Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Thoughts on Retainers

I'm mulling over switching my 5E West Marches game to Classic D&D (or Labyrinth Lord...nearly the same thing). JB of BX Blackrazor had some good ideas about introducing BX (or your classic/retro-clone game of choice) to new gamers, including vets of newer editions who may be hesitant to switch to an old school edition.

Plus I've been leafing through my new print copy of Labyrinth Lord (the original rules, should get the new Advanced LL book that combines the basic rules and AEC content into one tome next).

I was looking at the chart of Charisma effects, and the number of retainers they have. I was thinking about JB's advice to start off players like mine at higher levels for a test run. I may do this. And if I do, each character will start with their maximum number of retainers based on their Charisma score.

WotC really doesn't seem to get the idea of retainers. Or they just don't like it. And lots of younger gamers don't seem to grasp the idea, or reject it for some reason. But retainers are a great addition to the game! Players control not just their character, but share control of some NPC helpers with the DM. Meat shields for magic-users, additional attacks and targets in combat, additional chances to pick the lock or cast that utility spell...

Due to my busy schedule in January and a trip back home in February, my West Marches game is on hold. When I get back to Busan at the end of February, I may just run a short campaign using Isle of Dread or another module I know I won't be borrowing from for the WM campaign for the group and see how it goes.

As JB suggests (and I've done before when starting with higher level PCs for short campaigns), I'll have a semi-randomized selection of magic items to choose from. I'll also come up with a bunch of retainers of various types (some with character classes, some without - but with useful skills/knowledge). Once the players roll their stats and select their classes, I'll let them select/distribute magic items, and then assign them their retainers (or let them negotiate over who gets which NPCs?).

The big challenge for me will be remembering to use the retainers' morale scores. Except for my son, whose 2nd character was the "knight" background and got three retainers, no one in the WM campaign has bothered trying to bring NPCs along, even when they see how useful it is for my son. One of the other kids tamed a giant badger who followed her PC for a long time, but then she got worried that it would die so now she leaves it in town. No one else has thought to go to the local inn and try to hire a few sellswords or sellspells. Maybe this would relieve them of that.


  1. I wonder if you could have the unemployed retainers be more proactive, approaching the characters with their services?

  2. I could. I guess it depends on the mood of the players, and also the intended length of the campaign. For a one-shot, I'd just pass them out. If we're intending for a longer run, I'd probably go ahead and RP it...but then there's the risk, especially with players used to newer editions, that they would just bypass the retainers altogether.

  3. Retainers should be very familiar to modern people.

    They're your "posse" ... the crowd of people who hang around your stellar person acting as your bodyguards/personal shoppers/best friends evar.

    You have them because of your fame and position and wealth. Should you lose those? You lose them.