Critical Party Roles, Part 2: The Party Quartermaster
We return for the next installment of the Critical Party Roles series, today discussing The Party Quartermaster. You'll recall from our previous post that this series is devoted to the critical roles that should be filled in your adventuring party, not by your characters, but by your players.
Today's post discusses a role that I've filled on several occasions before, and one that I value very much as a game master and player alike: the Party Quartermaster.
I. The Party Quartermaster
The Party Quartermaster is the person who keeps track of all the gear. Is your game master tracking food and water in the campaign? Your Quartermaster keeps track of supplies to insure the party doesn't run low. Does your party split loot or paydays? The quartermaster doles out the dough.
This is also useful in case you play in a system where your GM cares about, say, paying for lodging, board, or other expenses for the party that you can't always predict a player will save their silver coins for, so any time where there is a "Party Fund" to cover ancillary expenses is a good time for a Quartermaster. If your party wants to raise funds to, say, compensate the party healer for components or other expenses that they use on the rest of the party, that would also be the job of the Quartermaster.
There is only one requirement I'd have on a Quartermaster for the group, and that is that they should be what is commonly called a "Lawful" character. The person should be honorable: they won't steal from the party, use the funds in a way that is dishonest, and will give fair portions to everyone. This is important, and I'd even go as far as to insure this in Mission Zero before the campaign begins.
This is one of those roles that, if handled poorly, could lead to a lot of trouble in the group, so don't take a chance with this one. Get it right, and place restrictions on it to insure that it serves the group well.
Remember: the point of filling these roles is to create an optimal gaming experience, and that means an honest Quartermaster (just like you should probably have a Party Leader who doesn't want to get the rest of the party killed, a Party Chronicler who pays attention, etc.). But that's getting ahead of ourselves - more on the Party Chronicler later on this week.
II. Examples of Party Quartermaster: Judas and Samwise
There aren't many examples of Quartermasters in epic tales, and to be honest, why would a poet pay attention to the guy who makes sure we have enough bread and water? But two stand out as examples of ways you could play the Quartermaster - Judas Iscariot and Samwise Gamgee.
Now, to be clear, both of them did a good job of staying up on the accounting side of things, and that's worth noting: your Quartermaster should be meticulous, keeping track of what has been spent, what is available, and what standing obligations the party has (if you have to pay for goods/services after a job is complete, you'd better have the money on-hand for that when the time comes).
Samwise strikes a nice balance: he's meticulous in preparing, and insures that the party's needs are met. He has a wide variety of gear: he has food, cloaks and bedrolls for when the weather is harsh, rope for climbing up and own dangerous terrain, and even seasonings to make bland food taste better.
And Sam goes above and beyond: he not only insures that they have enough supplies to destroy the One Ring, he plans for the journey home. When it comes to the ideal Quartermaster, it's hard to think of anyone other than Samwise.
Now, depending on your game, you don't need all of the things Samwise brings, but you need the mindset: he is the keeper of the shared goods, and thinks ahead to the needs of the party. One of the needs you might consider (and you'd be surprised how few groups think about this) is a pack animal to carry goods for you. If you play a system that requires you to track weight of items, slots for holding items, etc., having a plan for this (especially if you plan to loot treasure troves, battlefields of fallen enemies, etc.) is essential to a good Quartermaster.
Now compare Samwise Gamgee to Judas Iscariot who held the funds and resources for Jesus of Nazareth and his followers for three years. Judas, as far as we can tell, was meticulous, had resources ready for most every situation (the two cases of feeding thousands of people we can forgive him for), so in this sense he's not a bad Party Quartermaster. What makes him a poor example of how to do it is, again, the mindset.
We see on at least one occasion that he lets the meticulous need to have funds ready for crises get in the way of the aims of the party, and that's where I level my criticism. There are many ways that a Quartermaster can go wrong, and we are all on the watch for some of them: unfair distribution of loot, helping themselves to party funds, not noting important loot, etc. But some problems are more subtle: pulling the party away from the vision of the group because "it's not wise to do this," or "it will cost too much." If the goal of the party is, "Get lots of wealth" then maybe these are legitimate cries. But if the goal of the party is being thwarted by concerns from the Quartermaster, then there needs to be a chat about what the purpose of the group is and how we pursue it.
To sum up: the Quartermaster should manage public resources in a way that drives the party toward their goal, keeping track of things so the game master doesn't have to, and insuring that the party is able to do what it wants to do. That is the sign of a good Party Quartermaster.
In light of our previous post on the Party Leader, it's also worth noting that it's not a bad idea for the Party Leader to also be Party Quartermaster: if they know what resources are available, that might guide some of their decisions. But I'd recommend against it: the Quartermaster has a lot to do when there isn't a crisis, so being the go-to guy in and out of a crisis takes away valuable screen time from other members of the party. Plus it's one less thing for the your Party Leader to keep in mind all at once.
Since we've low-key spoiled it in our last post, we might as well note that the next role we'll discuss this week will be the Party Chronicler: the player with the power of the pen (how's that for alliteration!).
Until next time,