Thursday, 9 February 2017

The GM's Toolkit: Hirelings (Revisited)

So, a bit of an announcement:

The Toolkit's making a comeback(!!!), starting today. Every two weeks I'll be revisiting and editing one of the Toolkit articles previously released through the Mad Adventurers Society, making changes as and where they need them. On the other two weeks of the month, I'll be creating brand-new Toolkits on my shiny new Patreon account for backers, with the intention of making more new Toolkits for free on my site as time allows (but since editing and refreshing old Toolkits takes time and they won't be available on Mad Adventurers for much longer, I figured I'd be better off starting there).

Anyway, without further ado...


Hirelings Revisited

As Player Characters accumulate wealth, they gain more opportunity hire personnel to join their cause, either on the frontline or at the PC's home base. There's a few reasons the party might choose to hire on additional staff to shoulder the workload:

  • To do something they lack the skill to do. Even though adventurers might be especially competent in an adventuring scenario, it's unlikely that they'll be as skilled in everything as they are in killing monsters, disarming traps and taking loot. Carpenters to erect wooden-framed houses, blacksmiths to forge tableware, horseshoes and nails, or artists to paint or sculpt works of art to decorate homes. A master forger in order to falsify some important documents, or a tracker to help a party find something important in the wilderness. A local druid or an experienced wizard might possess magical skills, such as unusual spells or forbidden knowledge. 
  • To delegate an unpleasant or unchallenging task. Time is money, and whilst a nest of kobolds occupying a mine close to town might seem like a golden opportunity for novice adventurers, for a group of experienced adventurers, it's time that could be better spent dealing with the dragon up the mountain. Hirelings often provide an option for the party to delegate tasks they don't want to attempt, whether because they consider such tasks beneath adventurers of their calibre, or simply unpleasant.
  • To take on some of the downtime workload. Once again, time is money. There are only so many hours in the day, and if there are more interesting tasks to be performed, the party could hire on someone to handle the more staid work. The 5e Dungeon Master's Guide seems to suggest that most downtime tasks are the sole responsibility of the PCs, but I don't see a problem with the PCs hiring on a competent manager, foreman or seneschal to take on the day-to-day running of the larger downtime tasks in order to keep these tasks as something interesting to make decisions about, rather than something that interrupts the players' fun.
  • To help with tasks too big for the player characters. Sometimes the PCs might find themselves in over their heads, perhaps their stronghold is under threat from an orc horde and they'll have to hire on mercenaries to defend their walls whilst they strike at the chieftain and their bodyguards, or maybe the PCs are hurrying to complete their newest construction and the existing labourers aren't going to cut it. Taking on additional help in order to accomplish task more quickly might mean hiring large amounts of unskilled or low-skilled workers as opposed to a few more highly-skilled individuals, whilst a task too difficult for the PCs to handle might require the opposite, a few highly-skilled individuals who can do the job the PCs can't.
By Wolcott, Katherine [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
And where might the PCs find staff to hire?
  • Hiring fairs. In mid-autumn, any decent-sized town might host a hiring fair, an annual event where labourers, farmworkers, and servants gather in order to attract employers. Other attractions, such as food, entertainment and contests, might take place at the hiring fair, and the nature of the gathering gives an opportunity for the PCs to interact with other characters in the setting. Hiring fairs also present the possibility of being able to choose the best pick of the bunch if the PCs arrive early, or being left with the worst or most expensive workers if they arrive late. Mercenary companies might hold a similar event during the winter (when there's little fighting to be done).
  • Guilds. As well as establishing minimum rates of pay (in order to prevent registered guild members undercutting one another), standards of quality and controlling the knowledge of a craft, in larger towns and cities a guild might serve as the first port of call for someone looking for a skilled tradesman to fill a position or complete a certain job. 
  • The tavern. Often the centre of a community, down-on-their-luck adventurers, tradespeople, mercenaries or labourers might be found in the local tavern, waiting for someone willing to pay them for their work, or just passing the time. Of course, we know all this because this is where we tend to find our adventurers at the beginning of their careers, or between quests. Even if it would be unlikely to find a particular hireling at a tavern, such places are a font of local knowledge and rumours that can guide the player characters to the right individual. 
  • The hirelings find them. Having a stronghold or similar property gives the PCs a permanent position in the setting, and also sends a strong message to other characters within the setting that the PCs have the means to employ and support others. Itinerant tradesmen might ply their trade from town-to-town, searching for employment by the job as opposed to hoping for a year's employment in a hiring fair. Graduated apprentices, known as journeymen, would spend several years gaining experience at their craft through employment before they could be acknowledged as a master of their craft. Uniquely-skilled individuals, such as an experienced majordomo, seneschal or diplomat might meet with the PCs to stress the importance of their skills and make a case for their employment.
So what can we do to make hirelings more relevant in your game?
  • Make them useful. Give the PCs more work than they can manage alone, have them realise that they need someone to tackle some of the more pettifogging tasks while they get on with the more glamorous side of adventuring. Be sure to reward the PCs for the choosing to hire help, or to describe the positive benefits of the hirelings' work. 
  • Make them part of the story. Whilst NPCs should never shove the party out of the spotlight, or make them feel incompetent, there's nothing wrong with using those NPCs to create additional scenes within the narrative that add to the enjoyment of the campaign. That might mean role-playing the party searching and recruiting an individual with the skills they need, or sparing a few sentences to describe the actions of the hirelings and the effect they have on the ongoing story.
  • Make them interesting. Give your hirelings a little detail, it doesn't have to be anything overly dramatic or conflict-heavy, but anything that provides a little traction to help the players remember something, anything about their employees. Maybe give the wandering sword smith a memorable accent or a peculiar facial expression, or hint at troubles at home that are keeping the labour crew so far from their home town over the winter.
  • Make them a reward. In a medieval fantasy game, the average worker might not have a large amount of coin or valuables to hand. What they can offer, in exchange for the adventurer's help, is their labour or skills for a certain length of time. Perhaps the town will send labourers to help construct the PCs new stronghold in exchange for slaying the dragon, or a famed sword-smith might offer to construct a blade of unparalleled quality in exchange for finding their missing child.
I've included a handful of ready-made hirelings ready to throw into your campaign, roll a d6 against Artisans, Scholars and Professional you're looking for craftspeople or other skilled help, Uniquely-Skilled Individuals for NPCs that could steer or interact repeatedly with the PCs, or Soldiers of Fortune for when the PCs are looking for some assistance in combat.



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