Strongholds and Henchmen for 4e

One thing which differentiates Classic D&D and Fourth Edition is the fact that the earlier edition supported the idea that our heroes gain power and prestige as a result of their noble deeds. Or ignoble, in the case of the Thief. Tales of their heroism draw lackeys and supporters to their fold, and once they reach the heady heights of 9th level they receive permission from the King, Church or Clan to build a Stronghold of their very own.

It’s a testament to Gygax, Moldvay and the rest who recognised that gameplay in D&D should evolve as the PCs climb in level. It is something which is sadly lacking in later editions of the game.

Also, there are times when the heroes need nothing more than an extra pair of hands. This is especially true at low level (where the party lacks easy ways of shifting mounds of treasure) or if there’s only one or two players and an extra swordblade can mean the difference between success and failure. Classic D&D provided mechanics for Hirelings, Retainers and Henchmen of all kinds. Again, Fourth Edition D&D doesn’t.

Thankfully though, it’s all easily fixed.

Henchmen and Retainers are moderately loyal hirelings who generally act as baggage handlers and provide light combat support when the going gets tough. They are Minions who will retire from combat if they take any serious damage (ie, lose their single Hit Point). If they are hit, make a Death Saving Throw for the Henchman: Roll d20 – if it’s lower than 10, he’s dead; 10-19 he’s alive but wounded, unconscious and out of combat; 20 and he has survived and is still in the game (but likely to spend the rest of the encounter fleeing to safety). [1. This is a variation on the Minion rules from Mutants & Masterminds where Minions have a Toughness Save against damage. I’m considering adding this as a House Rule for all Minions in 4e.]

Hiring Henchmen costs money. The average rate of pay is 1gp per level per day, though this varies widely according to danger, location, demand and (of course) greed. It’s common for a 25gp danegeld to be paid to a living relative or advocate in advance. This is lost if the Hireling is killed whilst in the service of the heroes.

Here’s a list of the Minions from Monster Manual I and II who are commonly avalable for Hireling work, along with their typical rates of pay (good luck if you hire Evil Henchmen!). Feel free to add your own and modify to taste:

Henchman Pay per Day
Goblin Cutter 1
Kobold Minion 1
Halfling Stout 1
Human Rabble (Peasant) 1
Bullywug Croaker 3
Hobgoblin Grunt 3
Kenku Ruffian 3
Orc Drudge 4
Human Lackey 7
Hobgoblin Warrior 8
Orc Warrior 9

In Classic D&D there were 36 levels (or 72, if you count Immortality) and a Stronghold & small Dominion was granted at 9th level. In 4e, this could be awarded right on the crux of the jump from Hero to Paragon Tier. I recommend giving it at 10th rather than 11th (where the Paragon Tier starts proper) mainly because the PCs get a whole shedload of goodies at 11th level anyway (+1 to all ability scores, paragon path, encounter power, feat, etc) and 10th is close enough to Classic D&D’s 9th level to retain the old school feel – giving it at 9th itself feels a tad too early in Fourth Edition. It also gives the players a whole level to prove they’ve earned their title before embarking on Paragon-level quests.

Each class gains a different type of Stronghold and is granted a number of Followers according to their race and class. These Strongholds are commonly granted in untamed or uncharted locations where the first order of business is to clear the area of local dangerous creatures :D

Class Stronghold type Granted by
Avenger Monastery Religious Order
Barbarian Stockade Tribal Chief
Bard Academy Patron of the Arts
Cleric Church Religious Order
Druid Sacred Grove Druidic Order
Fighter Keep King or High Noble
Invoker Monstery Relgious Order
Paladin Temple Religious Order
Ranger Sanctuary Druidic Order
Rogue Hideout Nearest Thief’s Guild
Shaman Spirit Nexus Spirit Guide
Sorcerer Enclave Elder Enclave
Warden Redoubt Clan Chief
Warlock Cult High Cultist
Warlord Barracks Military Leader
Wizard Tower Wizard’s Guild

The newly landed hero will attract 3d6x2 1st level, 2d6 2nd level and 1d6 3rd level Followers. Unlike Henchmen, Followers are full NPCs. Most of them will be of the same race and class as the hero, though some variety is expected. Generate a typical member for each type of Follower. As the hero gains levels, roll 2d6 and advance a number of Followers by one level each or spend to gain new 1st level Followers.

Example: Boris the Bold is a landed Dwarven Fighter with a Keep deep in the heart of Utterlight Vale. He has 13 1st level hearty Dwarven Fighters (three were lost during a Goblin raid), seven 2nd level Dwarven Fighters, two 2nd level Human Rangers, and four 3rd level Dwarven Fighter Captains. At 10th level he rolls 2d6 and gets 8 so he adds one level to two of his Dwarven Captains, one to a Human Ranger and adds another four 1st level Dwarven Fighters to his fold. He also gains a single 1st level Elven Wizard – a beautiful elven maiden in need of a place to hide.

The hero is expected to fund at least 50% of the build cost of the Stronghold themselves. That’s beyond the scope of this post; I highly recommend using the D&D Rules Cyclopedia for Stronghold building, maintenence costs and Dominion rules.

Till next time!

23 Comments on “Strongholds and Henchmen for 4e”

  1. I like this a lot, but it makes two assumptions about the setting/campaign that trouble me. One, that it is fairly civilized but with unclaimed areas that can be awarded by certain groups. Two, that each of the PCs has some kind of tie to the sort of organization that makes this kind of grant.

    Would you consider an article or two on how to award strongholds in games where either or both of those assumptions is untrue?

  2. if the campaign is such that permission cannot be granted, the possibility might be raised by others.

    the peasants of the town which the party has just saved might suggest that they stick around, and offer to trade assistance, fealty, or wealth for the security that comes with the presence of powerful adventurers.

    a clever NPC might suggest that the party seize control of the area, for the greater good of course, and offer his services as steward, to govern in their stead while they attend to more important adventuring.

    an organization with no specific ties to the party might still take notice of them, and grant them land for their own purposes.

  3. This is simply great… but I’d award the dominion at level 11, so it could be directly tied to the Paragon Path of the hero.
    This brings so many possibilities for cool campaigns that is even hard to use them all. And with no balance issues…

    For a campaign where no one would grant a dominion… well, all the easier to take. When followers start to pop up, they can simply build/occupy it.

    I don’t have access to the Rules Cyclopedia, but 3.0’s Stronghold Builders’ Handbook is nice enough.

  4. Great post! I’ve always loved the idea of the PCs getting to control some area or organization, and really putting their mark on the world.

  5. Interesting idea with the strongholds! How would this fit into Epic Tier for D&D 4e? Would they get a new stronghold at 20th level or get awarded their own “Stronghold City” or even “Stronghold Plane” somehow?

    Also, how would you keep the party together when they’ve got all these strongholds? If the Rogue wants to raid a rival hideout and Cleric wants to heal people at his church, then how are they going to be out in a dungeon defeating the BBEG?

  6. @Thunderforge – I don’t think there’s necessarily a requirement that at the Epic tier, you get “the same thing, just bigger”. The extant stronghold might change in some manner to reflect the PC’s epic destiny, but that’s it. It’s about influence, not size.

    Also @Thunderforge – Strongholds tend to be self-sustaining, and often require adventuring for particularly important items you want in said stronghold anyway, so adventuring continues to be important. If you’re really worried about the party splitting up, though, don’t give them all individual strongholds. Give the party one big stronghold and they’ll work together to help hold an outpost, or maintain the manor of the lord whose treachery they just revealed, or rebuild a ruined area of a big city. (The last idea is one I really like – it keeps the ‘stronghold’ exclusive to them [no one else wants it], keeps them politically engaged, and gives ready access to new followers. Plus it makes the “cleric vs. thief” problem you described a lot easier.)
    .-= Saragon´s last blog ..More Thoughts on Mage, and Hints of Something Cool =-.

  7. I like Saragon’s idea of working stronghold acquisition into the campaign a lot better than it just being a result of being 10th level and having higher-ups like you. Though it does mean they might not get it at exactly the right level.

  8. I always felt it was a shame when they dropped the henchmen rules in 2nd (or was it 3rd?) edition. Likewise taking all the details about how much it cost to build a castle from the DMG.

    I never used these rules but I liked the sense of destiny it gave characters. The idea that as you progress, you don’t just gain hit points, but acquire importance. It gave flavour to the classes, especially the wacky ones like the monk where you had to kill your superior to reach higher levels.


    P.s. love the new simple wordpress theme
    .-= Chris Tregenza´s last blog ..D&D 4e Review: The Desire =-.

  9. Wow. So many comments, so little time. Thanks, all!

    @Swordgleam What drow said. I used the same implicit assumptions that were present in Classic D&D (there’s a wilderness out there somewhere, and there are organizations more powerful than the PCs who are able to issue titles), but if that’s not the case you’re more than free to wing it any way you choose. A Rogue, for example, could “inherit” an established Hideout from his mother, or a Cleric be commanded to re-establish a cult-infested city church. A part of the fun of being GM around 9th level was coming up with ways you could build a storyline into the campaign explaining how the Stronghold were gained.

    @deadorcs I confess – I made the numbers up, based on what felt right for 4e, with half an eye on the values from the Rules Cyclopedia and Labyrinth Lord.

    @Elda I’d forgotten about 3e’s Stronghold Builders’ Handbook. Thanks for reminding me!

    @shyDM Thanks!

    @Thunderforge In Classic D&D the PC’s Dominion grew as they gained levels until they were serious political players on the map – potential Empire builders in their own rights, if they choose. That’s great for players who want that style of play, but it also means the ones who don’t are able to delegate much of the responsibility and carry on adventuring. In game I played all sorts of crazy things happened – the Keep being planeshifted into the Abyss, a Church being burned to the ground but remaining on the Ethereal Plane, etc. Epic level is the chance to bring all kinds of crazy stuff to the table – it’s all good.

    The key thing is to site the PC’s Strongholds thematically close together. Perhaps the Rogue’s Hideout is underneath the fledgling town that’s grown up around the Fighter’s Keep (with the tacit approval of the Fighter) and they’re secretly working together to stop a powerful demon-worshipping cult with the aid of the Cleric’s Church. If you’ve got a long-term reason for them to work together, you’ve hit campaign gold.

    @kaeosdad Glad you like it.

    @Saragon Good ideas – I like the way you’re thinking :D

    @Chris Agreed. I think the game was much poorer when the Stronhold and Dominion rules were dropped. They add so much to the whole D&D experience.

    Again, I thank you all!

  10. I like it as a general idea, and as a “translation” from Rules Cyclopedia. But I think I’d give the option to Wizards (and other non Martial classes), to have a Keep and be Nobles for a King. Same for the Rogue, for example. I don’t think they should be pidgeon-holed in their “role” for the aquisition of status/recognition.

    Or I don’t see why a Fighter who has always fought for his beliefs and for his God cannot start a Temple, and declare himslef High-priest of that temple. Especially since Ritual Casting is open to all, and that’s probably the form of “miracles” that the common people will see happen.

    Also, I don’t know if the Ranger shoud get a Sanctuary given by a Druidic Order (maybe you were thinking Seeker?). 4E Ranger is more a skirmisher than a “natury-warrior”.

    Heck, you could have Dungeoneering instead of Nature at character creation! :)

  11. @random_bystander Absolutely! As with the original rules, it’s set of starting guidelines to get the imagination flowing, nothing more. I love the idea of characters who deviate from their class norms – if a Wizard wants to run a Thief’s Hideout, more power to him :D

    Coming up with a good concept for a Ranger’s Stronghold was a tricky one, I’ll admit. In the end I went with the more Aragorn style of Ranger – one who provides a safehouse for outcasts and the like: a Sanctuary. That’s implicitly tied to Nature (I picture a Ranger running some kind of outlaw camp in the forest), but could just as easily be a network of secure locations in a city with permission granted by the local lord or somesuch.

  12. what we really need now, is Mass Combat Rules! :)

    Surely, it’s cool to play big battles as “background” while the Heroes fight the big-guns, and win the day.

    But I remember the great days when my Elf (race and class at the same time!) would spend millions of gold pieces to equip his armies, and IT MATTERED.

  13. @Swordgleam: if I it fits my campaign needs, I’d simply give them a stronghold at whatever level I want, from 1 to 30. The point is making “leveling up” mean more than “you kill more things”.

  14. Great ideas! I loved the dominion rules from BECMI, and recently gave most of my 10th level characters access to dominions much as you described.

    One wrinkle we’ve run into – money! In classic D&D, 9th level characters had gobs and gobs of GP sitting in the bank (since GP was your primary way of gathering XP). Not so in 4E, where money is tightly controlled and mainly used for magic items/rituals.

    We’ve used a concept of ‘dungeon gold’ vs ‘disney dollars’ (ie, fake money). Adventuring money is used as intended, but things the characters do in the campaign world give them money that *can’t* be used for equipment, but can be used for living expenses, upkeep, dominions, followers, etc. That way, the “Baron” can’t raid the dominion treasury when he wants to buff his magic sword; likewise, the Baron doesn’t have to spend his dungeon money on hiring a Seneschal, either.

    Would love to see a ‘resources’ or ‘wealth’ skill or check that could be used to measure a character’s mundane wealth, much like the resources skill some games have had.

  15. For now, I’m just using something from the old ‘Marvel Superheroes’ game where characters had a resource skill and had to make a skill check to buy things. The ranks went feeble, poor, typical, good, excellent, remarkable, incredible, amazing, monstrous (yes, campy).

    Adventurers might be poor or typical, becoming good when they’ve had success. The local Baron would be excellent or remarkable, the king might be incredible.

    For mundane expenses you just assign a level to it and the old MSH game had charts for rolling against. For example, the paragon guys might ‘buy’ horses to travel from Fallcrest to Harkenwold – buying horses might be a good difficulty feat – successful adventurers should be able to swing it; the party’s warlock (who runs a criminal enterprise in his down time) has excellent resources and easily lined up the horses. It’s just a way to abstract mundane expenses into ‘disney dollars’ and leave the economic model of 4E intact.

    Oh, and I agree – War Machine and Siege Machine need to be brought into 4E! Haven’t had the opportunity to analyze them yet, but would like to get there.

  16. @random_bystander and the rest: Oddly enough I just happen to have a post in the works about using the Rules Cyclopedia War Machine rules with 4e D&D! Watch this space :D

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