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Plunder
"One thing you have not come by on your travels is brighter wits. Here you sit on a field of victory amid the plunder of armies and you wonder how we came by a few well earned comforts."
Merry Brandybuck, The Lord of the Rings

The Heroes may be saving a Damsel in Distress. They may be fighting against The Empire. Being a hero is a hard job. But it has its perks. And one of the biggest is...

PLUNDER!note 

Yes, indeed even our heroes need something to satisfy their sense of mischief and avarice. They need to take joy in depriving their foes. For our heroes make money the old fashioned way: they steal- wait- plunder it. When done by soldiers in a war, this is sometimes called "Spoils of War"note  However, the Geneva convention actually allows for soldiers taking anything neccessary for warfare from the enemy. That is, you can plunder ammunition, guns and fuel (as it allows you to keep on fighting and prevents the enemy from doing so) but you can't steal someone's watch, food or valuables, for example.

Within games, it is like Experience Points (and commonly both used, as well) - a reward from defeating your enemies. The difference may be generally more less certainty in what you may get from your enemies where with Experience Points, it is generally clearly aligned by certain parameters.

Related to this is Pirate Booty which is a treasure hoard gathered by pirates when they do this. Compare Kleptomaniac Hero and Rewarding Vandalism, which are the video game equivalents of this trope. The villainous equivalent is Rape, Pillage, and Burn, where stolen property is not the only offense. As well, the common gaming term of this trope is "loot, lewt, or 13\/\/7".


Examples:

Film
  • Spoofed in the After the End B-Movie Battletruck (aka Warlords of the 21st Century).
    Big Bad (to The Dragon): "Tell the men to Inventory and Requisition."
    The Dragon (to his Mook Lieutenant): "Tell the men to Inventory and Requisition."
    Mook Lieutenant (to everyone else): "LOOT! LOOT!"
  • The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. After defeating Prince Koura, Sinbad has the opportunity to gain a "crown of untold riches". He generously gives it to the facially-disfigured Vizier instead, and the crown restores the Vizier to normal.
  • In Lawrence of Arabia following the storming of Aqaba the Bedouin turn their attentions to plunder. In another incident later, Lawrence explains that this is part of his men's pay. Which of course it was, as they had no other clear reason to care whether they were ruled by Prince Feisal or the Sultan.
  • The Patriot: one of the principal financial motivations for some of the French-Indian war veterans to join Mel Gibson's protagonist was the ability to sell back every English gun or uniform found or recovered.
  • Zulus are shown rifling British dead at Isandhwana in Zulu.
  • Glory had the 54th Regiment's first field mission accompanying a white officer leading African American irregulars. The irregulars prove to be a mere rabble of plunderers and the 54th are disgusted to a man at seeing their robbery of a civilian home, but Col. Shaw is no position to keep his unit from at least taking part in the destruction.
  • Mild case in Gettysburg when Tom Chamberlain gets coffee from "some poor souls who had no more use for it." Lawrence calls it ghoulish, but he drinks it anyway.

Literature
  • Merry Brandybuck: "One thing you have not come by in your travels is brighter wits" (explaining why he and Pippin are feasting amid the ruins of Isengard in The Lord of the Rings).
  • In The Hobbit Bilbo is promised this. As it belonged to the Dwarves in the first place, it was kind of Re-Plunder.
  • Horatio Hornblower:
    • Hornblower never gets as much of this as he likes because he is too busy fighting the war to turn aside to trifles like prize-money. Almost every time he does get any, something keeps him from profiting.
    • True until Flying Colors, at the end of which he receives prize money from the prizes he took in the previous book, plus more from the (re)capture of the Witch of Endor.
  • Jack Aubrey of the Aubrey-Maturin series is more fortunate in the matter of prize money; when he has money problems, they tend to come from unfortunate investments on land.
  • Aiel in The Wheel of Time look forward to plundering wetlander settlements, though they have a strict custom of only taking 20% of what is available.
  • Sharpe
    • The books devote a fair bit of time to the loot and plunder that most of the British, French and Spanish armies get up to (not to mention the army wives, who worry even the badass Richard Sharpe). Of particular note is the looting that occurs at the end of Sharpe's Honour, a real incident where the retreating French baggage train was captured by British soldiers, and Sharpe and Harper (taking the place of some unknown soldiers) captured the Marshal of Vitoria's royal baton and King Joseph Bonaparte's royal jakespot.
    • Sharpe actually gets into trouble in one book because some of the items he and his men took technically did not qualify as legitimate military plunder under the conventions of the time. For political reasons the army cannot just tell the lawyers to go to hell so he is sent to an out-of-the-way outpost till the matter blows over.
    • He does however forbid looting from civilians unless it's that or starve, though that's not for any particular moral reason; it's just that pissing off the local residents will make his job considerably harder than it has to be.
  • One of Rudyard Kipling's "soldier" poems, Loot deals with this:
    Now remember when you're 'ackin' round a gilded Burma god
    That 'is eyes is very often precious stones...
  • Flashman's attempts to have a chapter on foraging and decorating included in the British Army Manual get nowhere.
  • Honor Harrington made a substantial amount in prize money (see Real Life section below) under some of her earlier commands. Even some of the junior officers did fairly well out of more successful anti-piracy operations.
  • In the Malazan Book of the Fallen book The Crippled God a character alarmingly notices that the common soldiers in the Bonehunters army stopped caring about plunder. This signifies that the Badass Army is turning fanatical in their purpose.
  • Citadel (AKA Run Between the Raindrops) by Dale Dye.
    • During the battle of Hue the protagonist (a combat reporter) goes to a camera store to find a Marine smashing up a box camera and complaining that the other soldiers stole all the expensive Japanese cameras. The aghast protagonist points out he just smashed up a Hasselblad worth over a thousand dollars.
    • In another scene, some high-ranking US and Vietnamese officers complain that the Marines stole money from a bank vault and demand a court martial of those responsible. The Marine CO, who's got more sympathy for his men than these people, retrieves the money and claims they 'found' it. The Vietnamese officers promptly divide up the cash among themselves.
  • Defied in Red Storm Rising, when the senior officer of a group of US military personnel stranded in Soviet-occupied Iceland leads his men to an isolated farmhouse to ask for food.
    "Yes, ask. And pay cash. And say, 'Thank you, sir'. Unless you want him on the phone to Ivan ten minutes after we leave."
  • In the backstory to A Brother's Price, the Whistlers sneak into the palace of the Queens of Southland on reconnaissance near the end of the war, and while there they liberate some impressively elegant cutlery, jewelry, and the almost-old-enough-to-marry Prince Alannon in a bathrobe. He was not happy about this, but since the war ended and his mothers, father, and sisters were executed for treason, he made the best of things. And got his new wives to build him a bathhouse.
  • Belisarius Series revels in plunder. Every time he wins a victory(often over arrogant generals who have their own marching Deadly Decadent Court with viands, sex slaves and luxurious tent-palaces)great hoards of plunder are found and when divided ordinary soldiers get enough to set up a small farm or business on retirement. Or knowing soldiers, just to get really, really smashed.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire. Even the notoriously strict King Stannis doesn't try to stop his men from plundering. And a sign of the discipline of the Unsullied slave soldiers is that they have no interest in plunder (being forbidden any private possessions) unless ordered to do so on behalf of their master.
  • In Discworld, watch officer Nobby was in the military, and was infamous for stealing equipment from both sides, sometimes just to make profit and sometimes to make himself look like a member of whichever side was winning.
  • In The Sun Over Breda, Alatriste and his squire Inigo experience the Spanish soldier's life in the Eighty Years' War. The promise of plunder drives many of the soldiers, especially as the Spanish Crown rarely bothers actually paying their wages. However, they're also expected to operate under various rules of conduct and are often denied the right to plunder (especially as the Crown hopes to hold the conquered lands, not just pillage them) and must pay civilians for food. As a result many of the men are on near-starvation rations except for the rare times they're allowed to plunder, and often had to resort to mutiny to get paid.

Live-Action TV
  • Firefly: The crew of Serenity, being more or less space pirates/space bandits, literally live off of plunder (as in, the most valuable plunder is packages of manufactured food, which sells for a high price), though all their plunder comes from the very rich, or people who died before the crew showed up. This exchange near the end of the episode "Ariel" is fairly indicative:
    Wash: How much did we get?
    Mal: Enough to keep us flying.
  • Band of Brothers:
    • The soldiers go through the mansion of a Nazi grandee and find a large supply of expensive wine. After which they solemnly enact an Ancient Military Custom...
    • Later, Major Winters shows his friend Nixon (who has a major drinking problem) Hermann Goering's wine cellar warehouse. The expression on Nixon's face is priceless.
    • Also, Ronald Spiers' collection of silver, and other various characters collecting everything from Hitler's personal photographs to Luger pistols.
  • In The Pacific, a Seabee on Peleliu says he is looking for a Japanese sword to take home. The Marines, who have just been through some very nasty fighting, give him a very dirty look.
  • Game of Thrones: In Daenerys's storyline she goes to Qarth to get ships, but is double crossed by the New King of Qarth Daxos, and the warlock Pyats Pree. After killing the warlock she locks up Daxos in his empty vault, and takes all the gold and jewels in the palace to buy her ship.

Tabletop Games
  • Source Of The Nile: When an explorer wins a fight with natives he can plunder their village but that costs him victory points, reflecting perhaps that folks back home really don't like to think about that part of it.
  • In Chaosium's early Call of Cthulhu adventures the investigators could almost always find some kind of valuable treasure among the Cthulhu Mythos menace's belongings. It's not clear whether this was unconsciously based on Dungeons & Dragons type games or a practical decision due to the investigators' need for money to carry on their work.
  • Shadowrun adventures usually have this trope as well. Even if Mr. Johnson stiffs them on their pay and dead enemies have no money, PCs can at least loot and fence the enemies' equipment. Note that, because of the nature of the setting, this extends to their opponents bodies (and not just cybernetics).
  • Most RPGs (since many of them are spiritually descended from Dungeons & Dragons) have you discover all kinds of money and equipment when going through dungeons.
  • Meanwhile, the 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons book Oriental Adventures discusses how to best avert this trope in parties where one or more of the characters are nobles of some sort (as samurai and most spellcasters are), and as such it would be highly improper for them to handle the dead at all, much less going through a fallen foe's pockets for coin.

Video Games
  • Sid Meier’s Pirates!: Every time a ship is captured, they show this quite deliciously.
  • In a CD-ROM game based on the show Arthur, if one succeeds in finding a treasure chest in the scuba diving minigame, a newspaper article with a picture of Arthur surrounded by the treasure will appear.
  • Borderlands allows you to plunder enemy weapons, grenade mods, and cash.
  • A game play mechanic in Fire Emblem: Thracia 776. Since you get very little money on your own, the best way to get items and weapons are to Capture enemy units, strip them of their possessions and then release them.
  • The average RPG has the gameplay mechanic of "When it's dead, loot it.". The moral implications of robbing the dead rarely come up, because getting cool new stuff is always fun.
    • Though Fallout 2 draws the line at literal Grave Robbing, causing the player to take a hit to their reputation and receive a special negative title.
  • Partially subverted in Elona. Looting the bodies of monsters you kill yourself is OK, but looting dead adventurers' bodies (most have been dead for long) aren't— there is a karma penalty for the latter.
  • Looting is an integral part of Warcraft III: Creatures hostile to all players are found all around the map, and killing them gets you experience, gold and sometimes items. The Orcs even have an upgrade that lets their units gain money by attacking enemy buildings.
  • Pretty much the only reason Wario will ever be interested in doing anything even remotely heroic (that and taking back things that were plundered from him.)

Web Comics

Real Life
  • In Herodotus' Histories:
    • King Croesus is captured by King Cyrus and they watch Croesus' city burn:
    Croesus: What are your men doing?
    Cyrus: Burning your city and taking your treasure.
    Croesus: I have no treasure left. That is now your treasure they are taking.
    • Later on, after the Battle of Salamis, Persian dead were washed ashore for the Greeks to rifle. The Athenian politician Themistocles perhaps thought being a scavenger might lose votes. So he told a companion, "Help yourself, for you are not Themistocles."
  • According to legend, after the Siege of Vienna a local storekeeper came out to watch the soldiers rifling the Turkish camp. One soldier found a bag full of black beans. He almost threw it away in disgust but the storekeeper went up to him and bought it. This was the founding of Vienna's first coffeehouse. Enjoy it folks!
    • On a less legendary and more historically accurate note, the first coffeehouse in Vienna was founded by a Polish noble who fought in the aforementioned Battle of Vienna and took the Turkish coffee supplies as his part of the loot.
  • A variant: Capturing an enemy warship intact netted Royal Navy officers a substantial monetary reward in the Wooden Ships and Iron Men era.
    • Indeed. And a lot of the country estates of Jane Austen's friends were "unwillingly subsidized " by France.
    • Though it wasn't quite a "reward". The Navy bought captured ships from the ships' crews that captured them, and the ships' crew split the money, according to ancient custom. It was cheaper and quicker for the Navy to get ships that way than to have them built.
  • One book described Israel as "The second largest exporter of Soviet arms" because of all the gear it had "acquired" in the course of their relations with surrounding powers.
  • The British attack over the Rhine into Germany in World War II was named "Operation Plunder." While the pilfering was of a rather touristy kind (Cameras, choice wines, nice pictures) the British took the name of the operation as a rather tacit permission to go to town. Officers generally looked the other way. The British are generally quite good at this. See any Invasion of any kind by English, Scottish or Welsh troops.
  • Looting the enemy dead was generally seen as perfectly acceptable for much of history. The biography of Rifleman Benjamin Harris, an English soldier in the Napoleonic War, describes how when an officer saw him searching the corpses of the French after a battle, his only action was to inform Harris that the French soldiers typically hid money by sewing it up inside the layers of their coats.
  • British Diplomat Harold Nicholson (21 November 1886 – 1 May 1968) once grumbled that American soldiers marching through a town was an unusual nuisance-because according to him they had enough well educated people with them to know what was worth stealing.
  • The so-called Monuments Men in World War II were former academics and curators authorised to protect cultural works of art in the path of the Allied armies; they ended up tracking down and preserving many works of art stolen on an organised basis by the Nazi regime.
  • The ne plus ultra of WWII looting was the Soviet invasion of Germany. The Soviets looted whatever they wanted, secure in the knowledge that there was almost zero chance of punishment. One of the most famous images of the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Berlin is just such an occasion. Soviet soldiers often resorted to violence and threats to get their way; a British officer of the occupation recalled seeing a Soviet NCO ask an old German man the time, and then shoot him for his watch. When the shocked Briton took the man to the Soviet headquarters at gunpoint for punishment, he was spat at and forced to present the murderer with a medal. Even the famous image (itself a propaganda shot) of a Soviet soldier raising the Red Banner over the Reichstag had to be edited to hide the fact that one of the Soviet soldiers was wearing two watches, a sure sign of looting.
    • And it was not only Germany the USSR plundered, but also their own allies through which they marched. It is said the march of the Red Army through the Eastern Europe 1943-1945 was far worse a catastrophe to those countries than Mongol conquest 700 years earlier. Most of the Eastern Europe has not still yet fully recovered from WWII.
    • Of course, the previous Nazi looting of occupied territories (including Soviet Union) was what set these events into motion.
  • The US first infantry division actually converted itself into a motorized division this way in France. During the German retreat they captured and hot-wired enough German vehicles -and probably stole some from the civilians- that they could carry the entire force.
  • When the Swedish army retreated from Norway after King Charles XII was shot, thousands of them froze to death. The local Saami who found the bodies were not lax in "re-distributing" the stuff they could find. However, this being the early 1700s and the Saami having little use for the fancy sleds (that some officers rode -and died- in) or cannon, one of the most popular items to "acquire" were the soldiers' wigs. Apparently they were really warm and the Saami used them as insulation under their fur hats.
  • The Finnish army firearms and field guns have traditionally had the same calibre as those of Russian/Soviet weapons. The rationale is that the troops could replenish themselves with captured ammunition.
    • Captured tanks and aircraft made up a large portion of Finnish Army and Finnish Air Force fighting capability in WWII. There are still many WWII Russian tanks in Finland in fully operable condition, albeit in museums and collections. [Actually so many that many Finnish war films have been able to be made using the actual individual tanks which participated in the real battles in history.]
    • Compared to the rest of the Eastern Front, WWII in the Karelia was pretty civilized in this respect, and civilian property was usually respected on both sides. On the other hand, many soldiers took mementos in form of enemy militaria and fighting gear. There is a reason why there are more firearms per capita in Finland than any other Western country save US. Finnish soldiers simply took any captured pistols and revolvers as war souvenirs. Since they were not in official records, they did not exist. Most still exist as family heirlooms.
  • For most of history it was pretty much assumed that armies would feed themselves from local civilians. The more decent and/or rational commanders would try to at least organize this so that it was at least in intention not much different from taxation or rent collecting. They might even pay for their take; and if soldiers got out of hand they would buy good will by ostentatiously hanging the perps. Besides keeping them from assassinating soldiers this policy, if well done would ensure more forage next year. All this of course was a description of the system at it's "best"; quite commonly it was random Rape, Pillage, and Burn. Civilians got some of their own back though, because they would often get to scavenge the dead (and the "mostly dead") who often carried valuables with them.
    • This was gradually abandoned as a serious logistical stratagem throughout the 19th and 20th centuries; one of the key reasons for the success of The Duke of Wellington's trans-Pyrenees assault on France was that the Anglo-Portugesenote  armies paid for everything in coin, unlike Napoleon's forces which "requisitioned" whatever they needed. Admittedly, it was forged coin, but such was the quality of British minting that their forgeries were of a higher quality than the real thing.
  • Both the Persian and Turkish armies seem to yield unusually massive plunder when a decisive victory is won over them, at least according to chroniclers. It has been speculated that a lot of Persian and Ottoman warriors took much of their wealth on campaign as a handy way of making sure it was far away from tax collectors.
  • In Alan Moorehead's classic of war reporting Desert War, he describes the ravaged camps of the Italian army after General Wavell's offensive with a rather piratical glee. Among the items found were luxuries brought along by Italian officers including fine food and drink. When Benghazi was taken, Moorehead bileted on the Italian Commander's villa, drank from his wine cellar and was quite pleased about it.


Player Personality QuizRole-Playing GamePlot Tunnel
Piggy BankMoney TropesPooled Funds
Piggybacking on HitlerMilitary and Warfare TropesPunishment Detail
Pirate BootySteal This IndexRobbing the Dead

alternative title(s): Loot
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