rating: 0+x

Basic Information

A subtype of The Grotesque the henchfreak is a deformed, insane or otherwise abnormal retainer in the service of a villain. Renfield is henchfreak to Dracula for example, and Igor to the cinematic Doctor Frankenstein. In traditional folk tales, witches and wizards also seem to be served by all manner of dwarves (clearly not modern fantasy tolkienesque dwarves) and "sideshow freaks".

Note that in a traditional society "freaks" may include hermaphrodites and other gender-queer individuals, who have also been considered good candidates for the role of shaman in many cultures.

Commonly overlaps with tropes and characters such as The Igor, The Renfield, Gentle Giant and Reluctant Monster.

It's worth noting that "the good guys" will rarely have anyone like this on the staff in traditional fiction. Anyone in the heroes employ with a disability usually be a crippled veteran or something. In the few cases in fiction where a hero does break this rule it's very common for the anomalous employee to promptly betray them. The hero may toss a coin to a crippled beggar, but he won't usually give him a job. In a very 'edgy' medieval romance, an atoner or a particularly saintly holy man may go and tend to lepers but otherwise … ugly-equals-evil is a powerful trope that still rarely gets subverted even in today's markets.


1. Merlin's tribe of freaks living on the Tor in Bernard Cornwall's Warlord cycle - Merlin's motives are never entirely clear, but seem to be a mixed bag of compassion, amusement and collecting of the sacred.

Game and Story Use

This is usually a outing for the beautiful-equals-good/ugly-equals-evil trope or meme, but there's plenty more that can be done with it:

  • Obviously the villain is an outsider - "respectable" people won't take jobs in his employment, so he's forced to hire the desperate who can't get work anywhere else - this gives PCs an angle to subvert the henchfreak with an offer of a decent life elsewhere.
  • More subversively the villain - an outsider - attracts fellow outcasts. The henchfreak may or may not be cast out for a good reason, but the villain has accepted them and may be the first person to show them some fellow feeling in a long time.
  • More subversively still, the villain is a villain because they don't subscribe to conventional mores - they either don't notice that the henchfreak is deformed, or don't subscribe to the prejudice that it indicates some kind of spiritual corruption (or don't care). They may also be smart enough to realize that some things thought to be contagious (like madness, cancer and leprosy) generally aren't, and are prepared to associate with sufferers accordingly.
  • The villain has warped ideas of beauty - this may vary from sadistic amusement at watching his collection of freaks limp about, through a genuinely twisted asthetic to full blown teratophilia.
  • The villain likes having co-dependent followers with nowhere to flee to.
  • The villain isn't monolithically evil and is capable of showing compassion, particularly to fellow outcasts (as above). Alternatively the mad or deformed may be sacred to some deviant (?chaotic?) deity that the villain venerates.
  • The villain has collected the freaks to study - this works particularly well for mad scientists (or wizards set in the same role) - who are interested in the form and structure of the body. They may have made some of the freaks better (or worse - or even created them) by surgery or magic (or both) and some may encourage their collection to breed so that they can study the heredity of deformity. This motive also suits those who collect mad people in the hope of divining oracles from their ranting.
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License