It's been a while since the last update, so I thought it's time to change that.
Please welcome 1.8.6, which should prompt you to perform a hard refresh via Ctrl+F5 shortly, featuring the following changes:
It is now possible to equip any of your henchmen (including every single member of your settlement population) using the "Equip" option (in the same window where the "Talk" button appears usually). Please note that if you currently have any henchmen/settlers in your group you will have to dismiss them and re-hire again for the new feature to activate.
The appearance of NPCs equipped in new items will not change, but the characters will benefit from armour, damage and elemental resistance bonuses. Additionally, equipping them with elemental weapons will switch their melee damage type as well (in the same way this affects players).
It is not possible to force NPCs use ranged weapons if they don't possess any relevant abilities (e.g. Kerthemon the Smith will not shoot bows or crossbows and can only benefit from melee weapons).
It is not possible for NPCs to equip secondary weapons, but you can equip trinkets and both rings.
You will now see that each NPC has their own unique combination of Strength, Dexterity and Intellect growing with each level.
Every NPC chooses their own build, so their numbers will vary. However, certain characters are predisposed to certain builds and will distribute their attribute points accordingly (e.g. Kerthemon will spend most of his points on Strength).
NPC Equipment window only displays the base attributes of this character (without enchantments), as these are used to meet item requirements.
However, any items with attribute enchantments (e.g. bonus to strength) still work in combat and will increase that character's damage output.
Non-combat characters (e.g. Morton the Cook) can still be equipped, but you will not see their character model in the equipment preview window.
Consider them as "extra inventories", since they can't really use any armour or weapons equipped.
Any equipped items are permanent and will remain with this character indefinitely (you can dismiss and re-hire all characters without losing their equipment). However, please remember that if you upset one of your followers (e.g. because your settlement's dwellers are unhappy about your rule) and they decide to leave all of the equipped items will leave with them; a settler that is mad at you will not bother returning your gifts back to you.
Please let me know if you have any questions and I hope that this update makes your companion travels a bit more diverse (and unwanted loot - more useful)!