Continuing my thoughts about retainers from earlier, I’m thinking I will introduce followers and hirelings into my game for testing. I think 4e is ideal with action-sharing, taking into account some of the modifications we use in my campaign.

Some basic rules and guidelines would follow that followers are always 1st-level, the party can provide for a maximum of four (or equal to the number of players), and they receive no actions — instead sharing actions with the hiring player.

Followers cannot be ordered to attack, but can take opportunity actions by using the hiring player’s opportunity actions. This essentially allows a player to be in up to five places at once without technically gaining any extra actions.

In addition to Opportunity Attacks, any player controlling one or more followers gains the following special power to command them:

Direct Followers
Standard action * At-will * Personal
Target: Each follower under your control you can see.
Effect: Move each target up to 5 squares. The movement provokes opportunity attacks.

Followers die when reduced to 0 hit points, just like creatures. They have no healing surges, but a player can spend a healing surge while adjacent to a follower to restore them to their maximum hit points.

A follower will usually be the same race as the hiring character, but I don’t see a reason not to allow players to hire followers of other races — that would seem an arbitrary restriction — and they accept all the same risks as a player character.

The main difference then — apart from the lack of a class, background, theme, and essentially any piece of equipment apart from what you might give them — would be a chance either at the start of a fight, or following the conclusion of an adventure, that a follower may abandon the hiring player.

I imagine this chance to be about fifty-fifty no matter the player’s level or the circumstances — you could call it a saving throw if you like.

Most groups suffer without a character to fill the leader or defender roles, and I think using follower rules will probably help them. If you’re playing unmodified 4e, you can use the same rules for creating followers as you would any monsters — but I’d make them minions rather than 1st-level NPCs.