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View Full Version : DM Help Stuck with boring bandit encounter



Avanya
2018-08-06, 05:48 AM
I'm working on a good ol fantasy campaign, but I'm stuck at how to get my players started dealing with the bandits of the area - at least I'm trying to find something a little more interesting hook than bounties. :P I've been lurking for a while and seen some of the great ideas you all have, so I'm hoping you can help me with ideas. :)

Just a quick sense of the land - it's peace times and the population has been growing rapidly leading to high unemployment for especially the lower class citizens, so a few different bandit groups have sprung up stealing (mostly) from the wealthy. The groups have different values and function sort of like gangs having territory they each operate in. The PCs met a handful of bandits the first session and successfully intimidated them into letting them pass. The bandits they encountered are your typical ruffians, not scared of a fight, but not willing to risk their lives for just a bit of coin (which is why many of them got kicked out of the city guard :P).

What I have currently is this group of bandits went to harass the village the PCs came from (the home of 2 PCs), first trying to bully them into paying "protection money", which the village couldn't, followed by a raid stealing livestock and burning a few houses. The PCs are warned by a kid from the village sent to the town they're in begging them to come back and help. In the meantime 3 youngsters from the village militia (set up by a 3rd of the PCs) chase after the bandits thinking they can be heroes like they've heard the PCs were. I'm not sure if the youngsters should get caught by the bandits or if the PCs should have a chance to catch up with them and stop them first. Right now I have the bandits meet up with a few others from their "gang" (so they don't back down when meeting the PCs again) and have a camp near a river, but that gives me one encounter and then the village is rescued and they're kinda done here. I'd like it to be more interesting than that - and potentially lead them to deal with the rest of the "gang" in the area (something like 30x70 miles area btw, but it's mostly farmland and wild grasslands/woods), but I just can't think of anything. So I'm hoping you can help. :)

hymer
2018-08-06, 06:08 AM
I'm not sure if the youngsters should get caught by the bandits or if the PCs should have a chance to catch up with them and stop them first.
I'd suggest having this be up to what the PCs do. Let them have as much effect on the plot as possible.

Anyway, my thought was that someone could be looking into uniting the gangs to do X. It could just be a leader of an important gang, or it could be an outsider with more sinister aims. After defeating the gang they're dealing with, they can either find out from questioning someone who survived the fight (someone who surrendered, perhaps someone who didn't participate if the PCs kill everyone), or they can find a letter to the gang's leader, from another gang leader, or from the one(s) looking to unite the gangs.
You can add in something that might up their power, like proper weapons and armour, or perhaps some sinister effect that makes the bandits feel strong and courageous (actually murderous), and secretly doing something horrible to them at the same time. It could be addictive, giving the provider some control.

Mark Hall
2018-08-06, 06:31 AM
Kidnapping (of the would-be heroes who tried to stop them) ups the stakes, but only if the players are the type to pretend about NPCs. Basically, anything that makes it personal is a good option for something like this, if you don't want to fall back on bounties.

You can also try strangling an economy. Want new armor? Sorry, the bandits stole the iron I was gonna use to make your armor. We can't get any of that kind of spell component in town. The bandits sacked the temple you were going to heal at and killed the cleric. Thieves' Guild is down on its luck because the bandits have strangled local trade. Start interfering with their ability to do whatever they want, whenever they want, because the bandits are messing everything up.

Or, don't have the next group of bandits back down. Or have them back down, when the archers they have in cover unleash arrows onto the party.

Mordaedil
2018-08-06, 07:11 AM
If you think you have a boring bandit encounter, why not spice things up by making it more like Robin Hood and where your players are taking the role of the sheriff of Nottingham instead? Maybe the bandits do steal from the rich, but intend to help the farmers and the like, but the farmers don't tell anyone for fear of retribution from the enforcement and your players are situated with the position of "stealing is still wrong" and work from that?

Wraith
2018-08-06, 07:46 AM
Have the gang steal something that belongs to the players. Seriously, it works like a charm; they'll want to exterminate them within minutes.

It doesn't have to be much; say that the party stops at an inn overnight, and when they wake up in the morning all of their horses and saddles have been stolen, and a witness says that it was done by members of a gang who usually reside off to the <insert directions here>.

If they don't have horses, then maybe someone quietly strong-arms their way into the cloakroom and takes their overcoats in the night. Or perhaps the inn-keeper tells them that if they leave their dirty boots outside their doors at night, the boot-black will pick them up, clean them and return them while they sleep; only for them to wake up and find the boot-black with a broken nose and a sorrowful story to tell?

Players hate having stuff stolen from them, no matter how trivial. Have someone remind them of a bounty while they're about it, and it'll take an exception force of will for them not to follow that plot hook. :smalltongue:

CharonsHelper
2018-08-06, 08:13 AM
it's peace times and the population has been growing rapidly leading to high unemployment for especially the lower class citizens

Wait - why?

Are there powerful guilds in place artificially limiting employment and/or no unused farmland?

Avanya
2018-08-06, 08:24 AM
Thank you for the quick responses! :D

I don't expect to have much issue motivating the PCs to go after the bandits - 2 of them are quite young and idealistic characters and the group has already adopted a "we'll fix it for you" kinda attitude. And should the hook of home being in danger not be enough to get them to act, the events will simply unfold without the PCs there to help and they'll get confronted with that at a later point. But I think they'll bite. :P

I like the idea of the gangs uniting being a danger! Either one trying to absorb the others or it simply being a consequence of removing the leader of one gang (each gang consists of groups roaming their territory, so the PCs would never take out a whole gang at once). I should prob mention that the bandit problem isn't something I expect the PCs to fully deal with. It's fairly front and center here in the start, but more pressing matters will arise and how much they deal with the bandits is really up to them.

The Robin Hood angle won't really work here as the bandits they've encountered already showed a different approach - and perhaps more importantly that fits another gang of bandits in a different area. :P I couldn't pass up the chance to see how they'd deal with good outlaws, who are liked by the commoners in the area.

I'm mostly looking to make the encounter with these bandits a little more than just tracking them down from the village, defeating them and rescuing the young would-be heroes. Hmm... Perhaps the bandits get their hands on those would-be heroes and move out to sell them as slaves, leaving some behind to slow down the PCs while they hope to get away with their prize. Or they simply grabbed a few villagers on their raid, which would explain the would-be heroes racing after them and not waiting for the PCs to fix their problems. That would also give the bandits a good reason to not back down this time. Just gotta make sure there's clues enough for the PCs to realise the stakes.

Avanya
2018-08-06, 08:36 AM
Wait - why?

Are there powerful guilds in place artificially limiting employment and/or no unused farmland?

The nobility have been the ones enjoying the fruits of this period more than anyone. Basically the areas food production has been aimed at also feeding a larger portion of the army (since we're close to the border), but with peace there's been no army to feed and the lords have just napped the extra in tax (which they have been able to export). The rich have become richer, which has benefited the larger cities, but the villages and rural areas have only really been well fed (which means they can feed larger families) and seen none of the prosperity that the region has had.

denthor
2018-08-06, 09:38 AM
Your on the boarder of wild lands?

I love moral challenges. Have them find the camp as a group of.... is attacking it one round before they get there.

Will they help the bandits defeat monsters or take them all out.

The bandits betrayal of their "over lords" caused the fight.

There is the continuation.

CharonsHelper
2018-08-06, 09:45 AM
The nobility have been the ones enjoying the fruits of this period more than anyone. Basically the areas food production has been aimed at also feeding a larger portion of the army (since we're close to the border), but with peace there's been no army to feed and the lords have just napped the extra in tax (which they have been able to export). The rich have become richer, which has benefited the larger cities, but the villages and rural areas have only really been well fed (which means they can feed larger families) and seen none of the prosperity that the region has had.

That doesn't really sound like it'd result in high unemployment - just overtaxation. It's not as if the nobles would have reasons to limit employment.

Of course - for D&D it doesn't matter. I'm trying to make a fantasy story's economics make sense. That's one small step away from arguing about fantasy physics - and think of the catgirls! :smallwink:

Telonius
2018-08-06, 10:09 AM
Interesting - it sounds like this situation is making it likely for some sort of a Robin Hood-esque character to show up. You could play it straight-up rob from the rich, give to the poor. Or for a morally murky time, have him funded by the local armorers who've all lost business thanks to the peace.

Segev
2018-08-06, 10:56 AM
Others have given some good specific advice. I am going to answer one thing I haven't seen dealt with specifically, then give some general encounter-design advice.

Regarding the kids inspired by Our Heroes to go be Big Darned Heroes, themselves: what I recommend you do is determine how they're traveling, how the bandits are patrolling, what distances and terrain are involved, and essentially "run" (in your own mind, if not on paper) the route the NPC kids will take. Determine how long it will take them, and where they'll be at specific times.

Then, let the players decide what to do. The clock on this mission is ticking. They have to track the kids, or go straight for the bandit lair in hopes of running into them or intercepting them. Or they don't, and the kids get there and the bandits do whatever they do. Don't "let them" catch up to the kids. Just know what the timings are, and let the PCs do whatever they wish to attempt (or not attempt) to catch up. Run it fairly, using the PCs' choices to determine where the PCs wind up and how fast, and...if they catch up, great! If they don't, the kids meet the bandits first.

This automatically creates tension in this mission: the clock is real, and the PCs must race against it on limited information as to even how close to the wire they're going.


Now, for the general advice: you're dealing with bandits. You have a good idea what their goals are. The encounters are made not-boring by the stakes in them. This doesn't mean, "Have super-high stakes all the time!" and certainly doesn't mean "Have the bandits able to kill the PCs at any moment!" Quite the contrary.

What it means is that everything the bandits do to exert pressure threatens something that the PCs value, either directly or indirectly. It is possible for the bandits to win without so much as touching a PC. It is possible for the PCs to beat the bandits without so much as shooting an arrow at them. It all depends on what the goals of the bandits are, and what the goals of the PCs are. These are obviously mutually exclusive, or there wouldn't be conflict, but they need not be directly opposed.

What do the bandits do to demand protection money? What do they threaten? How? What can the PCs do to protect those threatened? What do the PCs want to accomplish?

I find the cause of the increased unemployment fascinating. Larger populations mean more mouths to feed, mean more customers, mean more jobs to fill to satisfy those customers. When increased labor pool leads to unemployment, there's something artificially limiting the ability of people to enter the workforce. Demand WILL be high enough to meet any supply they increase.

In medieval settings, this usually arose from nobles refusing to allow expansion of farmland (often with "poaching" laws that kept swaths of wilderness untouched and exclusively their right to hunt). It also can arise from Guild structures where the Guild is unwilling to expand in a sort of protectionism, and violently (or even gets law enforcement to violently) suppresses any non-Guild competition.

Were I playing in a game with your premise, I would be seeking to take the bandits off to form new colonies, or to start up new farms where I either hire them or let them farm and sharecrop for me. And, when I encountered whatever was artificially limiting them from doing this, I would turn my adventuring skills against that problem.

RazorChain
2018-08-06, 01:05 PM
Just make the bandit leader somebody and make him thwart the PC's.

I recently had the PC's clash with El Bandido Negro (the black bandit) who was terrorizing the area and the Baron's men couldn't track him down. When he heard the heroes were tracking him down he set out to make a fool out of them. The bandit had allies and informants in the area and would feed the PC's false information on where he would strike next making them look like fools and infuriating them.

In the end when PC's caught up with him they spared his life, reformed him and made an ally out of him. They sent him to harass their enemies and suggested he would steal from the rich and give to the poor because he wasn't after the money, just the infamy. The PC's then dubbed him "The Fox" and sent him on his merry way.

So if your bandit group is just a generic bandit group then give them a face. Opposing the Bandit Queen is much more fun than killing some bandits.

Avanya
2018-08-06, 01:29 PM
Your on the boarder of wild lands?

I love moral challenges. Have them find the camp as a group of.... is attacking it one round before they get there.

Will they help the bandits defeat monsters or take them all out.

The bandits betrayal of their "over lords" caused the fight.

There is the continuation.

This is a great idea - if I don't end up using it here, it could definitely come up at another point. A great way to make an encounter more than just "track and eliminate" :D

I'm not gonna get into the socioeconomics of it all as it plays a pretty minor role in the campaign (I know it doesn't look that way since I've just been talking about bandits :P) and isn't really something my players are interested in. But still thank you for the feedback, always interesting with some different perspectives on things. :)

Segev
2018-08-06, 01:46 PM
Socioeconomics are an interest of mine, though hardly an area of scholarly expertise. I didn't really think it was intended as a major point of your campaign, which is why I raised it only in a spoiler tag.

In general, if you're willing to put the work into it, working out your bandits in detail, with group philosophies that set them apart from each other and with a few key figures to use as faces and points of interaction with the party (both leaders and a few rank-and-file faces that will just happen to be the ones the party interacts with if they seek to do so), you can make them feel alive as real groups of people. You can also then plan out what they'll do and try to do, and how well they'll do absent player interference. That way, player actions truly mark the world, and you know the way things progress.

That is, however, a fair bit of work, and is a very sandbox approach to running it.

Avanya
2018-08-06, 02:58 PM
I already have some general descriptions and motivations of the bandit groups and their leaders. Still needs some more depth - especially the guys they encountered before since they lived past their first encounter. Good idea with some idea of what they're doing. That could give me some more interesting random encounters like having the PCs encounter a group of bandit setting up ambush for a noble/merchant or harassing a village, instead of just trying to rob the PCs all the time. I think it'll be worth the work - if I don't use it all it's the sort of stuff that's easily used in any other fantasy campaign (or with a bit of refluffing most other situations where bandits/gangs are relevant) - and I've got some extra time on my hands atm anyways, so might as well. :)