Dungeon World: Concerning Hirelings

I more or less grew up on 2nd Edition Dungeons & Dragons, but in the rare instance that we made it to 9th-level we just kept adventuring: no one stopped to build a castle or church, and we never had any hired help. At this point I don't remember why: maybe we thought it was strange to hire another group to follow us around, maybe we just never thought about it.

In 3rd Edition all of one player took the Leadership feat, but it turned out to be a huge hassle since the player specifically min-maxed the character (a half-celestial aasimar paladin) for it. I don't remember the exact number he ended up with, but it was around a hundred.

Dungeon World hirelings are mercifully much, much simpler than in Dungeons & Dragons, but even after playing through several long-term Dungeon World campaigns, we've almost never used them.

Let's see...over a month ago we did a one-shot, in which we got derailed from the actual adventure by heading into town to recruit. We succeeded in hiring someone, kind of, but the only time we got to see him in action is when he got eaten by a monster my cultist summoned.

There was also that time when Melissa and I were playtesting The Pirate, and I statted up her crew entirely as hirelings. This worked out well enough, though most if not all of them died due to an improbable string of misses (which isn't anything new for Melissa).

Oh, and back when we were playing Expedition to Castle Ravenloft With Dungeon World, whenever the thief's player didn't show I converted her into a hireling. I figured this would make it easier than trying to figure out her moves and roll for them, but we forgot about her almost the entire time. Ditto when I switched a character in our current A Sundered World campaign to a hireling.

In any case, now that I'm actually playing in a bi-weekly game this is something I aim to correct. Not my character: he's a crazy dwarf infested with cosmic horrors, which allows him to grow chitinous blades and plates. Melissa is playing a bard, so I'll just have her do the talking.

I've heard mention that some people dislike the hireling rules, because...I guess they rely too much on GM fiat? I frankly don't get this, because when I look at the hirelings section (which is going on my upcoming GM Screennothing about it comes across as, I dunno, more arbitrary than any other part of the game. You know, like monster moves, and pretty much whenever you roll a 9-.

For example, I guess it's "okay" if you try to dodge a troll's club and fuck up, that sometimes you'll take damage, other times you'll get knocked back and stunned for a bit, and still others your shield will get destroyed (and maybe even some bones will get broken). But when a warrior is also helping you out? Nooope, that's just, too damned much fiction for the GM to arbitrate.

I guess if you think hirelings (or even, say, mounts) play too fast and loose, maybe you need to re-read the hireling section (starts on page 36), as each skill seems pretty clear cut as to when things can go wrong. While you're at it, read (or re-read) everything in the GM section. Or just play another game: heaping on more rules to "solve" an alleged "issue" seems counter-intuitive for a rules-lite, fiction-driven game like Dungeon World.

To be fair I did consider houseruling hirelings a looong ass time ago, to make them more inline with characters or monsters, but in retrospect that was because in every case I just wanted to help round out the party when I was running a solo playtest with Melissa (ie, playing the game in a manner in which it was not intended).

The thing is, a hireling isn't supposed to replace an entire character. They're not heroes, and they're not even necessarily your friend (hence no option for Bonds, and a fluctuating Loyalty stat). In general even monsters are more important than a hireling, as they have hit points, armor, damage dice, moves, and so on.

All that said, I do think for games that only have one or two players (which is, again, less then the minimum recommended), you might need something a bit meatier and/or more reliable than a hireling to better round the party out. This is where companions come in.

This is something I got from 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, specifically Dungeon Master's Guide 2. A companion is essentially a character represented with a monster stat block, meaning that it lacks feats, loads of powers, a paragon path, and so on. Something that the DM or another player can better juggle alongside everything else.

In Dungeon World companions would be more of a middle ground: more complex than a hireling, less complex than a character. They'd be largely the same as a monster, with a damage die, hit points, armor, tags, and all, just with some added tweaks from the wizard's Summon Monster spell (pg 155). They also wouldn't have a Loyalty stat or Cost, just doing whatever the controlling character or GM dictates.

Companions would have access to all of the Basic and most of the Special Moves, including potentially End of Session and Level Up (when the companion levels up, you could add a new tag or move, upgrade a move or tag, and/or boost some stats). It really depends on how complex you want/need it to be: in a one shot this isn't particularly important.

Ability Score(s)
Since the companion has access to all of the basic moves, they need to roll+something. The wizard's Summon Monster just gets a blanket +1 to all stats, but I'm wondering if a single stat like Competence, Expertise, Proficiency, etc, could be used instead.

Or maybe two stats (or two modifiers): one for when it makes moves related to its skill set, another for when it does something outside of it. For example, a warrior might have Expertise +2/0: when she rolls to fight, she rolls+2, but if she rolls to spout lore it's only +0.

In any case this could be at the top of the stat block, right alongside tags. Hrmm...maybe hireling skills could be represented as tags? So, a rogue could have the tags burglar and tracker, and when it rolls to do either of those two things it gets the better modifier.

Hit Points
This would be based on the companion's overall toughness, not the number encountered: warriors would have more than spellcasters. I suppose you could use the monster's hit point steps of 3, 6, and 12. Maybe mod them by asking similar questions as that of a monster.

Like hit points, this would be based on the companion's overall combat prowess, as opposed to the number encountered. As with hit points you could have it scale like a monster's damage die: d6 for weaker companions, up to d10. You could also ask questions here, giving it b[2d10], or d8 + 2, 2 piercing.


  1. While I agree with the philosophy of the way hirelings are codified, our recent campaign has had some challenges with the implementation of it and felt like we needed to flex them more into characters, at least for combat.
    The group is 3 PCs who undertook a long term mining operation in an abandoned cavern. To make this work, they hired 3 or 4 miners, a cook, 2 former soldiers for additional protection, and essentially 2 thugs to help with gruntwork. That process worked smoothly and the framework worked fine right up until the campsite they built was attacked by some giant wolves. In order to play to see what happened, in a cinematic fashion, we figured that some of the hirelings would probably hide, some would defend themselves, and soldiers (who had decently loyalty) with join the battle. But when one of the soldiers is cornered by a wolf, and the DW rules only seem to talk about a warrior "aids their skill to the damage done" when *you* (a PC) deal damage, we felt like we had to approximate some stats for the fella and see if he was able to injure the wolf or not (whose hitpoints *were* relevant) And from that point forward, most of the hirelings had some basic stats for resolving combat.

    So we sorta ad libbed companions apparently in the heat of the moment...

    Incidently, the cook's death in a later encounter was quite graphic and was actually felt by the party... ;)

  2. I don't see any problem with how you handled it. Specifically, I'm talking about people advocating for turning hirelings into full-on monsters as a standard. That said, I could see that situation going down several ways, depending on specifics (again, not that I think you handled it "badwrong").

    If the warrior is not helped at all, I decide that he'll be able to kill the wolf, but will get wounded in the process. Probably gets some nasty bites on his leg, maybe an arm. I could reduce his Warrior skill by 1 until he rests/gets healed to represent this.

    If the warrior is quickly helped, I could decide that he wounds the wolf, using the damage suggestions on page 23 (probably a d8).

    Of course, soft and hard moves could change this, specifically use a monster, danger, or location move, reveal an unwelcome truth, and provide an opportunity. So, I could say that the warrior got pulled down, and that without help he is going to get torn apart.

    Also works with some of the 7-9 results, where you can give them a hard bargain/ugly choice.


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