Thursday, January 20, 2011

Henchman Cards For OD&D

For the Blackmoor Dungeons session on Monday I wanted to make the henchman hiring process more quick, fun, and efficient while retaining some of the randomness befitting the spirit of early D&D. Before the game I made up a deck of henchman cards from which I drew randomly when the players were recruiting at the Blackmoor Castle elf fair. After I determined the number of potential recruits attracted to a specific PC, I spread out the appropriate number of drawn cards (i.e. the line up of foolhardy and desperate souls) and played a little hiring bidding game. Keeping high and low recruitment offers in mind, I then used the OD&D Loyalty table to determine morale for the hirelings who ended up tagging along with the party. One torch-bearer who was low-balled during hiring ended up with a morale of 3 (unbeknownst to the players) and ditched the party at the beginning of the first combat!

I think the cards worked out quite well and I'll definitely use them again (a new batch, though). The players were able to get together a nice entourage fairly quickly, and each hireling had enough personality to make the group colorful. I should mention that the wonderful Meatshields henchman generator was a big influence on this micro-project, and that I borrowed a couple traits from Meatshield-generated characters.

(News Flash: CLICK HERE to check out fillable PDF documents I made of these cards.)

Here is a sample sheet of the cards (CLICK TO ENLARGE):

The Fates of Some Henchmen in Monday's Blackmoor (as far as I can remember):
Yanus: Ran away screaming
Janis: Poor little hobbit got both her legs cut off by goblins
Filby: Rejected by the party for being too wimpy
Garwin: Carried off by a giant spider 
Terrin: Died after getting his arm cut off by a goblin
Freckles: Made a brave last stand against the goblins, but to no avail


  1. I did the same thing with "Meatshields!" but with a little less polish ( on cut-up index cards ), but I normally put a couple of "black sheep" chaotic alignment guys in there, so there is a possible chance of henchman betrayal when the big loot is found. What was your ratio of henchmen to PCs, out of interest?

    I was wondering about making a couple of decks with "better" henchmen of the non-"feckless dreg" variety for PC's with higher charisma but ditched it as being too much complication. I think the henchman morale score in the LL rules sort of takes care of it anyway.

  2. What was your ratio of henchmen to PCs, out of interest?

    For this game there were 4 players and 6 or 7 henchmen I think. In my normal home campaigns the ratio is much lower - usually 1 henchman for every 2 players.

    I was wondering about making a couple of decks with "better" henchmen of the non-"feckless dreg" variety for PC's with higher charisma but ditched it as being too much complication.

    I'll almost certainly do this when levels and treasure hauls go up. I even did it this time to a degree, putting in a few "better" and more expensive hirelings (fighters and demihumans).

  3. This is a really neat idea. I've been thinking about establishing a 'squatter's camp' in the ruins near the mega-dungeon (sort of like Deadwood during the Black Hills gold rush) with a motley assortment of merchants, rival adventurers, and henchmen looking for work. I think I'll adopt your idea of a random henchman deck for the camp job-fair.

  4. Can. Not. Resist.
    Are these cards mandatory for official play?

  5. Are these cards mandatory for official play?

    There's no such thing as mandatory or official in old school D&D! That's a big part of the game's appeal. The rulebooks are so vague in some areas you are forced to make up your own stuff. People like me think it's really fun to do this.

    I've never seen anyone else use a deck of hireling cards - this was purely a spur-of-the-moment homebrew kind of thing. I'm sure it's been done before, but I've never seen any other example of it.

  6. Actually, I did often use TSR's old character card sets ('89 - 92, I think) as hirelings, npcs, & pregens. I usually just adjusted levels & hp's as needed.

    Thanks for the link. I will definitely be making some up for future games.


  7. Love them and stealing your idea. Great stuff as always.

  8. Me likes!
    I'm gonna borrow and tweak for my campaign.
    Simple yet elegant and useful!

  9. The cards made it easier to manage our rather large retinue, I think for both the DM and the players. It was certainly easy enough to glance at the card, when checking AC or HP, or looking to see if they were carrying one of the party's light sources (DM had us put little paper counters in front of the sheets/cards of the light bearers). Guess which hireling had the party's expensive lantern? Hint: He/she didn't go down fighting!

  10. Very cool Cyc! Excellent idea :) If I were doing an in-person game, I might do a quick google search for public domain old-style art to plop onto each one as well.

  11. Very cool. I love the stories. Right to the point.

  12. Love it! Stealing it! You can't stop me!

  13. Hey everyone - I'm working on making a "fillable" PDF document of these cards so you can easily type in all of your own hireling details. No guarantee on when (or if) I'll finish, but I'll post the finished product for download.

  14. That sounds great. I hope you finish it.
    Keep us posted.

  15. Excellent idea. I'll start using it myself.

  16. Hmmm...maybe I'll try them for the pub game.

    Just curious, but how close to modern pro wrestling is your fantasy world wrestling?


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