Over at Grognardia the other day Jamie Mal posted a cool pic of some hireling miniatures, as a way of demonstrating how much things have changed since the good ol' days. Used to be those little redshirts were considered indispensable by many serious players. Since '99 they seem to have been left mostly by the wayside. I think power creep is mostly to blame. When a 1st level mage now has a boatload of hitpoint and crazy powers, what good is a 1 hit point minion going to do him? Of course, the general de-emphasis of the non-fighty parts of dungeoneering also hurts the henchman cause.
Back when overland strategy and logisitcs we more important you needed people just to carry stuff, relay messages, and guard the horses. When GMing campaigns I generally try to encourage hirelings by often assuming that the redshirts were competent in these simple, non-glorious tasks. Therefore hirelings existed in my games primarily as a way of allowing the PCs to not sweat the small stuff. Usually.
(And then there was that one time where Baron Phostarius was petrified deep down in the Dungeon of Doom and it was up to his stalwart henchmen to carry his stony ass back to town. You know your henchies have been treated well when do that and then they pony up the cost of a stone to flesh out of their own pocket.)
Anyway, I started this post not actually meaning to talk about henchmen and such, but rather to show off a couple of pictures. Seeing the Grenadier hireling figures reminded me of how much I liked some of their old box art. So I went over to the same place James probably got his pic, Stuff of Legends, the premier place were grown men can go to wax nostalgic over tiny lumps of lead shaped like troglodytes. Seriously, you should go check that joint out.
Anyway, here are the pics I've been meaning to show you. Feel free to click for a bigger version.
One of the things I love about these pieces is the way the dungeon itself is almost a character. There's danger all around and the party is doing its best to cope with that. They're looking every which way, they got torches handy, but the darkness is all around them.
Also that wizard in red is totally rad.