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Old 10-21-2012, 09:13 PM   #1
Sindri
 
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Default The Bandit Thread

This is a thread about bandits.

Bandits, highwaymen and brigands. Who doesn't love them? They are classic foes or running gags depending on power level for PCs and generally no one objects to people taking out the local bandits. That said there are some details on using bandits realistically that I'd appreciate being expanded on. First of all what sort of population density you can achieve for bandits and what factors should exist if you want lots of bandits? Naturally terrain matters a lot, as does the motivating factors, how easy it is to acquire arms and how present the law is in the location.

Next how does the way the bandits operate differ depending on their origin? You can get bandit like forces from mercenaries whose funding was cut off, economic troubles, subjects rebelling against true or perceived unfair treatment and remnant militaries who refuse to surrender and specifics will naturally vary among these cases.

How much wealth the bandits can acquire is important too for PCs too. If someone manages to get lucky enough to actually acquire a lot of money they will probably stop being a bandit and go somewhere else to enjoy their wealth but how prosperous can a bandit reasonably get while still choosing to remain a bandit. Likewise how struggling can they be?

Many of the more valuable sources of income for bandits can decide to either avoid them or hire guards if the costs imposed increase too much compared to the solutions. Did bandits ever take this into account and behave in ways that made more long term sense? What sort of circumstances lead to people just writing off bandits as an necessary expenditure and what circumstances lead to them enacting solutions or trying to wipe them out?
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Old 10-21-2012, 10:39 PM   #2
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Default Re: The Bandit Thread

Responsible bandits only attack targets half their number or size, or when the enemy isn't at full force (half of them are sleeping). They usually have cheap or improvised gear, with the best stuff going to the most senior members (or other established pecking orders). Their best skill is stealth.

If they have some wealth at their back, expect very fine versions of very cheap weapons.
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Old 10-21-2012, 11:34 PM   #3
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Default Re: The Bandit Thread

I would imagine they would prefer non combatants or otherwise untrained in fighting. Classic farming village with only a couple of guys with pitchforks to defend.
Merchant caravans might be tempting but too well defended for any but impulsive bandit leaders.

Like modern robberies, it's best for the robbers if no one dies. Effective thugs are rarely brazen killers.

I once thought of a small band of highway robbers that used threats and intimidation to get what they want. But any real resistance makes the huge guy with a staff freeze, and the cowardly bowman sniper run away.
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Old 10-22-2012, 03:54 AM   #4
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Default Re: The Bandit Thread

Quote:
Originally Posted by Flyndaran View Post
[snip] Like modern robberies, it's best for the robbers if no one dies. Effective thugs are rarely brazen killers. [snip]
Depends on the legal realities of the setting. Times and places IRL that have established a death penalty for banditry have quickly discovered that it's a good way to get a very significant fraction of all bandit victims killed, but not-always-so-quickly backtracked from the position.
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Old 10-22-2012, 07:30 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Blood Legend View Post
Responsible bandits only attack targets half their number or size, or when the enemy isn't at full force (half of them are sleeping). .
Yeah, I once had soe random tables tell me that a single centaur bandit was going to attack 4 heavily armed PCs and I had him stop and count the numbers Clever Hans-style with clopping hoof sounds and run away instead.

So groups where everyone looks like a well-armed combatant aren't likely to be attacked by reasonable bandits but stupid criminals are quite realistic so you can have it happen if you like.
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Old 10-22-2012, 09:07 AM   #6
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Default Re: The Bandit Thread

Some Anglo-Saxon legal codes set forth that if a person or group was off the road, they were required to sound a horn, or cry out periodically to indicate they were hunters and not sneaking bandits. Failure to do so could be taken by travelers as sufficient proof to defend themselves.
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Old 10-22-2012, 09:26 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by Sindri View Post
Did bandits ever take this into account and behave in ways that made more long term sense? What sort of circumstances lead to people just writing off bandits as an necessary expenditure and what circumstances lead to them enacting solutions or trying to wipe them out?
I expect that successful long-term bandits in somewhat settled areas are very sensitive to the balances of cost and risk involved in traversing their hunting grounds. They may try to avoid killing in favor of a 'toll road' approach that's more sustainable. It's probably not brought to an end without either infighting among the bandits, the absorption of the bandits into the local power structure, or a military authority with a larger picture, who realizes that the bandits' toll is a drain on trade profitability and affects his taxation resources. The Uxians are an interesting case, they were arguably more of a semi-sovereign state within the Persian Empire, but might serve as a model for high end banditry.
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Old 10-22-2012, 10:40 AM   #8
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Default Re: The Bandit Thread

Well established bandit gangs would typically function by extorting protection money, reserving actual attacks for those who declined to pay. The distinction between a bandit and a local warlord is often iffy.
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Old 10-22-2012, 11:03 AM   #9
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Default Re: The Bandit Thread

bandits need prey and a lack of alternatives. they need to keep making enough to make continued banditry worthwhile, but not enough to leave and start a new life elsewhere. that probably implies ensuring that every bandit gets at least struggling-level income, but no more then wealthy for very long! if they made that much money they'd probably go increasingly legit.

i like the toll-road approach. depending on how long they've been around, they might provide expensive but fairly reliable security for merchants travelling through their area of operations.
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Old 10-22-2012, 02:10 PM   #10
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Default Re: The Bandit Thread

Bandits are a very broad group, as the OP implies. At the low end, we have "common" people who have turned to banditry for any of a number of reasons, though the usual motivation is desperation of some sort. It's generally easier and safer to eek out a meager existence as a tenant farmer than to take to the hills/woods/etc. and try your luck. They will be very ordinary people (in the sense of stats, skills, etc.) using their knowledge of a region to set up ambushes, etc. They're also usually the sort of bandits who have taken this up as a short time gig, not a way of life. And they're also the most likely to be caught or killed.

At the high end we have ex-military types and organized professional bandits. The ex-military types, as noted, come from mercenary groups between contracts (or in the aftermath of a long war) and those who have taken up banditry as a way of life. The former may become the latter, but more than likely would rather find a nice, soft contract (or bribe). Either are likely to create intelligent "road tolls", etc., in order to make their money easily. Both are likely to have decent to good equipment, choose their targets well (possibly with inside information), utilize simple, effective tactics which minimize their own casualties, and use strategies designed to maximize their long-term survival as a group.

It's the groups in between where things become interesting. The low-end bandits who meet with repeated success might eventually find themselves creating a "bandit fief" and become an organized bandit group over time. But other bandits are often those of opportunity: tribal raiders (orks, men, elves, whatever) can fill this role; another example are groups of caravan guards who have inside information and want to make a score. This is where most bandits should lie -- their professionalism can lie at either end of the spectrum, but their time as bandits should be relatively short.

Probably whole supplements could be written on the subject. But generally, society can only survive so many predators before they break down. If only 1 in 10 caravans get through, the rewards have to be phenomenal to make it worth those risks. If 99 in 100 do, the rewards still need to be high, but the odds make the risk look far better. That sort of look should provide information about how many bandits an area could support: how much would, say, 1% of all caravans provide in terms of cash should dictate how attractive the proposition of banditry is to would-be bandits. If that 1% is far higher than the average standard of living, there will be lots of bandits -- and lots of caravan guards. If it only allows for a meager existence, banditry will be comparatively rare.

In my long-running fantasy game, local banditry is of the low-end variety. Not uncommon, as local famines and inequities lead to desperate men willing to do anything to survive. But also not terribly common, as the penalty for getting caught is branding at best and the noose at worse. Along trade routes, there are semi-professional bandits who are basically a mixture of thieves, locals, and inside-men attempting to make a single score. The difficulty of the score depends on many factors. Along the Jewel Road (my version of the Silk Road), banditry is relatively common, but generally comes from tribal raiders and the occasional amateur or professional hit. Currently I don't have any "professional" bandits (at least on a large scale) because it simply doesn't pay long term.
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