So one of the staples of wilderness travel is “running across bandits and fighting them”. Another is many different tribes of sentient life forms living almost on top of each other. This posting I’m going to discuss some of the issues with those tropes in a West Marches-style campaign.
First, let’s start with bandits.
Bandits are groups of rough criminals who prey upon travelling merchants or out-lying settlements or trade posts. In a West Marches-style game, there is certainly room for bandits to operate and places for them to hide. However, there is, almost by definition, no merchants for them to steal from and the only outposts are heavily defended against monsters. So with nothing to steal why would there be bandits at all?
The answer I’ve worked up starts with “there aren’t any.” From an adventuring point of view, this is not very satisfactory, neither as a player nor as a DM. So I needed to expand on my preliminary answer by adding “yet.” As the PCs adventure, folks in town should notice they are brining back treasure, sometimes a lot of it, and often after getting beat up to get said treasure. Additionally, others will notice that it is possible for a group to go out into the wilderness and survive.
This leads to two potential groups moving out into the wilderness. The first (and probably smallest) are individuals who see an opportunity to relieve adventurers of their fiscal burdens on the way back to town. If they can track which way the adventurers head out, they can set an ambush on their most likely route back and ambush the adventurers, stealing their loot with significantly less danger than going out and getting their own. Theoretically, at least.
The other group that will move out into the wilderness are those fed up with living under the thumb of the Duke. Yes, working in the mines pays your room and board with some left over for drinking, but no one is getting rich but the Duke. Leaving by ship takes money, money most don’t have. People stay in the Iron Keep because “it’s too dangerous to live outside the walls.” Once they start seeing that this is not true, groups will scrape together money and supplies and strike out to found their own little places. Many of these groups will fail for one or more of many reasons and become desperate, especially if they are determined to NOT return to the Iron Keep. They will start raiding the supply caravans going to the mines and travelling adventurers who appear affluent (or at least more affluent than the desperate people doing the raiding).
So that sets up small groups of raiders, most of whom are going to want whatever the PCs find, no matter how small that is. The desperate raiders might try and barter services or a safe place to stay for goods and/or cash that can be used to purchase goods bask at the keep, but not the out-and-out bandits. They’ll take everything you have, thank-you-very-much.
Humanoid tribes present a slightly different set of issues. They can obviously survive here – it’s their home. The real issue would seem to be, why haven’t they been interacting with the people from town? (In the Southern Reaches this would be the Iron Keep.) There are two possible answers: A) they did, that’s why the Keep has those huge walls, or B) because they live a long way away.
For the Southern Reaches, I’m going to use a combination of the two. In the past, the original settlement was attacked by local humanoids. Eventually they were defeated (or driven off) after the Duke brought in troops and build the current defenses. The currently living humanoids are all far enough away that they do not have any regular contact with the Keep.
Until the adventurers show up, of course.
I’ve got four zones sketched out where the humanoids are now: the western mountains, the eastern swamp, the southeastern jungle, and travelling with the auroch herds. The humanoids in the mountains, the swamp, and the jungle won’t be encountered until the PCs go to those locations. The humanoids following the auroch herds are another matter and will show up when autumn comes around and the herds move north to their winter pastures. This should be an exciting time for many folks, possibly even the PCs, as thousands of aurochs migrate into the area and start drawing large predators into the area the PCs have to travel through.
[Note: The continent is south of the equator, but I haven’t changed the months to reflect the change of latitude. It is late May in-game, even though it should probably be November. Meh. I want something the players can remember and I already have a home-brew calendar in my other campaign to confuse them with.]
So that’s it for now. The next Southern Reaches game should be happening this weekend (schedules permitting), so expect an adventure log entry on Monday. Later!