Book Review: Henchfolk & Hirelings by Christian Alipounarian, Creighton Broadhurst, and Andy Glenn from Raging Swan Press

Let me start this review with a little story. Once upon a time, when I GMed all the time, I had a list of names I would use as fodder for NPCs. I believe this list came from a list of attendees for some conference or another, but I might be wrong about that. (By the way, it also works with your typical phone book.) I would randomly pick a page, stab a name with my finger, then flip to another page to get a surname in a similar way. After that, I’d butcher the name to make it fit whatever setting I was using at the time and hopefully a hint of an idea for the character would present itself or I’d repeat the process and try again…

Obviously this isn’t the best way of coming up with interesting NPCs to populate a world, but hey – it worked for me most of the time.

That said, I relied upon tried and true patterns for roles from television, film, and books. The creepy innkeeper. The chatty barkeep. Even the occasional saucy wench. (Why saucy? Why not lightly seasoned? Or perhaps braised? And what kind of sauce? These questions always vex me…) Suffice it to say the same NPCs showed up again and again in my adventures, to the point that my players would just roll their eyes when the bad accents would start to fly.

Why tell this story? Well, to be honest, I’m always on the lookout for useful ways to add variety (and spice) to my NPCs. Why have the same characters show their faces again and again when you can find some great ideas in a gaming supplement featuring ideas from someone else’s bag of tricks?

Raging Swan Press has done a great job offering just this kind of supplement. I loved Villains (and have Villains II here in my queue to review). Creighton Broadhurst and his crew of writers take a simple concept like pre-made bad guys and gals and put a great spin on it that either makes the NPCs described useful immediately or inspires you to take those ideas and adapt whatever you can for your own uses.

Continuing in that tradition is Henchfolk & Hirelings, written by Christian Alipounarian, Creighton, and Andy Glenn. Though it’s great to have a complete party of characters, sometimes you need a unique set of skills the party hasn’t acquired yet or needs some new blood (red shirt anybody?) to help out on a particular adventure or mission. In 48 pages, the trio not only documents 100 potential henchmen or hirelings for your PCs (or NPCs), but a great set of rules to simplify the hiring process itself.

All the basic races and alignments are represented… Looking for a lawful good fighter? Check out Cador Nance, a male half-elf fighter looking for a job in a town of your choice. Sure he may think violence isn’t always the answer, but if you’re willing to seek a peaceful resolution to most encounters you’ll probably get along fine. Or maybe you’re looking for someone a bit more flexible? Look no further than Feng, a chaotic good half-orc rogue who might as well be a fighter with his greataxe at the ready. Just don’t mention slavery or he may get a bit distracted… Humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, half-elves, and half-orcs are all here ready to help as barbarians, bards, clerics, druids, fighters, monks, paladins, rangers, rogues, sorcerers, and wizards. And they come in all shades of good and evil to boot. What’s not to love?

But let me get back to the rules for hiring henchmen. I’ve never seen guidelines for this sort of thing written down beyond some vague recollection of rules way back in 1st edition AD&D. Raging Swan breaks it down into a few basic steps: attracting applicants, randomly determining who shows up, the interview process, and even how to pay them or dismiss them. Straightforward, simple guidance including costs for posting notices, monthly wages, how long it takes, and more.

I think Henchfolk & Hirelings would be a great addition to any GM’s toolbox. The descriptions may be tailored to a D&D or Pathfinder RPG rules set, but could be easily adapted for any system. Each hireling is broken into a few basic sections: appearance, background, personality, and mannerisms, plus the basic D&D-type stats. You don’t get lengthy skill or spell lists, but you get plenty in the description to help you suss that out.

What I especially love about these NPCs are the names and the personality/mannerism sections. It would be fun as a GM simply to roleplay a series of interviews for these folks. Several of them would fit in beautifully with many of the parties my characters have been a part of, but there are some great quirks that would make others a horrible fit. From the pathological liars, to the clinically insane, to the meek who would simply hide in the first battle they are thrust into…

The names though… Where do these guys come up with them? The gnomes are my favorites. Fonkin & Waywocket made me giggle, as did Boddynock, Glim, and Jebeddo (any relation to Gepetto?). Though it would be tough to play them with a straight face at times, I could see all kinds of trouble brewing for the rogues Fonkin & Waywocket, who like to prank each other but are all business when adventuring. And doesn’t Fonkin & Waywocket sound like a great name for a group of lawyers?!

I would have liked to have seen a section on how to convert the hireling descriptions into usable NPC or PC stat blocks as was done with the villains in Villains. Though there are a lot of ideas here, there’s still work to be done by a GM to make the characters actually game-ready.

Art-wise, I was quite happy with the work scattered throughout the book. Each piece offers a nice break in the text as well as shows one of the hirelings on the page where the art appears. In some cases it was tough to tell who the picture was actually meant to be, but that could be up to the GM as much as the writers themselves.

If you’re looking for a way to add some spice to your campaign with creative henchmen, I’d seriously recommend Henchfolk & Hirelings be added to your bag of tricks as a GM. I would be hard pressed to use all of these in a single campaign or adventure and they should offer plenty of options whether it’s the PCs hiring them or their opposition taking advantage of some help!

Be sure to check out the Raging Swan Press website for much more information about their products and look forHenchfolk & Hirelings at RPGNow and DriveThruRPG as well as e23, Paizo, and Your Games Now. Also you can look at RPGNow and DriveThruRPG to check out all the products they have available there.

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