Tuesday, March 28, 2023

"Give that guy a raise!" Hirelings and Henchmen

 In my Swords & Wizardry campaign, my players were led through a planar portal in the bottom of a dungeon. They left their airship moored in the desert a mile away, attended by their crew of NPC hirelings and henchmen.

While the PCs were fighting for their life in a ruin in the Faerie, a squadron of  the monsters that lived there assaulted the airship, hoping to take it for themselves. These monsters, the Echthroi, had:

  • 8 flying "Moths" 1 HD cyborgs that spit poison darts
  • 24 "Skulkers", 2 HD humanoids whose bionic limbs allow them to stitch a victim's limbs to their torso.
  • 1 "Knight", a 4 HD armored cyborg that makes multiple attacks with spiked chains each level.
  • 1 "Mimic", a 3 HD construct that can be made to look and sound like others, and, in a laboratory, can consume a brain to gain its memories and skills. Disguised as Zeelagur, that party Monk-Machinist.

You can find the stats for most of those in my Xen Campaign Book, which has been recently updated.

The crew of the Silver Gull includes a number of named and unnamed NPCs:

  • Corwyn - First Mate, a 5th level N human Fighter henchman.
  • Assani, a 4th level L human Fighter henchwoman
  • Barani, a 5th level L human Magic-User henchwoman
  • Joone,-ibn-Orhan, a 3rd level L human Cleric henchman
  • Cyndryl, a 3rd level C human Assassin henchwoman
  • Milosh, a 1st level L human Fighter henchman
  • One-Armed Harl, a 1st level L human Fighter hireling
  • Tarl, a 1st level C human Thief hireling
  • Kassin a normal man hireling
  • Kazmir, a 1st level N human Thief henchman
  • Baroo, a 5 HD vampire ally
  • 8 normal man crewmen.

This stood to be a pretty intense battle; I decided to run it in the background between sessions.

I expected a lot of bloodshed, and even statted up units using a variation of the Swords & Wizardry mass combat system. But the event turned out to be a humorous anti-climax. Finch's player had led specific instructions that Zeelagur was not to give commands to the ship unless there was proof of Finch's death.

When the false "Zee" approached claiming the Echthroi were refugees in need of transport, and ordered Corwyn to lower the ladder, I decided that Corwyn would be at least a little suspicious. I rolled an NPC reaction to "Zee" as he asked her to relay Finch's orders specifically.

"Zee" did not have the real Zee's personality or memories, and tired to fake a response to being questioned, being cool, polite, and clearly irritated. The Polite part turned out to be an error.: Zee never says "please". I rolled snake-eyes on the NPC reaction test, and Corwyn saw through the ruse and ordered a bombardment from the automatic ballistase and bombard mounted on the ship.

A ridiculous series of high attack rolls from the crew and especially the artillerist Milosh, left the flase "Zee" dead, half off the Skulkers dead, and the Moths shot out of the sky. The unit morale of the Echthroi broke and they fled under a hail of arrows.

The players returned to find the "Zee" a smoking mechanical head laying in the  middle of a pile of slag circled by dead Stalkers. The PCs gave the correct passcodes and were allowed on - into an ambush. It is only when a detect evil spell verified they were not more Echthroi trying to fool them that the weapons were put away and the PCs welcomed back aboard to learn the stoty.

They immediately decided to give several pay raises to Corwyn, Milosh, and the crew that proved most skilled with a crossbow... and then Zee had a stern talk to Finch about some of his safeguards.

Creating interesting Henchmen and making sure the PCs have established rules, routines, reputations, etc. to work with them can greatly enrich the campaign and help it take on a life of its own in the background. Sometimes in ways that will surprise you as a GM.

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