Retired Outlaw
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Basic Information

The Retired Outlaw is a criminal (usually a Wild West Outlaw) who has gone straight, or at least is trying to. There's always pressure and temptation to fall back on your former ways, and plenty of people who'll step up to serve sentence on you if you do. There is always the temptation of "one last job" … especially if living the lawful way leads to hard times.

If the Retired Outlaw has served his time in jail, he may be living openly, in which case he can expect occasional visits from local law enforcement. Some of his old "colleagues" (or victims) may come lookin' for him from time to time.

If he never got caught, or if he's wary of his own reputation, he may be living under an alias, and hoping no one recognizes or finds him. Of course, the plotline may have other ideas. This also works for "lone ranger" style masked vigilantes who are suspected but not proven and cannot be effectively prosecuted.

He may also have bought, won or otherwise acquired a pardon - which may not make him any more trusted by local authority, but reduces their room for action against him.

This character trope is especially common in The Western. In fact, in the Wild West, it was not unheard of for former bandits and gunslingers to become marshals and sheriffs. Wyatt Earp is a famous example of such a character. This is not necessarily an improvement - it may just be a realisation that it's easier to be a criminal who works for the government than one who works against it. The same sort of thing applies to pirates - those that weren't killed or hanged could sometimes become legitimised, usually through working as a privateer in wartime and/or founding a colony which they then pledged to a nation prepared to accept them.

Retiring to be come a civillain also works … or the sort of shadowy character who is more or less legitimate but far too dangerous to disturb. This can also work with someone who is mostly legitimate but has a shady past that comes as a nasty surprise to any modern criminal who mistakes them for a meek townsman.

Related Tropes:


The film We still kill the old way runs something similar with the aging members of a defunct London crime firm, brought out of retirement by the murder of one of their members by a gang of chavs.


Game and Story Use

  • The character whose past misdeeds keep catching up with him can be fun to play, assuming you trust your GM to not create totally unwinnable situations out the gate.
  • An NPC who fits this role makes for a nice red herring during an investigation scenario. His troubled past will no doubt catch the PCs attention when they do background checks. Hard to say whether they'll truss him up based on his past, or be genre savvy - you know your players better than I do.
  • The Retired Outlaw could make a good NPC mentor for a character who also likes to skirt the law.
  • The "poacher turned gamekeeper" is always a good trope - as noted with Wyatt Earp above.
  • In a high stringency campaign, this may be where a lot of PCs end up.
  • Henry Morgan is probably the best known pirate example - characters such as Drake, Hawkins and Raleigh had less of the "outlaw" about them.
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