Friday, February 11, 2011

Retrospective - Meatshields!: The Classic Fantasy Hireling Generator

Given the recent posts at Grognardia and elsewhere about retainers and hirelings, I thought it appropriate to revisit and perhaps provide some insight into the creation of Meatshields!: The Classic Fantasy Hireling and Henchmen Generator created by cr0m and myself last spring.

When we created the generator we looked to early articles in Dragon Magazine in addition to the usual B/X and LL rulebooks and AD&D hardbacks. Because there's conflicting information in spots, specifically the labels for the different types of followers, we had to make some decisions. I've listed some of the Dragon articles below, if you are interested.

We pushed and pulled the generator until we managed to find something that suited us. First, we felt it was important to have different types of followers represented in the generator. Why? In terms of gameplay, these different follower types facilitate different aspects of the game and thus "play off" the PCs without being explicitly role-played (although we do that too).

For example, the lowly torch-bearers and porters are human non-combatants who aren't trained warriors and tend to cower and only fight if cornered. The zero-level human men-at-arms are basic in their gear and are a tick below the first level PCs but above the unwashed labourers. In our Northern Reaches game, the M@As tend to have better morale, especially if the PCs have outfitted them with better gear and don't ask them to do anything they wouldn't do themselves. The demi-human men-at-arms possess their racial traits and, in some cases, are better equipped (esp. the dwarves), but they are more rare to find. Above the non-combatants and men-at-arms, the PCs can occasionally recruit a human henchman, that is a magic-user, cleric, or fighter, but as the quality of the follower goes up so does the price. Here's the cost breakdown in our Northern Reaches game:

Men-at-Arms1gp(Hu)/3gp(DH)*No1/2 PC

*The first 3 day’s payment must be made in advance. Also, upgrading the weapon or armour of a hireling/man-at-arms/henchman, or overpaying, may increase their morale score. Men-at-arms begin play at -2035 experience points and henchmen begin play at zero experience points.

With the excitement of having Meatshields! available, I went overboard with followers in my game. That's mostly my fault. However, when we began play few had specific experience with Old School D&D so I think it allowed them to get their characters off on the right foot. Through 9 sessions (of varying length) we have had 1 PC and 13 followers bite it. It was around session 7 that I took a page from cr0ms game. So many men-at-arms died in his game that he had them unionize! So I followed suit and renamed the local followers guild The League of Ordinary Gentlemen and they raised their prices significantly. Since then I've told the PCs that Guildmaster Osen is "concerned" and may consider raises prices again.

When a follower consistently demonstrates an inability to die, I typically promote them to the next level up. Torch-bearer to man-at-arms to henchman. The only example so far is Hillgax, Vith's former M@As who is always first in the marching order. He was promoted to a henchman after several sessions and now receives a full share of party treasure.

Have you had chance to use the generator? Any memorable followers come forward to accompany your PCs?

Some interesting References:

Charles Sagui, "Hirelings Have Feelings Too" Dragon 26
Thomas Kane, "The Forgotten characters: A Look at Hirelings, Henchmen, and Followers" Dragon 117
Charles Olsen, "Henchmen and Hirelings: A Review of the Rules on NPCs" Dragon 119


  1. We had the memorable spear-wielding failed magic apprentice elf Lesseig, generated when I whipped up a d20 table of hirelings using meatshields. He was a loyal if long winded henchman to one run of Castle of the Mad Archmage. In the later campaign he reappeared, but boxcar'ed a loyalty check when his employer gave him two week's pay in advance, and legged it out of town, thinking little of his solemn oath before St Hermas .. to his eventual sorrow.

  2. I've used Meatshields! in my current campaign, with great results! The players love having hirelings to interact with, as the usual dungeon denizens just aren't into conversing with the adventurers, usually. They're even on a little side quest now, trying to rescue the daughter of Norgard, a man-at arms that died in their employ.

  3. I keep finding Meatshields! a great source of inspiration, even if I haven't had a chance to use it in game yet.

    I would be interested in seeing options for weirder options, like goblins, or experts (sages, alchemists, etc).