Exalted 3e: Of Bandits and Oratory

Schnorr_von_Carolsfeld_Bibel_in_Bildern_1860_080In this thread about Ex3 social influence on the Onyx Path Exalted forum, discussion turned to the question of how one goes about persuading a group of bandits to give up their life of maraudery and go straight. The examples dealt with the mechanics of Instilling various Intimacies to accomplish that goal. But this is very much a “white room” approach to the situation. Exalted thrives on context, not abstraction.

It’s important to remember that bandits are people, too. They aren’t just blank slates waiting to be programmed with Intimacies! So you have to look at them in context. Ordinary farmers don’t just look up from their plows one day and say, “Gee, banditry sounds like a good career option, maybe I’ll do that instead.” So why are the bandits here, doing what they do?

Some may be temperamentally unsuited for “honest labor,” perhaps due to a hot temper, drug addiction, or some conflicting deep-seated belief that might be expressed as a Major or Defining Principle of “Honest work is a mug’s game” or “Violence is the only thing I’m good at.”

Others have been uprooted from their homes by war, banditry, taxes, debts, natural disasters, or familial repudiation. Without wealth and support, they can’t establish themselves as independent freewomen, but must instead search for menial work—either paid, which risks the work drying up and leaving them vagabonds, assuming jobs are available at all; or some form of serfdom or thralldom. Those who’ve joined bandit bands are those unwilling to accept such a life, suggesting Major or Defining Principles such as “Better to steal than to starve” or “Better to die free than live in bondage.”

Those who have committed crimes—including illegal acts that the PCs may not see as immoral—are in worse straits. Openly rejoining local society is impossible; doing so under an assumed identity still risks eventual exposure; and to travel alone over long distances—especially in an area that is, by definition, plagued by bandits—means taking one’s life into one’s hands. And they, along with those who have voluntarily left their old lives to escape the consequences of legal but heart-wrenching decisions or situations, may feel themselves unable to rejoin, or unworthy of rejoining, civil society.

And some bandits will be driven by personal causes. Many are dispossessed persons driven by hatred of those who wronged them, such as tax collectors, foreign soldiers, or a rival bandit gang. Others may have joined the band for other reasons, only to be enthralled by a charismatic leader or forge bonds strong as blood with their sword-sisters in the band.

Obviously, a Storyteller isn’t going to invent a distinct background and personality for every member of a hundred-strong bandit gang. But thinking about these elements in regard to dealing with bandits—or, indeed, any other “background” character—provides mechanical support for the social influence system while simultaneously providing depth and texture to NPCs and the world in which they live.



  1. Agreed. There’s a scene in Words of Radiance, by Brandon Sanderson where one of the main characters manages to talk a bandit gang into becoming her honor guard, but the whole reason it works is because of the situation and that she knows something of their psychology.

    “Deserters ain’t like common bandits,” Bluth said. “These men, they’ve given up everything. Oaths. Families. When you desert, it breaks you. It leaves you willing to do anything, because you’ve already given away everything you could have cared about losing.”
    “Wow,” Shallan said, looking over her shoulder.
    “I . . . Yeah , you spend your whole life with a decision like that, you do. You wish any honor were left for you, but know you’ve already given it away.”

    Sanderson, Brandon (2014-03-04). Words of Radiance (Stormlight Archive, The) (p. 232). Tom Doherty Associates. Kindle Edition.

    In a nutshell, Shallan, the above hero, is traveling with a caravan and they’re being followed by a group of deserters turned bandits. They end up finding another caravan that has been hit by another group of bandits, which are still around. Shallan manages to get both caravans working together then goes back to find the first group of bandits and, basically, offers them that hope, the chance to get back what they’ve lost, the opportunity to become soldiers again, the chance to not be wanted, dishonorable men anymore, if they join her and fight the other bandits.

    They end up becoming her honor guard for the rest of the book.

  2. @Michael Brewer: That sort of reminds me of Griffith from Berserk, and how he recruited the original Band of the Hawk by giving them a sense of brotherhood and a purpose beyond simply being mercenaries.

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