Of Shares and Silver (Historical Inspiration)

With the capture of the pirate ship last session, one of those old DMing issues cropped up again. See, treasure’s always been a problem in D&D – hell, most of the verbiage that’s not tables in the 1e DMG’s section is about developing discretion with it, and making up “appropriate” treasures. It’s one of those areas where Gary’s personal experiences and historical knowledge made certain types of adjucation easy.. but he kinda forgot to mention it to all the newbies out there.

"Pandora" by John William Waterhouse. Public domain.

This is what rolling on the 1e Treasure tables feels like, half the time.

The topic of treasure sizes has been hashed over enough that I’m not addressing it today. There’s another, more pressing problem – what do you do once it’s rolled up? Division seems easy enough, but it can be a Hell of a headache for a GM and the players, especially with the big stuff.

That Class “A” treasure for knocking down a band of Men in the Monster Manual seems huge for PCs, but it isn’t a reward to the players for taking out the camp or ship.

It’s for paying the army it takes.

Think about it – most of the entries in 1e were scaled for stocking hexes or domain level play, not random encounters on the road. To take them out, you usually need an army or at least a band of retainers. Now, most heartbreakers and the main D&D rules vary wildly in their opinions of plunder. But IRL it’s been a thing since the days when an “army” was your cousins and the booty was a couple cows. The historical salaried pay for soldiers was much lower than their actual rates. Plunder was an expected part of their pay. I mean, seriously, would you go to war for the equivalent of about $20 a week? That’s a recipe for desertion and murder. Yes, they were endemic, but knowing that sacking that city over there would pay out in pants, meat, and enough cash to start your own farmstead was a Hell of a motivator. In fact, plunder was so normal, contemporary histories will often extensively remark on “no looting” orders in battles, along with the punishments offered and the general success of the order.

Unfortunately, with widening the scope of booty awards comes the necessity of figuring out who gets what. Now, there are a lot of traditional sharing mechanisms. They were especially important (and handled in much more detail in the literature..) among pirates, but every armed force used them.
Now, I should note that Lamentations already has a booty system, but a) not everyone plays it, and b) I’m a relentless tinkerer.
Here are a few historical examples, which I hope will make fiddling with your game a little easier, and inspire said tweaks.

-Smash and Grab
Can you carry it off? It’s yours. This is what your average rioting civvie is doing, and it’s popular among levied armies or other semi-organized mobs.
Problem is, this doesn’t work in a more structured society. Historically, it led to a lot of murdering and infighting post-battle, so more legalistic/”fair” options popped up almost immediately (either for the division or for the murdering..). If you have to wake up in the morning with the people you’re screwing you tend to treat them a little better in the act, as it were.

-Share and Share Alike
This was a simple split (popular among the more egalitarian revolutionaries and pirates)  and the one most DM’s use – it’s easiest to run with a group of alleged equals. Every man gets a share of equal value, and anything that can’t be split is converted to cash or “bought” with parts of your share. This is implied in the DMG, but contradicted elsewhere. It’s very easy to assign partial shares, however, and the general math is very easy.

-The Thieves’ Bargain, AKA The Pitcairn/Bounty split
A quartermaster is appointed or elected. He divides the booty into shares, then leaves the area, so he can’t see who takes what. He receives what shares are left at the end. A common variation allows each man in order (selected by lots) to take a share, with the quartermaster going last, then anyone entitled to a second share draws lots again for order until all shares are distributed (This means that whomever pulls the most shares also gets the last share left). Another common variation

In the Thieves’ Bargain, everyone gets a number of “whole” shares, rather than half-shares, so the individual shares tend to be smaller. It seems “fairer” to PCs, and offloads some of the work from the GM, plus it tends to increase player investment in the treasures. It does make it harder to “split up” magic items, or other high-value items; historically, they were often diced for – see the description of the Seamless Tunic from the Bible.

-Navy and Military shares
Most militaries had very specific policies, but there were some customary systems. Most of my knowledge is based on the early American and British Naval systems, along with medieval mercenaries and the Roman army; I encourage you to do some more research on your own. Even fishing boats still use a very similar system to the old US Navy divvy.
As with the Thieves’ Bargain, the unit or ship would have a Quartermaster or Paymaster. His primary job would be to issue goods like boots and weaponry, which were usually bought locally with an allowance from the Crown. He would also divide any plunder, but traditionally was not allowed to select the first share. The position was very, very frequently abused, with the QM buying shitty goods (or none at all) and pocketing the allowances, for example. Most armies tried to combat this by instituting particularly brutal penalties for abusive QMs.
There were also issues with lower ranks stealing and hiding loot; the usual penalty was forfeiture of all loot, with flogging, or even death.

In the Navy, prized (captured) ships were sold when they returned to port, or if they still had military value, commissioned and set under the command of the ship’s Lieutenant (necessitating multiple field commissions – 2 new Lieutenants, a Lieutenant of Marines, a new Doctor if possible, a Quartermaster and of course the brevetting to Captain of the old Lieutenant). Cargoes were usually sold and the cash divvied, with the crew having first shot at buying any special items. Prisoners were often enslaved, with any left after replacements (you always lost some in combat and from disease, especially at sea) sold off to middlemen.

The traditional splits varied: usually it was some variation on the following.
Captain/field commander: 3-5 shares, and often pick of the litter.
Lieutenants/officers: 2-3 shares.
Skilled junior officers, such as Doctors or Sailmasters, and non-commisioned officers: 2 shares.
Infantry, Men-at-arms, marines, or any other active combatants: 1 share
Non-combatants: 1/4 to 1/2 shares.
Camp followers, levied Serfs and slaves: nothing.

In a number of cases, you could also be awarded an extra full or partial share.
0 The first man over the wall/on deck in an assault was usually awarded an extra full share (or, more likely, his widow/descendants were). Sometimes this was given to the first survivor over the wall, or to the entire Forlorn  Hope (a slang term for the poor bastards who went through a breach in gates or walls). Used to encourage aggression.
0 Trophies – Bringing back the heads of enemy officers or other leaders. Rewards varied, but the practice was so common that Samurai ettiquette manuals included entire sections on how to clean yourself up, in case your head got taken. After all, it’s your last major social event, gotta be pretty, right? Used to minimize lower-class casualties (kill the officers and you break the army, not the people. Plus it makes it a lot easier to take over). If you just want to encourage slaughter, offer rewards for right ears, thumbs, noses, &c.
0 Pick of the litter – people with multiple shares were often allowed to sacrifice one to jump to the head of the line; if not, the leader of the force traditionally had the right to demand any one share of the loot. This caused some serious friction during the siege of Troy – Agamemnon demanded a specific slave-girl that Achilles had taken, which precipitates the entire last half of the Iliad (and the death of Achilles).
0 The Captain’s Take – In naval battles, the ship’s Captain, Leftenant of Marines, and the Quartermaster were each traditionally awarded the pick of one of the weapons taken before the remaining gear was shared out.
0 Ransom – Defeating a knight and accepting his surrender granted you rights to his arms and horse, which did not count as a share. Often, you had the obligation to take any reasonable offer for their return. In addition, you had the right to keep the Knight prisoner and demand a ransom for his person, or for his body (usually somewhat smaller..) from his fief.
0 Equites – A mounted man was often awarded an additional share for his horse.
0 Sundries – It was common to exempt clothing, food, and other trifles from treasure sharing; you could keep all you could carry, but any weapons or precious items had to be surrendered to the QMs

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1 Comment

  1. Great article!


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