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OSR How much does your party use Retainers, Henchmen and Strongholds?


Victoria Rules
I've heard the same thing, but I've never seen it in actual play. And as someone who runs OSR (or at least OSR-adjacent) games, it's interesting to me that some folks keep insisting these huge parties are necessary.
Average party size in my games is 6-10, but there's not that many players. Each player will have one or two PCs in the party, with the rest filled out with adventuring NPCs, henches, etc.

The group I'm running right now has 4 players but the party numbers 9*; 3 players have 2 PCs each, one has one PC plus a hench (played pretty much as his second PC, I leave it to the player to make all the decisions etc. for it), and there's an NPC in the party.

* - to start with; since then one of the PCs ran afoul of a nasty effect that means she'll drop dead if she ever returns to the complex they're exploring, so she's been parked a few miles away with the sled dogs.

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My first group was the DM, his brother, and me.
But since then, I don’t think I’ve been or played in a group smaller than DM + 5 players.


How does that work in a practical sense at the table? Does the campaign become more of a resource management type of game with players controlling different retainers from a macro level POV or do you shift focus and basically treat the different PCs/NPCs as their own parties and the players shift focus from one to the other? That seems like a lot to manage and control in a single session, for instance - from both the DM side as well as the player side of things.

Every player has a primary PC and several retainers. When a retainer is with the primary PC they are essentially NPCs; they make morale checks, etc. However, when the party splits to do different things the players control their retainers as PCs. I wouldn't consider it to be "resource management", but it is definitely geared towards exploration and domain-level play. We use a wiki to track everything. We're playing via Zoom, but I've also run a bunch of games like this via play by post, which is a pretty ideal medium for it.

Mark Hope

Retainers also help with smaller groups of players. With my first BX game, we'd play more or less every night after school with me DMing and only 1 or 2 players (my sis and friend who lived in the same town). We'd have larger games on weekends but those school-night games were the backbone of things. So my friend would run two or three characters plus another two or three retainers (my sis only ever played one character). This allowed us to have a normal-sized party and play through regular adventures even though we only had a couple of players.


I’d describe my homebrew system as (at best OSR-adjacent). It started off as a hack of OSE and WWN before going its own way, and one of the goals is to allow B/X adventures to run with some conversion work. It supports all three (retainers, hirelings, and strongholds), and we use them. Tama (the cleric) has a few followers, which is represented mechanically as ranks in the Followers speciality. Deirdre (the barbarian) hired Ilsa (a bard) as a retainer, who works as her hype man in town when she’s away and helps out when she’s there. The whole party is working on building up a settlement.

These things are all pretty integral to play. If it makes sense for them to be involved, Tama can use her Followers as the method on a skill check. Currently, they’re helping out with the settlement, so she uses that in a group check with the engineer when they make project rolls to advance the construction. If Deirdre is working with her retainer, she can use her own skill or Leadership in place of it when directing her retainer. The settlement will function as a town where they can rest, get supplies, etc once those facilities are complete.

I (try to) post recaps of our sessions in the 5-words commentary thread for those interested in what this looks like. Earlier, when I ran The Incandescent Grottoes, the PCs actually brought their retainers into the dungeon with them. They still deal with Eleonore (a magician) and Kitty (another thief), but only Ilsa is still on the payroll. The settlement’s barracks was only finished recently. The current project is building a research lab for Eleonore to magical research.


Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
In the three year old school (mashup of B/X and 5TD) game I concluded last year, hirelings & henchmen were standard and always used. I generally had 3-4 players in any given session, and as many hirelings (or henchmen, once the PCs were a bit higher level) as PCs would usually be accompanying the party.

Dozens of hirelings were killed over the course of the campaign, although as the survivors gained levels and the party gained more healing magic, casualties became less routine.

In terms of practical character sheet management, I kept the stats and equipment for each hireling or henchman on an index card, and made a little tableau of them at my DMing station whenever I ran games. The players didn't have to track them for the most part. They could give them orders and the NPCs would usually obey (sometimes with some negotiation, sometimes with a Morale or Loyalty check required or they'd refuse).

5 Torches Deep only goes to 9th level and is not really designed for domain play. If my players and I had been interested, by the end of the campaign the PCs were all 7th or 8th level and thus close to the right level for it if I wanted to import that part of B/X, but after three years I was a bit worn out and had other life demands, so I concluded the campaign after an epic-length adventure (a much expanded version of Castle Amber).

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