Monday, July 20, 2009

Telecanter's DM Spurs - Hireling Traits

I don't have a lot of experience with hirelings. In our 1e campaigns of the past we had parties consisting solely of player characters and, if needed, players controlled two characters. But it wasn't often needed because death seemed to be a mythical event that happened off-stage to peasants.

Fast forward to today and Swords & Wizardry and I've got four players taking 13 people into a deserted convent in a brash and incautious way. The ants and stirge are feasting well. But how do I as a DM differentiate these damn hirelings. I'd used Steven Cook's Quick NPC Checklist to give me names physical features and traits all at once. But that list was finite and I apparently need an infinite way to come up with the barest characterization details for these hirelings on the fly. And so, I crafted:
To do this I consulted a lot of sources starting with Grim's Roll All the Dice Npc Generator, Robert Lionheart's Random Hireling Generator from Knockspell #1, Fitz' cool NPC Personality Profile Generator, and the beloved 1e DMG.

To be clear this will not tell you what armor, weapons, or experience your hireling will have. To determine that you should check out Kilgore's Labyrinth Minions, or Bulette's Hireling Generator. (Please post a comment if you have other recommendations)

What this is meant to do is give a spur to your imagination to come up with some broad and brief traits so your hirelings will have some distinguishing features. Some notes:
  • Read the d4 with the d20 for a single personality trait.
  • The d6 is a rough age range, I tried to allow for young linkboys and old cooks and such.
  • Read the d8 with the d12 for a single distinguishing feature.
  • The d10 is meant to indicate the distance the hireling has travelled from their birthplace. I left this as the barest suggestion because it seems scale would depend heavily on your particular campaign, but I suggest 1 is a local, and 10 is the farthest away your campaign has room for, perhaps from over the Sea or from deep Under-mountain.
Let's try it:
3, 5, 3, 1, 2, 1

abundance, 50s, marked, 1, ears, pride

Okay, this local boy in his fifties has cauliflower ears and an abundance of pride. Maybe he was a champion wrestler and is haughty because of it, but he's past his prime and reduced to working as a porter or sell-sword.

One more time:
2, 2, 5, 1, 9, 3

lack, 20s, habit, local, feet, bravery

This local in his twenties is not a coward, but he won't be charging into battle any time soon and he has an annoying habit of shuffling his feet.

Some last suggestions: I use different color/style of dice when throwing these to try to speed up reading the results. I'd probably try to throw them in some contained area so you're not having to track down the 12-sider under the table. Most importantly and the coolest idea, though, comes from Jeff Rients' comment on Bulette's hireling generator: think about letting your players roll this.

I've mentioned the fun my players had rolling up their hirelings, I think this would work the same way and fits right in with Delta's post about games within games. I think you should be ready to help, the whole table should, in interpreting the Spur's results, but I think taking an active part in determining these traits will fix in the players mind which hireling is which and why they should care that the stirge is currently pumping out his lifeblood :)

Have fun with this. I hope it is helpful.


  1. link says it's broken ?

  2. 1,5,3,1,6,6,

    A very lazy ex-labourer in his 50s with scarred arms that attest to a lifetime of carelessness


    A very loyal twenty-something foreigner who has no legs so moves himself about with his arms if transport is not available.

    This is MINT !

  3. This idea is now officially an Abulafia generator