Sunday, January 5, 2014


I think every adventurer expects looting. Looting is how adventurers make their money. And yet in modern times, looting is considered dishonorable. So I’m always torn. Is looting moral or immoral?

First, I will insist that it depends on the culture. So everything said here is perception - there is no reality! Having given my disclaimer, I know several men, each of whom I respect wholeheartedly, who happened to come home from WWII with things that he didn’t exactly have issued to him. There may be a katana (modern infantry officer’s weapon, not some ancient work of art) I know of, and a gorgeous SS Officer’s luger. (Of course these were from different men.) So were these guys in the wrong? Definitely if you read the modern codes of conduct. It may be decades of playing FRPGs, but I think there is a line of morality. Taking something off a dead foe is one thing; taking something from a scared civilian family is another. Further - trading with a conquered foe is really OK, even if he’s selling his equipment in order to buy food.

Was it always morally questionable? Absolutely not! Caesar intentionally hit targets rich in loot in order to keep his troops happy (and prosperous). Not only did they loot the valuables that they came upon, they tied up the people and sold them to the slavers. The taking of slaves is one of the biggest forms of loot, and yet something I haven’t seen anyone do in any style of modern game. I guess it’s just too politically incorrect to even think of enslaving someone for profit - but again, I think you need to consider the culture.

One of the biggest questions I have, and I don’t really know the answer, is what you do to make sure the officers or nobles get their cut. I think they just get to wander the camp and anything big enough to catch their attention becomes theirs. There are probably noble houses or palaces that are off limits to the rank and file and only get to be looted by the bosses, who then give the things they don’t want to the soldiers who helped them loot the really good stuff. After all, if the noble officer takes a marble statue and a golden statuette, he would probably be willing to give his brute squad the solid silverware, which is probably much better than the rank and file got.

Does it matter? I think as a world builder, you need to establish what is considered acceptable behavior. Is it OK to loot civilians? Is it OK to capture and sell slaves? Is it OK to loot temples? That one got a lot of folks in trouble in the ancient world. Once you determine what is allowed, you have to establish the buyers for this stuff. If looting is not allowed, then there would still be a black market. This won’t get the looters anywhere near as much as they have gotten, but it’s still probably worthwhile. You also have to think it through. If looting of enemies is not allowed - what happens to all their stuff? Are they buried in it? Does the “army” take it? and if so, what do they do with it? Leave it in the field, and there will be looters, maybe the dregs of society, but someone is going to be willing to try and make a buck off of it. Ah, the unintended consequences of laws trying to mandate morality!

1 comment:

  1. I was thinking about this recently in a town, known for its complex legal wrangling, where there is a provincial magistrate, local aldermen, prominent trade guild, strong famalial heirarchy, as well as a superceding provincial Law and then a lesser local set of by-laws. Not to mention the Temple Laws, which do have influence; but because the temple actually does what it should; i.e. worship, healing, sanctuary, orphans, etc...they have no money or influence.

    The point I am making is that I had to think about how all of this affected my Guild of Hostile Ventures, a.k.a. the Adventurer's Guild, but with a euphemistic name. How would it work. This town wouldn't want a bunch of thieving mercs laying about waiting to be hired by the top families to scirmish...but there certainly are plenty of ancient tombs and ruins in provincially claimed land that no one "owns" save the various sub-human gobliny types that inhabit them.

    I can see the Guild of Hostile Ventures as a place where a nobleman(woman) could spare their own riders and troops whom own them allegiance by hiring the Guild to contract out such an operation as the removal of bandits from a ruin on their land, in trade for a cut of the loot and any surviving bandits to sell to the mines. All items that had been stolen from merchants and locals would go to the noble who (hopefully) would return them. And then the leftover (if any) could profit the noble. Perhaps a group of merchants from a recently robbed caravan would also throw in their financial support with the noble (or have convinced him or her to do so with them) in the hopes of recovering more than what they spend on the Hostile Venture.

    Anyway, the question of the nobles and officers getting their "cut" might be sending along an (annoying hopefully for the players!) ambassador or squire or clerk, whatever, maybe even a cleric who turns out to be of use, to oversee what gets retrived and how. This could also be done by the Guild itself.

    As I read your article I also thought of other Guilds, i.e. the Wooler's Guild, who may have a bunch of angry farmers who are having their sheep killed off (a few / night) by "someone" presumably from the nearby town's competing Wooler's Guild, but maybe not...could be a Wool Merchant looking to shake up the market the Wooler's Guild contracts the problem out to the Guild of Hostile Ventures to look into the problem; perhaps because they know that appealing to the local or provincial government could cause a whole lot of bluster and legal wrangling but little action, and no help for the shepherds...a good little not-so-cut-and-dry case for young adventurers. The Guild may have been hired by the farmers themselves, in exchange for ten acres of rocky hilltop, perhaps, and twenty days labour each...whatever...

    It all makes me think of the article about the presence of the Mob in local protection , as an option to police help. There are many occasions where the Guild's, nobles, or even the local or provincial government's themselves may want to go into the gray zone and avoid bringing certain attention to an issue (or losing their own men, making a false accusation, starting a war) by contracting out to the Guild of Hostile Ventures.

    Thanks for the Food for Thought, B.E.