Friday Favourite: The Spoils of War

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on July 19, 2013

On Friday we comb through our extensive archives to find an older article that we feel deserves another look. From March 26, 2009, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: The Spoils of War.

When the fighting ends and the dust settles, it’s time to look at the spoils of war. How will your PC claim his fare share of the reward when the war ends? Your character’s motives for fighting will be the best guide for the DM when he decides how to reward the players.

But before anyone gets to claim the spoils of war, let’s quickly look at how the PCs got here in the first place.


There are many reasons for two factions to go to war. It could be something that seems trivial, like a scorned lover, or it could be something momentous, like a desire to free suppressed people from the rule of an evil tyrant. The longer a war wages on, the more diluted the true motives become. After years or generations of war it’s likely that the war wages on simply because no one remembers life any other way.

The Role of the PCs

Just because there’s a war raging on doesn’t mean that the PCs need to be on the front lines or even in the conflict. Your campaign will be very different depending on how involved the players are in the war. If your campaign takes place after the war is over, it is important to determine what role, if any, the PCs had in it.


The war is over! Who won? Did they accomplish what they originally set out to do, or was the original goal forgotten? Does it even make sense to claim the original prize now that the fighting is over? The people who fought need to know that the fighting was for something, so it’s time to examine the potential rewards.



A border was in dispute. One country wanted more land and was willing to fight to redraw that border. When the war ended the border is redrawn. New borders may result in existing villages or towns falling under the flag of a new country.

New borders may also result in mines, forests, or other natural resources falling under new ownership. How will the inhabitants of the forest feel when they learn about this? Will they even care? Will they choose to go to war to defend their forest? Or maybe they allied themselves with one side or another in exchange for sovereignty or some other pact.

National pride is a strong motivator. It’s likely that many patriots fought and died in the war. How do people from the loosing side react when they learn their homes are no longer part of the same country today as they were yesterday? Again, this will have a lot to do with the original motives for the conflict. If the people were under the rule of a merciless tyrant, then any liberator will be welcomed, at least in the short term. But what if they went from being free people to second-class citizens because of their nationality?

Maps were constantly redrawn throughout history. What seems like a just reward in the initial days following the war may end up a target for a future conflict.


This probably translates to cold hard cash. But it can also include fine goods, art objects and magical items. Don’t underestimate the ever-increasing value for goods that are now irreplaceable. If a country has fallen, what kind of goods and services did they previous provide that will never be produced again? What will people pay for those goods and services as they become more and more rare? Something as simple as a bottle of spirits can become priceless if the ingredients used to create it were forever destroyed during the war.


Many cultures throughout history took slaves as the spoils of war. It’s reasonable to assume that some societies in your D&D fantasy setting may also take slaves. How will the PCs react to this practice? Did they come from a country in which slavery is acceptable? If so, there’s no debate about whether or not this practice is right or wrong. It may make for interesting role-playing since it requires players to separate their true personal feelings from the indifference of their character.


The final reward that comes from war is power. The fighting has allowed for the truly great to rise to the top and attain positions of power. Military rank, political office, leader of a new faith, popular humanitarian and war hero are all examples of positions of power that some of the PCs may have attained during the war. Now it’s up to them on how to use these rewards to their best advantage.

What other rewards may influence your campaign or the PCs themselves? How generous should the DM be with rewards?

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1 Joe July 19, 2013 at 9:56 am

I’ve found that, unless they were on the front lines for the final battle, the overall results of a completed war are sometimes out of the league of players. When I’ve run war scenarios, I’ve tried to focus on smaller, strategic victories with set rewards that will clearly benefit their military side (take the hill, slay those catapulters, steal that siege engine, sabotage that supply depot, rescue those pinned-down soldiers, etc). That way, in addition to the normal magic items they find, the party feels like they’ve contributed significantly to the war effort, but the overall questions like “who really wins in war?” and “how will the social structure of this region change now?” are things PCs can pursue, but aren’t forced down their throats. And if they fail, the whole war doesn’t fall apart just because their efforts were not successful.

Of course, if it’s a war to defend a nation from invading undead, or to invade the 9 hells to recover a god’s ancient artifact, then all bets are off… because clearly failure will be disastrous. But those are the kind of epic scenarios that I try to save for epic levels of play, when the players are at a point where it feels appropriate for their one small band to be the deciding factor in a massive war, deciding the fate of nations, defeating whole armies of enemies.

I think it comes down to who the foe is. If it’s a decidedly “evil” or “unnatural” enemy that seeks to destroy, then we go epic. If it’s other mortals with the same mixed motivations that all sides have in normal wars, then I tend to skew towards smaller skirmish victories.

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