Social Bandit
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Basic Information

Given the right conditions, Criminals can gain a certain public respect. This is especially likely in remote rural areas, border towns, impoverished communities, and areas torn by civil war. In such environments, criminals might come to be seen as resistance fighters or folk heroes, even if such perspectives are laced with romanticism.

Social banditry has parallels to the Labor Movement, Revolutionaries, and Organized Crime. The exploits of social bandits are likely to become Legend and, in point of fact, it is entirely normal for a historical figure to transit from regular bandit to social bandit as time marches on and the tawdry details of criminality are lost to time, leaving only the legends of a few daring escapades.

Categories of Social Bandit (and region or era that spawned them)

Of those, it's worth noting that the Hajduk, Klepht, and Uskoks were all local responses to occupation by the Ottoman Empire.

Famous/Historical Social Bandits


2. Dennis Moore — Monty Python sketch about a dashing highwayman

Game and Story Use

  • The social bandit is a great character archetype, and works as the basis of an Adventuring Party. The big benefit is the melding of badass, wily rogue, and social reformer. You get to be the hero and the villain at the same time.
  • The hero-meets-bandit concept could be a way to give added depth to your villains, or introduce some moral ambiguity to your game.
    • A group of elvish or halfling brigands might raid across a border into dwarf territory to raid convoys going to and from mines. The Dwarven miners may hire the PCs to stop the raids. On chasing the bandits back across the border, the PCs learn that the outlaws are heroes here. The local populace hides and protects them. Perhaps the local area is impoverished, or it may be that the more nature-loving sensibilities of the elves or hobbits drove them to harass the strip-mining Dwarves.
    • Or, if you don't like ambiguity, you could have a fraud exploiting the reputation of a social bandit.
  • It's possible to gain a reputation as a social bandit simply because the oppressors in a downtrodden society are the only ones who have anything worth stealing. That is roughly how Jayne Cobb became the Hero of Canton
  • Long lived or time travelling PCs could have the annoyance of finding that a regular - or even notably villainous - bandit that they disposed of has, with time, become a folk hero and they the government mooks that "murdered" him.
  • The role can also be adopted by genuine malefactors to whitewash their deeds - posing as social bandits was common amongst revolutionary and/or terrorist groups historically speaking (and, it must be said, today). Even groups as unapologetically evil as the naagaloshi skinwalkers were able to salvage some reputation by turning their crimes against the invading White Man during the conquest of the American West.
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