Bandits are a staple of fantasy. Skyrim, Kingdoms of Amalur, Fable, Dungeons and Dragons. All these games feature bandits in some capacity. If we look beyond the fantasy genre, Red Dead Redemption and Sunset Overdrive also feature bandits. Bandits tend to low-level enemies. They wear cobbled together armour and usually carry basic weapons. Every now and then, you might encounter one who has a magic item. Usually, more powerful bandits are chiefs or captains. Most bandits are aggressive on sight. However, do we ever really stop to consider the bandit? Why are they there? What are they doing?
Let’s look at Skyrim as an example. Bandits dot the landscape, they take over disused forts and watchtowers or build their own rudimentary wooden structures. They are most often Nords or Orcs, though they can be from any race. This tells us something interesting. Bandits are most likely to be, presumably, from Skyrim or Orsinium. Orsinium has a history of being sacked and has been so recently in Skyrim’s lore. The Nord bandits notably haven’t chosen a side in the Civil War. So, we start to get an idea of who these people are. People who aren’t in the armies of Skyrim, maybe by choice or being ostracized due to their criminal past. There are few spellcasters amongst their ranks. They attack people on the road, probably looking to make some coin.
The bandits of Skyrim seem to be those who need coin and will prey upon travellers to get it. They aren’t looking for a hard fight as the Dragonborn typically cleaves through them. They are also dressed in furs and leathers to fend off the wintery weather of Skyrim. Bandits often sleep in the places they have fortified. Typically, there’ll be a tougher bandit deeper within the fortifications. Presented with this information, there are a few possible directions that we can make our assumptions in. We could assume that these are desperate people, hoping to make enough coin to make it to the next day. Alternatively, we could assume that it is a collection of wayward folks who value strength and thus prey on the weak where they can. Both of these interpretations paint the bandits as criminals but one interpretation is kinder than the other.
I lean more towards the first interpretation and I’ll tell you why. There’s a lot of studies out in the wild that suggest a correlation between poverty and crime. There are always other factors. I can think of at least one figure who has a reputation for wealth who is definitely being accused of a myriad host of crimes. Now, part of my solution for that would be to reduce the stresses of poverty so those who would perform crimes out of desperation are given a support structure by the state. A view of the bandits of Skyrim as all bad people whose ideology is one of strength suggests an individual failing of each of these bandits. Both these positions are something you can argue for within the text of the game. I’m just using the first one as a lens that feels more true to me. Although it should be noted that if the latter psychological profile were correct then the bandits of Skyrim would find the Stormcloaks as a faction appealing.
Perhaps there is something to that. In this regard, bandits remind me of trolls. The online form, not the fantasy monster. They attack others to project strength. However, if someone offered them a scapegoat for their alienation, they might take a darker path. These are interesting ideas to explore when it comes to bandits. I don’t think I can offer any definitive take on bandits. I can offer that if we explore their internality we can create more compelling bandits who reflect phenomena that we see in our current day.
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