How Do You Run Henchmen/Retainers?

My Castle Xyntillan group is quite fond of their hirelings. They’ve got a bunch of them, and the party’s dungeoneering success is due in large part to them. But I’m worried I’m doing the mechanics wrong.

When I started my CX campaign, I had previously only run GLOG, where hirelings are usually classless, 0-level with 5hp and some basic equipment. S&W doesn’t have explicit rules or statblocks for these, so I improvised. I stuck with giving hirelings 5hp flat for combatants and 3 for non-combatatnts, equipment according to their professions, and a +1 to hit for combatants.

I’ve been reading the 1e AD&D DMG, and the rules there hold that hirelings are going to be of 1st level, and may only be of higher level under unusual circumstances or when hired by much higher level characters. So my mechanics actually haven’t been far off. 5hp flat is on the good side of average for the Fighter’s HD, and 3 is on the good side of the ordinary human’s HD. So far so good.

My real questions is about progression and shares. So far, I’ve run hirelings on an upkeep and flat pay basis, charging by the day, but not taking a direct cut of treasure like the party does. As a result, they don’t gain treasure XP or advance.

In the 1e DMG, henchmen/retainers can get shares of treasure, but it’s not explicitly stated if they advance in level as a result. OSE rules have an equivalent half-share rule, and they also advance with XP at that rate.

Also, all of the hirelings thus far have either been non-combatants of Fighter 1 equivalents, no clerics, MUs or Thieves. I’m considering a revamp of the hireling system for the campaign now that the party is back in town.

So how do all of you run retainers, and how would you recommend I run them?


I’ve been running them the OSE way - full share of treasure which converts into half XP.

I haven’t really been keeping track of the XP, but I figure I’ll level them up when it feels right. Many don’t last very long so it’s not much to worry about and the ones that do the party gets attached to.

I think them getting a share is important, it provides a balance of “how many retainers do we want to bring” because if each is taking an equal share (which makes sense) then the party can go further into the dungeon but also has to share the rewards. It’s a risk/reward scenario that the party has to decide upon which I think is a compelling piece of gameplay.


Hirelings in my games are either classless characters or essentially 1st level fighters. However, unless they become loyal retainers (for 100 gp and a 9+ result Charisma/Reaction roll), they do not advance (nor do they take shares from the treasure).


This is what we’re using for our Barrowmaze campaign:

The porter and combatant roles are nice and clearly defined. The main variation comes in price, depending on the mortality rates on recent expeditions. Retainers act as de facto XP banks which the players (or Guests in the doc above) can apportion large as they wish.


Yep I think tying advancement to shares is the way to go. So PCs can have retainers that get paid a flat fee depending on their ability - cheapest for noncombatants and price goes up from there, but they don’t advance. Or they can share treasure with them and they’ll gain levels (I don’t really use this because PCs typically want to use their treasure towards their own XP gain and it’s more of a burden to track).


Does anyone have explicit advice about how they use hirelings in moment-to-moment play? I’m relatively new to the OSR genre, and I’m curious how other GMs handle it.

In practice my hirelings are a floating pool of warm bodies: they roll damage in combat and carry gear, and I tag them for complications when I think it’s appropriate (eg monster grabs them, PCs do something very scary, time to get paid). They’re almost like pokemon for the party because the PCs don’t interact with them that much and just call on them as needed.

Is this how it usually goes?


This is more or less how it goes in my games, though I’m by no means an expert. They travel in formation with the party, becoming most relevant in combat, then largely fading into the background. Sometimes the party will choose to interact with or call on a henchman in exploration, such as paying one extra to drink something weird. But yeah, they mostly fade in and out of the scenery as needed, and the party don’t carry conversations with them like they do with NPCs.


I personally don’t mind them being mostly irrelevant outside of specific scenarios (like combat). One way to make them more memorable is adding them complications (some positive, some negative); something that prompts further interplay (such as being a spy for the enemy or having prophetic visions.

Also note that players mostly want them to be meatshields anyways - if they hardly fulfill that role (or too much energy is needed to manage them), players are just less likely to bother.


If they don’t have a level, then I have the PCs pay a flat fee. If they are significantly lower level than the party, then they receive a half share of GP and XP. If they are the same or nearly the same level as the players, they receive a full share of treasure and XP.

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