a bond or do something really nice for them, the loyalty increases by 1d4. A corresponding decrease of 1d4 occurs when the party members do something that runs against the NPC’s alignment or bond, or 2d4 if they’re mistreated for selfish reasons. When the loyalty score reaches 0, the disloyal NPC either leaves or undermines the party. If it reaches 10, they will risk their lives for the party members.

Other games

Basic Fantasy RPG lists three types of companions. It provides “retainers”, who go into dungeons, participate, and get a share of the rewards. “Specialists” don’t go on adventures but perform other sorts of services (like a sage doing research or a sailors on a character-owned ship). Finally, “mercenaries” typically get hired as units and might provide security at a stronghold or similar. Labyrinth Lord has almost the same setup.

Swords & Wizardry does not have the concept of “retainers”. It has one page for hiring followers of various types, including “Man-at-Arms (Soldiers)” and “Man-at-Arms (Adventuring)”. The latter category probably comes closest to retainers. Another category covers “Torchbearer (or Other Adventuring Non-combatant)”. In this regard, it looks a lot like 5e.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess handles this with its characteristic balance between simplicity in exposition and detail in requirement. In fact, it seems to envision that adventuring parties become “expeditions” with all sorts of followers. For example, once characters acquire strongholds, accountants and similar become really important. For my purposes, the most relevant types include “Guides” who help the party avoid becoming lost, “Henchmen” (retainers), and “Laborers” & “Linkboys” (treasure carriers and torchbearers). All followers also earn a death benefit payable to family or a magistrate if they die during the course of the adventure.

My system

We will have three classes of NPCs for adventuring. Note that I don’t have any campaigns with players ready to run a stronghold or similar, so I don’t have to think about that yet.

  1. Followers. These correspond to “retainers” in most systems: classed, lower-level characters that get a share of the rewards. Players can create and run them during an adventure if they desire to use them as potential replacement characters if their main characters die. A character needs to reach fifth level before finding a follower, though.
  2. Mercenaries. These don’t get a share of rewards but only fill specific roles (e.g. they can apply healing kits or other special expertise). The DM runs them but they should never take the spotlight for fear of becoming “DMPCs“. If the PCs want the mercenaries to accompany them into a dungeon or into some other type of battle, they earn 10 gp/day. Otherwise they cost 2 gp/day as for skilled workers in the PHB.
  3. Attendants. Torchbearers, animal handlers, and so forth earn 2 sp/day just to accompany the party. But if they have to go into a dungeon, they earn a full gold piece per day.

Mercenaries and attendants earn a death benefit payable to their families or the guild. This comes to 100 days of hazard pay, so 1000 gp for mercenaries and 200 gp for attendants. I want the players to view these NPCs as actual characters, not furniture.

Further, the 5e loyalty system applies, but I want to import the morale system from the Mentzer Basic Dungeon Masters Rulebook. When appropriate, the NPC rolls 2d6 against their loyalty score. If the result exceeds their loyalty score, they flee or otherwise stop helping. If the loyalty score reaches 12, then the NPC doesn’t have to roll. But in all cases, if the NPC feels abused, Bad Things may happen.

[0]: I hate the word “hirelings” with a burning passion even more than I hate the term “human resources”.

Losing ruleset weight: evaluating older RPG games

D&D 5e has started to frustrate me. I feel like I spend way too much time looking stuff up when running a game. Some of that comes from poor information organization in the core books. This leads to too much time looking up spells and so forth. Another large chunk results directly from the amount of rules: conditions, cover, grappling, etc. Wizards of the Coast has made the business decision not to provide us with electronic materials. As a result, we have to depend on books, player-generated material that lawyers don’t take down, or our own preparation efforts. The amount of time taken by data entry in various applications and private documents doesn’t help.

As the DM, I can decide to change the rules, of course. But I want to take care when doing so. DM fiat shouldn’t frustrate players more than absolutely necessary. That doesn’t even include the optional rules I’ve chosen to exclude, like multiclassing and feats. Some of the things that take more time than I’d like actually include some of the most fun bits, like the different monster abilities and features.

Switching to another simpler game could certainly work. I don’t care one way or the other about labels like “OSR” (including whatever the abbreviation actually means to someone). But I do like the balance between crunch and freeform play in older games and “retroclones“, which I lump together here for this purpose.

Game analyses

A sorcerer comes to a peasant wedding. I’ve been re-reading various versions of a number of games. As much as I like Microlite20 and Microlite74, they just don’t seem to have much traction in terms of finding groups. For players, this choice might look like a distinction without a difference. None of the systems differ in large ways. Find a group you like on Roll20 and use what they use, since the DM will probably have tons of house rules anyway. But as a DM myself, I need to choose a place to begin. All three of these systems have tremendous community support. In addition, they are cross-compatible with each other and lots of other older games or clones (which is largely the point).

Dungeons & Dragons

OGL-based games constantly refer to “the Original Fantasy Roleplaying Game”, or  they use some other euphemism for actual Dungeons & Dragons. Wizards of the Coast has made available legitimate (non-infringing) electronic copies of older editions. This includes 3.5e and 4e, editions I prefer not to play, but also B/X and AD&D. A little time and effort can find actual books for sale on Amazon, eBay, and other places like that. Used bookstores and local gaming stores also carry them at times. The organization and lack of clarity in some of these editions has left me a bit cold, though I have some of this material for reference as needed.

In the meantime, my campaign in 5e will continue. I still plan to finish running Dyson’s Delve with the Relic Hunters Guild if the players keep going. I also play in a meatspace 5e game and find the new Dungeon Master’s Guide useful for everything, not to mention that gorgeous Monster Manual.

Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game

Basic Fantasy has something of an “Acme Industries” vibe to it. It focuses on doing what it does very well, including mechanics as well as production value, without embellishment to the point of distraction. BF uses ascending armor class, which I like, but it also has the older-style saving throws (“Dragon Breath”? “Wands”?). These never made much sense to me. It also uses the modern separation of race and class. I’ve never used the older approach of race-as-class and would like to experiment a bit, but I don’t know how players typically feel about that.

Labyrinth Lord

Labyrinth 28, etching, aquatint, soft-ground etching, mm.180x330, Engraved and designed by Toni Pecoraro 2007.Labyrinth Lord supports race-as-class directly in the core book. It seems closest to the older edition it seeks to emulate, including descending AC and all the old saving throws. This system has a bit more heft to it, though in this case that means “completeness” rather than rules-heaviness. I’ve joined a campaign using LL rules on Roll20 that will start in the new year, but this time I’ll get to participate as a player rather than DM. We will play in a really unusual campaign setting: the Anomalous Subsurface Environment. I have high hopes for that!

Lamentations of the Flame Princess

Lamentations of the Flame Princess has a beautiful approach in terms of its simplicity (e.g. the silver standard) and just enough “weirdness” to make it stand out. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed reading an adventure as much as I did Death Frost Doom. It uses race-as-class & ascending armor class and has extensive domain management rules. The old-style saving throws are a turn-off, as is the fact that, for reasons I do not understand at all, James Raggi has blocked me personally on Google+. I’ve never had any interaction with him that I recall, so it strikes me as somewhat odd.

Swords & Wizardry

Swords & Wizardry seems the most hackable. It supports both ascending and descending armor class. Since I prefer ascending, this helps a lot. A single number for saving throws might go too far in the other direction from the original game. In fact, D&D 5e probably does this in the way that makes the most sense to me, tying saving throws to ability scores. SW does modify certain types of saves based on character class, though, which helps. And it has both “race-as-class” and the more modern approach available depending on which edition you use.

What’s next?

For now I will start from S&W, though I have much love for all the systems above in their own ways. This will immediately require a few small tweaks, such as bringing in Advantage/Disadvantage. I also have taken some cues from Microlite74 OSS and some rules variants in 5e regarding skills. Characters who specify a particular skill or background at creation time will get advantage on relevant attempts. I will also use some of the material in Lamentations of the Flame Princess, like the extensive support for strongholds and hirelings.

In reality, no two RPG campaigns truly use the same system once you include house rules and such. Systems like these, all based on more or less the same game, just provide a framework from which we can begin.

Time to do work.