D&D 5e: Loyalty Track 4

I’m always interested in new condition tracks, and in this post I’m proposing a Loyalty track. This modular rule is for two kinds of campaigns. The first is the deep old school, where a small number of PCs lead one or more NPCs each for dungeon delves (and the NPCs can be reasonably assumed to die like Star Trek redshirts). The second is a more experimental model, where one PC is openly acknowledged as the “main” character of the story arc or whole campaign. I haven’t played either style, to be clear.

Alternate Threat Tracks | Companion NPCs

Large-Group Styles

Discussions of old-school dungeon-crawling styles often describe the PCs – always low-level, except in Gygax’s own games – leading multiple NPC hirelings into the dungeon. I get the impression that interaction with those NPCs becomes a significant part of play, or if it doesn’t, it really should. After all, the hirelings are even more schlubby and ill-equipped for the dangers ahead than the 1st- or 2nd-level PCs who hired them!

For this style, I’m explicitly assuming that we’re talking about multiple PCs played by separate players (at least 2, maybe more… maybe a lot more, from some accounts). If you’re talking about a single-player game where the player controls one character and leads a team of NPCs (an unconventional but valid style), you want to use the second Loyalty model, below.

Each PC’s collection of hirelings has a Loyalty stat that represents their collective morale and loyalty. The point here is to avoid Loyalty being fiddly, with a lot of modifiers.


Loyalty Level Effect
0 Morale is catastrophically low. At the end of a long rest in a non-hostile city or the wilderness, roll a DC 15 Charisma check. On a failure, 20% of your hirelings have departed. If you fail this check by 5 or more, the departing hirelings have relieved you of treasure equal to twice their contracted payment. If you succeed, Loyalty increases to 1.

You also have the drawbacks described for Loyalty 1.

1 Morale is poor. When one of your hirelings dies, roll a DC 14 Charisma saving throw. On a failure, all of your hirelings who see the death take the Dodge action on their next turn.

Hirelings refuse obviously dangerous or costly actions unless you succeed a DC 14 Charisma (Deception, Intimidation, or Persuasion) check.

2 Morale is average. Your hirelings refuse obviously dangerous or costly actions unless you succeed a DC 13 Charisma (Deception, Intimidation, or Persuasion) check.
3 Morale is high. When one of your hirelings dies, roll a DC 12 Charisma saving throw. On a success, all of your hirelings who see the death lose the charmed and frightened conditions, unless you are the source of the effect.

Your hirelings accept dangerous or costly actions automatically. They refuse obviously suicidal or extremely costly actions unless you succeed a DC 15 Charisma (Deception, Intimidation, or Persuasion) check.

4 Morale is very high. When your hirelings finish a long rest, they gain temporary hit points equal to their Loyalty level + your Charisma modifier. During a long rest, your hirelings add your Charisma modifier (minimum +1) to their Wisdom (Perception) checks and passive Perception scores.

You also gain the benefits described for Loyalty 3.

5 Morale is fanatical. When you would take damage from an attack and one of your hirelings is adjacent to you,
the hireling takes the damage instead.You also gain the benefits described for Loyalty 3 and 4.

Gain Loyalty when:

  • you award each of your hirelings bonus pay equal to their base pay
  • you promise pay raises equal to 100% of their current pay
  • you award any hireling a non-cursed magic item
  • you complete a goal that matters to them personally, such as defending their homes
  • you win a battle against unfavorable odds
  • you expend Inspiration to increase Loyalty

Keep in mind that pay can take forms other than coin and gems; increased rations, improved gear, preferable lodgings, and providing them with entertainment could all take the place of pay.

Lose Loyalty when:

  • you add new hirelings equal to or greater than your current number of hirelings (this cannot push Loyalty below 1)
  • your group of hirelings suffers casualties equal to 20% of their number
  • your hirelings lose confidence in your ability or willingness to pay them

These lists are deliberately not exhaustive; Loyalty should follow the narrative. When in doubt about whether an event should affect Loyalty, a Charisma check can improve Loyalty and a Charisma saving throw can prevent a loss of Loyalty.

New hires typically have Loyalty 2. If your new hires (hirelings who have not yet completed one adventure, or one non-adventuring month, with you) are less than 20% of your total, they do not affect overall Loyalty. Otherwise, your new Loyalty is the average Loyalty of each individual hireling, rounded down.


Lead and Supporting PCs

The idea of this style is to imitate the structure of narrative-driven video games, such as Mass EffectPillars of EternityTyranny, or Dragon Age. There’s one main character, while the rest of the players agree to play supporting PCs. This doesn’t give the main character freedom to bark orders at the supporting characters, but in general, their choices should carry the greatest weight. On the other hand, they know in advance – out-of-character and possibly in-character – that one of their primary goals in the campaign is earning the loyalty of the supporting characters, who have their own aims (some of which may be in conflict). Depending on the game, this may go as far as keeping them from killing each other.

Now, there are going to be a lot of players who aren’t okay with knowing that they aren’t the main character in the narrative. Others won’t want the pressure of being the main character, or won’t be able to commit to attending every game. This definitely isn’t for everyone! That’s fine. On the other hand, if you’ve wanted to play around with more intra-party conflict as part of your roleplay, the lead character is a kind of safety net to justify characters who hate each other (but are loyal to the lead) continuing to adventure together. (Barik and Verse in Tyranny, for example.)

Ideally, supporting players should slightly exaggerate the effect that the lead’s choices have on their own character development. During character creation, try to imagine at least three different potential character arcs, and each time the lead character makes a decision, consider which of those arcs it pushes your character toward.

This model for the Loyalty track also works if you’re playing a one-to-one game, where the player is Commander Shepard and the rest of the Normandy’s crew are NPCs. In this case, they’re all important enough to justify the extra bookkeeping load on the player or the DM, and they’re not played to be disposable (unless you’re really into using the bad decision pistol. Dagger. Whatever.)

Every character except the lead has a Loyalty value. At the start of play, supporting characters have a Loyalty of 3, while supporting characters who join the campaign later or replace characters who die have a Loyalty of 2.


Loyalty Level Effect
0 Conflict is high. While within 10 feet of the lead or other party members you strongly oppose, you can’t benefit from temporary hit points or advantage on attack rolls.

You also suffer the drawback listed for Loyalty 1.

1 Friction is common. You roll Charisma checks with disadvantage, as does the lead character while you are within 10 feet of them.
2 Friction is rare, but there’s no strong bond either. When you use the Dodge action while adjacent to the lead character, you can use your reaction to grant the lead character resistance against one source of bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing damage.
3 You have a solid bond of friendship. While the lead character is adjacent to you, you regain additional hit points equal to your Loyalty score when you regain hit points from any source, and a revivify spell requires a diamond of half the normal value.
4 You have a friendship that can endure serious trials. As an action, you can end the charmed or frightened conditions on the lead character. You can use this feature once, and regain use of it when you finish a short or long rest. The lead character also gains this feature.

You also gain the benefits described for Loyalty 3.

5 You have no closer or truer friend. When you start your turn adjacent to the lead character and no other characters, you gain temporary hit points equal to your Loyalty score + the lead character’s Charisma modifier (minimum +1). When the lead character starts their turn adjacent to you, and other characters adjacent to them have a Loyalty of 4 or higher, the lead character gains temporary hit points equal to 2 per character with Loyalty 4 or higher.

You also gain the benefits described for Loyalty 3 and 4.

Gain Loyalty when:

  • the lead character takes your advice over that of your rival within the party
  • the lead character grants you an exorbitant reward
  • the party completes one of your personal goals (you know, Loyalty Missions)
  • you have been adventuring with the lead character for a year of in-game time (cannot increase Loyalty above 4)
  • conflict with a rival within the party is amicably resolved
  • ignore a loss of Loyalty if the lead character expends Inspiration

Lose Loyalty when:

  • the lead character mistreats you or rejects your advice in favor of a rival
  • the lead character refuses a chance to complete one of your personal goals
  • the first time a rival within the party has Loyalty 5
  • the first time you gain a rival within the party

As before, the gain and loss conditions are by no means intended to be exhaustive. More so than with hireling Loyalty, one of the core campaign goals is for the lead character to build up to Loyalty 4 or 5 with every supporting character, possibly resolving rivalries and always, always completing all of the supporting characters’ personal stories. Really, once the lead character has helped you with your personal story, your Loyalty probably can’t fall below 2 for anything short of open violence against you. (Dragon Age‘s character-removing consequences notwithstanding.)

In the campaign’s climactic arc, set up a series of Loyalty checks – that is, to succeed or gain advantage in some task, the characters need to roll d20 + their Loyalty score against DC… let’s say 10 or 15. To steal a page from Robin Laws’s Gumshoe One-to-One, try a rules variant where the lead character cannot stay dead until the end of the campaign – in much the same way that you’d just reload a video game, the whole campaign just isn’t interesting if the lead character dies. After fighting the final boss or doing whatever other horrible thing you have to do, the surviving supporting characters have a chance to prevent the lead character from dying from (wounds, being plunged into a magical abyss, whatever), so in addition to the very useful buffs, Loyalty also determines whether you get a happy ending or a noble sacrifice. (Season to taste.)

Finally, consider running medium-length arcs, changing out which character is the lead when you finish one arc and begin the next. My hope is that a lot more players would be interested in this model if they felt confident that they’d not only get interesting personal stories when someone else was the lead, but they would also get their own story arc in the spotlight.

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4 thoughts on “D&D 5e: Loyalty Track

  • Ray

    I love everything about this! I see it pairing very well with your prior work on the scholar, torchbearer, and other supporting NPCs. On the support PCs front, I think this may be a viable solution to some of the hurdles DMs face when running an arc for only a few PCs. Probably that could work as a hybrid of both concepts. I see a couple ways to go about it. First, suppose the three PCs are Fey or Fey captives tasked with their own personal wild hunts. In the former case, they are probably slightly at odds but putting Fey pride aside for the moment recognize that they need assistance. Fey duty and honor would bind them (with room for mischief of course) to aid the others after their task is done. In the latter scenario, the PCs as captives must work together to win their freedom from the Feywild, but of course they will be offered temptations for betrayal along the way. In a completely different use case, I could see this as a means for 2-3 PCs managing a bandit gang or small mercenary band. Personally, I think much more fun could be had with the former. So yeah…I really like this! Might playtest it some with these ideas if that’s okay by you.

      • Ray

        I have seen it. I was thinking something less sinister though. Perhaps the PCs offended a high ranking court member and are compelled to undertake the wild hunt to restore them to favor.

        I will definitely share test results, but don’t get too excited. My D&D groups are both stalled due to life and other such things as of late.

        • Brandes Stoddard Post author

          Sure, you’d definitely want to change up the tone if you’re putting PCs in the role of the huntmasters. =)

          Wishing you well for more gaming in 2018.