Classical Archetypes III – The Bandit and the Mercenary

Blackwater operated helicopter with mercenarie...

Bandits or Mercenaries? Sometimes it's hard to tell.

Bandits have been called a lot of things. Sometimes they’re highwaymen, sometimes they’re pirates, sometimes they’re outlaws, or cutthroats, or slavers – but they’re all essentially wilderness thieves.

Sadly, the stealth-tactics of urban thieves are often unusable in settings where your prospective targets tend to keep things on their persons, or leave lookouts, and there are no crowds to cover attempts at sneak-thievery.

Perhaps worse, when victims are infrequent, each one has to really count. That pretty much eliminates “soft” techniques, such as begging, scams, pickpocketing, and most other forms of snatch and grab. When you don’t get many targets, you want to get everything they’ve got.

That leaves intimidation and force – and, like any other predator, bandits will take risks only in proportion to the potential rewards. In most cases that means that, unless there’s a huge reward for keeping someone alive, they must be ready to kill at the slightest sign of resistance if they expect to survive for long. Given this attitude, it’s unsurprising that most bandits will also act as kidnappers and slavers as sidelines to the usual extortion and murder. While some (few) bandits do have a code of sorts (“Pay up, don’t resist – and we’ll release you mostly unharmed”), most will cheerily disembowel anyone they suspect of swallowing their money and torture those they suspect of hiding it. A fair minority will maim, rape, kill, burn, torture, and destroy, just for fun.

That’s why banditry, piracy, highway robbery, and most of the other variants, are subject to the death penalty in virtually every land throughout history. Despite modern romance novels and movies, bandits are not nice people. Those few who survive for long rapidly become tough, skillful with at least a few weapons (and usually with everything short of heavy armor, although they usually stick with light armor in the interests of mobility), familiar with the area, and well-equipped with contacts to tip them off about law enforcement sweeps and rich targets – and to handle their connections with the rest of the world. Sadly, most Bandits are fairly poverty-stricken. If they had much in the way of resources, they wouldn’t be out living such an absurdly dangerous lifestyle.

Mercenaries – whether companies, native auxiliaries, or bodyguards – have been around for a very long time. In essence, they’re simply fighters who put THEIR lives “on the line” for YOUR cash. Just as importantly, when you come right down to it, every mercenary is an individual.  Some mercenaries have a “code”, but most of them are simply pragmatic. Their ultimate loyalty is to themselves – and so their lives and reputations will take priority over your desires.

Their skills tend to reflect that attitude, as well as the fact that they are likely to be operating unsupported, and with no one else to rely on. Like the soldier, and for much the same reasons, mercenaries tend to go for the heavy weapons and armor. Unlike soldiers, mercenaries tend to be able to do their own planning, repair weapons and armor, act as emergency medics, and otherwise support themselves. They’re also usually as tough as they can possibly be; the ones who aren’t don’t live very long. On the other hand, they aren’t usually very big on discipline or organization unless they have a really talented leader – which means that characters with this archetype are often almost interchangeable with many barbaric “soldiers”, unsupervised garrison troops, and rebels as far as their game mechanics are concerned.

Most mercenaries don’t want to stay in the business. It’s dangerous. They want to get enough money to set up in business, purchase land, or otherwise retire. Worse, mercenary work isn’t all that steady. They’ve got to pay for their own gear, lodging, supplies, and care, all year, on what they’ll get for a season’s work. Unless they’re being hired for garrison duty or as “advisers” (and thus will be being partially paid in security and lodging, like ordinary soldiers) hiring mercenaries is going to be quite expensive.

Of course, a mercenary probably has far more actual “combat experience” then a soldier – not that they really want it. That’s why they’re generally quite happy to take those cheap jobs maintaining order or as replacements for internal garrisons the local officials want to send to the front. That kind of job offers many perks for a clever mercenary – over and above the really big one of being able to pick and choose among possible jobs, or walk out if things get rougher then you contracted for. That’s one reason why a lot of people look down on mercenaries, but they rarely do it to their faces.

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The Basilisks of Cemar

Japanese dragon, colour engraving on wood, Chi...

Do you REALLY want to hatch out one of these things?

Are the varieties of (Alchemical) basilisk mentioned on page 116 of Legends of High Fantasy based on “real” mythological creatures? What makes a true basilisk different from that in the MM stat-wise (beyond the poisonous nature)? – Derek

Loosely – although perhaps no more loosely than most d20 creatures.

The Nicora is primarily derived from the Nicor (literally “water monster”) – with a bit of a linguistic tweak from french (where “Nicora” means “Victorious”) and medieval latin (Nocturna, night). By some stretch of linguistic mangling, it could be taken to mean a monster of cold and water – thus winter and the threat of starvation. Thus the Nicora would bring with it crop failures, unseasonable winter storms, rust, decay, and famine. Those who approach or who fall under it’s gaze would suffer the effects of cold and starvation, probably killing weaker creatures fairly quickly.

  • If one got loose in winter, it could be very bad indeed for any small, isolated, area. Sealed off by mighty drifts of snow, subject to constant storms, swiftly-lethal cold, with food supplies dwindling, and plagued by a creature who’s touch meant freezing to death almost instantly, the entire place would soon be no more than a frozen larder for a perpetually-ravenous monstrosity.

The Sarrphim are derived from the Old Testament (Seraph, “to burn” or “a fiery, flying, serpent”). Other descriptions noted that whoever laid eyes on a Seraph would be instantly incinerated due to it’s immense brightness and heat. They later developed associations with angels (as the Serpahim, including Metatron, Kemuel, Nathanael, Gabriel, and Lucifer) and with purification, perhaps due to the purifying nature of fire. A Sarrphim would tend to set things on fire, radiate fire, burn away incoming missiles, and to automatically dispel (“purify”) magical and psychic effects in the immediate vicinity.

  • An escaped Sarrphim is likely to simply set fire to everything in the area and “purify” it of the works of mortals. Of course, since its presence will disrupt protections from fire, anyone trying to stop it will have to deal with things on a perfectly normal basis.

The Chimeria is a straightforward greek classic, and simply mixes the attributes of a variety of creatures into a horrifying monster – and, in this case, one that (as an emobodiment of chaotic magic) can transform or transmute anything that approaches it. I’d expect the lair of a true Chimeria to be be surrounded by horrifyingly transformed perils and creatures, and for it to continiously try to transmute anything in it’s immediate vicinity.

  • Actually tracing down a creature that can look like almost anything, and which transforms everything around it into lethal monsters and dangerous environments, is going to be tricky – but until you do, it’s going to be a mobile blight on the world.

The Nekrom really has no classical direct basis, and was simply taken from Necro and Necromancer – mostly because most mythic embodiments of death are more forces than creatures. A Nekrom can be expected to spawn random undead nearby, to cloak itself in impenetrable darkness, to have a death (or perhaps aging) gaze, touch, and aura, to tend to return from death itself, and to destroy life wherever it passes.

  • Of course, given that everything that goes near a Nekrom is likely to die, and then rise as an undead monstrosity to make more trouble, it’s going to be very hard to follow one – or to find any witnesses as to what’s going on.

As far as statistics go, a True Basilisk could reasonably be taken as a standard Basilisk (or perhaps Abyssal Greater Basilisk with either a more powerful ritual or more time to grow) – but rather than a gaze attack it would poison the air, earth, and water, about itself for some time after it passes. Simply approaching it would require saves every round against the listed conditions, touching it with a weapon would let it inflict more lethal poisons, and actually letting it bite, touch, or breath on you would be likely to be fatal. It’s poison would affect other things as well – such as magic and psionics; I wouldn’t count on simple spells holding it’s venom up for long or holding it for more than a few moments.

  • If you’d like a really nasty little adventure, I’d suggest an alchemist who found his getting too large and powerful, tried to kill it – and wound up letting it get into the sewers beneath a town. Now toxic fumes are drifting up all over, the town is sickening, the fish in the lakes and streams the sewers empty into are dying, and the heroes will need to wade through rivers of toxins and maddened, dying, wildlife to deal with the situation.