Followers and Cohorts

All adventurers can use a little help from time to time.

Whether it’s rousing the townsfolk to overthrow the corrupt magistrate, or convincing an ambitious enchanter to open up shop in your stronghold, a well-rounded adventure has plenty of opportunities to gain aid from sympathetic NPCs. A party who build a reputation for themselves might even attract followers they’ve never met before, who seek them out specifically to lend help to their efforts.

While Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium contains rules for Hirelings and Henchmen, these systems are largely focused on transactional relationships; they aren’t intended to embody the emotional and story value of gaining trustworthy friends. The follower system instead draws influence from shounen anime and manga, where characters typically gain allies through their heroism, sincerity and determination to succeed. Another strong source of inspiration is console RPGs—where many games include an array of NPCs who can’t fight in combat, but are eager to support the heroes by providing other services.

Gaining Followers

Followers are usually convinced to join the heroes through story choices, without any further cost to the group. However, a follower with a power equivalent to a boon or magic item should also replace a treasure parcel for the level. In this way, they are comparable to alternative rewards like divine boons, but granted to the group as a whole rather than to a specific character.

If the party has a large number of followers and/or a maintains a base of operations, they generally need to make some investment to maintain the property, feed the residents, and fund activities which benefit the PCs. Upkeep for a base and all recruited followers costs gp equal to the group’s lowest-value treasure parcel each level.

Losing Followers

Followers generally only leave the group for story reasons, such as if the party’s ideology or goals diverge from their own. If a follower who took the place of a treasure parcel leaves the group under amiable circumstances, the party should be compensated as if they had sold an equivalent magic item. Perhaps the follower leaves them a parting gift, sends them a souvenir from their next journey, or finds a successor to take their place.

If you want the party’s relationship with a follower to be more challenging, you can give each follower a series of goals and moods in line with to the “Concordance” system used for artefacts. This is particularly useful for characters who should be tough to win over; for example, an arrogant expert who isn’t sure the PCs deserve their time, or a former enemy learning the error of their ways.

Follower Benefits

Each follower brings some mechanical benefits, which vary depending on their own aptitudes and experience. Typically they grant most benefits as soon as they are recruited, though if you are using Concordance you may want to set some abilities aside for higher levels of satisfaction.

Base Facilities

If the party has a base of operations, such as a castle or guildhall, some followers add a static benefit or additional facility to that base. This might include shops, crafting workshops, training schools, hospitals and so forth. These primarily exist as a reliable source of gear and supplies for the party, but might also function as Wondrous “Lair” items, as described in Adventurer’s Vault 2.

The goods and services provided by these characters will still cost money, but they are likely to give the party a discount if they’re happy with how things are going. They might also be able to help source or craft specific items that are difficult (or impossible) to find at normal shops.

Since followers will often be recruited while the party is away from their base, it’s reasonable to expect that base facilities won’t become available until the party next goes home for some down-time.

Alternative Rewards

Followers who offer training or blessings might allow the PCs to acquire alternative rewards such as Grandmaster Training or Divine Boons. These are almost never discounted, since being able to purchase them at all is a reward in and of itself.

As per the normal use of alternative rewards, extremely powerful effects might only be temporary in nature, though the PCs will likely have the chance to buy them repeatedly if they wish.

Ritual Casting

Many followers know how to perform useful non-combat services to aid the group with travel, exploration and so forth. These abilities are expressed by assigning them Rituals (and sometimes Martial Practices).

A follower can perform any ritual they know as often as a PC could, assuming they have the resources available. Of course, if they are to provide Ritual casting “in the field”, they must be accompanying the party as a Cohort. If the Ritual requires a skill check, the follower is treated as having a modifier equal to half the party’s level +8 (increasing to +10 at paragon tier and +12 at epic).

Ritual services provided by followers are performed at component cost only, and the follower is assumed to already own any non-expendable costs, like a focus. Unless specified, followers can also transcribe a limited number of ritual scrolls for any ritual they know. These are typically offered at market value, or maybe a small discount.

Adventuring Cohort

Some followers are capable enough to go on missions with the PCs. They don’t participate in combat as a henchman (unless the party specifically wishes that they do), but instead provide a static benefit and/or power that can be used by the PCs during encounters.

Cohorts are assumed to handle their own safety during combat encounters, but require consideration during travel and skill challenges. For example:

  • If the party are facing environmental hazards, they may need to make skill checks, use rituals or provide protective gear to ensure their cohorts’ safety.
  • When the party travels by mount or vehicle, they will need to consider transportation for any cohorts going with them.
  • If the group is trying to avoid notice, travelling with numerous cohorts will make stealth considerably more difficult.

In general, cohorts are not meant to be in constant mortal danger, which is why they don’t have defences and hit points like a PC or henchman. However, this doesn’t mean they can never be threatened, particularly during travel skill challenges. Cunning villains may also single out these non-combatants as potential hostages.

That said, don’t intend to kill followers unless you and your players all agree that you prefer that level of risk/vulnerability. As written here, it’s intended that as long as the party cares about them and tries to keep them safe, they should never be impossible to save. However, if the party completely fails to protect them where necessary, you might want to have them incapacitated for a time—probably for the remainder of the current adventure, at the very least.

Cohort Powers

Many followers can lend the party a particular power when they are adventuring together. These powers are framed as Magic Item powers, but do not need to be carried or equipped by a PC, and may be activated by any character in the group unless otherwise specified..

Cohort powers are almost always limited to Daily usage, but do not subtract from the Daily item power limit of the character who activates them. Instead, whatever Cohorts the party has with them share a Daily power usage limit equal to a single party member’s current limit. As with PCs, this limit is increased by reaching milestones.

Gifts

Some cohorts provide a Gift, which is a static benefit just like a magic item property. Each PC can only benefit from the gift(s) of one cohort at a time. If more than one cohort is travelling with you, you can change from whose gifts you benefit during each short rest.

Arbitrary Tasks

If you have a specific job you think a cohort might be suited to, you can always ask them to give it a go. For example, a follower with a spy background might be able to gather intel on your next mission, while a follower with trade connections might be able to source an exotic crafting material or ritual component.

Generally, a follower will at least try to complete the given task, although anything with a great impact or reward will probably require at least one successful check and a sensible amount of time.

Last updated: 21 November 2021
First added: 26 January 2021