In the AD&D Players Handbook there is a brief few paragraphs on Page 39 that precedes the section on Henchmen.
The humble hireling is a frequently over-looked opportunity for the DM to add a fair amount of “dressing” to the world in which the characters live.
At any time a character may attempt to hire various different sorts of workers, servants, or guards.
These hirelings are not henchmen that join you on your adventures, but the people who keep the home fires burning. they keep armor polished, spell books organized, houses free of vermin in the days, weeks, or months while the heroes are on the road. There are a few general hireling examples listed in the book:
This list also includes housekeeper, cook, farm hands and many other various jobs that heroes require. Even those who do not own property may still need a messenger, seamstress, or groomsman.
How do these serve the DM?
These bit actors on stage are often forgotten as daily living fodder. As DM it becomes a far more interesting game to take a brief note of each service required. Attach a name to these actors and a brief note on character traits or quirks. Keep these notes in your on-going setting, and soon you will find your heroes requesting these bit players by name.
The services can drain the coffers, but the tips for beloved service NPCs can drain them faster. I’ve seen players decide to spend small fortunes retaining the loyalty of simple hirelings. A humble tailor might find himself in a fine house, with the finest of tools, surrounded by family serving the master of the house. Another Lawful Good illusionist that comes to mind, hired a sweet girl from the brothel to make him tea for a week. Nothing more. In his elder years he wed his beloved to live in a cabin on a magical hill.
A hireling doesn’t need to be a throw-away service, it is an opportunity to create a living, breathing entity that can affect you game world and character experience.
Hirelings and adventures
Hirelings that are familiar to the players can give the heroes a sense of home. A place and people to defend. You don’t need to flesh each out to a full NPC, but keep the names, faces, and personalities consistent.
They quickly become active citizens with lives of their own. With those lives come struggles, and they happen to know a brave hero should things get dangerous.
Just a short list of hirelings with personalities can provide a never-ending series of story hooks, rumors, and trusted sources. Capturing them all to be rescued will grow old fast, instead allow these bit-players to become the heroes “eyes on the street”.
The folks working for the rich heroes, want their masters to stay rich – wealthy – and generous with the tips. If a goblin lair is rumored to be full of treasure, the best boss they have ever had, will likely find out.
Have you had any hirelings that took center stage in an adventure?