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creativehum’s thread about ransoms got me thinking, and I’ve been looking into the practice of ransom during the Middle Ages.  Nothing very dramatic — basically, what I could read online.  But some stuff that a GM might use in a Pendragon game:-

- In some games, ransom might not exist in the Uther period.  Background: it’s not as if the Middle Ages was the first time that anyone ever thought, “Hang on, we could get something for this guy, maybe?”  What makes the medieval period different is that noblemen could *expect* to be ransomed, that it was institutionalized as a standard practice.

There are basically two theories about when this came about.  The first, which seems to be the more accepted one, puts it in northern France (in the modern sense of northern France, inc. Normandy) in the 10th and 11th centuries, and connects it to the development of the chivalric ethos.  The second doesn’t see it as really becoming a standard expectation until the 12th century, and sees it as emerging from adoption of the Muslim practice of ransom in the context of the Crusades.

Now, on the Cymri=Anglo-Normans model, there’s no doubt that, following theory 1, having ransom already there in the Uther period makes sense.  But what if you *really* want to have Arthur be responsible for introducing chivalric ideas?  If so, you might think about ransom only becoming normal as a new practice that Arthur introduces as part of his treatment of the rebels in 510.  (Note: not saying that’s better, more consistent, or anything like that.  It’s just an option if you want to paint Arthur in particularly chivalrous colors.)

-I’d definitely think about taking sergeants off the list for earlier periods.  Ransom for commoners only becomes normal in the Hundred Years War (=the Tournament Period), and it suits the game to have this be a development that happens during Arthur’s reign.

- The game has very standardized ransoms, and to the extent that it suggests that they might vary, it suggests that proud captives might offer more.  In fact, there was a lot of room for the captor to demand as much as he thought he could get.   Families could be, and were, ruined by paying ransoms.  Payments were often in installments.  The entire thing was a question of negotiations, and there were very often documents giving the agreed terms.  

By the later Middle Ages, disputes over ransoms can be litigated — it is very possible for a captor to claim that they haven’t received a promised ransom when they have.  Story hook: an unscrupulous captor arranges the theft of the letters of obligation giving the terms of the ransom agreement, and the former captive can no longer prove that they have paid in full.  

More interestingly, though, a ransom did not have to be in money.  One could, for instance, demand that the ransomed captive demolish his castle.  This is an area that one could exploit for the game.   An obvious one is the ransom as quest hook: the captor demands that the captive or his friends achieve some “impossible” task as the ransom.  

-There is, however, an incentive for the captor not to demand too much and reach an agreement quickly — maintaining noble captives appropriately could be *hellishly* expensive.  One could do a weird skewed variant on the Presumptuous Praetor adventure with a captive nobleman who’s dragging out negotiations for his ransom, and in the meantime your income is just draining away...

- It was expected that noble captives in external wars would be ransomed, and there should be some Honour loss for not following the custom.  But this did not apply to rebels, who were often ransomed but were not thought of as having the right to expect it.  It is often hard for modern historians to disentangle ransoms from fines in medieval England, because an awful lot of the evidence pertains to rebels, whose ransoms might contain an additional (but not explicitly quantified) punitive element.  But it can be kept in mind for Generous, Merciful, and Forgiving checks that there is no perceived obligation to ransom some captives at all.  

-The king of England was heavily involved in ransoms, from as early as the time of William the Conqueror, and important captives are supposed to be turned over to him, although he might generously give them back to their original captor.  Ransoms also fell into the category of gains of which the king eventually (later 14th century) took a cut (1/9 - one-third to your captain, and then a third of that to the king).  The king of France is different, incidentally.

- From about the beginning of the fourteenth century, ransoms were hereditable.   I.e., if you owe a ransom to someone, and he dies, then you owe a ransom to his heir — especially liable to happen where the ransom was being paid in installments.  Prior to that, they were apparently intransmissible — which is an obvious adventure seed, with someone clandestinely arranging the murder of their captor to avoid paying the ransom, or being falsely accused of murder because the desire to get out of paying a ransom gives them a motive.  

Happy to be corrected by someone who is more knowledgeable about the history than I am.

Edited by Voord 99
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You forgot the obvious "I do not ask for any ransom, so I can keep you forever in some jail, because I hate your family!". Another great hook for a missing brother 😉

I do not play enough with ransoms in my game. Ransoms could take years to be collected.

 

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One thing I often do, especially if I don't want to bother with the logistics of the ransom, is to have the PKs give their ransomable captives to their liege. The liege pays a 50% "captor's fee", and then arranges for the ransom, keeping the other 50% himself. The PKs get the money almost right away, but it is just 50%, which helps to 'buffer' the impact that the ransoms can have, especially at a higher than vassal knight level.

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Posted (edited)
On 3/18/2021 at 4:52 AM, Tizun Thane said:

You forgot the obvious "I do not ask for any ransom, so I can keep you forever in some jail, because I hate your family!". Another great hook for a missing brother 😉

 

That’s actually what the bit about there being a difference in wars with external enemies and rebels was about, and you taking an Honour loss in the case of the former but not the latter.  It should be a big Honour loss, too — it was viewed as one of the most horrific things you could do in war to refuse to ransom a nobleman (assuming he wasn’t a rebel), because it violated the basic understood agreement that gave every noble a special privileged position.   But if you can take the Honour loss, go ahead... 

You should also suffer an Honour loss for not treating a non-noble captive with respect, which is where it really can be a money sink not just to release them on parole in return for them agreeing to pay you.  Another story hook: a captive dies of natural causes (or were they...), but you are accused of having mistreated them, leading to their death, and suffer an Honour loss unless you can find a way to prove that you treated them with all due respect.
 

On 3/18/2021 at 5:04 AM, Morien said:

One thing I often do, especially if I don't want to bother with the logistics of the ransom, is to have the PKs give their ransomable captives to their liege. The liege pays a 50% "captor's fee", and then arranges for the ransom, keeping the other 50% himself. The PKs get the money almost right away, but it is just 50%, which helps to 'buffer' the impact that the ransoms can have, especially at a higher than vassal knight level.

Lords should routinely claim a share if we’re going to be historically accurate (which we don’t have to be, of course), although the amount varied greatly in time and place.  

And if the prisoner is particularly important (= the really lucrative ones), there’s a case for saying that they go to the king by prescriptive right, and while the king is expected to reward their captor, that reward will not amount to the full ransom of the prisoner.   (This legal position is arguably assumed in the case of Octa in the GPC, and while it’s complicated by the fact that Saxons don’t recognize the practice of ransom, that doesn’t directly affect the legal relationship between Uther and the player knights.)  

That being said, I don’t worry too much about PKs accumulating money, because I can just give them Selfish checks, if they don’t give it away as gifts, as they are supposed to. 🙂  One of my players has been very lucky, and the main thing it’s enabled him to do is be noble and generous by offering to help out the other player, who has been much less lucky.

Edited by Voord 99
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1 hour ago, Voord 99 said:

That’s actually what the bit about there being a difference in wars with external enemies and rebels was about, and you taking an Honour loss in the case of the former but not the latter.

I am not sure there is  an honor loss. After all, you only loss 1 honor point if you killed the man in the field. From my understanding, it was a way to neutralize a man without any execution, waiting he dies on his own "naturally". Vengeful, sure! Cruel, maybe, but honor loss? I don't know.

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Posted (edited)
44 minutes ago, Tizun Thane said:

I am not sure there is  an honor loss. After all, you only loss 1 honor point if you killed the man in the field. From my understanding, it was a way to neutralize a man without any execution, waiting he dies on his own "naturally". Vengeful, sure! Cruel, maybe, but honor loss? I don't know.

“To refuse ransom to a prisoner captured in warfare with an external enemy — in contrast to situations of rebellion — was regarded as among the most heinous of atrocities in war, for it negated the crucial assumption that, notwithstanding the price demanded, a captured nobleman could ultimately purchase his freedom.” Matthew Strickland (1996), War and Chivalry: The Conduct and Perception of War in England and Normandy, 1066-1217, p 199. 

Of course, people in reality did things that were dishonourable all the time for pragmatic reasons, and there absolutely are instances of people refusing to ransom captives and getting away with it, such as if the captive was a very dangerous enemy.  William Rufus held Helias de Maine for that reason — although that’s complicated by the duke of Normandy’s claim on Maine, which probably would allow Rufus at least to say that this so-called count of Maine was a rebel.  In the real world, no-one expected people entirely to switch off their brains and do stupid things just to follow the rules.  (There are also instances of kings showily releasing captives with no ransom at all, for entirely pragmatic reasons.)  

But I’d say that all things being equal, refusing to ransom a captive entirely after you have accepted his surrender should default to a significant loss, equivalent to breaking an oath.   In many cases, it will be breaking an oath, as the ransom will have been agreed as part of the surrender.  

One thing is, though, that release seems often to have happened after the war was over — I think it’s doubtful that one would suffer any Honour loss for holding a prisoner until then.  And if you can make a case that they’re a rebel, even if your claim is disputed, you probably have quite a lot of freedom to keep them indefinitely, or, indeed kill them, blind them, etc.

Edited by Voord 99
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