“Retainer” is the catch-all term I use in my game for NPCs that accompany player characters on adventures. I make no distinction between hirelings, henchmen, mercenaries, etc. In some editions, each serves a particular purpose: Some accompany PCs on wilderness treks, others also go with them into dungeons, etc. In our current campaign, town is mostly handled off-screen and we don’t do wilderness treks. It’s all about the dungeon crawl, so different types of retainer don’t add anything.
The reason for having rules for retainers in Hackbut is mainly so players can pad out their expeditionary force with some extra muscle. This way player-character death rate is reduced, without having to dial down the lethality of the campaign. Retainers are usually the first ones to drop, as anyone who has been following my Castle Xyntillan play reports will know. Retainers also add to the party’s carrying capacity, which nicely complements the rather strict encumbrance rules we enforce.
Okay, so how do they work? The short answer is that I lifted the Morale & Men rules module by Istvan Boldog-Bernad and Sandor Gebei published in Castle Xyntillan (as well as Echoes from Fomalhaut #1). These are a coherent, comprehensive, but straightforward set of rules that fit on a single A4 page. They cover:
- Determining the availability of retainers that takes into account settlement size, and includes light & heavy footmen, bow & crossbowmen, and mounted troops
- Recruiting retainers
- Determining their level
- Loyalty and morale (very close to the rules in B/X, with a few clever tweaks)
I more or less lifted these rules wholesale, so I won’t describe them here. I will note the few small changes and additions I made.
- Rather than having all retainers be 1 HD by default, I say that non-combatants are 0 HD, and men-at-arms are 1 HD but have no class.
- I add a line to the table for determining availability of classed NPCs. These are the ones for whom a level and class can be determined as the original rules module suggests. The probabilities and amounts for village, town, city and metro are: 10% 1d2, 10% 1d4, 20% 1d6, 30% 1d8.
- These classed NPCs don’t take a per-expedition wage as the others do, but instead insist on a half-share of the expedition’s treasure haul (and as a result, because of the way my XP rules work, they also get a half-share of the XP).
- I say that unclassed retainers can be promoted into a level 1 class by assigning XP to them. For 0 HD this requires an initial expenditure of 1000 XP. I took this rule, like so often, from Delta.
- I added stat blocks for the basic retainer types to my rules booklet, which are largely based off of those created by Nic, with just a few tweaks to bring them in line with my flavor of classic D&D.
And that’s it, really. These rules have served us so well hardly a game has gone by we do not have at least a few retainers join the party. I cannot count the number that have perished in those haunted halls of Castle Xyntillan. At least one of the currently still active player characters, a level 6 fighter now, started out as a lowly porter. In short I can’t imagine playing classic D&D without retainers, and this set of rules make running them a breeze.
That’s it for this Hackbut rules post. With this, we have also come to the end of the equipment section of the rules booklet. The next section is “playing the game”, which is substantial, but also in many cases maybe less interesting to blog about section by section. So I will have to see how I will go about that. In any case, to be continued.
Update (2023-03-30): The series continues! Read on for all about XP, leveling up, and multi-classing.