James at Grognardia writes about Retainers in Moldvay/Cook/Marsh and notes something that threw me for a loop a while back when I ready it:
It is recommended that the DM not allow beginning characters to hire retainers. New players tend to use retainers as a crutch, letting them take all the risks. If a dungeon is very difficult, the DM should let the players have more than one character apiece before using retainers, at least until players are more experienced.
This really goes against the grain of what I’ve always understood to be be the basic understanding of how the game was designed to be played, going back to what I read as a low-level adventurer in the 1e AD&D books. That this anti-hireling stance was adopted and stated so strongly in Moldvay really surprised me when I was reading through it about a year ago as we were working out details of our homebrew game.
I will admit that when we played AD&D back in the early and mid 80s we didn’t use a lot of hirelings other than non-adventuring specialists such as sages. But I must also admit that we spent a lot of time fudging dice rolls to keep our low level PCs alive.
I found the statement that low-level characters, in particular, should not be allowed to employ hirelings a strange one. It is at lower levels, especially, that PCs are most in need of some extra muscle. I wonder, to be honest, if this statement was originally intended to refer specifically to specialist hirelings like sages or hired spellcasters or to henchmen-type adventurer hirelings, not standard men-at-arms, torch bearers, and porters.
As we’ve been playing more and I’ve been spending more time thinking about the details of how the game works and how to tweak the design so it does more of what we want it to, I’ve decided that PCs hiring men-at-arms and eventually employing henchmen is the way to go. First, it allows smaller or low-powered parties to adventure in the dark and dangerous places where the most excitement is. Also, hired swords in the part give players of characters who don’t always have a lot do (low level magic-users, for instance, or the player of a character down to his last couple hit points after the first encounter) a more exciting way to take part and more dice to roll.
In fact, I whipped Labyrinth Minions and the Labyrinth Minion record sheets (good for any hirelings in any system) specifically to give us a quick and easy way to determine who applies for the openings and to keep track of those in the party. The simple system has been serving quite well, and it even spawned a Jungle Minions version for the Forbidden Jungle. The system, with a few tweakings, will be part of our homebrew Wizards & Warriors games.
We envision that hireling men-at-arms and henchmen will be a significant factor in the level of success that a PC reaches. In fact, we see hirelings and henchmen as such an important part of the game and of characters’ careers that we’ve made a couple of minor adjustments to the hireling modifier in the Charisma score. First, we upped the numbers slightly in anticipation of not only larger numbers of hirelings but in anticipation of high, um, turnover. Wizards and warriors go where the danger is.
Second, we’ve specified that the number means two things: A) The maximum number of short-term hirelings that the character can employ at any one time, and B) The maximum number of long-term henchmen that the character can ever employ during his or her career. But, as we’ve not got in a lot of playing time yet and haven’t had any characters advance terribly far, we will have to see how this interpretation of the often contradictory understandings of that number works.