No doubt, this could be the death of any Dungeons and Dragons campaign.  Having slogged through foul dungeon corridors riddled with harrowing traps and populated by creatures written specifically to kill, what delver in their right mind wants to face the ultimate challenge – THE TAX COLLECTOR!?  What DM could possibly be so cruel, having levied through violence and atmosphere a price for glory, a fee for simply walking into a town?  Well Gary, for one (May His name ring around convention center concession stands for all time!) –

“It is important in most campaigns to take excess monies away from player characters, and taxation is one of the better means of accomplishing this end.”  (DMG 90)  See, cruel right?  Or is it?  After all he wrote AD&D as a long form means of exploring “Heroic fantasy” with rewards “made of fortunes and king’s ransoms in loot gained most cleverly and bravely and lost in a twinkling by various means – thievery, gambling, debauchery, gift-giving, bribes and so forth.”  Not much of a Tolkensian, Gygax preferred more fantastic, and economically debauched heroes like Fafrd and Grey Mouser, Conan, Elric etc.  And no small wonder!  Even Lawful Good parties dedicated to eradicating Elemental Evil need weigh their lofty ideals against the needs of the many – and the many need roads to travel, water to drink, and of course men-at-arms to guard tax monies..

Gary (May His dice always crit in play!) then goes into lavish detail defining and describing the duties, exizes, fees, tariffs, taxes tithes and tolls levied to keep the powerful in power and the orc hordes at bay.  We have a campaign to play here, so I’ll skip most of that for a modest summary of some costs delvers, crusaders, raiders and other adventurers will encounter in and around Verbobonc County.  The ‘Bonc in this case comprises the city and immediate metro area, as well as Hommlet, Nulb and even far off Sobanwych – the reasons for which I’ll make clear.

Duties on goods foreign (ie not originating) in Verbobonc County = 1% sales value, 2% for non-residents.  Note this applies to the City, Hommlet village, and even Nulb.  Some fancy pants Castellan got it in his head less taxes would spur trade and rejuvinate the area – what was he thinking?!?

Luxury and Precious Goods Tariff = 2% sales value, forms required for completion granting right of sale

Entry fee to Verbobonc city = 1 copper per head, 5 for non-residents

Flat Residence Tax of 10 copper per peasant, 5 silver per freeman, and 3 gold per noble or gentleperson per year.  Needless to say the count is not loved, but it makes up for the low duties on foreign goods..

Sales Tax of 5% charged to all non-residents

Tolls of 1 copper per head, 1 per wheel, twice that for non-residents exists for the road leading to and from Veluna and Furyondy.  Tolls aren’t levied on the low road from the Kron Hills through Hommlet, Nulb and Sobanwych.  Then again there’s only about thirty men at arms to patrol that stretch.  And we wouldn’t want to damper free trade..

These relatively low taxes on everything save the ordinary joe were meant to spur trade, trade that would help the Count pay off the usurious loans issued by Veluna and Furyondy to pay for their role in the Temple Wars.  However the resulting lack of funds means the important road from Dyvers is almost entirely without patrol, and the Velverdyva river is a free for all.  Cheap to travel, but dangerous.  Furthermore the high Residence Tax (did I mention the property tax?) most places save Hommlet means most folks are not big fans of the count.

Remember those men-at-arms, patrolling roads, eating donuts?  Yes they keep the orcs (Bugbears, Gnolls, Kobolds and the occasional Bullitt) at bay.  They also, um, ‘assist’ the tax collector from time to time, bringing into town those travelling without a bill of goods showing a ‘Taxes Paid’ stamp for prosecution on tax evasion.  The penalty?  Well a hefty fee of course..

One final note on taxes in AD&D.  Recent debates surrounding the origins of our hobby (See Jon Peterson’s 2012 Playing at the World; you’ll see I’ve included his Blogspot above) contemplate the cross over in role play from Napoleonics to Fantasy in 60’s versions of a LARP called Braunstein.  In it Napoleonic companies are managed (or mismanaged) to and from the battlefield through a fictional city, replete with a cast of characters including burghers, merchants, thieves, strumpets, beggars, proles and, of course, tax collectors.  Without the pesky hack and slash monsters afford these early parties were forced to role play their way through this town.  So just because Gary (may his Hot Pockets long sizzle!) first proposed these taxes doesn’t mean enterprising and imaginative players cannot find ways around them..


Look at the cover of the First Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG), the one with the wrap around illustration.  There we see two heroic men, a Fighter and Magic User, battling a Djinn for the life of their beautiful, blonde scantily clad thief.  Change the sexes, classes and combat equipment and you have the typical dungeon delvers we know and play today.

The First Edition Player’s Handbook was published before the DMG, and shows a distinctly different collection of characters.  All men I admit, but the Fighter and Magic User are assisted by a collection of Men-at-Arms, porters and other hirelings and henchmen. Now answer me this; on which cover do we see the Player Characters (PC) clearly triumphant?

Earnest G Gygax (Praised be his name!) came from a different class of tabletop player.  Schooled first in unstructured, Napoleonic LARPS, and on the cutting edge of medieval fantasy role playing, Gygax (long was his wisdom!) never mistook swords and sorcery as an excuse to violate physical laws or common sense.  If Mordenkainen, Robilar, Otiluke and Tenser wanted to schlep mounds of gold from Castle Greyhawk, you can bet your Bag of Holding they hired somebody to do it.

1.  So what is the difference between Hirelings and Henchmen?

“Henchmen are defined as the associates, companions and loyal (to a degree) followers of a player character.. They are useful in individual adventures as a safety measure against the machinations of rival PCs, provide strength to the character in his or her stronghold, and lastly serve as a means of adventuring when the PC is unable to.”  (DMG p 29 and 34)

“Hirelings are the servitors, mercenaries and employees of the PCs.  Most hirelings.. are typically employed at such a time as the character in question has an established stronghold.  Common, standard hirelings are the usual craftsmen and laborers taken on by lower level characters.”(p 28)

2. The Dungeon Master’s Guide makes my eyes bleed.  English por favor?

Henchmen are essentially first level non-player characters (NPCs), Fighters, Magic Users, Thieves and the like, who adventure alongside the PCs and get involved in the same kind of dirty work.  Hirelings carry torches and treasure, look after the horses, and clean up once the slaughter is done.  Although different in profession and outlook, the same social and economic factors impact loyal followers and mere servitors alike (see #7 below).

3. How do I hire hirelings?

If you’re hiring to adventure far afield from town and village count on spending double to triple normal wages for a three in six chance of finding the right person for the job.  Luckily for you lower level PCs that means 3 GP a month for a porter, or 9 GP/month for a pikemen.  Gygax (in his Beneficent Ambiguity) suggests each sort “will be found in the appropriate section or quarter of city or town,” or reference pages 28 through 34 of the DMG.

4. How do I hire henchmen?

Adventurers are pretty unique, so according to Gygax (may his pencil remain sharp!) only about one in a thousand city dwellers count as first level PCs interested in employment.  To find them he details several steps and outlines costs incurred for what we’d recognize as a full on marketing blitz minus the LinkedIn (p 35). Incentives begin with base one hundred gold pieces for a 25% chance of interest, then go onto magic items offered (+15%), quarters and support (maybe 5%) duties requested and shares of loot offered.  Never fear however, the eventual chance this NPC will sign on is affected by your Charisma Reaction Adjustment (PH p 13).

5.   What is a Hobilar and why should I hire one?

Expert hirelings generally follow divisions of labor similar to those found in our post-modern society.  Pikemen, archers, sages and castellan each play an important role protecting a stronghold or projecting a PC’s sphere of political influence.  Adventuring for the most part however requires a different kind of character – one most PCs would immediately recognize as their own, ie a henchman.

6. But Gary would never say never!!

Lighten up Francis.  While you probably want to leave Hobilars and other cavalry outside the dungeon (Gygax in his prudence says horses can’t dungeon crawl) there’s no reason you cannot bring a half dozen footmen with you.  Following that division of labor however your DM (may this being have mercy on us!) will only recognize the expert hireling as good at one thing – say archery – rather than being proficient with an entire arsenal.

7. How does my Charisma affect the loyalty and obedience of hirelings and henchmen?

Some situations will sorely test the loyalty and obedience of hirelings and henchmen.  Gygax (in his Infinite Anality!) identifies a raft of factors, from economic considerations like share of the spoils and organizational aspects like discipline and training, to cultural issues like alignment, race, length of employment and other special considerations on page 36 of the DMG.  To keep your DM honest and speed game play (may this being have mercy on us!) you may consider calculating some of this yourself beforehand.

Tall tales, whiskey and blood doth Mazy’s spray! When clear’d espy those drinking at third place; home to Robert Footswift, Bob’s own table. ‘Twixt tankards do spread crimes and plans most foul; those caught bragging catch the cutpurse’s pick. Worse Bob himself may flay standing liars and cheats caught dressing the table in brass; dress your tales plain ‘fore jousting this drake sooth.

Hear now then news from your bards faithful tongue!  Now that gold burst sacks  from  honest work, the fairgrounds neat, stalls pitched and prey espied we might, on this eve of viscount’s tourney turn anxious eyes to fear a Patchwall’s dawn.  Ha ha ha we, rogues, sharpers and robbers all, fear?  Drink!  Devour!  Shoot forth thy sacks bounty on yonder doxy’s rouged and faithless cheeks.  Live!  And to Istus a shill for morrow’s turn.  Still know thou Brewfeasts tithes for drunken turns; Trithereon’s week shows poorly Wenta’s flow’ring, and poor delvers are turn’d ‘way first at Needfest.

Well now fear not, pick not thy true bard!  Hear ye now promising news of employ.  Has it sooth patrons few a plan; a project lucrative and dangerous.  Adventure, southern and east of Hommlet, east of Hommlet say I this humble bard!  Dip now tankards full and toast to pleasure, yet ride those rims eyes wide to spy,

A steel hard crew, resolve sharp, gaze set
to pierce eye tyrants n’ gas spores alike
would retain sharp spears ‘gainst ancient threat,
given men with the mettle of their pikes.
Short in years, yet long in tears this company
would front aquamarine for swordsmen bold,
lavish amber on skalds for melody,
guide courser’s true with well wrought gold
and strike perfidy with swift and fletched shaft.
Amethyst to the theurgists, or scrolls
of studied might; pearls for burglers craft,
but to the righteous a different dole
would parole their faith south and east to face
foes infernal, or vanish without trace.

You ran Cyril! You ran. How could you? 

Gave temples lesser the field to ponder

rust and blood and fear, Cyril, you?

The morning rays cannot through yonder

window blind history; you lost your crew,

called Romag to order, bled your troop

to the last straw and for what? All to

wash memory of her last breath in croups

brimming with Pholtus’ rays? Sight this ‘long

His silver’d wand m’lord. So too did Robilar

bemoan Mord’s death on trail, his wailing song

remov’d from Greyhawk cliffs. Popular

tactics aside, mayhaps we pay too dear

in blearing the ghosts to forward our years.

Proof to ogres and gnolls the same our line held, barely.
A shield sore batter’d the delvers doubted Treme,
Dain to Rufus, blades slicing deeply
the dun rob’d platoon. Yet still they came,
and wakening the sleeping dogs ran through
Rufus to Cyril’s last stand, Treme grinning
death’s head, parrying the bowman’s few
jousts to end our bloody story. Seeing
Oolghrists’ thrall in wait the ranger freed
his panic, and laughing did invite their entrance
to the fray. Then did the gnolls heed
their leaders doubt and run. Rufus, since
revived, charg’d again Romag’s host,
to see the Owlbear put Curate to toast.

Tis a gift dain to form this lines defense
the martial turn; then feint yes, and thrust!
Bloody yet proud, head high to th’ final dance,
You reel, unbowed to the darkness of distrust.
And the blade and the sword and the man
Hold true to the promise in your breaths demise,
your Lord’s writ, loving kindness to this land
Their powers granted full by this truth in your eyes.
The flametongue fires legions to flight; broad blade
Sunders Romags command of the night.  Rufus
stalwart friend in your parties long plight; made
Holy in the comfort of divinity’s justice.
And should you ascend to Cuthberts domain
You will find a release to this worlds sole pain

Roiling past infernal screen the buttfaced line crashed

into  Allrem, dousing plans nefarious

to pin his levy ‘gainst walls festooned

with failed ambition.  Gods!  What bilious

smoke the froth’d the Prefect’s lips, smoking

the chamber with lies; conscripts tenfold

waiting the call to temple flame?  Flick’ring

untruths called our heroes, who then did fold

the serpent to cord, flush churches’ riches

to pocket and take their leave.  Yet brands

still smoldered and, as Agnar’s cacoethes

to play did fire his tiger’s eye, mounds

once burning reach for buckled timbers;

beware friends, the sear of dying embers!