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Bandit Armies

by T.S. Luikart

ridethrutown
Gangs of lawless scum have roamed the plains of the Far West for ages, given that the territory is both a technically “ungoverned” expanse and grand repository for the Empire’s exiles. Some groups manage to achieve great and lasting infamy, becoming particularly notorious or feared throughout the West. The reputations of such gangs lead to many recruits approaching them, gradually increasing their size and influence. A few, such as the notorious Blameless Devils, have been around supposedly “forever”. However, for many generations the Rangers successfully managed to keep the peace in the West, periodically culling the worst of the bandits.

After the Glorious Defeat, the passing of the Rangers, and the introduction of the Marshals’ Law to the West came the rise of something new: Bandit Armies.

Unlike the previous generations of relatively unorganized criminal gangs, the Bandit Armies were mainly founded by expatriate soldier veterans of the Secession War who were well trained in small unit tactics and inclined to use them. While many of the original veterans have long since passed on or are getting too old for a roaming bandit’s life, they have passed their skills on to the next generation of thugs.

The armies are now spread over large swaths of the Far West, each generally operating over a wide territory that they claim as theirs. Members of each Bandit Army strive to know all of the terrain in their chosen area so that they can more readily set ambushes or escape pursuit. Due to the sheer size of the West, no one knows exactly how many Bandit Armies there may be or how large they actually are. It’s very difficult to determine how many members a given Bandit Army has, for like their name sake, they will frequently break into smaller groupings in order to cover more ground at once.

The Bandit Armies generally offer their “protection” services to a number of different settlements throughout their chosen territory. Since most of them make their initial offer in a relatively friendly manner, many settlements have taken them up on their proposals without any coercion, not realizing that they ultimately weren’t going to be given any say in the matter. Unlike the vast number of outlaw gangs that typically prefer raider tactics, the Bandit Armies generally make a concerted effort to live up to their promises, actively protecting the lands and towns that have accepted their “assistance” from other bandits. Some even set up ways for their “clients” to contact them should unforeseen trouble arise. Still, for all intents and purposes, each Bandit Army is effectively a massive extortion racket.

More than simply large gangs, the fundamental philosophy of the Bandit Armies is generally not that of typical criminal gang members. Many in the Bandit Armies regard themselves as soldiers, not thieves. Members of the Bandit Armies frequently attempt to avoid violence to townsfolk if possible and if they must inflict it, choose to do so in the most direct manner they can in order to quell further unpleasantness. Many Westerners reason that their little towns need some type of protection, what’s the real difference between paid mercenaries and having to bankroll a sheriff and deputies anyway? As long as times are good, they have a point, but the problem lies in the fact that times aren’t always so good in the West, especially in the Thousand Mesas and parts of the Mist Sea Valley. When the rain is scarce and the crops are lean, the Bandit Armies still expect to be paid in full. Bad year, eh? That’s a shame, truly, but they’ve got a lot of troops to feed. It is only when a harvest fails that members of a settlement may realize they’ve made a deal with a pack of demons who care nothing for their troubles.

Fighting a Bandit Army is not unlike attempting to uproot a particularly tenacious weed — if you don’t destroy the roots, it just keeps coming back. Better to never let it take root in the first place. A given unit of a Bandit Army can be eliminated, but only by taking on their central command structure can one cause any lasting damage to the army as a whole. Towns that resist their offer from the first, while they could have an immediate fight on their hands, are likely to be better off in the end. Bandit Armies cannot allow those that have agreed to their terms to get out of the deal, lest they lose respect and have multiple client communities attempt to “jump ship”. Therefore, they are far more willing to expend a great deal of strength to teach such oathbreakers a lesson than they are in trying to subdue a resistant settlement. Folks walking the Dust Road have long since learned that many towns are afraid to stir up trouble against their local Bandit Army; those that choose to take on a Bandit Army usually stand alone.

The smallest Bandit Armies commonly have around fifty to sixty members, whereas the largest can have multiple thousands. The larger the army, the bigger an area they must cover though, as their requirements for rations and supplies correspondingly increase. Three or four settlements can keep a small Bandit Army provisioned, but it can take dozens of townships, farms, and ranches to keep one of the larger armies supplied. The nature of their operations, and the size of the Far West, means that most Bandit Armies operate as light cavalry. A few of the largest armies have access to airships and artillery. Some example armies follow:

The Iron Wind

Widely famed (or infamous) for the speed of their movements, the Iron Wind operates in the southern Thousand Mesas, but manages to make their presence felt across a territory nearly forty leagues in diameter. Lead by the charismatic Captain Marin Styke, the Iron Wind generally prefers negotiation to gunplay, but won’t hesitate to strike if it looks like talking will yield them nothing. The Iron Wind can muster just under a thousand troops, including several highly-mobile artillery pieces which they haul in steam driven wagons that can keep pace with their swift horses. Members of the Iron Wind are greatly skilled in quick-moving guerilla warfare, fighting from horseback with accurate gunplay, even at speed. The symbol of the Iron Wind is a stylized swirl of silvery-grey lines which they require “client” settlements to prominently display as a warning to marauders (and a reminder to townsfolk).

The Tigerfish

The Tigerfish control a relatively small stretch of territory just south of the Shining Mirror, but they’ve scared a handful of settlements into near complete submission with their vicious tactics. When the Tigerfish first established themselves near the lake, they announced their presence to multiple settlements along with their demand: offer us what our protection is worth to your town or face censure. Several towns complied, others sent them a mere token or nothing at all. The Tigerfish systematically destroyed every town that had sent nothing, slaying every living thing within them before burning them to the ground. Then they proceeded to demolish the towns that had sent a pittance. After they were finished, they explained to the town that sent the least, but was still standing, that they were on a probation of sorts and had best improve their offer in the future.

The Tigerfish haven’t changed much over the years, preferring to make clear their callous nature with regular and memorable examples in order to encourage “proper” behavior from clients. The Tigerfish make a point of inflicting absolutely blood chilling torture on bandits and other troublemakers they catch in their territory, torture which is always exacted in the public square of one of “their” settlements which the townsfolk and farmers from the surrounding area are required to witness “in the name of justice”. There are several hundred Tigerfish. They commonly fight two-handed, pairing a revolver with a blade of some sort. Their symbol is, unsurprisingly, a coiled tigerfish.

4 Comments

  1. Ben says:

    “Unlike the vast number of outlaw gangs that typically prefer raider tactics, the Bandit Armies generally make a concerted effort to live up to their promises, actively protecting the lands and towns that have accepted their “assistance” from other bandits.”

    I’m not a grammar guru, but would it better read, “accepted their “assisitance” AGAINST (caps are mine) other bandits”? If not, it’s cool. I stumbled when I read it.

    • admin says:

      Both would work, but “protect from harm” is more common construction than “protect against harm”, hence the word choice here.

  2. Ben says:

    Cool. I’m not to proud to be schooled.

  3. Jehosephat says:

    I’d imagine that some of these guys might be employed by the Steam Barons for “off-the-books” jobs.
    Then again, some of the bigger Bandit Armies might do everything they can to keep the railways out of their territory in order to maintain their control.
    Which could bring in Twin Eagle Security to take care of the problem. With the PCs stuck in the middle, of course.

    For a less complicated gaming session, there’s always the “Seven Samurai” scenario.

    It’s a dead cert that a few bandit armies are led by Thorn-bush Knights. From that entry, it sounds like Gaol Thol would be considered a bandit leader. Or at least started out as one.

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