Spam Spam Spam Humbug 11 - Companions vs. Henchmen
What is a companion, in an RPG context? What is a henchman? Does the distinction even matter, and if so, why?

Intro: Ultima VI Gates of Creation by OC ReMix

New Patrons & Shout-Outs: This week, the Ultima Codex has new supporters on Patreon! Thank you, Pascal and kodenkm, for helping keep the site running.

Follow-Up from Previous Episode: So how about that timing? I find time to actually comment on the latest and greatest Mass Effect 4 rumours, and BioWare up and announces Mass Effect Andromeda at E3. The setting would seem to have changed (per the rumours, it was to be set in a galaxy called, if memory serves, the Helius Cluster), but it looks like many of the other details that were leaked on Reddit have proven true. And the choice of Johnny Cash's Ghost Riders in the Sky for the trailer soundtrack was hilarious, and brilliant.

Additionally, Stirring Dragon left a very lengthy and well-thought-out comment in reply to last week's episode. In particular, he made a couple of suggestions regarding how I might change my approach to the Codex in the future. The first one, I agree with unreservedly:

First, I think it would be a good idea if you just offered early podcast access as a reward to anyone that donates to your Pateron campaign, even if they back it at the $1/month level. You can always come up with some higher tier rewards down the line if you think you need to, but this would be at least a nice incentive for all your supporters.

This is a good idea. And as such, this episode of SSSH — and all future episodes thereof — will be available a day early to anyone who contributes at least $1/month to the Ultima Codex on Patreon.

Stirring had another suggestion:

2. It may be a good idea to consider creating a Patreon tier level for covering large budget game studio projects and their updates. How I envision this working is that any game company that has an RPG related game they would like to be covered by the Ultima Codex and a budget of $500k+ will need to at least be supporting your Patreon at the correct base level for that to happen. This level should also be required for any Kickstarter coverage for any related games. I think a $50/month tier for this is more than reasonable for the marketing exposure these type of games would get from the Ultima Codex. Honestly, there is no reason you should be spending your time covering large studio Kickstarters and updates about their games if they are not in some way supporting your efforts to do so. This is a very easy win-win for both sides. I am actually quite shocked to not see these companies already supporting your Pateron campaign. All the free publicity, marketing, and advertising you give to these large-budget projects, on your own time and dime mind you, is really insane and does not seem very reciprocal. This isn’t about companies paying for advertising, it’s about people seeing value in others lives and supporting mutual interests, which is what the Ultima Codex is all about isn’t it?

And while this isn't a bad suggestion by any means, it's a tougher thing for me, because I don’t feel that paid advertising for spiritual or actual Ultima successors is in line with the site’s mandate, or with where my own heart is at. And that’s kind of what this would amount to. Don’t get me wrong: it would be nice if the studios chipped in, for sure. But equally, I don’t think that’s a thing I could ever ask of them. I aim to report Ultima and Ultima-related news; I feel obligated to cover things like Shroud of the Avatar (and various other games that have been similarly crowdfunded) on that basis alone. And I’d hate myself, I think, if I limited that coverage based on whether or not I was being paid for it.

Podcast Topic: It's dangerous to go alone, as we all know. From tabletop pen-and-paper RPGs to the sprawling worlds of CRPGs, adventurers have set forth accompanied by companions and henchmen in...well, what I would assume is the majority of such games as these. The lone hero isn't unheard of; even my much-beloved Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning features a player-character who spends most of the duration of the plot unaccompanied by any hangers-on or fellow-travelers. But it's worth noting that at certain pivotal points of its plot, even Reckoning has an NPC following (or sometimes leading) the character into danger, and fighting alongside the player when battle is joined.

We use terms like “henchman” and “companion” to describe the followers that player-characters can accrue in CRPGs, and we should ask: is there a meaningful difference between these categories of followers? What constitutes a henchman, and what constitutes a companion? Is the distinction meaningful?

Interestingly, Divinity: Original Sin actually includes two separate categories of followers that the player-characters can call upon during the course of the game; it actually makes quite apparent the distinction between henchmen and companions. Arguably, Pillars of Eternity makes such a distinction as well, with eight recruitable NPCs with elaborate backstories, along with the option to craft new party members from scratch in the manner of hirelings at the various taverns scattered throughout the game world.

And, of course, this wouldn't be a podcast by Ultima fans if we didn't talk about the eight canonical Companions of the Avatar, or the various other NPCs  that can, in different Ultima games, be recruited to aid the Avatar in serving Britannia. But here too, we should probably as: can we see the henchman/companion distinction at work? Is Jaana a companion and Leodon a henchman?

Not all followers are created equal. There's a stark difference between the essentially cutout NPCs one can recruit at the local tavern in some games — who are barely conversational and serve little purpose other than to be dragon fodder — and the complex, dynamic personalities of followers whose trust you must earn, and who draw you into their story even as they become part of yours.

Outtro: Ultima VI Gates of Creation by OC ReMix

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