On the Defining Characteristic of 5th Edition.

It takes a while to figure out what each edition is about.

For example, in Basic/Expert, monster hit dice are d8, without a corresponding increase in player hit dice, causing player death to be exceptionally common. Experience is mainly given for treasure, not slaying monsters. This contributes to characters of higher scores being more survivable, retreating from combat and finding ways around the monsters become what the game is "about".

In 3rd edition, the game was about character builds, trap build options, non-multiclassed caster mastery, 5-foot steps, and killing monsters.

4th edition was about dynamic battlefields, unique opponents, timing and triggering your healing surges, striker dominance yet controller necessity, and tactical challenges.

Well, I think I've finally played enough 5th edition to really find out what the game is about.

The Defining Characteristic of 5th Edition

5th edition is a good edition of Dungeons & Dragons. I've run it for characters up to level 8, and played in several games as a character.

Why is it a good edition?

  • Like all the best editions of Dungeons and Dragons, it doesn't tie you down into a mathematical model. It encourages you to be creative and focused on (and forgive me here, I'll shower afterwards. . .) the fiction
  • There are no (or ridiculously few) trap options. Multi-classing works. Spellcasting works. Fighting works. There's a few odd peaks and valleys in the power spike, but there is a far greater equity between classes not seen in a long time. Play what you like!
  • Combats are, in general threatening. Characters are resilient enough to survive while still feeling threatened. 
  • Spells, and their many limitations, allow spellcasters to do great things—but in a very limited way, without overshadowing the other classes.
Which brings us to what 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons is really all about.

The Reaction

Like most versions of Dungeons & Dragons, it isn't until mid to high level play until this becomes apparent. 

The first, and most notable change is in the available combat actions. 

There is no delay action.

You take your turn on your turn. Not only does this speed up play, it specifically limits when characters can do something. The only time you can do something outside of your turn, as a player, is by using your reaction. You have to use your reaction to "delay". Your reaction is also tied into certain abilities that define play.

You can only ever, ever, have one reaction.

This turns mid (and expectedly high) level play into a bluffing game of rock/paper/scissors. All of the following are reactions, and are noted because of their powerful utility. Reactions that do a few points of damage or other minor effects aren't listed. 

Let's look at some reaction abilities in 5th edition, and why they are so game defining:

Class Abilities:
  • Cutting Words (Bard): Reduce an Attack Roll, Ability Check, or Damage Roll, by a bardic die value (d6-d12)
  • Warding Flare (Cleric: Light): Impose disadvantage on an attack roll, Wisdom Modifier times per long rest.
  • Dampen Elements (Cleric: Nature): Grant resistance (1/2 damage) to elements.
  • War God's Blessing (Cleric: War): Grant +10 to an attack.
  • Riposte (Battle Master): Use your reaction to attack, adding a superiority die to damage. Powerful because it doubles the attacks at low levels, and adds and additional 1 to the two per round at mid levels. Drops off in utility as you increase in power.
  • Deflect Missiles (Monk): Not powerful, but very very fun for monk players. They all giggle when using this. I've never seen anyone not spend the ki point to throw the missile back.
  • Uncanny Dodge (Rogue, others): Halve the damage of an attack. (not melee, not missile, not spell, attack)
  • Misty Escape (Warlock:Fey): !! Use your reaction to turn invisible and teleport 60 feet!
  • Projected Ward would go here, but doesn't, because abjurers have much much more important things to do with their reactions.
  • Instinctive Charm (Wizard:Enchantment): Wisdom save (low on brutes) nullifies an attack against you and directs that attack against an enemy.
  • Defensive Duelist: Add Proficiency bonus to AC.
  • Mage Slayer: Attack Spellcasters casting spells, forcing a saving throw.
  • Sentinel: Attack someone who makes an attack not targeting you, (also can attack when a creature uses the disengage action and negates movement on disengage if the attack hits!)
  • War Caster: Cast a spell instead of a melee attack as an opportunity attack.
  • Counterspell: COUNTERSPELL. Use a reaction to nullify 3rd level and lower spells. 4th level, you must roll your spellcasting ability, versus 10+spell level. Because it's an ability check, bards even add 1/2 their proficiency bonus to this roll, making them the best counterspellers in the game (outside of Abjuration specialists after level 10.) You can use higher level spell slots to nullify higher level spells. Casters teleporting or flying away? Anyone casting a spell within 60 feet? Nope, nope, nope!
  • Shield: +5 AC till your next turn. Eldritch knight, Plate (+8), Shield (+2), Defense (+1) Means, as long as he has a spell slot, his AC is 26 without magical bonuses. At 3rd level, if they can steal a suit of plate. 
What this means, is, that high level encounters involving tanks and wizards, involve trying to eliminate reactions, bait reactions out, or get within range of creatures to use your reactions. Any encounter where one side is using their reactions to nullify the actions of the other, and the other side isn't has a huge advantage.

What I mean, is that a party that ignores this, and goes against a wizard (who isn't an idiot and took counterspell) and any kind of fighter designed to protect his companions (High AC+Sentinel+Shield) and instead just goes in, a blasting/hitting is going to lose. Reactions will cancel their spells, disarm their opponents, and deflect their attacks. Place the party against two spellcasters with counterspell and watch only one side have spell superiority.

Take a look at this erroneous discussion (correctly answered by Chris Perkins) about if you can counterspell a counterspell. You absolutely can, of course. But to use your own reaction to cast a counterspell, you'd have to stop casting your original spell and lose it. 

Of course, this is addressed directly in the design, with high monster hit points and damage, along with legendary actions, allowing things like dragons to actually have a chance to escape against sentinel/counterspell lockdown tactics. 

Welcome to 5th edition play.

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On a Limited Campaign

You're reading this blog why? Because I talk about D&D and you like that probably. Also, I'm into doing stuff that makes your campaigns better. Yeah.

You want a better campaign?

Keep it limited.

It's already in the air. One or two 5th edition books a year. Pathfinder creaking like the bounty after their overly excited engineers got ahold of it and thought adding just one more feat sixty times would make it better. The fact that she was sunk two years ago is just a WEIRD COINKYDINK.

One of my players said, "Can I use the Princes of the Apocalypse spells in your Tyranny of Dragons campaign?" I was like "NOPE". Whaaaaat? Impacting agency? Am I being a jerk?

You want a good campaign, keep it limited.

7 races. 7 monsters. 7 significant NPC's. 7 forces. Seven schools of wizards with seven spells per level. Seven fighting styles. Seven ancient lores. Seven great weapons.


  • Races
    • Humans*
    • Lizard-men
    • Yuan-ti
    • Boarmen
    • Feral Halflings
    • Elves*
    • Gnolls
  • Monsters
    • Zombies
    • Implacable Giant Bear Monsters That shoot fire beams from their eyes. (Secret surprise, they turn into sharks.)
    • Giant Toads
    • Hydras
    • Tribal Carnivorous Apes
    • Acid Weasels
    • Bullywugs
Can you see that campaign in your head? Is it memorable? The starred races are the ones the players can start as. The others would have to be unlocked. This isn't generic. It sparks the imagination.

Part of the issue is that this either happens subconsciously, in that we tend to focus on the consequences of the encounters we have, in the future. What this ends up looking like in play, is that there's the main thing (we keep running into X) and then a bunch of random one-offs that never have time to shine. Having all those random one-offs being in theme makes things more interesting in play and brings a great deal more cohesion in the campaign. 

Another example, My Tyranny of Dragons campaigns has: Humans/Moon Elves/Shield Dwarves/Lizard Men/Orcs/ and halflings for races. It has Dragons/Drakes/Cultists/Giants/Bullywugs/ Kobolds and Hobgoblins for monsters. Cultists and dragons are divided into 5 types. 

If you have a wandering monster table with more than 7 things on it, the chances of encountering anything more than once is vanishingly rare, meaning the area is less thematic. I'm not the only one talking about this. But I'm the one that's saying, let's look at the numbers. 

If you have a six hour session, and you roll for 1 in 6 random encounters. You check that die somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 times. That means about 3 random encounters. On average, with 20 entry encounter table, you'll have 6 encounters before there's a 50% chance of duplicating one. That's a 50% chance of getting a duplicate encounter every 2 weeks of play. Not very thematic or consistent. If your table only has 3-5 entries, that threshold drops to 3 encounters.

There's more to this too! If you're using a spoor system or an overloaded encounter die, then the results become more significant, because the players will really become familiar with these monsters. These monsters and their interactions can be fleshed out, creating a more complex ecosystem that your players are adventuring in. Add in 4 lost dead races (for different kinds of ruins) and some different factions (tribes/cults/etc.) that your races are a part of, then you have a strongly themed adventure. 

Obvious benefits are that when you do include something from out of theme, it will really make an impact on your players. Most of the campaign builds itself from the juxtapositions in the limited list. You end up with a world that doesn't feel like generic fantasy. These seven choices aren't forever. Most campaigns last from 3 to 6 months. Instead of changing campaigns, as yours evolves, you can change this list!

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On a Useful Review of Fire on the Velvet Horizon

I got this.

I haven't finished it yet. Is that because it's bad?

No. It's dense.

Let's unpack that for a second.

The Aeskithetes (Ay-Skith-es-ts)

  • They have strong bodies that look like twisting melting wax.
  • They have slim whiplike tentacles that cover their body that they can barely control. The more powerful the Aeskithetes, the calmer the tentacles.
  • They are hideous to look upon, and hate the reaction this engenders in others, so they wear masks.
  • Their home world, time runs much more quickly so they collect beauty and works of art to send back to their homeworld for a generation of children they will never know. 
  • They are impossibly strong and can vomit bile.
  • The reason they can stay in our world is that they constantly chant a song that allows them to stay.
  • Their home world is a humans skin.

No. It doesn't have stats. It doesn't need stats. This isn't a monster. It's an adventure wrapped up in a bizarre mind-screw. What can you do with this? So many things. There's over 100 pages in this book, and they are all like that.

There's the boa constrictor that is called "boa constructor" and has arms for teeth, eventually growing large enough to perform impossibly miraculous crafts. There are the bog elves that live under the lake a shiny mirror for a floor, darkness and shadow in the sky above; there are dark hunched ladies who hunt in mirrors.

The Aeskithetes could be traders, enigmatic and well respected. You could find masks before ever finding them. A party could be trapped in the world of their own skin or someone else's. They could be sent to make a treaty with them. It's just one monster, it's just one page.

What I want to know, is why not having an armor class listed is a problem for anyone.

I read a lot of fiction, and the creativity here is on par with some of the masters. Gene Wolfe displays this kind of creativity in his novels. Borges describes the type of hells these creatures inhabit in passing. McCarthy has the type of poetic turn that takes your mind from where it is and puts it somewhere you are not. This is what the book does. Some quotes:

"The first order clad in closely arranged bone, a chainmail of the skeletons of fish and eels. The second type wear scale woven from the overlapping beaks of storks and cranes."

"Before the process begins all would-be Brainstormers are careful to inform their lackeys and servants that the levels of Elixir must be carefully and continually adjusted to avoid disaster. Once the first dose is taken and the halo of electricity begins, the Brainstormer reacts to anyone trying to adjust or alter the syringes in any way by screaming madly, firing bolts of electricity and sometimes sucking them up in a tornado."

"The Dreamons are the shepherds of the Wings. They guard the vast and churning flocks, keeping them back from the borders of our understanding. There is no shortage of inspiration out beyond the walls of space and time; there is enough to burn the heart of the world and drive every living being insane with the hunger to create."

He's not just talking about a monster to fight. He's talking about himself. He's talking about you, and your adventurer. He's talking about sin and valor and lies and truth.

This a book filled with monsters of the classic sense—creatures that reflect the dis-ease within our own psyche, the way in which we ourselves are monsters. He then uses the damage in our own selves to confront the heroes we imagine ourselves to be.

But it's just a book of monsters, right?

Video Trailer for Fire on the Velvet Horizon
Fire on the Velvet Horizon in Paperback

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On Cities, Part VI: Class Specific Activites

Are we at the end? No, but closer than we were before.
My primary amazement is that I've actually written and use all these procedures for cities. When did that happen?
Today we look at class specific activities.


Arena Fights
If there is an arena, Fighters can fight in the arena. These are generally non-lethal fights with other combatants. One fight may be had per week. The purse for the fight is 1-6 times 100 gold, times the fighters level. The opponent will be 1d6-2 levels higher than the fighter. If the fighter wins, they receive the prize money. They may, through intermediaries, bet on their own fight. This is generally frowned upon. Preparing for and popularizing the fight takes the entire week (7 days). The fighter receives experience points equal to 100 times the levels of his opponent(s) if he wins.
You play out the fight to determine the outcome. 
Training Henchmen
The fighter can spend a month training henchmen, of any class, in the basics of adventuring, protection and common sense. This costs 300 gold per henchmen and takes a month. At the end of this period, the henchmen gains experience equal to the level of the fighter that trained them, minus their level, times 1d4, times 100. The fighter must pay for his own living expenses during this time and receives no benefit from this training other than more skilled henchmen.
The fighter can also take a number of untrained 0-level humans, and in an emergency, turn them into 0-level warriors. This grants them an additional hit point, proficiency with one simple weapon (spear, sword/shield, shortbow, et. al.) and allows them to wear light armor. He can train 10 0-level humans per level/per month. In a real seven samurai type of situation, he can train 4 in one week per level. 


A thief may select his assassination target. The thief may either play out the assassination, or it can be simplified to the following procedure: The thief must succeed on a stealth check of a difficulty equal to the precautions the target is taking. A completely unaware unguarded target would have a difficulty of 4. In general difficulty is increased by one for every 2 hit dice of the target, by 1 for guards up to 3 for elite guards, and additional increases from magical protections. If the stealth check is successful, the target must make a save versus poison with a penalty equal to the thieves level or die. (In fifth edition, this would be a DC 10 Constitution save + 1 per level of the assassin.)
On a failed stealth roll, the player may be caught and charged with a crime. Roll a 1d20. If the result is less than the thieves level, they get away. On a failure they are charged with Trespassing (1-2), Attempted Manslaughter (3-4) or Attempted Murder (5-6)
If successful the thief gains the bounty which is usually 100-400 gold pieces per hit die of the target. The thief gains an additional amount of experience. Each attempt takes 1 week of acquirement of target, planning, and execution.
A thief can steal stuff.
On a successful slight of hand check versus a difficulty of 6, a thief can steal one load of common goods per level, or one load of uncommon goods per two levels. The thief can do the same for a specific type of good if the difficulty is 8. Each attempt takes 1 week to try. On a failure, the thief fails to steal the goods. Roll a 1d12. If the result is less than the thieves level, she gets away. If not, she is charged with theft (1-3), burglary (4-5), or Robbery (6).
This allows the thief to engage in criminal enterprise to turn a profit. The activity takes a month and earns the thief 100/gold a level. This includes extortion, money laundering, loan sharking, obstruction of justice and bribery. There is a small chance that non-stop racketeering can get the thief in trouble with the local authorities. 


Researching Spells
Characters that are spell casters may purchase and scribe spells within their purview for 1,000 gold pieces per spell level per week. A single fourth level spell would cost 4,000 gold pieces and take 4 weeks to learn.  
Researching New Spells
Spellcasters are very limited in my games (having about 8 themed spells per level) though they are free to perform spell research to expand their repertoire. Spell research assumes a laboratory, including an arcane library equal to 10,000 gold pieces per the level of the spell you wish to design. If this isn't available, then the weekly cost is multiplied by 2, and half that value and expense can be placed towards a permanent increase in the available arcane library.The player character must allocate a set amount of funds per week. The actually cost required is 500 gold pieces per week, per spell level. Researching a third level spell would cost a minimum 1,500 gold per week.Researching the spell takes a number of weeks per the level of the spell. After that period, each week, the researcher has a 10% chance of successfully researching the spell. This can be increased by 10% for every extra 500 gold pieces spent per spell level per week. Spending 3,000 gold per week (500x3 base, plus 500x3 extra) for a third level spell would grant a 20% chance of success on week 4, a 20% chance of success on week 5, and so on and so forth until the spell is successfully researched. Any interruption of any length longer than a short tea, causes the process to fail and to be started from scratch. Running out of money causes the process to fail. Spells must be in theme for the caster and approved by the Dungeon Master. 


I traditionally don't run "Clerics" in my game, healing magic being a subset of wizard magic. However, I do allow anyone to worship a god and spread a belief. The following rules apply to religious characters.

Acquiring Followers
Characters can recruit congregants by performing charitable deeds, sending out missionaries, casting spells charitably on peasants, and constructing shrines and temples. For every 1,000 gold pieces spent a month doing these activities, 1d10 followers + 1 per 2 points of charisma you possess join you.
If a month passess and action is taken to join new followers and you do not spend at least 1 week ministering to your current congregation, then you will lose 1d4p followers.
Why would you acquire followers? Followers have a bond score (morale) that increases over time. Each follower provides spiritual energy equal to their bond in gold pieces per month for any magical activity you engage in. This lowers the cost of crafting magic items, casting ritual spells, or creating constructs. It can also lower the cost of any construction projects you take on in the interim, because your loyal followers work and donate their time without recompenses.
E.g. Frank, god of Man-Pac (Charisma 13) spends a year gathering followers. Each month he spends 1,000 gold to do so. They start off with a bond (morale) of 2, and by the end of 12 months they have a bond of 10 (morale). (See On the Non-Player Character for bond rules). Each month he gains 1d10+6 followers. He randomly rolls 61 on his 12d10, and adds 72 for his charisma for a total of 133. At the end of the year, each month, he has 1,330 gold equivalent in followers he can use for any purpose. Frank uses this to help cover the cost of creating three extra healing potions a month, which now only cost him 95 gold out of pocket.

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On Cities, Part V

I'm on a roll, so I might as well keep going.

Training is something players love to do. But it takes some time.

I use Skills: The Middle Road for my games. 5e has similar skill training rules. In 5e you simply pay 250 gold pieces and take 250 days, in addition to your upkeep costs to gain proficiency with any toolset. Optionally, this can apply to skills and gaining proficiency in weapons also.

Training a Skill or Weapon Mastery
Characters may spend time in a city with the appropriate facilities and teachers training their skills. Characters unskilled in a skill roll a d6. Characters unskilled in a weapon have a -4 penalty to hit and deal 1/2 damage 
Gaining basic proficiency in a weapon costs 1,000 gold pieces and takes one week, allowing you to use the weapon without penalty.
  • Becoming skilled with a weapon or skill requires 1,000 gold pieces and takes 1 month. This allows you to roll a 1d8 for skill checks, and gain a +2 to hit with the weapon along with increased damage and mastery effects.
  • Becomes an expert at a weapon or skill requires 3,000 gold pieces and takes 3 months. This allows you to roll a 1d10 for skill checks, and grants a +3 bonus to hit with the weapon along with increased damage and mastery effects.
  • Becoming a weapon or skill master requires locating a trainer, spending 10,000 gold pieces, and takes 6 months. This allows you to roll a 1d12 for skill checks, and grants a +4 bonus to hit with a weapon along with increased damage and mastery effects. 
Most of my games run where 1 week is equal to 1 month in game, so a character in training to become a master would have to sit out for six sessions.

Sometimes, you just need more +1 swords.
Creating Magical and Alchemical Items
In order to craft magical and alchemical items, you must first have a formula. You may acquire a formula automatically be breaking down an existing item, or by researching. Researching an uncommon item formula costs 100 gold a week, a rare item formula costs 500 gold per week, and a very rare item formula costs 1,00 gold per week. This grants you a 5% chance per week of discovering the formula, with a bonus of 1% for every 1,000 gold pieces of your arcane library, and a bonus of +5% for every point of bonus your intelligence gives you.
The formula will inform you how much gold crafting the item will cost, and how many rare earths, rare metals, gemstones and essences you will need in order to craft the item. An alchemical item takes 1 day to craft per 50 gold pieces of its cost. A magical item takes 1 day to craft for every 500 gold pieces of its cost.
Alchemical items require a successful alchemical check to craft. Magic items require a successful arcana check, along with a successful craft check depending on the item. On a failure it requires the expenditure of time again, on a critical failure the materials are ruined. Note that spellcasting ability is not required. 
Other special abilities can be learned.
Learning Talents
Certain classes (fighters, some demi-humans) automatically gain access to talents as they level. If you can find someone who has mastered a talent (such as Precise Shot, allowing you to fire into melee, or Blind-Fighting, eliminating penalties while blind or against invisible opponents), then you can learn it. Extra Talents take 3,000 gold pieces to learn and 3 months of training. Each extra talent beyond the first costs twice that (6,000 gold pieces and 6 months, 12,000 gold pieces and 12 months, et. al.) 
You can always get a job.
Characters can choose to practice a craft or a profession in a city. This negates their living expenses and earns them, in general, their skill rolled x 2 in gold pieces per month. Note that the multiplier may vary depending on the type of career and the need. A bard or prostitute could make more money.
In reality, making mundane items hardly ever comes up, excepting games where armor takes damage. I've never had a player ask me about making tools for use, though I have had one or two ask about making things to sell. The rule for this is the simple one.
Making stuff
You can make whatever you want. It takes 1 day per 5 gold pieces of retail and you have to spend half the cost in raw materials.
You can also raise your base statistics.
Raising Statistics
This costs 2,000 gold, times the number of times you have raised the statistic and takes 1 month. This cannot raise a statistic beyond 16. The second time you raise a score it costs 4,000 gold, the third, 18,000 gold, the fourth 36,000 gold, etc.
If you'd optionally like to remove the maximum, you could keep the same costs and only raise the score if you roll higher than the current score on a 4d6 drop the lowest, spending the gold just the same even if no increase actually occurs. 
There's always someone who wants something done in town.
There's usually a posting or bounty board, a guard office, and a thieves den, all of which may have a variety of tasks available. This generally includes any number of the following.
  • Need an escaped animal/elemental/demon/monster returned/killed.
  • Find a missing person/persons.
  • Bounties for proof of killing a certain type of creature (orcs/gnolls/elves, etc.).
  • Garage sales.
  • Lost pets.
  • Bounties on dealing with nearby problems and issues (undead streaming from nearby crypt, strange lights in swamp).
  • Help moving.
  • Need something stolen.
  • Strange sounds coming from basement.
  • Events! Either announcements of plays, engagements, religious ceremonies performed by cults churches, wedding announcements, festivals, fairs
  • Need someone killed.
  • Announcement of public auctions.
  • Announcement of local job openings.
  • Specific tasks and requests made by local citizens, wizards, alchemists.
  • Postings of people with unusual skills or requests.
  • Find out who is killing my livestock/sheep.
For our final main article on City Procedures we will get into class specific activities and sources and inspirations. Supplementary articles will cover basic and expert henchmen lists, mercernaries, and other general utility lists.

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On Cities, Part IV

When I started this series, I didn't realize exactly how many procedures I'd come up with for characters interacting with cities. Apparently, upon reviewing my notes, it's more than a few.

I guess I don't run my cities as "urbancrawls". I don't run them as "pointcrawls".

When you enter a city in my game, you're entering a menucrawl. It's because I like Wizardry. A lot. I've beaten more than a few of them.

More Procedures.


Sometimes, you want to get rumors.
Spend 1d4*10 gold, and make a reaction roll, modified by Charisma (+/- 1). In 5e, this would be an Intelligence (Investigation) skill check. This takes 1 full day per attempt. 

Check Result Effect 5e
2 Failure, lose another 10-60 gold tracking down a lead <5
3-5 Spend another 10-40 gold to hear 1 rumor 10+
6-8 Hear 1 rumor 15+
9-11 Pay another 2-20 gold to hear an extra rumor 20+
12+ Hear two rumors 25+
Rumors, of course, have to be designed around the local area.
Sometimes you want to insure against an untimely demise.
You can spend gold, up to your experience point level, to create an experience point pool that uncreated player characters can draw from after your unfortunate but inevitable demise. This is gold spent in town by creating training centers, giving speeches at local fairs, buying equipment for local teachers, and other civic works, which inspire the local population and contribute to creating a higher level replacement for when your character dies.
Note that although you can roll up a second character, while the first is busy training for example, the experience available from these funds can only be used in the event of a permanent death of the character who spent these funds. The current character receives no experience for spending the funds in this way, it is the replacement character that benefits. 
Retainers, Hirelings, Henchmen, Mercenaries, Sidekicks, Pets, and Followers.
It looks confusing, but this is a wonderful gold and experience sink for the players and simplifies things greatly on your end. Endless debate and confusion exists around these divisions because there is a great deal of conflicting usage in original Dungeons and Dragons materials. Charisma as a statistic was added later and people were using it in different ways.
A great deal of my methods and procedures for handling these come from my long experience running 1st edition Dungeons & Dragons and Hackmaster 4th edition. I've found that it works very well with Basic/Expert versions of Dungeons & Dragons due to their natural deadliness.
All of the following are generally considered to be human, with a 5% chance of being of an unusual race. This may vary depending on the area (if you are recruiting in a swamp, you are likely to get some lizard men). Henchmen may have a higher percentage of non-humans because of their adventurous nature (15%)
Retainers: These are men-at-arms, thugs, villains, and rambunctious youths, They have little intelligence and skills beyond a basic heartbeat and the ability to carry a sword and shield.
  • They assist you in combat, using the weak henchmen force. This means each retainer "assisting" you increases your AC and Damage by 1 point. 
  • They come with their own short sword or spear, are unarmored, and will take no action beyond assisting you in combat. 
  • You may purchase armor and shields for them, but any armor you purchase will be destroyed if they are killed.
  • You may have up to your charisma value in retainers, but only 4 may assist you during any combat.
  • They are undisciplined and are incapable of acting independently. 
  • They are 0 level, have 1d4 hit points each, and take 1% of your experience share per retainer, even the ones that don't help you in combat.
  • If one survives and accumulates 500 experience, she may become a 1st level character. 
  • If your loyalty is high enough (Fanatical!), then any time a blow that would strike you that would reduce you to 0 hit points or less, you can have a retainer sacrifice himself to the blow. 
  • Monsters will attack (and generally kill) retainers first.
Up to 10% of a population center can be recruited as retainers. It takes a full day to recruit as many of them as you wish. They expect to be paid one gold piece a month, paid in advance. 
Hirelings: These are people with either basic or expert skills. 
  • Basic hirelings include porters, torch and shield bearers, laborers (carpenters, masons, leather workers, general grunts), lackeys, et. al. 
  • Expert hirelings include skilled people, such as alchemists, engineers, spies, teachers, jewel-cutters, et. al. 
  • Hirelings of all sorts will accompany player characters to a base camp.
  • Only basic hirelings will follow players underground or into dangerous areas.
  • None of the hirelings will take dangerous actions such as going first, checking for traps, or anything beyond being nearby and serving their purpose. 
  • You can not employ more hirelings of both types than your Charisma score. 
Prices for hirelings vary wildly, from 1 gp/month for torchbearers, porters, and lackeys, to much higher wages for specialists, like hundreds of gold a month for an alchemist or engineer.
Recruiting Basic Hirelings: Up to 10% of a population can be recruited as basic hirelings. It takes a full day to recruit as many of them as you wish. They expect to be paid one gold piece a month, paid in advance.
Recruiting Expert Hirelings: An expert hireling, if one exists in town, can be hired on a successful difficult reaction roll (9+ or 20+ Charisma (Persuasion) if using 5e). Offering extra goods, bonus money, or other options can increase the bonus on this roll.
Henchmen are leveled characters (wizards, fighters, thieves, etc.) that accompany adventurers. 99% of hired henchmen in town will be level 1 characters. It is possible to find characters during adventures and take them along as henchmen, on a successful hiring procedure below. No more than .1% of a population will be available as henchmen (modified by area, for example in a frontier town, this might climb as exceptionally high as .5% or even 1%!!)
To hire a henchmen, you must first advertise.
You may spend up to 50 gold pieces a day by going around and spreading the word in bars and taverns that you are looking for them. This takes a full day. You can also hire an agent to seek out henchmen prospects for a 1 time cost of 300 gold pieces; this takes 1 full week (7 days). You can also hire a crier for 10 gold pieces a day. For every 10 gold pieces you spend, you manage to get in contact with 1%-4% of the henchmen available for hire. 

  • Henchmen act as individual player characters.
  • Each henchmen will only adventure with the character that hired them. 
  • Henchmen demand a full 1/2 share of treasure and experience.
  • If at any time a henchmen becomes higher level then the character that hired them, they move on to new prospects.
  • You can have a maximum number of henchmen at any given time equal to 1/3 your charisma. 
In order to convince a henchmen to hire on with a player character, an offer (at a base consisting of 1/2 a share of treasure and experience) must be made. Then a reaction check must be made, modified by Charisma, the value the henchman places on the offer, and penalized by 1 for ever henchman who died in the players employment. Any result of 9+ (or 20+ in 5e) results in a successful employment.
Mercenaries: These are military units available for hire. They will not under any circumstances follow characters into dungeons. These are archers, cavalry, crossbowmen, infantry, et. al. They will however engage with various overland tasks, such as protecting caravans, routing bandit and bullywug camps, exploring and clearing hexes, engaging in military engagements, and staffing forts and castles. They require leaders such as sergeants, lieutenants and captains; one sergeant per 10 men, one lieutenant per 30 men, and one captain per 100 men.  It should be noted that recruiting large amounts of mercenaries will be of great concern to the local population. 
Sidekicks: After a character reaches second level (4th level in 5th edition D&D) they may activate their sidekick. This basically turns a single player character into two—the character and his sidekick. The sidekick always begins at level 1, and may never level to the same level as the main character. (A 5th level character has a sidekick capped at 4th level.)
You may only have 1 sidekick during the life of your character. You and your sidekick get a single share of treasure and experience, that is split, 60/40 between you and the sidekick. Their loyalty is considered fanatical and you are under full control of both characters.

Pets: Players can purchase pets. Unless the player character has the appropriate skill (nature lore, or proficiency in animal handling) then the pets are considered wild animals, even if they are trained. On any stressful situation such as combat, the pets must make a loyalty/morale check at a penalty equal to the number of animals there are, and on a failure they attack the party, or maybe sometimes flee. But they usually attack the party.
This is why buying packs of dogs is a bad idea.
If you do have proficiency in animal handling, or nature lore, then you may treat pets as henchmen, having full control over their actions. They work identically to the way henchmen do, taking a 1/2 share of experience (though not treasure) and counting against that total. A character with Nature lore and a Charisma of 12 may have up to 4 henchmen or pets in any combination. Animals that gain 500 experience should gain a hit die, and as they level gain access to better attacks and abilities using a chart of the Dungeon Master's own devising. Here's an example for a War Dog
Followers: These are spared or weak monsters, fans, weird creatures, or other things that just follow the party around. The characters can not get rid of them. These include both the people that show up when characters reach name level, and that annoying goblin that the cleric convinced you to interrogate and heal. Followers are not replaceable. Some show up near your camp attempting to steal some of your fame. Others are genuinely helpful. Killing or berating followers causes permanent penalties on all future Charisma checks as the word gets out that the heroic characters are secretly racist jerks. 
Note that for ease of use, I let the player characters control everyone that is attached to them, pets, henchmen, followers, sidekicks, et. al. But under no circumstances does the player have final say over anything other than the actions his character takes. All other creatures, including sidekicks, are in the final analysis, Non-player Characters, and under control of the Dungeon Master.

Hack & Slash 
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On a Useful Review of Dark Druids

So I got this module in the mail.

That happened, because I have art inside it. So it was free.

Let's talk about it for a second. Spoilers follow.

  • It's by Rob Kuntz, (link goes to his extensive bibliography) one of the first employees at TSR. This module is from his later design work, being written and ran during the early 1970's. 
  • It's the fourth time this module has been in print. The first was a d20 version, the second used "Creations Unlimited" stats, the third was an expanded d20 version. 
    • The version I'm reviewing has stats compatible with 1st edition Dungeons and Dragons, which ironically makes it closer to the original. 
  • It's on the upper end of mid-level adventurers or a beginning high level adventure, for 4-8 8th-12th level players. 
  • What? Is that my art on Page 10! Sweeet! Oh, and who drew that marvelous picture of the Aboleth on page 14? Who I wonder!?
  • The module allows for failure points as an option, with difficult puzzles. But if the players aren't smart enough to figure them out, their 8th-10th level characters should have other options for bypassing or solving the puzzles. It's written for that stage when it's ok to throw difficult encounters at the players, who are becoming well equipped to solve impossible situations. 
  • There are usually multiple approaches and solutions to any situations, with very few "gotcha's".
    • For example, there's a living grove arena that opens for players but is misty. Alternately they can approach from above, which avoids the mist effect. 
  • There's a bunch of stuff in here: A new class (the Dark Druid), new magic items, pages of new spells, new unique monsters, a unique monster generation system, really a ton of content.
  • It's interesting that this is the first in a series of six planned modules, with no plans for the following modules to be released. How certain are we that these won't ever see the light of day? Let's see what Robert himself has to say.

7) What I have to say next verges on the personal and humanistic, or some such. I don't care how anyone takes it, these are my feelings. I'm literally quite exhausted at being an object. Let me explain. In my many years at DF all of this "feeling" was ensconced in object worship, of the past, the present and the future objects that I either had made, was in the process of making, or would in the future, the God of Objects willing, would make. This may be a somewhat shallow view on my part, but it is the feeling I got. This is not to say that these fan outlooks and expressions were not worthy or sincere, but only that these seem limited to this view only. I understand people pay for things I have designed and thus they are entitled to criticism and speculation regarding me as an author. I understand both of these concepts, especially the latter. And I understand that I put myself and my products up for sale, so to speak. But the why of it is what remains, as it was not just for money. Money has never been a great deal with me. Creativity, then? Well that's my art, so yes, that's part, but not quite...
If you look at my designs, most if not all stress openness fused with a wonder generated by new design particles. I have always wanted to design to show how I felt about my earliest days in adventuring and in design. This with the hope that the concept would remain a constant reminder to those who proceeded me, or, for those DMs who would "get it" for their own games and thus create their own stuff. The latter, IMO, embraces he real down to earth reason why I design. I am no EGG waving a $285,000 royalty check in your face he was once did to me... I remained a fan at heart, a champion of doing the creating myself, but was in essence trapped between a rock and a hard place when TSR went the opposite route with pm-adventures. I took an oath then that if I felt that my designs were not up to snuff or in fact did not trump my last ones, that I'd call it quits. Well, it didn't happen exactly that way. I have realized, instead, that I am just tired of the same measures, over and over, and in the fact have realized that less and less people create now for the simple joy of it, but would rather wait for objects to fill their needs in this area while creating sites, like DF, to discuss these objects and their merits. Such is life in object-oriented America. Objects never let you down for the most part and we all have them. But I must end my participation in creating them as my work is done in *this area of expression*. My examples are out there. They will remain even after my death, but what I wonder besides having entertained folks is what they really achieved on singular levels beyond that? I will never know for certain; and that is all I am left with and thus that is all I can leave for my fans, except to say, Thank You for your time and dedication to my art. —RJK (Source)
To clarify, he added:

Travis nails the disconnect on the head: "I am not equating modules with DMing. Most American gamers find this notion impossible to understand." Once you go down that path (eager dependent) you rarely come back. It is about reading, studying and creating, using your imagination. Thousands of DMs in 1974 and 1975 did it (that's 100%, folks); were they more informed than others? Or is it now that the model of pm-adventures is so in force that looking back upon these oldest examples seems archaic and not genuine? There is massive disconnect going on and it has lead to surmises of what good or better design is and as promoted in a vacuum by those who have no idea WHATSOEVER what good design is for they are indeed products of the vacuum themselves.  —RJK
Why am I so certain these will never come out?
The realm of fire was best represented through Sir Robilar's City of Brass by Kenzer Co., of which I am expanding (redoing from the original 89,000 word MS which was never fully published) for republication through Black Blade Publishing. This roots the matter in my conception of it, which tended to specify what it is through the eyes and culture of the Efreeti, one of its main, and intelligently organized, inhabitants. I bring it into cultural alignment by describing the immortal history of the culture which is born of it, thus the glossary alone contains 15,000 words describing it and their views on it.  —RJK
I mean, if you're going to design and intelligent culture, why not have a 15,000 word glossary? But while he's busy working on that, I don't think the sequel to Dark Druids is going to see the light of day.

  • So, basically, this is the start of a campaign that traps your players in the underworld, cursed, with now way out, and only the vaguest outline of what comes next. You are one of two types of people. Either that is awesome or that's terrible. I think you know which one Robert thinks you should be. 
  •  It's 56 pages, Saddle stitched with a loose cover. The maps are crisp, clear, functional and on the inside of the cover. There's a single interior map with several short encounters on it. 
  • The module can be punishing and was said to have killed Jim Ward's character, among others. 
  • The basic setup is that they players are sent to stop on evil cult, only to discover that there's a civil war between the two factions of the cult, making things even more dangerous. 
  • On reason there's so much new material, is that nearly every encounter is surprising, unique, or interesting in some way. 
    • A weird altar that can summon a tentamort to serve the summoner if "scabs" are removed from nearby trees and placed on the altar or a tree entirely coated in stiff jelly are the types of strangeness encountered. 
  • Some of the puzzles seem very difficult and challenging. But not wholly impossible, and any 1st edtion group that's actually played their way up to level 8 or 9 is going to have 101 tools to help them bypass those puzzles (that's over 80 sessions, at least).
  • It isn't print on demand, and the initial print run was only 310 copies. If you'd like to get it in print, I'd suggest you do so soon.
  • It's an excellent example of a challenging mid-level adventure, which can lead to a long term high level campaign as the players confront the horrors of the dark, trapped, god and eventually the most horrendous monster of all, the Tarrasque. But it's more interesting as a more concise example of what Robert Kuntz means when he talks about reclaiming Dungeons & Dragons. (More concise in that this is the 1e version, and has the least amount of space given over to stat-blocks. The module is almost all content.)
  • Downsides? There's boxed text. There's a long (though pretty cool) monologues introduction. It really isn't a stand alone adventure. 

Hack & Slash 
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