It’s true that retainers are not really present in most of the JRPGs that serve as inspiration for this project, but retainers have become far too important to how I like to run games. In any case, this game is just as much influenced by traditional tabletop fantasy RPGs as it is by the console games, and doctrinal purity regarding either domain is neither desired nor attempted. These rules are heavily informed by my experiences running OD&D online in Pahvelorn over the past year. I think they are really good, and should be easy to bolt on to any trad game or simulacra.
Retainers are sidekicks and support characters. PCs may have up to 1 +CHR retainers. PCs may always hire more NPCs as well, but such NPCs beyond the CHR limit are entirely controlled by the referee and do not use the loyalty system described below. Most retainers found in town are zero level characters, though occasionally a more specialized retainer will be available for hire (availability is determined by the town inventory system).
Zero level retainers have 1 HD (1d6), AC 10, a loyalty score from 1 to 6, and a maintenance cost. The only other details that need to be recorded for retainers are a name and any equipment carried (up to 10 items). Don’t assign ability scores to retainers unless they are promoted to PCs.
From a game perspective, retainers are very useful. In a game where PCs can die, they allow players to keep playing without any “bench time” (by taking over a retainer right away). Also, having a retainer means that you don’t have to start over entirely from scratch if your main PC dies (because a retainer can be promoted to PC).
The influence of a PC over a retainer is measured by a loyalty score. Base loyalty is 1 in 6 +CHR. Each successful adventure increases loyalty by 1, to a max of 5 in 6. Rolling a morale or loyalty check is like a skill check. Whenever you tell a retainer to do something dangerous, you must succeed on a loyalty check. If it goes badly for them, their loyalty will decrease (probably by 1, but maybe more depending on the level of disaster that ensues). If the retainer maintenance cost is not paid during any town turns, a loyalty check must be passed (or the retainer will leave). Even if such a check is passed, loyalty will decrease by 1. If loyalty ever reaches 0 for any reason, the retainer will leave at the first opportunity.
Retainers are always one level behind their employer. Thus, when a first level character becomes a second level, any retainers gain a class and become first level characters. This may be any class, but if the retainer’s new class is not the same class as the PC, special actions may be required (talk to the referee). In the case where a higher level character takes on a zero level retainer, that retainer increases in level by 1 after every session until they are one level behind their employer.
If your main PC dies permanently, you can promote a retainer to PC. To do this, assign ability scores as if creating a new PC, remove the maintenance cost, remove the loyalty score, and create new loyalty scores for all other retainers as if they had just been hired.