Dangerous Deserter
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Basic Information

The Dangerous Deserter is a character who has deserted from some kind of military - and in addition to whatever deeds he might have committed during the process of desertion, it is the desperation of his situation that drive him toward deeds of villainy - after all, there is now a whole army out for his head, and thus he will always have to move on, scrounge whatever he needs to survive, and leave as few witnesses as possible. In the early modern period, this problem will be amplified by the fact that significant numbers of men were "volunteered" for service with the army as an alternative to punishment for various crimes - ranging from the petty to the capital (although the early modern era could apply capital punishment for some fairly minor offences). Someone who was already a violent criminal, further brutalised by what passed for military discipline in that era and then set adrift, armed and with little or nothing to lose, could well be something of a problem.

This can also apply fairly well to "broken men" - the survivors of a destroyed army who have not been taken prisoner and persist as fugitives in the battle area. These sort of people can consist of - or coalesce into - quite large units and may require significant effort to eradicate. In some eras, these may include those prisoners not worth a ransom who have simply been disarmed and chased away by their captors. Broken men may be attempting to get home - or might equally well settle into banditry. Carelessly discharged troops from the winning side may take a very similar role.

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Game and Story Use

  • To make the appearance of a Dangerous Deserter really effective in your story, focus on the sheer desperation on his part. Consider what lengths he will go to in order to avoid getting caught, and make him act accordingly.
    • Hostage situations are one likely possibility - and the longer it draws out, the more desperate the deserter will get.
  • A conflict area in the immediate aftermath of a war could be full of these sort of people - especially when the war ended in a badly organised way … remnants of defeated armies, deserters, discontented veterans and displaced civilians all milling about in an area in which the infrastructure and governmental machinery has been comprehensively destroyed.
    • The Thirty Years War did this to most of Central Europe…
    • The end of WW2 wasn't great either - and indeed the end of the Great War had similar issues in Central and Eastern Europe.
  • Can be subverted by the deserters simply being desperate - and probably suspicious - properly approached they may be amenable to a deal that will either see them home to their own country or settled on land that the war has left desolate, but they are also hungry, pissed off and afraid of (possibly entirely deserved) retribution from government forces - who may be the side they deserted from or their old enemy. PCs trying to clean up will be faced with the temptation of easy massacres (which may turn out to be quite tricky) or the harder route of a peaceful solution.
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