Thursday, February 10, 2011

Retainers in Moldvay/Cook/Marsh

I am used to getting emails from people asking me questions about various topics and I don't mind receiving them, though I am often rather slow in responding. My apologies for that. Anyway, when I get several -- or, in this case, three -- on the same day and all about the same topic, I begin to wonder what's going on.

Today, the topic in question was henchmen and hirelings and their use in old school D&D. In the past, I've said that I think OD&D (and, to a lesser extent, AD&D) assumes that PCs will employ hirelings and acquire henchmen to accompany them on their adventures. That's why Charisma isn't a "dump stat" in OD&D: you want a good score in order to be able to secure (and retain) the services of hirelings. (Of course, it's worth noting that, unless a character's score is very high, he's only going to be able to employ 4 or 5 hirelings at most) In my Dwimmermount game, hirelings and henchmen have been important from the start, with several of these NPCs, such as Gaztea. Angrboda, and Hap, having become every bit as important as the PCs who employ them. When I was a kid, it was pretty common for our adventuring parties to include porters and torch bearers and men-at-arms, in addition to the occasional "specialist" of one sort or another. That's what we saw the older guys doing and we followed suit. Plus, it sure did help to have those extra guys along!

Because of these three emails, I went back to look at various older editions of D&D to see what they said about hirelings and henchmen. Maybe later I'll post some thoughts based on what I saw in the LBBs and AD&D, but, for the moment, I'm going to stick to the Moldvay Basic and Cook/Marsh Expert rulebooks, because I was actually quite surprised by what I found there. For example, Moldvay begins his discussion of "Party Size and Composition" by saying,
It is not wise to adventure alone, for the monsters which may be encountered are numerous. It is much safe to go adventuring with a group of people who can help and protect each other. The best size of an adventure party is 6-8 characters, enough to handle the challenges which will be faced, but not too many to become disorganized or to ruin chances to surprise the monsters.
Later on, in a follow-up paragraph, Moldvay states that "The DM may allow a player character to hire companions to add to the size of a party." May. That's an important word, as we'll see in a bit.

A few pages on, Moldvay devotes nearly an entire page to explaining the rules surrounding retainers (as he calls hirelings), including how they may be hired and their loyalty to their employer. One noteworthy element of this section is that the hiring of retainers is presented as at least in part a roleplaying challenge, with the PCs expected to conduct interviews of prospective employees. Likewise, Moldvay stresses that, even if the PCs are generous in their terms, there may simply not be enough NPCs interested in signing on with the PCs, meaning that the hiring of retainers is not simply a function of a character's having a requisite Charisma score and cash to spare. He also notes that
Retainers are often used to strengthen a party which is attempting extremely dangerous adventures. It is recommended that the DM not allow beginning characters to hire retainers. New players tend to use retainers as a crutch, letting them take all the risks. If a dungeon is very difficult, the DM should let the players have more than one character apiece before using retainers, at least until players are more experienced. Hirelings are experts which can be hired by the characters. They are more suited to higher level campaigns and are explained in the D&D EXPERT SET.
There's lots to to chew on in that paragraph, such as the distinction between a "retainer" and a "hireling" (the latter term being one that the Expert Rules do not employ, opting for "specialist" instead), but what I found most intriguing was the admonition against allowing beginning characters to hire retainers, for fear they'd become "a crutch." That's quite the reversal from the received wisdom in the old school world these days, where it's generally claimed that beginning characters have the greatest cause to employ retainers and that their employment shows that the players are being thoughtful and cautious.

Turning to the Expert rulebook, there are a handful of interesting points to consider. First, in a section entitled "Organizing the Party," there's a sample party presented, consisting of four PCs and two retainers -- quite a small number! Later, in discussing "Specialists and Mercenaries," the rulebook states that
During the game, characters may need to hire NPCs with training or special skills in a certain area. These people are known as specialists. Specialists are not retainers and they will not go on adventures.
Examples of specialists are alchemists, armorers, and engineers. In discussing mercenaries, it's not that
Like specialists, they will usually not go on dungeon adventures and will only participate in wilderness adventures such as fighting other armies, clearing land of monsters around the castle, and defending the castle.
And that's the extent of information on retainers in Moldvay/Cook/Marsh that I could find easily. What's interesting to me is how much this information differs both from my recollection of it and the assumptions of a lot of old school fans these days. When I was a kid, I distinctly recall using the rules for specialists and mercenaries in the Expert book to round out the party when going on dungeon expeditions. Likewise, my reading of both the LBBs and AD&D is that there's an assumption (often implicit) that most PCs will have one or more hirelings in their employ who will accompany them wherever they go, provided they are paid, outfitted, and treated well.

Clearly, though, that's not what Moldvay/Cook/Marsh actually say and I have to wonder what had happened by 1981 that it was deemed necessary to out and out state that many hirelings do not venture into dungeons and that low-level PCs ought not to have hirelings, lest they become a crutch. It's not something I'd ever really given much thought to, but I must admit that, knowing what I know now, we might well have stumbled on an explanation for why so many gamers have an aversion to the very idea of retainers: they picked up their attitude from the B/X rulebooks.

(As an aside, it's worth noting that the Rules Cyclopedia is a little softer in its stance on retainers. While sharing the insistence that mercenaries "do not normally go on dungeon adventures," it does allow that other non-specialist retainers might be allowed in games "with only a few players or with weak and inexperienced characters," if the referee wishes to allow them)


  1. Although I played AD&D pretty much exclusively (after a realtively brief period under Holmes), my groups always seemed to have few, if any, hirelings or henchmen of any sort. Even before the Moldvay et al rules, the attitude seemed to be that mercenaries, while available, really were a crutch. It was never an attitude that I fostered as DM, but it seemed to evolve organically. Of course, the extended group I played with was the first in our hometown to play D&D at all, as far as I was aware, so what we did tended to set the tone for others that came later, for better or worse. After a long hiatus, the players in my current game tend to continue in the same manner, treating the rare hireling or NPC as a PC and full-fledged members of the party. I think I might try to steer these sorts of issues to a more common and traditional approach as the players come up in level, though low budget hirelings seem to be little more than cannon fodder deep in the dungeon.

  2. In my group, part of the difficulty I've had in getting the players interested in the idea of retainers is that they are jealous of the action--they want their characters to be the ones who do everything.

    We ran into this issue when they hired a ranger-type retainer, who was a retired military scout. He insisted on his contract stating that he wasn't expected to go into dungeons, participate in battles, etc. (he's getting older), but would be a consultant to help locate and circumvent natural hazards, provide knowledge about locales they encounter, etc.

    After a few weeks of traveling, they hadn't seen a whole lot of use for him, as they just plunged into everything and only afterward thought to ask him if he might know something about Forest X or Cave Z. So eventually they got frustrated with paying him money for nothing, accused him of being useless and then let him go.

    Adventurers can be tools, sometimes :)

  3. I have thrown several opportunities at my players to hire or team up with NPCs in my current campaign. I can't make them bite for love or money! I'm running T1 so there are opportunities galore. The PCs always refuse... yet I'm sure they know that T1's moathouse is a meat grinder.

    Perhaps PCB can chime in here. Is it that the others don't want to share gold and XP? Or is it that they fear that agents of the Temple might lurk anywhere?

  4. The LBBs, in contrast to Moldvay/Cook/Marsh, kind of lump 0-level laborers and mercenaries in with specialists and hired characters of the three (four) core classes, calling them all "hirelings". Charisma only limits how many "hirelings of unusual nature" a character can attract; mercenaries are specifically exempted. The Charisma section also specifies that "unusual hirelings" means low-level Fighters, Magic-Users and Clerics.

    Splitting the terminology seems like a good idea, but it looks like the later editions weren't consistent on which group to call "henchmen" or "retainers".

  5. The Mentzer version of Basic states that "A retainer is a person hired by a character to help on an adventure." This would obviously mean they're treated in the manner Old Schoolers are accustomed to.

    BUT it also states that "You cannot use retainers if there are plenty of player characters... In a game with only one or two players, retainers are often used." That's a pretty low number. I wonder how my group of five figures in (higher than two, less than the six ideal).

  6. I've been prepping an Old school game (almost from scratch with the rules), and having looked at Charisma and retainers and how in O/S D&D CHA was the dump stat, I've come to this view:

    The older the edition, the more important retainers were. First of all, the scale of power characters have is less the older edition is. 0e PCs had hardly any HP (of course, monsters and damage is scaled back too), so it makes sense to have some meat shields. You want to delve deeper in a dungeon. The dungeon being the main adventuring platform the older the edition. If you have a few hired warriors, and some laborers, you'll be able to stay away from the town longer.

    New School (3e,4e) the PCs are more powerful and have way more abilities! Why the need to hire anyone? You can grab a cohort and a bunch of followers as a feat (a token to the past editions), but only the cohort is useful if let's say its a cleric who stands behind you always healing you up.

    I think their usefulness begins to die off due to 2 things. One, modules didn't provide much advantage or mechanics in using them. And two, 1.5e, what I know call Unearthed Arcana and the two Survival Guides which introduce NWP. Now PCs can make their own armor, or identify plants (without a ranger or druid), or even track (w/o a ranger).

    I don't know if my players will try to use retainers, but I'm including "contacts" to the list of retainers. A thief guild where one can sell stolen items, or a city guard always with gossip, or a knight order that travels and does banking (hence no need to return to the city always, especially useful if you need to spend your gold for XP).

    I know I never used retainers back when I played B/X. But I will not design rules to make CHA more useless (like 3e did). Either the PCs want to hire another sword, have some guy to hold the torch and carry sacks of gold (freeing their movement), and some useful contacts. Or they want a dump stat.

  7. Perhaps a little unrelated but I remember getting stuck on the one of the early stages of the 'hack and slash' Pool of Radiance AD&D computer game before I realized that the game gave you the facility to hire a hireling.
    I put the Lawful Evil fighter I hired in the brunt of the action (my 'crutch'), and he died fighting some trolls, but I wouldn't have ultimately beaten the game without him. Probably illustrates how much better off you are being an entrepreneur/PC than an employee/hierling.

  8. Heres another quote. This ones from B2.

    "There is a 50% chance that 2-5 (d4+1) of the patrons will be mercenary men-at-arms looking for work... Wages for duty include all gear purchased, room and board, and 1 s.p. per day of service. If no gear is purchased, the cost rises to 1 g.p. per day... It is always necessary to buy mercenaries a drink before discussing terms of employment."

    A few things to pick out there. First it makes no mention of this in relation to party size. That may be due to the fact that Gygax assumed you'd read the Basic book first, but due to the rest of the module I highly doubt that. Instead, I think Gygax and Moldvay are in disagreement over the nature of hirelings.

    However, they both agree that some negotiation is necessary before a man-at-arms will discuss employment. I especially like the stiff drink rule in B2.

    Not sure what to make of this yet, but I must say my mind is a bit blown.

  9. "we might well have stumbled on an explanation for why so many gamers have an aversion to the very idea of retainers: they picked up their attitude from the B/X rulebooks."

    My aversion towards more than a few retainers has never been due to what the books have stated, but rather due to their negative affect on the game. As the book states "New players tend to use retainers as a crutch, letting them take all the risks."

    Sending "Rolf the Common" to do the dangerous stuff for you is not heroic. Simple as that. It seems, often, that the hirelings are the active participants in dungeons with PCs serving purely as mouthpieces for the players. It's not "thoughtful and cautious," it's meta-game rules exploitation and cowardice.

    I'd say the reason it has become so popular lies within the fact that the rules, intentionally or not, promote it by having little mechanical means of discouraging it or promoting self reliant protagonists.

    While my opinions are hirelings and judgments are purely that, opinion, it is hard to argue that OD&D is not very mechanically survivable to parties eschewing hirelings.

  10. Glad you've brought this up. As someone who came very late to the game (and so not having any old school memories on which to draw), I've been trying to reconcile what people are saying about retainers vs. what I see when I try to find how that's explained in the books, and had trouble putting the two together. Good to know it's not that I'm crazy.

  11. Cannon fodder.

    That's what hirelings more often then not became despite our best intentions. Now we don't use them at all.

  12. I don't mind the being cannon fodder. Then again I almost always think of my character as a drunken opportunist instead of a "hero."

  13. My experience must've been oddball; we almost never used retainers/specialists/henchmen in the games I ran. I didn't discourage them, the players just never wanted any. Though, now that I think of it, an AD&D 1E game I played in did have a lot of retainers. In fact, my character wound up marrying one of his henchwomen.

  14. I don't think I ever used henchmen/hirelings. Never saw much use for them.

  15. Hey James M.

    One little correction.

    The Number of hirelings based on charisma in men and magic refers specifically to exceptional hirelings--later called henchman, there is no limit to the number of 0 level hirelings a PC in the LLB's can hire. So, the 5-6 refers to henchmen.

  16. My group(s) almost never used them, but not for fear of them becoming crutches or cannon fodder. We couldn't see the use of them, as they would "just get killed off." In a 3.5e game some years ago, the DM refused to allow full use of the Leadership feat, as they would be too much paperwork for the limited utility.

    Word verification: 'mingrood', who sounds like a likely retainer for hire.

  17. None of the rules were consistent on wether hirelings were able to go into the dungeons, and if henchmen were available to low-level characters. The clearest rules I ever found are in the monochrome B1 - I think they were put there to keep the Holmes D&D page count down.

    As for 'using them as cannon fodder', I say that's a DM's responsibility to fix. Apply the morale and loyalty rules consistently and I find the players start taking better care of their hirelings or face being abandoned in a fight.

  18. We started with Moldvay Basic when we were kids, and never once did we bother with retainers or hirelings. Our group was usually eight or more, so there really wasn't a need. I distinctly remember skipping over the hireling sections in the PHB and DMG because it was just something we didn't use.

    Fast forward thirty years, and I'm running a campaign with five D&D newbies. The party is 5 PC's and 10 retainers. They held interviews and mock combats to decide who was hired, and had a blast. There's something to be said in having several NPC's for the PC's to interact with on a steady basis, and they have even been helpful in defining the retainers, giving them roles beyond just men-at-arms and bearers (one is now the official trail-cook for the party, a role I never imagined!).

  19. I let my players hire henchmen, but they have to find them. They've already cleared several villages of willing & able henchmen, so they have to hit the big city when they want to hire, now.

    I also roll morale checks whenever the players tell the henchies to do something suicidal (like "pull that lever"), but the players haven't failed a roll yet.

    Finally, each time they return to town, I have the henchies make a morale check (with -1 bonus if the adventure was a financial success) to see if they decide to quit the job. And if they quit, they're potential informants to rival adventuring parties, or perhaps they form their own groups.

    The other downside of henchmen is pretty obvious - they're XP sponges. So you're trading survivability for slower advancement.

    My players have been hiring them, particularly elves, as much as they can, but attrition is forcing the numbers back down to reasonable numbers again.

  20. This may not be useful information, but I was pleased to discover that Pathfinder included hirelings. One has to wait until seventh level, but the two members of our party with the Leadership feat have, between them, about forty first-level retainers. This is largely as a result of them both having very high Charisma scores.

  21. The definition I use is as follows:

    - Hireling. A 'normal man' (0-level) hired to perform a specific task.

    - Henchman. An NPC (classed character) who is a member of your party, though they serve for pay or other motivations.

    - Retainers. People who become followers of a PC when they reach 'Name' level.

    Note if you're reading the LBB's, the term 'NPC' is used only for non-player classed characters, not for normal men.

  22. I don't know. The line . . .

    "It is recommended that the DM not allow beginning characters to hire retainers."

    if followed by . . .

    "New players tend to use retainers as a crutch, letting them take all the risks. If a dungeon is very difficult, the DM should let the players have more than one character apiece before using retainers, at least until players are more experienced."

    To me that suggests this is more about new players, than low level characters. The phrase 'begining characters' in the first sentance confuses matters. It doesn't really say low level characters should not have access to hirelings. It could mean the first characters of new players, rather than all low level characters in B/X campaigns no matter the experience of the players.

  23. I started with the Moldvay/Cook rules and never detected the negativity towards henchmen/hirelings. And frankly, I think that negativity is only in relation to older editions.

    There are relatively extensive rules for henchmen/hirelings/followers in the Moldvay/Cook rules (or at least as extensive as pretty much anything else in those relatively brief rules) and we made great use of them.

    We ran retinue/entourage style D&D, with the players hiring out loads of npcs. It'd often start with a couple 0-level spearmen to help protect the magic-user. Then a couple more to stay in the rear with the gear. Eventually, the pcs would have enough money to build/buy a modest hide-out and loyal guards and a butler would have to be hired.

    Eventually the cast of characters would be in the dozens, and very, very rarely would we ever use them as cannon fodder. They were too valuable for that.

  24. Well, having minions was one of the objectives of Old School D&D. After all, there were reasons why domain-level characters attracted followers. It was very much a part of the wargaming roots of the hobby.

    And henchmen are vitally important as they usually end up being the commanders of these troops.

    Most fantasy games are reversed from the historical milieu, where people are cheap and resources were expensive. It's one of the reasons I like games like Pendragon and Swordbearer where the "support staff" is taken into consideration. It takes a lot of labour to perform even simple tasks, labour that most player characters won't have the time to perform for themselves. They have more important, heroic stuff to do.

    And the hirelings would look askance at being forced to do the heroic stuff in their stead. It's not their place.

  25. Great post, thanks for the great commentary here.

    In related matters, a few months back I recall reading on somebody's blog an outline for a system of using "sidekicks," key retainers who could inherit a PC's treasure if the PC dies, and could even become the player's next PC. Does anyone know what I'm talking about or whose post that was?


  26. "We started with Moldvay Basic when we were kids, and never once did we bother with retainers or hirelings. Our group was usually eight or more, so there really wasn't a need. I distinctly remember skipping over the hireling sections in the PHB and DMG because it was just something we didn't use."

    The same for me. I started out as a DM in 1983, ran games under Basic and AD&D with a wide variety of players for about fifteen years in high school and college, and I don't remember the issue of hirelings coming up even one time. No one even seemed to think about it. If an NPC joined the party for a period of time, it was always at my instigation, not theirs.

    So maybe the people who started with Moldvay, as I and nearly all of my players did, did indeed have an unconscious bias against hirelings?

  27. A great post. It would seem appropriate here to plug Meatshields!: The Classic Fantasy Hireling and Henchman Generator created by cr0m and myself about a year ago. It's totally free for use by the Old School community. We followed some of the perspectives here in its creation.

  28. It's interesting to note, too, that the rules changed between Frank Mentzer's and Troy Denning's version of the basic set. Denning's version of the rules (1991) severed the link between the the number of retainers who might follow a party and each character's Charisma, instead stating that a party could only hire retainers to bring the party size up to six members!

    Now, in my current weekly campaign, I've been using the rules pretty much as they appear in Moldvay, Mentzer, and the Rules Cyclopedia, namely that dealing with retainers is the province of individual characters, and each character's Charisma governs the negotiations, morale scores, &c. for all these dealings. I learned two things from this procedure very quickly.

    1) The party size ballooned rapidly, to the point where there were just too many characters to keep track of (and I run a fairly large group, anywhere from 10-12 players will show up on a given day).

    2) Players who elected not to hire retainers very quickly became annoyed that players running their own characters plus a small group of sidekicks had "more to do" and seemed to be earning a larger share of the treasure (since retainers are entitled to half a share each of the party's treasure and experience).

    The players who felt that they were getting the short shrift eventually cajoled the rest of the group into leaving their henchmen behind on most adventures (and this was just as well, since eventually the level disparity between PCs and retainers is noteworthy). But I also suggested, as a bit of a compromise, a variation on the Denning rules. Namely, let the party as a whole hire a number of henchmen up to 3 + the best CHA mod in the party, and the actions of the henchmen are decided by the party as a whole (with the Caller having the final say). This has seemed to work well so far.

    And just so that players running high-Charisma characters don't feel short changed, I hit upon something else to make that score broadly valuable again. Instead "Max number of retainers" for each character, I've lately implemented a house rule whereby Charisma enables characters to have that number of contacts, favors, potential friends in high places, &c. This too has been overall a vast improvement in the way the game plays.

  29. Well, this is timely. Lately I've been reading through the 1991 Basic rules (the one from the big black box, call it "Denning" to suit what has become standard etymology). In it retainers are 1st-level characters (not "normal man" mooks), Charisma serves only to adjust retainer's morale (it has no effect on max. number), a party can hire no more that 3 retainers, and cannot bring total party size above 6 with retainers (so a party of 6 or more player-characters can hire no retainers). I was a bit perturbed when I read this because I assumed it was a significant change from previous editions, but apparently its not all that different.

  30. Whoa, cross-post with J.D.Higgins on the same rules.

  31. ... one more thing, lots of hirelings and retainers are vital for a least one purpose: leaving the party open to doppelganger infiltration.

  32. Well, the main reason for the e-mails is some guy calling himself Justin Alexander is trolling long and abusively (and somewhat incoherently, it must be admitted) that the baseline for the game (regardless of level) was to have a number of troops with the party--not just some guys to 'fill out' some party size of 9 or so, but a distinct platoon.

  33. I seem to remember NPCs and hirelings being very common in all the early campaigns I played in (c. 1979-85).

    In our group most parties consisted of 2 to 4 PCs, 1-3 NPCs, and 1-5 0-level men-at-arms; usually 6-9 total party size. We tended to order the hirelings around, but we couldn't give them particularly reckless orders (and hope to have them obeyed). We tended to treat the party NPCs as friends/companions.

    In one run thru of the Caves of Chaos our party started with 2 PCs, 3 NPCs and 8 men-at-arms. It seemed like an army at the time. An initial sortie left my Paladin at 1 HP and 2 MAA unconscious. Since the other PC (an illusionist/thief) refused to return to town while he was still at full HP, we left the 4 most-injured MAA in base camp, and returned to the Caves (back in those days I had a choice of continuing on with 1 HP or sitting out the evening while the other PC adventured solo). My paladin resorted to commanding the 4 healthy men-at-arms from the rear (supporting them with his longbow). We made some good progress though all the remaining party members ended up somewhat battered. Then we ran into an ogre: the ogre took down two of the NPCs and I ordered the MAA rearguard into the fray. They hesitated, and the toughest one decided I was a lesser threat than the ogre and went for me instead. I thought I was a goner but managed to take down the "traitor," convincing the remaining MAA to follow orders.

    We managed to slay the ogre but by the end of the fight only the 2 PCs, 1 NPC, and 1 MAA were on their feet. We finally decided to fall back to base camp but our sad column of walking wounded was attacked by bandits (who'd apparently seen us earlier but declined to attack a tough group of adventurers). We all fell beneath the blades of the bandits, except the Illusionist/Thief who used a nifty couple of spells to elude the bandits (blithely abandoning the rest of us to our sad fate).

    The surviving PC made it back to base camp where the 4 wounded MAA were waiting. The two conscious MAA had been "confused" by Pixies, and since the Illusionist/Thief couldn't get them to make sense, he killed them himself, then strapped the unconscious MAA to the pack animals and headed off toward town. That night the Illusionist/Thief finally got his comeuppance as an invisible stalker - attracted by the blood from the wounded - drained each in turn while they slept. A TPK of the strongest low-level party I ever adventured with - though mostly due to poor player decisions. LOL

  34. @Welleran:
    'treating the rare hireling or NPC as a PC and full-fledged members of the party.':
    That's a good attitude to have. It should be encouraged imo, as opposed to: 'they are jealous of the action--they want their characters to be the ones who do everything.'(Unless your PCs are running some hardcore scum, of course!)

    @Brandon Morris:
    'rather due to their negative affect on the game. As the book states "New players tend to use retainers as a crutch, letting them take all the risks."':
    Sounds more like the PLAYER'S problem rather than the retainers! :-) 'Self-reliance' would probably come about fairly quickly, with PCs abusing their hirelings like that! Reinforcing the PCs is always good(especially for role-playing opportunities), I'd say, but it looks the retainers get the short end of the stick in some games. The value of teamwork is not readily apparent to some, I guess.(Or that 'jealousy', perhaps.)

    It seems more like an actually existing world(and thus more fun, ime) if the NPCs have their own agendas and seek to survive to further them, rather than simply being piles of XP and/or 'cannon fodder'. I've been gratified to see that this 'jealousy' of NPCs('major' or otherwise) hasn't cropped up in my games.(I never understood this anyway, 'cuz the players are always the focus of any game regardless of their power and influence in-world...)

    The Denning Set:
    Apparently co-authored with Timothy B. Brown, it was re-issued in 1994, now called the 'Classic Dungeons and Dragons Game' and edited by Doug Stewart, in a portrait style box with first a similar cover to the (B)ig (B)lack (B)ox, then a different one. There are a small number of changes in this version from Mentzer, and possibly the BBB itself. I need to get ahold of BBB to compare.

    I always thought this was an odd intro to the game, going up to 5 levels as a Basic Set, rather than three, and including a glossy poster 'board' and flimsy counters of mosters(one creature each, there are more 'guard' and 'slave' figures than orcs or goblins!). Though the cardboard DM's Screen, the full polyhedral set and 6 Minis were nice! Not to mention, the 4-part adventure where you and your friends learn to play in rather short increments.(The one who reads the rule book first and starts playing through is expected to be the DM.) Talk. Battle. Stop. Repeat.(As well as the number of opponents in some sections being unspecified!) There's very little DMing advice, and a rather lackluster 'dungeon' with prosaic inhabitants, and no particularly interesting 'world' or any suggestions on building one. The book in fact states: "Basic Dungeons & Dragons® game adventures always take place in dungeons"(page 30) and "In this game, there is no need to worry about what the characters see outside the dungeon."(page 31)(Odd, in that during role-playing segments of the 'programmed adventure', an NPC does refer to out-of-dungeon concerns, and your PC seems sympathetic! as well as mentioning this on page 3: 'chasing an evil wizard out of town' as an example of an adventure!) There are also recommendations to use First Quest, The Rules Cyclopedia, Dragon Strike(Yes, the board game!), and the Monstrous Manual(!).

    And, of course, this was the last iteration of the 'Classic' Dungeons and Dragons Game Line! The next Box Set was a glorified Fast Play Game.(a subset of 2nd Edition Rules, used to get started playing a game immediately, with minimal fuss; not too bad, imho. No PC creation rules in box, nor were there any other products in this series, unfortunately. The two DM Modules[Eye of the Wyvern and Wrath of the Minotaur] were for the previous version of Fast-Play, given out in game stores for free and in Dragon as an extra in one issue, iirc.)

    Very interesting post!

  35. My early D&D experience seems to be different from many people's in that we routinely played with parties of 10 to 16 players and had retainers and hirelings besides. Our dungeon expeditions were EXPEDITIONS, and their lethality was terrifying. I do recall, however, that we interpreted the hireling/retainer limit as being for the character's entire lifetime, not just at any one time. So, if you had any notion that your character might survive long enough for it to matter, you didn't drag along hirelings on a whim or get them killed for no reason. There was no telling when you might really need another.

  36. Nice post and good observations. A few documentation notes:

    @James: The whole Moldvay "Specialist/Mercenary" section has the same terminology, options, and even prices as OD&D Vol-3, p. 22-23. That whole section was basically just copy/pasted forward (with small edits).

    @Evan: "That may be due to the fact that Gygax assumed you'd read the Basic book first..."

    Of course, the B2 module was written prior to Moldvay Basic existing, because it was included in the Holmes Basic boxed set. Moreover, I think the draft for B2 was probably written even earlier than that. Link.

  37. Personal comments: I really never used henchmen/retainers in my early D&D play. Although I had a very small number of players available (friends spread out in in the country, prior to anyone being able to drive), the solution then was to give each player 3 PC's (so as to interface with the larger-party modules being published).

    That seems identical to Moldvay's dictum, "let the players have more than one character apiece before using retainers", but I'm pretty sure we were doing that pre-Moldvay publication. In retrospect, I do wish we'd used one "tentpole" PC and hanger-on henchmen instead -- although at the time, just saying "all these are your PCs" was simpler, without roleplay or complex AD&D NPC regulations needing to be adjudicated.