Henchmen and Hirelings.
Since everyone else is writing about them I'll throw my hat into the ring and talk about my experiences with them too. I had an unusual experience with playing D&D as a kid in the 80's. I had more than one group I played D&D with because I didn't (after 6th grade) go to school with the people that I lived near, and I had a couple of different overlapping groups that I played with both “at home” and “at school”. Both of those are in quotes because I actually didn't play much at my house or in the school.
My “Home” game was played mostly at my buddy Lance's, either in one of the cabins on his parent's property or in the barn, or at Tim's house or in one of the sheds there. In winter or at night we played inside Tim's house, since the cabins and sheds had neither heat nor electricity and Lance's barn only had one bare light bulb for light. That sets the scene enough I guess- on to the game!
Tim usually DMed, as I have reported before, and in his group we always had a bunch of hired help, mostly thieves. Our core party consisted of my Human Fighter Mandark, Lance's Paladin Bordan and Tim's Dwarven Thief Andemon. Paul F. was a pretty regular player in that group and usually played a Halfling Thief whose name I don't recall. Occasionally we had visitors come to the game Jim B. was a campaign regular before I joined and sometimes came back to play and he had a cousin from Rochester that we played with a couple of times. By about 1984 it was mostly just me, Tim, Paul and Lance playing there, so the hirelings were pretty important to us. Torchbearers and pack-mules they mostly served as.
My other “Home” game was mostly a one-on-one game with my neighbor Scott W. Scott played a Halfling Thief named Thorik and had an entire party of NPCs with him based on my personal miniature collection they were a Human Magic-User, 2 Human Druids (brother and sister), a Human Ranger (the twin sister of the female Druid) and 2 Halfling Fighters. They also had a bunch of hirelings used as light sources, treasure haulers and camp guards. Rarely Lance would show up to play too. Scott is Lance's nephew, which always kind of amused me since they are so close in age and Scott's sister Chris is actually older than Lance by about 7 months. Oddly enough, Scott never played in the games that Tim DMed; and when I started DMing that group (Dempster Mk. I) he only rarely played there.
The point there is that my home games always had a bunch of hirelings in them.
The “School” games, hereafter referred to as “Away” games simply because I like the sports comparison., are also divided into two groups (and one subgroup). The actual “School” group consisted of a variety of guys that were in the D&D club (which I founded) and we rarely ever actually played. Sometimes we'd play in the library before school started or in the cafeteria during lunch and maybe twice during our D&D club meetings. Despite being president of the junior high D&D club, I actually played more D&D with the high school D&D club. They were cooler. They kept inviting me to the game. They used awesome unofficial stuff like Arduin Grimoire and the 30-sided die book. None of these games really ever had any hirelings or henchmen added.
Then we have the Darryl “Away” games. I used to spend about half of my weekends at Darryl's house, either at his mom's or his dad's. His dad's house was cooler to go to because his dad was a gamer. Big Darryl was mostly a wargamer, but we managed to get him to play a large number of RPGs anyway. He bought even more of them. His gaming library is why I have such an extensive knowledge of 1980's era RPGs. He hated D&D because of it's abstraction and randomness and a host of other reasons. Like passionately, as though Gary Gygax had boned his wife or something. So he spent a lot of time, effort and money trying to come up with the perfect simulationist RPG. He was a huge fan of Harn. His favorite RPG, as written, was DragonQuest. Not really surprising since it was an SPI product and he was a wargamer. He was an early GURPS adopter. Mostly he was interested in finding the Holy Grail of RPGs, a quest that I am sure he continues to this day. But, he ran/played in a long running D&D campaign with his sons Darryl and Keith. I was eventually added to this cast, as were his step-sons Rusty and Pete along with a bunch of kids that lived in the neighborhood at the time, most of whom I have only a foggy memory of. That campaign had a lot of actual henchmen in it and not too terribly many hirelings, but some. Every major character in that game had at least on henchman.
Big Darryl's character was Prince Royce Cea-Thor, he was a Human Fighter, but acted like a Paladin. Royce had a Human Thief henchman named Napoleon, who I think was a family retainer. He also had a Human Cleric henchman whose name I don't remember. Royce was certainly the prima donna there. I remember a couple of his other Henchmen by name, Greena and Glendan, but I don't remember much else about them. I am pretty sure Glendan was a cleric.
Little Darryl (AKA Darryl Jr or just Darryl) played a Human Fighter named Aimendale Sebastian Borgstrine Delarive (Borg) who had two henchmen. The first was a Human Fighter named Khan (inexplicably pronounced Han, like Han Chinese or Han Solo), he was pretty bad-ass in his own right and occasionally Darryl just played him and left Borg home. The second was a Human Magic-User named Elisha (pronounced Lisa, which is more inexplicable than Khan's name's pronunciation) and he occasionally soloed her too.
I don't remember Keith's character at all. He pretty much stopped playing D&D when he discovered girls and weed. Quite surprisingly to everyone that knew him, he cleaned up his act, married a good woman and became a minister.
I played a couple of different characters there. When I first started playing in that game they just had me play one of the NPCs. After a while I got to bring my own character in. My Elf F/M-U from junior high, Lodor, eventually found a permanent home in that campaign, although by then Big Darryl had sworn off D&D completely and Darryl and I were trading DMing duties back and forth.
Oddly I don't remember any of the other PCs in that game to speak of at all.
Over the years group memberships changed pretty drastically. I put a cut off/ change point in the Dempster game when only Lance and I were still playing from the original group and I was the only DM. Lance was the only original member from Dempster still playing, since I had joined the campaign already in progress, having come from my earlier D&D group where I played with Chris G. and his crowd, which kind of imploded.
Dempster Mk. 2 was interesting in that it was the last 1st edition game I DMed until after 3rd edition sent me back to my roots. It also is the only game we played with no (or at least a bare minimum) NPC help. Lance had come to despise henchmen as XP/treasure leaches. I was DM. All the other players were younger than us and had no previous D&D experience, so I guess it just didn't occur to them that they could bring in hirelings or recruit henchmen.
The last 1st edition game I played in was Oswego Mk. Ia (the a is because my first Oswego D&D group was under the same DM, Steve S. , but I only played there twice before that group broke up, I joined late, apparently at the end). 2nd edition AD&D had already hit the street, a year or so before, but Steve didn't feel like investing in new books since he had a perfectly serviceable game already. Smart man. We were almost all strangers to each other there. I honestly don't know how most of the group got together. I got a call from Steve saying he was putting a group together. I called Lance, after receiving permission from Steve, since he was looking for a new game, Dempster Mk. II having ended when he moved into Oswego after his mom died. Danny N. heard that I had a new game and begged Steve to let him in, which he did only because he thought he was a different Danny when he called, Steve never much cared for Danny N. Jamie W. was there because he and Steve had been neighbors and D&D buddies for years before Steve's parents moved into Oswego, they stayed in touch because of D&D. Jamie is how I met Steve. I knew Jamie from when I was a little kid, his mom and dad had been active with Cub Scouts, but re-met him because of Danny. Weird little circle there, eh? The other guys were Mike F. and Marty Van B. Where Steve met them I couldn't tell you. Mike was not a local, but an import come to work our nuclear power plants. Marty was local but older enough than us that none of us knew him really; he was an electrician working at one of the nuke plants.
When this all started, I had played with Lance regularly before then and Danny, Jamie and Steve only a couple of times each and not all together, although they had some history plaing with each other. Mike was old school and had been playing since the 70's. Marty had never played anything but the Gold Box series of AD&D games from SSI on his computer and wanted to try table-top with other people.
Lance played a Dwarven Fighter/Thief (eventually replaced after his untimely death with a Dwarven Thief, then when he died, a Human Druid). I played a Human Fighter named Brennos (originally supposed to be a Ranger, but Steve and I disagreed on the ethics of Thor worshiping Rangers and we thought it best to make him a fighter instead). I eventually got a glowing blue enchanted axe that I named babe. Mike played an Elf F/M-U named, I kid you not, Drizzt. Marty played a Cleric whose name I forget. Jamie and Danny I don't remember really at all. Jamie was eventually booted from the group because of his feuding with Steve, the cause of which I was never privy to. I tried to add Darryl to the group, but he didn't take, he played twice with a Fighter named Ogotai then dropped out and eventually moved to Florida.
We never used NPC hirelings or henchmen at all here.
My 2nd edition groups almost never had any hirelings or henchmen. Usually they might have an NPC Cleric or Thief (sorry, Rogue) join them as needed for short periods of time.
My 3.x games went the same way, no helpers, but none were really needed. Characters were tougher there and advanced pretty damned quick.
My Hackmaster campaign never lasted long enough to see any NPC help and had more than enough players so it wasn't really necessary. I had 2 people driving to Oswego from Albany every other weekend to play. I had nine PCs in that game. Too bad we only had five sessions before bad weather set in and pretty much ended it. Odd grouping of people in it too.
So, my early years of gaming, the AD&D years, were generally pretty NPC friendly, whether they were henchmen or hirelings, we considered them, more or less, necessary. Later on, with later editions of the game, PC power levels rose to the point where they stopped being important and we dropped them. We went from being squad leaders to commandos I guess, which is kind of ironic when you consider that the game has become more like a wargame in it's later incarnations. They have more of an emphasis on tactical battles and use of miniatures and all.