"Dungeons and Dragons" (D&D) has always been about taking a party of adventurers into unknown lands and dangerous dungeons in the search of adventure, gold and fame. Yet just how big can the party be and who exactly makes up the party? What is the difference between a PC, cohorts, companions and henchmen? Many of you may already have your own ideas about this, but I hope to set out what I believe are the differences between them and how they will play in Better The Demon. To help illustrate this, I will refer to the great Lord of the Rings film, using Frodo as the main character.
Party Size: To begin with, there is nothing to stop a player from playing a party of only one character in size: their avatar and nobody else. Also, in a multi-player game, each player can play just their single PC and nobody else, but when they join together then the party size will be as big as the number of players in the session. Yet in both the single-player and multi-player game, players often like to either play more than one character determined at the "party creation" screen or find other characters that will join their company along the adventure. Determining how the players(s) take new members into the party will determine just how faithful those characters will be.
The Player Character (PC): There can only ever be one main PC for each player. This is also referred to as the player avatar: the character that represents the player within the fantasy environment. This character will always behave as the player controls them (unless dominated in some way) and will stay with the player throughout the adventure. They would represent the leader of the group of PCs that the player is playing. (In a multi-player game, an overall party leader is chosen from all the PCs that represent the different players.) In my example, I see Frodo as the character that would represent the main PC within Lord of the Rings.
Cohorts: Sometimes, however, a player likes to make their party larger than a one-man band and looks for fellow adventurers to accompany them along the way. Since the release of Storm of Zehir (SoZ), a gap has been filled in the NWN system to come closer to the D&D environment. That is, a party creation system has been introduced that allows players to create their own party with more than one character from the start of the game. In D&D, a player was always allowed to play more than one character in this way if they wanted to, and was actively encouraged to do so if there were not enough players to create a reasonable size party full of PCs. These additional characters, known as cohorts, were seen as devout followers of and always dedicated to the leader PC. As such, their statistical make-up was at the control of the player and they behaved very much like a PC as far as control was concerned: a player could always rely on knowing they were on their side. Continuing my example, Sam, Merry and Pippin would be cohorts to Frodo.
Companions: Before the introduction of cohorts (via SoZ), the closest a PC could come to finding allies for the adventure ahead came in the form of companions (unless playing with other PCs in a multi-player game of course). A companion is often (but not always) represented by an NPC ally, who is ready to help with the party cause or simply tag along for the company. As such, their motive is not always clear and they are often only to be trusted all the while they remain in service with the party. A difference of opinion or a change of influence can often end the relationship quicker than it started, and this could be catastrophic if it happened at a bad time like in the middle of negotiating terms with an enemy. As such, a companion's statistical make-up is not usually at the hand of the player. The initial build certainly isn't, with any further build being determined by the module creator at build time. Although, companions are similar to cohorts in that the player can normally control them in every other respect while they remain in the party, by having full access to their character sheets and inventory. In my example, Gandalf, Strider and Boromir would all classify as companions. In this case, Gandalf and Strider remain faithful to the main PC, Frodo, whereas Boromir does not.
Henchmen: At the bottom of the barrel and very much of the "cannon fodder" level come henchmen. Now this is not always the case and there are some very close relationships with some henchmen that may come close to companionship, but as far as gaming characters go, then, unfortunately, henchmen are the Star Trek red-shirts of the D&D world. Players have next to no control over henchmen except that the henchmen will generally support the main PC in a battle, but not even this is assured. They will often only accompany a party if they are paid in gold coins (in advance), and only then all the while the PC acts in a way they agree with. Henchmen will usually be the first to die in a party, the first to run away or leave and the last person you should trust. There are, of course, exceptions to this, but as a general rule, players have the least control over henchmen and are only able to issue basic commands to them. While not quite in the same vein, Gollum could have been considered a henchman in Frodo's party. However, I also see the many soldiers-at-arms as allied henchmen for Frodo as well.
Better The Demon
I hope to allow all these character types in my module and have them interact according to their type. For instance (and subject to spell domination), cohorts can be possessed and controlled by the player all the time; companions can have the same control all the while they are not following their own motives; and henchmen can have simple commands issued to them, but cannot be possessed and controlled. Therefore, for players who want complete control of their characters, then they should only rely on cohorts (create a party using the party creation system). For those players who don't mind a little variation or less control of their characters, then take on board some companions. If you really don't want any attachment, then maybe it will be possible to pick up the odd henchman, but don't rely on them lasting long. Furthermore, all characters may respond with comments (even the main PC if possessing another character at the time) subject to events, location and condition; allowing the party to feel more alive, responsive and interactive.
What's Your Favourite Party?
Finally, I would like to ask readers what is their favourite party build? Do you like to go it alone, or build a large party? What size party do you like and what classes would you include? Tell me your party build and why you think it is the best option.