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Basic Information

A posse is group of men deputized by The Sheriff or a US Marshal to assist in the pursuit of justice, such as capturing fugitives.

The word comes from the phrase "posse comitatus", roughly "the power of the county." In the old days1, it would sometimes be necessary for a sheriff to get a lot of manpower very quickly to deal with a crisis. To this end, he could essentially draft any man handy (with certain restrictions) into a posse to handle the situation. The process will often include the line "I hereby deputize you".

After 1878, it was illegal to use military personnel in a posse. In more modern times, many jurisdictions have banned the formation of posses, but sheriffs seldom have need of them due to improved communications and manpower, anyhow.

Note that if it is not legally convened by a sheriff or marshal, the group of men is not a "posse", even if they call themselves that. They're just a mob or gang.

Within the context of an RPG, chances are the Posse is mostly composed of Mooks, some of whom may have zero combat skills - in reality, a classic wild west posse might find itself with a high percentage of civil war veterans, and other posses could well round up some surprising talent if the local demographics are favourable. The Saxon version would have been, essentially, a localised raising of the fyrd in a context where every free man was meant to be available and equipped for military service and so, again, had the potential to take on a warlike character quite quickly.



Game and Story Use

  • If one PC is a Sheriff or Marshal, he could deputize the whole party. Aside from making party structure more official, this might also insulate the party from some of the legal ramifications of their actions. At least, it might work that way in The Wild West.
  • As noted, expect to find this in medieval Europe, hypothetical libertarian nations and - for all we know - the SciFi equivalent of the wild west as well. Anywhere, in fact, where the state doesn't pretend to have a monopoly of force and finds itself in need of the assistance of armed civilians. Depending on the setting the formation of the posse may have the force of law (i.e. the Sheriff may be empowered to demand participation) or may just be a call for volunteers. The latter may have much more amusing results.
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