Encounter Culture#10 Bandits
So today on encounter culture's we're going to look at an adventuring staple: Bandits. Everyone loves bandits because they are so deeply hateable. Right up there with Zombies, Nazi's, Skeletons and Goblins we have those people who will just straight up kill you for whatever is in your pockets.
This time we're gonna look at a group of competent roadside bandits, the kind you can put on any highway or main road in the world. These bandits are practised hardened killers who know exactly what they're doing.
Basic Premise: A large group of low level Rogue's lay in wait, hiding on the sides of a road, ready to attack on a given signal.
The Breakdown: 12 Level 1 Rogue's (CR 6= 2,400 XP) A group of twelve level 1 Rogue's wait by the side of the road, four on each side of the road. Each one has a light crossbow, a dagger or short sword, and a tangle foot bag. On the first round, one rogue per each walking party member throws a tanglefoot foot bag. This will target their flat footed touch armor class, making a hit very likely despite the huge level difference, and once the hit is scored it will entangle the targets, further lowering their AC and possible rooting them in place. The remaining rogues then open fire, they prefer to target anyone bearing holy symbols or spellbooks, preferring to focus down one target at a time, and that usually means the healer. After the first round the bandits will need to choose between reloading and firing again, drawing daggers and rushing into melee for flanking options, or using their move actions to either split up and run away or gain distance and reload, counting on their entangled foes being unable to keep pace. From there they maintain whatever approach seems to work best, and they are not abovegrabbing valuables from a downed foe and fleeing for their lives should the situation call for it.
Tale of the Tape: A first level NPC with a class level should have 360 gp worth of items which is more than enough to cover the needed items and a few extras that let you spice things up (See Variations). They've made themselves rather comfortable and used some basic camouflage, granting them a +2 bonus to their stealth checks, and they've taken a 20, hiding themselves as well as humanly possible. This will put their total stealth somewhere in the ballpark of 30 or so making them extremely hard to spot, but given how weak each one is individually this shouldn't alter the balance too much. Remember: 2 cr 1/2 monsters makes a CR 1 threat, and for each doubling after that we add +2 cr. So 4 bandits is CR 3, 8 is CR 5, and increasing by 50% adds +1 CR so the encounter is CR 6 For 12 Bandits.
Hooks: Banditry doesn't often need much explanation, however just a little bit of background can turn a group of murdering cutthroats into sympathetic rebels or a tragic example of the effects of poverty. And of course since bandits are always picking up things that don't belong to them they serve as a great way to drop plot hook related items, treasure maps, old family crests, cursed items, tons of great goodies can lead to more exciting adventures.
Variations: There is a whole plethora of ways to spice up the encounter. The first is to up the number of participants, increasing the CR by 1 makes for a mass of 16 dangerous bandits, basically a small camp ready for battle. Alternatively, making the rogue's level 2 would give you 8 Rogue's at CR 7 or 12 at CR 8, though you might be better served by 8 level 3 Rogue's for CR 8 since they'll have the extra sneak attack die.
This encounter can also be spiced up with a few neat pieces of gear. Giving everyone a potion like cat's grace, haste, or true strike can make this attack far more effective, or you could have every third Rogue light a smoke stick right after firing, flanking the party in thick fog into which they cannot properly target. Using thunderstones and or flash bangs is a great way to hinder the party as well, and a few tripwires or bear traps can make the fight even more perilous.
Other variations can include switching up the feats, traits, or races the rogue's have in order to add a lot of customization. Giving them even a minor damaging cantrip like ray of frost spices up their boring ranged weapons, or having them all bust out minor psionic powers or other abilities form your favourite splat can really give players a shock.
Finally, a change of tactics can do wonders. Having a few rogue's delay their attacks for when someone casts a spell can help cripple the casters in the party and shut them down in a pinch. Having the Rogue'sflee in all directions, forcing melee specialists to hunt them slowly while their allies rain down fire is a great tactic and a very effective one at that. Another fine move is to try and lure the big bruisers away from any wagons or pack animals and send a few men in close with the casters to grab some loot and bail.
Hopefully this has given you a few new ideas to use with a classic encounter model.