One of the biggest boons in AD&D to player characters, were the followers. By 7th through 9th level most Classes started gaining followers. The rules for followers were found in the AD&D Dungeon Master Guide, pg.16. A group of Player Characters could amass an army pretty quickly. There is even a random followers generator over at deadskexies, based off this chart.
Dragon Magazine had several sets of flavor rules on attracting followers for almost every class. Many of the article had a series of tables to roll on to figure out what types, level, and number of followers a player character could have. These were meant to supplement the rules in the Dungeon Master’s Guide and add a bit more flavor to games.
If you’d like to re-read some of those articles, and still have your old copies of Dragon Magazine, check out the following issues.
Dragon #92 – The more, the merrier (Clerics)
Dragon #99 – Tables and Tables of Troops (Fighters)
Dragon #103 – More range for rangers (Rangers)
Dragon #113 – Clout for Clerics (Clerics)
Dragon #178 – Follow the Leader (Paladins)
Dragon #219 – Pirate Crews and Retinues (Fighter subclasses)
A savvy DM could also use these tables to quickly generate followers for NPCs. The table from Dragon #219 “Barbarian” could generate a tribe of primitives for instance. Or the Pirate table could be used to crew a ship from an actual Pirate ship to a Merchantman.
Unfortunately, the concept of followers was moved from an automatic boon to characters at a certain level, to a Feat in DND 3.x. The 3.5 Dungeon Master’s Manual has this feat on pg 106, and it is also in the SRD. I have yet to see a Player ever take this feat though.
While the concept of followers above it heavily influenced by Dungeons and Dragons, it can be easily transferred to other game systems, and not just fantasy ones. Nor does it have to be a virtual army of NPCs following the Player Characters along. It could just as easily be a single follower or henchman that complements the Player’s Class.
For instance, an Police Officer could have a rookie partner assigned to them. A Solider could advance in rank and have a batman. An Indiana Jones type character could have an especially bright student as a follower. A Superhero could have a sidekick with complimentary powers. The possibilities are endless.
The biggest problem with followers though is that it’s one more NPC for the GM to keep track of. The best way to handle this is offload the work of tracking stats and such to the Player, while the characters motives are still controlled by the GM. This allows the GM to not worry about their stats, but gives them an additional way move plot points along, or even introduce new ones as needed.
Good examples of such are that the Follower could have a deep dark secret that is coming back to haunt them. They could have a stroke of intuition, or luck, at just the right moment in time that is the key to solving the puzzle. They can add a precious bit of fire power in battles, or be used to cause a distraction at a critical moment.
The usefulness of followers in Role Playing games should not be over looked by players or GMs. While they add a bit of work for both parties, the additional opportunities for role playing more then make up for it. Have you used followers in your game? If so, how did that work out? Any memorable scenes where the follower played a critical role?