Using Henchmen to Help PCs in a Fight

 Posted by on January 22, 2011  Filed as: Better Gameplay?  Add comments  Topic(s):
Jan 222011

So, I was reading a great article over at Dungeon’s Master about adding Henchmen to your 4E game, and I was reminded of a game I played in a while back… Our PCs had gathered henchmen followers and used them to help us in a large battle – not a “thousands of soldiers endlessly hacking away at each other,” but a “these prisoners are asking for our help to escape, but we’re going to need them to fight alongside us” kind of fight.

It was great!  Each of the PCs had about eight or nine NPCs, so the DM made up some quick and dirty rules.

  • All attacks and maneuvers were done on the PC’s turn, and in fact none of the NPCs got any actions or had any turns; they simply enhanced the PC and his actions.
  • A PC that had NPCs assisting him got a combat bonus.  This bonus was added to a PC’s:
    • attacks
    • damage
    • defenses (not applicable to area and burst attacks)
  • In order for a PC to gain this combat bonus, his NPC group had to stay in a collective group (two NPCs to a square, adjacent to the PC).
  • The combat bonus was determined by the number of NPCs in the PC’s group:
    • 1-2 NPCs = +1 combat bonus
    • 3-5 NPCs = +2 combat bonus
    • 6-8 NPCs = +3 combat bonus
    • 9+ NPCs = +4 combat bonus
  • When a PC was successfull attacked, the attacked player had the option to apply the effect/damage to his character directly, OR he could eliminate one NPC from his group.
  • NPCs could be targeted by enemies, they simply got the PC’s defense bonus.  On a hit, they were liminated (though they wre rarely targeted).
  • We didn’t worry about what NPC’s could actually do to help the PCs (such as a group of non-magic users helping a wizard); we just assumed that the NPCs were doing what they could – hitting, distracting, etc.

Combat flowed very well because none of the NPCs got actions of their own; they simply augmented the player characters.  It was pretty cool, and worked out well.  The main focus was that this system needed to be functional and VERY easy to implement.  Also, you don’t even need to make any changes because of who the henchmen are (sure, you could increase the combat bonus by +1 if the henchmen were highly-trained soldiers, but that should be it).

One thing to note: some players tried to apply most of the damage to their characters, thus “saving” the NPCs from getting killed (our Paladin made a valiant effort at this), whereas our rogue arbitrarily used NPCs as meat-shields.  It was both dynamic and pretty awesome.

For some quick down-and-dirty henchmen combat rules, these just work great.

Charisma Keller

Charisma is a self-proclaimed Gran Tourismo champion, and swears that it’s official (or that it should be). She loves strength and beauty, so she usually tries to combine the two. Her characters are confident, humble, foolish, and heroic, and has named at least two of them after her favorite drink, the Lemon Drop. Oh yeah, her favorite muscle car would be the 67 GT-500E.

  5 Responses to “Using Henchmen to Help PCs in a Fight”

  1. I LOVE this! Seriously, this fits right in with the spirit of 4E and more modern RPGs that simplify things. Probably my favorite rule is the opportunity to use a henchman to soak damage. And the idea of giving “themes” to certain groups of henchmen could be cool. Like some wizards who don’t soak half damage on elimination, perhaps, but who give bonuses against area and close attacks (magical interference).

    I will steal this rule in case we run into this for my mini-campaign. (I’d probably make it clear that these guys don’t give combat advantage, because that would be way overkill)

  2. These are fantastic, easy to run rules for those times where the monsters and players are on a whole other tier than the NPCs. You’re not commanding an army, you’ve got the backing of the mob, and their presence alone gives you that extra push. Very cinematic in a way.

  3. I really love this system, and will definitely find a way to incorporate it into my own game! Thanks a lot Charisma!

  4. Sav’d. I’ll be sure to use this if a large group of NPCs are going to be used in any encounters I run.

  5. I love this idea because it opens up so many opportunities without crazy-complicating management. There are so many times when the crowd of villagers or group of soldiers or (as you write) the collection of prisoners should be helping, but it would just be to messy to track. This makes it very possible.

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