Handling Henchmen & Party NPCs

A character in my group has finally survived to level 5, and his Cousin has joined the party. The NPCs in “Hire Help” are very hands-off, and I’m wondering how others have dealt with henchmen. It introduces a myriad of questions with regard to what aspects of PCs should apply to them, and what precedents from “Hire Help” (p.89) should be used. Input on whether the following should apply to NPCs in general is welcome, as well as bringing up any questions or topics that I’ve overlooked.

[li]It says they’re a level 1 adventurer who can’t act on their own and only helps with the skills native to their class. Do you burn a level 1 character as normal and just ignore wises and any skills not on their class statblock?
[/li][li]NPC’s are stated to be able to earn conditions (p.151), but should ones on the player’s side suffer the Grind, or is this just the provenance of PCs? Should they be able to recover on their own or will the PCs always have to treat them?
[/li][li]Should the player be able to manage their inventory, or should they be assumed to be managing their own resources?
[/li][li]If no inventory, should they at least have hands free for carrying a torch or the party’s gear?
[/li][li]Should they be able to haul or carry extra, since those require tests?
[/li][li]The level benefits all specifically say variations of, “Your follower helps you with abilities native to your class. Add +1D to your roll when your follower is helping.” This wording makes it sound like they will exclusively help the player they are following. This interpretation seems strange to me, but the wording suggests it, and in the case of the halfling, there wouldn’t be any reason to take Helpful over Companion at level 5 if this were not the case.
[/li][li]Furthermore, between entries the terms “abilities” and “skills” are used interchangeably for the previous, which (is a bit inconsistent and) implies that Will/Health/Nature are also on the list. If so, does this mean they can help on Beginner’s Luck using the relevant ability as normal, as well as situations that test group Health or Will?
[/li]* : Can you throw your follower armor and a helmet for them to soak up damage in a conflict?[/ul]

Personally, I would interpret the Warrior’s “Follower” ability, along with the “Cousin” ability to mean the NPC can help with skills that come standard for the class. Beyond that, I wouldn’t worry about tracking the NPC’s inventory or conditions. Just assume they have the same conditions as their PCs, and that their inventory is filled with all their own junk. Letting them hold a light source for the PCs is probably fine.

If the player is up for it, you could always burn up a second character for them to control, though that could get complicated fast and start to feel like a franchise operation.

That’s just how I would do it, I have no idea what the official intent is.

I like the idea of assuming henchmen have the same conditions as their boss, that simplifies things a lot.

The breakdown in this way of interpreting how they provide help comes with the fifth level options for halfling and warrior. The alternative to taking the follower is providing an extra die when you help in conflicts, but your follower can already provide that second die and help with native skills outside of conflicts, so the follower would always be the better choice unless there were some drawbacks or limitations involved.

Not to mention, and here’s one I forgot, you could potentially throw armor on the henchman, getting them to be an extra damage sink for the party.

Having to feed them and provide light for them would be adequate cost, I think.

I think the most appropriate drawback to a follower is that the GM can more easily deprive you of them via a twist. “Oop, you failed your Dungeoneer test to avoid the rock slide. You get out of the way, but now your Cousin is trapped in another tunnel, or too badly hurt to do anything but stumble after you.”

As a GM who values their players’ goodwill, I would never use these to permanently remove the follower, but that’s also an option for the more cold blooded among us.

These situations strike me as things that could just as easily happen to PCs, albeit the condition you’re describing mechanically is Afraid. The only difference is the players are less pressured to do something to resolve the problem when it happens to a henchman.

Well, Afraid makes you unable to give a helping die, where as this robs you of one, so not exactly the same. I think the more accurate description is that the companion is more like a positive condition (like Fresh) that you can lose, where as the other level benefit is cannot be lost, at least in most circumstances. By the same token, players can recover from a condition whenever they have a check to spare, where as the GM has a lot more leeway in deciding when they get their companion back.

Followers can help with ability tests, like rolling Health for a Defend or Maneuver in a kill conflict. They can also help with Nature tests; if your halfling is using nature to dance a jig to cheer up a companion, the halfling’s cousin can help with that test.

Followers are intended to just help the character they follow. This is an ease of use issue. You don’t need to create the character or track conditions – the follower simply adds +1D to relevant tests. That said, I think it’s perfectly fine to create the companion as a full first level character that the player runs if you feel comfortable going that way. It adds a lot more overhead to the player and you should only do it that way if the group is on board, but it’s fine.

Your follower can wear armor and helmet (if allowed by the character’s class) and carry things. If you’re creating a full character, go to town. Otherwise, I’d give them two open slots in their backpack (the others are taken up by their personal equipment) and whatever you want to put in their hands.

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