On the 5e core book set

Dialogus creaturarumSo now we’ve had the D&D Fifth Edition core books for a bit. Many bloggers have written many words about their impressions and evaluations, sometimes in great detail. But as I look at the shelf to my right, one of the three stands out more than the others.

The Player’s Handbook covers the core mechanics of the game and does a lot of things well. But, by its nature, the vast majority of the book only applies to this one game. Appendix B, “Gods of the Multiverse”, has some cool material for campaign development. Appendix E, “Inspirational Reading”, does a great job of carrying on the legacy of the original Appendix N. (And if “E” alludes to “E. Gary Gygax”, that’s a nice touch.) I use this book the least, though.

I love the Monster Manual as a general fantasy bestiary and art book in addition to its utility for 5e. The stat blocks tend to run a little long for my taste and could probably have used a slightly more minimalist approach. As a DM, I love some of the actions and special abilities of some of the monsters. “The goblin attacks with its Scimitar” gets old very quickly, but “That zombie keeps going [due to Undead Fortitude]” does not. When I want to enjoy a glass of bourbon in my hand, pore over some fantastic monsters, and read a few words about their mythical backgrounds, this book provides plenty of material.

The Dungeon Master’s Guide has both fantastic art and great non-edition specific advice. Mike Schley and the other artists have provided evocative maps and illustrations. Many of the magic items appear in lots of different editions and even games, so having the illustrations and histories makes up for the fact that they take up about a third of the book. (Those same features probably explain that page count issue, too.) Again we have appendices that we will use many times in the future for creating dungeons. Appendix D, “Dungeon Master Inspiration”, completes the PHB Appendix E.

The Monster Manual is my favorite of the three 5e core books. I will use both it and the DMG even when running other games, but only the MM truly satisfies that non-game reading itch. Open it to a random page and spend 10 or 15 minutes appreciating that one monster. I’d love to find more bestiaries like it and A Practical Guide to Monsters that accomplish that so well.

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”.