Should players have an entourage? Using followers in your Rolemaster game.

One of the features of early AD&D was the use of various types of “followers” that the PCs could obtain. Most are defined by the level of loyalty they have to the PC character; ranging from a mere hired helper to a devoted sidekick. These NPCs are often interchangeably termed as followers, hirelings, retainers and henchmen, and their use can have significant impact on gameplay. As a primer, I would suggest reading this post from the OSR perspective.

It is notable to me that early Rolemaster rules (Character Law or Campaign Law) didn’t address PC followers of any type: even the cost of hirelings is absent the early charts in Character Law and Campaign Law (did any of the Companions delve into this?)

Looking back on the 1st ED. DMG, you can find a number of pages that cover these types of NPCs:

Page 16. “Followers for Upper Level Player Characters”.

This section alludes to a powerful characters obtaining followers of one sort or another. The mechanism isn’t addressed, except for the reference to “reaching a certain level” or “building a stronghold”. So while there is no real rules around the “how”, there are certainly a lot of charts about the “what”! For instance, Clerics can obtain up to 200 men-at-arms, ranging from light infantry to heavy cavalry. Fighters will obtain a military commander/leader between 5th and 7th lvl and a company of soldiers. Rangers have one of the more interesting follower charts, and can get humans, demi-human classes, animals, mounts and special creatures including were-beasts, giants or even a copper Dragon! Thieves and Assassins will attract a dozen or so followers upon reaching “Guildmaster” status and of course the Paladin will receive a special warhorse. And that’s just the start to the topic of “followers” in the DMG!

Page 26. “Hirelings”.

This section delineates between normal Hirelings and Expert Hirelings. All are various NPCs that provide labor, low-skilled services or specialty or niche abilities but are differentiated from henchmen by being “employees”. There is extensive material on various hirelings: soldiers, mercenaries, sages, engineers and beyond; the section starts on page 26 and runs onto 3/4 of the way through page 34.

Page 34. “Henchmen”

Retainers, like Hirelings, are also employed and paid, but they function along a system of loyalty based on many modifiers. It’s also inferred that henchmen act as a secondary PC, and can be used in place of the main character.

Page 103. “Hiring NPCs to cast spells or use devices”.

Finally, later in the Guide is a section on cost of hiring specialists to cast specific spells . This should have been included under the “Hirelings” section; but as it’s been noted by many others, the original DMG is an organization wreck.

Returning to Rolemaster, there are certainly times when the group will need to hire specialists, spell-users to cast spells or pay for magical healing, but there is not real attention paid to building a posse or retinue of hirelings or loyal henchmen and retainers. Is this an important angle overlooked by Rolemaster? Do you use followers in your campaign? I’ve written about a similar situation on this blog regarding familiars–I think they are pain in the ass and a constant source of abuse by the players. But perhaps there are other reasons:

  1. RM character development allows a broader skill set among the party compared to the structured approach of D&D. There is less need to add specialists to fill ability gaps.
  2. Complexity. If every PC had a retainer, you would effectively double the party size and add a considerable work load onto the GM. Even if you allowed the player to develop the retainers personality, the GM would still need to control or direct the NPC to some degree.
  3. D&D’s foundation in wargaming was the impetus for followers and henchmen. Rolemaster doesn’t have that pedigree and thus ignored it. Alternatively, RM was influenced by LoTR and that setting had less of a medieval approach to social organization?

I’m not a lazy GM, but since I already run a human-centric (or at least an anthropomorphic) game, I’m already managing a number of NPCs. I don’t need too, or want too, keep any eye on the use of a handful of retainers or henchmen. (I can handle hirelings). But I am intrigued by the concept being built into the game system. Certainly Shadow World’s emphasis on organizations implies the need for guild like systems: mentors, trainees, followers, squires etc. It’s seems natural to have higher level characters access human resources of the organization in some form or another–whether it be a trainee or a devoted believer.

Certainly this issue might be setting specific, but it might be cool to add some follower tables for use in Rolemaster. What are your thoughts?

13 thoughts on “Should players have an entourage? Using followers in your Rolemaster game.”

  1. What about the Ars Magica approach or the Star Trek Adventures which is, even more, a cast of rotating characters. Cuts down on the paperwork and increases the roleplay.

    1. I’m not familiar with those game rules. Can you elaborate?

      Also, someone mentioned that my title might come across as sexually inappropriate! In the US, a “posse” is the slang for an entourage around sports stars and rappers, but for the sake of wholesome entertainment I changed the title and picture!

      1. In Ars Magica – not all the mages from the college are expected to go on the quest so each player has a number of Grogs (men at arms) to travel with the party and if your mage character is not travelling you take on one of the hangers-on in the party.

        In Star Trek Adventures it is far more fluid. Members of the crew are expected to exist but are undefined. A short-form character can be created quickly and only if this is played in the game to have a significant role does the player upgrade it to a full character with level progression. At that point, as the system is based around the narrative, the character may or not be called on for a scene/episode but this is a GM green-lighted discussion with the player. Stops players having nothing to do during a bridge scene because their character is the Medic in the medical bay rather than on the bridge.

  2. Sorry, should have said in Ars Magica you are one of the other player’s hangers-on not your own. Your job is to support that player not your own.

  3. I’d strongly suggest having a look at Talisman Adventures (2020) for an outstanding followers section (p.152 onward). Hell, the whole system and setting really has a classic D&D feel to it. They provide a great resource system + actual follower mechanics to pad your smaller parties, solo players or simply give flavor to your world (a number of animal followers really help flesh out the world here, we’re talking things like messenger pigeons, mules and even cats).

    1. btw: what’s the status of your “Undead Companion”? Or am I confusing you with someone else?

  4. What I find is that companions and pets are rarely beneficial in any game. But when they work, they can really make a player or group happy.

    The problems of extras is deep. Much more than just the bookkeeping. Let’s say only one person has an extra. Either they get to do twice as much as anyone else, which isn’t fair, or the gm has to do extra work which isn’t fair. The more there are, the worse this gets for someone.

    Whenever the extra is doing stuff it is stealing limited spotlight time off of the Players. This really is a zero sum situation. Every minute the extra is acting the players are waiting for their turn. Maybe they like the extra, maybe they don’t. Maybe this time it’s cool, but will it always be? And imagine the hassle if there are a horde of them. The players could end up feeling like the extras. It is the players’ game. Let them play.

    Mechanically they can easily be too weak so they die all the time, or too strong and make challenges boring. Sure you might get one perfect, but all of them? The best possible outcome (speaking purely on the mechanical balance, not story) is no impact. Which makes me have to ask, what is the point? If every result is either bad or irrelevant, why bother?

    What I like is the “quantum extra”. They only exist when you look at them and really don’t much. They are dressing or flavor, not mechanics. Someone for the party to interact with, not rely on. A way for the GM to introduce plotlines and show the world is alive.

    1. Pretty much a Star Trek Adventures Extra – doesn’t do anything until required. Can be played as an additional character but rarely with the main player’s character present. Can be played by anyone until permanently adopted at which point it no longer is an extra but a full PC and must either be present or not present.

  5. For mechanics within the RM2 ruleset (which could be easily adapted to other versions of RM), you could look at War Law’s Army recruiting, payment & maintenance rules (Sections 23.2.1 & 24.1) & adapt them for recruiting hirelings/underlings/&c…

    Just a thought.

    Nightblade ->–

  6. I find henchmen or a shield wall kind of indispensable. Casters and archers are vulnerable. The few party fighters can usually take care of themselves, but can’t be everywhere.

    My solution, which I picked up from the first group I played with, is to run Arms-only henchmen as “mooks”, with one-line stats just like monsters. In some cases like Animists summoning animals or “Magicians” of dubious schooling raising undead, they really are monsters. Mentalists and Bards sometimes show up with “a new friend” who seems real determined to help, and hopefully die before the brainwashing wears off.

    Spell-caster apprentices tend to be a little more complex, but I expect the casters to be experienced enough with the rules to handle a second character sheet.

    In all cases, I do something like the OD&D henchman management, never as complex as AD&D’s wall of tables with modifiers for whether you sent them birthday cards or whatever (which is probably appropriate for some RM games, but I avoid that).

    1. Does make sense when you describe it like that and I was thinking the “It’s too much work” argument sort of falls down if you allow familiars, animal companions and the rest of the spell caster tricks that you have outlined. I did play a Beastmaster who had 4 hunting hounds (fitting with the background not just for the sake of it). As a player, I had to point each of the animals in the right direction and manage their attacks (even with just base animal stats) the poor GM was forced to include more opponents and manage even more events. On the plus side, as with the idea above, they were pretty quantum in terms of Roleplay.

  7. I don’t think there’s a cut and dried answer here. Quite a bit of it depends on the nature of the game and the party. Genre also plays a role. For standard fantasy, it may be easier to keep the hirelings to a generic, meat shield minimum, but for other genres you pretty much HAVE to have them. Only War, the Imperial Guard version of Warhammer 40K’s RPG, has a pretty good system for generating and using other squad members. I haven’t played it, but it makes sense and in a military-based game it’s essential. When I ran a Behind Enemy Lines campaign back in the mid-90s the other squad members were essential followers…characters the players interacted with and in some instances had to rely on. Informants and other NPCs can take on similar roles and characteristics in a law enforcement-based game. And I know players who came from those games to Rolemaster often expected a similar structure in their fantasy gaming.

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