So today's topic around the OSR-type blogs is hirelings/retainers/henchmen.
I'm pretty sure I've blogged in the past about my own early experiences with them, but I'm too lazy to look up a link to that old post right now. So I'll briefly recap.
Starting with Mentzer, his Basic set tried to discourage retainers. I'll need to double check the actual books, but the way I read them was very similar to the excerpts of Moldvay Basic that James M., Lord Kilgore, and others are talking about. PCs can hire help, but they're discouraged from doing so at early stages of the game.
My idea of the 'retainer' that I got from Mentzer, though, was that they were free-lance classed NPCs who would hire on with your group for a share of the treasure. Sorta like henchmen in AD&D, only contracted on an adventure by adventure basis. We never got the idea from Frank's set that hiring Normal Man type soldiers/men-at-arms, or other porter/linkboy types was even an option. Frank's Expert set reinforced this, with the admonition that mercenaries would guard your castle or clear the land of monsters, but wouldn't go down in a dungeon.
Since Frank had stated that it was preferable to have players each play multiple characters rather than resort to hiring retainers, and since we would often just roll up new characters when we were bored (to put off doing homework for another few minutes), we all had a dozen or so characters at any one time, and our adventuring parties usually consisted of each of our 1-3 players playing 3-5 of their characters, plus the DM 'NPCing' some of their own as well. So we didn't need to hire extra help most of the time.
But that's what comes of playing D&D in a tiny farm community with a very limited player pool.
More recently, I've been encouraging the hiring of NPC help. Some of my players take to it, some don't. That's up to them. I find that having a few hired spearmen along on a dungeon delve, or some extra sacks and backpacks for hauling out loot (or hauling in more oil, holy water, rations, etc.) can help a lot. But if a group wants to go without them, OK by me.
So what have I got to add to the discussion? Not much really. But it was easier posting this than writing up the post that's on my mind, which is all about literary critique theory and how that may possibly be messing up some people's ideas of what RPGs should be about. I'll save that one until I get over the headache I've got today.
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