Is it possible to challenge mid-high level players with a bandit encounter?

I intend to find out firsthand in about 24 hours, but I figured I’d ask for some fa/tg/uy advice anyways. The meat of my question is, do any of you have experience running a bandit encounter that ISN’T meant to be a steamroll, or a menial low-level quest? How many bandits does it take to create a genuinely challenging encounter with higher level players, and how much do tactics play into it?

CRIME Shirt $21.68

The Kind of Tired That Sleep Won’t Fix Shirt $21.68

CRIME Shirt $21.68

  1. 3 weeks ago
    Anonymous

    My specific situation is that, in DnD 5e, my players have been transporting a caravan absolutely loaded to the gills with treasure across a great distance. They are finally passing through a large city, almost to their goal, and will certainly attract unwanted attention. I intend to have a well-trained, well-equipped group of bandits stage an ambush on their caravan, but I want my players to actually have to fight cleverly to fend them off.

    My idea was, as they pass through a valley in the road, to have the bandits send a flaming cart crashing into the road to block their path, and then have archers posted at the high points of the valley, and spearmen on horseback circle around from behind. I was also thinking of throwing in a Druid among them to have brambles grow up and entangle the cart. Is this too much? Not enough? Do the bandits need a plan B? Any ideas welcome.

    • 3 weeks ago
      Anonymous

      This sounds fairly reasonable, but I dont know how 5e's rules will handle it, I haven't played it in some time.

      You have the PC's stat sheets on hand? Try running through the scenario in advance to see if you've got the balance right.

      Tactics and encounter design can make a huge difference. If melee characters need multiple turns and a couple of athletics checks to reach a ranged enemy, who in turn can concentrate fire on the casters, then, yeah, it's obviously going to be way harder.

      Think about spells the party might have on hand and consider throwing some sort of mundane challenge at them earlier in the day so the casters aren't at 100% when the bandit encounter rolls around.

      This is absolutely a good idea though. Your PCs have sheets, you have some amount of ready made barometer right there.

    • 3 weeks ago
      Anonymous

      I would focus on the diversionary aspects. Have every bandit that actually wants to engage with them fighting defensively and luring them away while others rob their caravan. Make it more about attrition and how much loot they can defend. The bandits would want to target lackeys and horses which are easier to cripple than adventurers.

    • 3 weeks ago
      Anonymous

      Oh, if you have a kinda silk road theme going, you can throw 1001 Night stuff in there, that will make them feel a lot more threatening.
      Say he's the "King of the Bandits".
      Say that he found a genie in a bottle, in a cave of wonders, who is now at his service.
      Then even his lowest level mooks can have enchanted items and mounts

  2. 3 weeks ago
    Anonymous

    You have the PC's stat sheets on hand? Try running through the scenario in advance to see if you've got the balance right.

    Tactics and encounter design can make a huge difference. If melee characters need multiple turns and a couple of athletics checks to reach a ranged enemy, who in turn can concentrate fire on the casters, then, yeah, it's obviously going to be way harder.

    Think about spells the party might have on hand and consider throwing some sort of mundane challenge at them earlier in the day so the casters aren't at 100% when the bandit encounter rolls around.

    • 3 weeks ago
      Anonymous

      This is a good one.

      Since it's 5e, have the bandits have the parry feature and boost their HP a bit.
      The parry can be either +2 up to +4 depending on what your players have.

      • 3 weeks ago
        Anonymous

        Hmm, I’ll look into parrying, I’ve never incorporated that.

        Why would you? Those aren't interesting even at low levels, you're running a fantasy game so put some fantastic shit in it.

        Oh there’s plenty of that, anon. The druid is a lama who worships Graz’zt, the bait is a dead harpy, the archers all have charms in their pockets, and the whole thing is just a distraction for the clone of a wizard 1,500 miles away to steal a locket off one of the players. I’m just asking about the mundane aspect because I don’t need help with the fantastical bits.

        Assuming 5e, I ran an encounter like this involving literal hundreds of bandits. The old 1e monster manual is useful here, it gives the ratios of characters with classes to the usual rabble, so there should be a leader of comparable strengths to the PCs, maybe a Warlord NPC, a lieutenant of lesser power, maybe a Gladiator enemy, and guarded by Veterans or something. Throw in a wizard or two, maybe an Evoker and an Illusionist? You should use the mob combat rules to figure out how many bandits it takes to get a single hit on a PC. If you have serious munchkins in your party it'll probably be 10:1 per hit. The scaling of 5e is rough on low level enemies, the bandits themselves will really be a slow, but minor constant drain on HP while the party fights the leaders.

        You could also give the bandits poison to use, have them use cover, what's the battleground we're assuming? A bandit cave? A building? Out in the middle of nowhere? When I ran it the party was ambushing bandits with wagons filled with stolen goods. The bandits hid behind the wagons, whipped their steeds into a stampede to charge at the PCs, that kind of thing.

        My party absolutely routed them. They (smartly) cast Feast of Heroes before combat, because they were so convinced they were going to die. The immunity to poison saved them, and the druid cloudkilled the regular bandits by the score while the rest of the party killed the leaders one by one. But a lot of luck played in it as well.

        I will be using poison, but two of my players are immune to poison. So I plan to supplement with a heavy focus on charm effects.

        You didn't provide enough context, so I can't help you.

        What do you need to know?

        NTAYRT but, Both: the bandit leader is kitted out with magic items to buff himself, and started recruiting powerful allies when they kept failing. Target strong people and offer partnership, introduce them to the fold, and expand your enterprise based on their skills. At a certain point, become strong enough to bully giants into helping and so on. Becoming a pseudo-adventuring party in their own regard. Treat it as a heist team.
        >bard that conjures elemental backup with music
        >troll and a frost giant child for big bruisers
        >artificer kits out the bandits with the tools to enhance, including portable holes to steal entire carriages
        >druid who scouts areas and finds targets, using nature magic to expedite their arrival and escape
        >charismatic leader that may have already infiltrated the caravan undercover
        If they're carrying as much as OP says, then this is a prime target.

        Yes, this is a huge payday so there are literally four different antagonistic parties teamed up to fight the heroes. However, they’re all small time baddies, except one, who is based a long way off and cannot summon his full power here. So I want the battle to be fearsome, but not insurmountable. If they suffer a loss that’s fine, but the story can’t end here.

        • 3 weeks ago
          Anonymous

          If it does go a bit harder than you expect, you've got your get-out clause already there, amigo.
          >Four parties
          Wizard's team gets the locket. Great, job done, they bounce. Or Team 'Get Rich Quick' fights smart enough (per

          I would focus on the diversionary aspects. Have every bandit that actually wants to engage with them fighting defensively and luring them away while others rob their caravan. Make it more about attrition and how much loot they can defend. The bandits would want to target lackeys and horses which are easier to cripple than adventurers.

          ?) to isolate a wagon or two. Cool, we eat well tonight guys, adios muchachos. Two of them have a not-so-friendly rivalry going on and, well, accidents happen in raids...
          There are all sorts of ways you can go easier on your players. And there are ways to avoid them having their throats slit; personal distaste, being interrupted by monsters/a relief force/mysterious third party Quest Hook, or even keeping them for ransom but then oops, that gang rivalry strikes again conveniently just as it starts to wear off so they can escape (with more or less amounts of gear depending on how generous you are) in the confusion. After all, even Bargle let (You) live for some reason, back in the day...

  3. 3 weeks ago
    Anonymous

    Why would you? Those aren't interesting even at low levels, you're running a fantasy game so put some fantastic shit in it.

    • 3 weeks ago
      Anonymous

      Not OP, but bandits aren't themselves supposed to be the "interesting" part of this, at least if I was running it.

      https://i.imgur.com/S8aMe4r.jpeg

      I intend to find out firsthand in about 24 hours, but I figured I’d ask for some fa/tg/uy advice anyways. The meat of my question is, do any of you have experience running a bandit encounter that ISN’T meant to be a steamroll, or a menial low-level quest? How many bandits does it take to create a genuinely challenging encounter with higher level players, and how much do tactics play into it?

      OP,
      You can attack them in the middle of the road of a forest, or you can actually make it a bit interesting. Keep that flaming wagon/vines stuff, but think bigger.
      What makes bandits more interesting or nonnormative? Their leader[s] and organization and their local beat.
      If I was running this, the players would have to escort the caravan through a forest beset by a large band of brigands. Checkpoints and ambushes along the easily traveled paths that culminate at an unavoidable abandoned fort that the bandits have shacked up in.
      The leader[s]: at least one hardened straightman as the top and maybe a quirky/feisty lieutenant.

  4. 3 weeks ago
    Anonymous

    Assuming 5e, I ran an encounter like this involving literal hundreds of bandits. The old 1e monster manual is useful here, it gives the ratios of characters with classes to the usual rabble, so there should be a leader of comparable strengths to the PCs, maybe a Warlord NPC, a lieutenant of lesser power, maybe a Gladiator enemy, and guarded by Veterans or something. Throw in a wizard or two, maybe an Evoker and an Illusionist? You should use the mob combat rules to figure out how many bandits it takes to get a single hit on a PC. If you have serious munchkins in your party it'll probably be 10:1 per hit. The scaling of 5e is rough on low level enemies, the bandits themselves will really be a slow, but minor constant drain on HP while the party fights the leaders.

    You could also give the bandits poison to use, have them use cover, what's the battleground we're assuming? A bandit cave? A building? Out in the middle of nowhere? When I ran it the party was ambushing bandits with wagons filled with stolen goods. The bandits hid behind the wagons, whipped their steeds into a stampede to charge at the PCs, that kind of thing.

    My party absolutely routed them. They (smartly) cast Feast of Heroes before combat, because they were so convinced they were going to die. The immunity to poison saved them, and the druid cloudkilled the regular bandits by the score while the rest of the party killed the leaders one by one. But a lot of luck played in it as well.

    • 3 weeks ago
      Anonymous

      Ok I have a seperate question here. Do the bandits do this for every group they attack or did they specifically break these tactics out expecting a group of high level adventurers

      • 3 weeks ago
        Anonymous

        NTAYRT but, Both: the bandit leader is kitted out with magic items to buff himself, and started recruiting powerful allies when they kept failing. Target strong people and offer partnership, introduce them to the fold, and expand your enterprise based on their skills. At a certain point, become strong enough to bully giants into helping and so on. Becoming a pseudo-adventuring party in their own regard. Treat it as a heist team.
        >bard that conjures elemental backup with music
        >troll and a frost giant child for big bruisers
        >artificer kits out the bandits with the tools to enhance, including portable holes to steal entire carriages
        >druid who scouts areas and finds targets, using nature magic to expedite their arrival and escape
        >charismatic leader that may have already infiltrated the caravan undercover
        If they're carrying as much as OP says, then this is a prime target.

  5. 3 weeks ago
    Anonymous

    Bandit's can have Ogres, wolves, magic users and tactical fortifications.
    Only the greenest DM / GM / Referee rolls a single type of enemy in an encounter.

  6. 3 weeks ago
    Anonymous

    You didn't provide enough context, so I can't help you.

  7. 3 weeks ago
    Anonymous

    There has literally never been an edition of d&d where bandits were anything but a mid-level threat. They're in groups of 1d10*30. Quit thinking like a wotc theatre kid playing fire emblem and start thinking like an adult playing a wargame campaign.

    • 3 weeks ago
      Anonymous

      In something like B/X or AD&D several dudes with ranged weapons could totally be a threat to mid-level PCs or even high-level one in sufficient numbers. Obviously nobody but total morons would roll 300 attack dice at once like the excerpt from seems to imply, but something like ACKS handles mass combat against high-level PCs really well and all the math is pretty much flawless be it 1v10 mid-level dungeon combat or 1v a group of 100 army combat when the PC fighting man has a vorpal sword and an adamantine full plate. Incidentally, ACKS also handles caravans and treasure transportation as well as random wilderness encounters and economy well. Unfortunately, you're playing a shit system with HP bloat, OP, so please accept my condolences but not my sympathies. You'll probably have to make some fat stacks of hp enemies to tank PCs for more than one round, make all the archers use optional minion rules and give them 1 hp, and make a spellcaster dumb so that the PCs won't b***h and complain about being entangled for the entire fight.

      • 3 weeks ago
        Anonymous

        >Obviously nobody but total morons would roll 300 attack dice at once like the excerpt from

        There has literally never been an edition of d&d where bandits were anything but a mid-level threat. They're in groups of 1d10*30. Quit thinking like a wotc theatre kid playing fire emblem and start thinking like an adult playing a wargame campaign. (You) # seems to imply
        ?? It's meant to be used with chainmail anon. 300 bandits would be 15 miniatures for reference, plus the hero types and wizards.

        • 3 weeks ago
          Anonymous

          For some reason I thought it was AD&D for a sec, but the argument stands. When you roll for 30-300 orcs appearing you're not going to switch to chainmail in play. well maybe you might but ACKS rules are seamless in regards of mass vs individual combat so I'm still going to shill it, and most likely people who already use chainmail alongside their preferred OSR(ish) game system are probably ultra old farts who know all the modifiers and shit for both systems. As much as I respect those people, I would never suggest chainmail as a dedicated mass combat resolution system for an average joe who probably plays 5e or 3.5 or god forbid 4e (though I guess in 4e you could just refluff monsters as armies and powers as maneuvers or whatnot, you sick frick).

          • 3 weeks ago
            Anonymous

            Oh on the contrary, anon! We play OD&D and absolutely do switch to chainmail in mass encounters, and it's really seamless. I'm only 25 by the way, and chainmail actually is what got me into wargaming lol. That being said I like ACKS domains at war, hexes are cool.

  8. 3 weeks ago
    Anonymous

    Conjure Woodland Beings It could even be a dude with a scroll

    8 Pixies They get to act in the round they are conjured

    8 Polymorphs

    bunnies, chickens, turtles, and goldfish are popular choices

    The PCs will probably make most of their saves, enough for the group to survive.

    Polymorphing the draft horses into doves is also a possibility.

    If you are sneaky, have one bandit be invisible and go pilfer something off the wagon and avoid all fighting

    they will not forget an encounter like this

  9. 3 weeks ago
    Anonymous

    A low magic way is to target the drafthorses

    dead horses, wagon's not going anywhere

  10. 3 weeks ago
    Anonymous

    Irl bandits could be some outlaws and vagrant villagers, or they could be actual rogue knights, sons of petty nobles, and unemployed mercenaries. OR, they could be vaguely employed mercenaries that one side or another has set loose upon an area to cause chaos.

    The sort of thing that would happen with the "routiers" in the HYW is they're all mounted, and they disperse to take over castles, or come together to fight as an organised army if threatened. They'd pay off townsmen to let them in, in exchange for a cut of the loot, or climb over the walls at night. They'd ambush people on the road, kidnap them and then either hold them for ransom or force them to be their servants, some would join them too. They often fought on foot, with cut down lances backed up by longbowmen or crossbowmen. If you want to throw some shit at your party then make it make sense and make the "bandits" almost entirely professional soldiers instead of a few scary ones and the rest rabble.

  11. 3 weeks ago
    Anonymous

    What a stupid fricking question. A bandit isn't a class of being, it's a guy who does crimes.

  12. 3 weeks ago
    Anonymous

    Please tell me you aren't trying to throw bulk low-level mooks at a Party in a D&D game, for which lots of low-level mooks have far too high a combined chance at success...

    Please tell me it's at least some non-d20 game, for which it's actually a viable option...

    Obviously, useful advice is going to heavily depend on what game system it actually is...

    • 3 weeks ago
      Anonymous

      Not op, but the amount of people itt who can't bother to read beyond the first post is genuinely baffling to me.

      • 3 weeks ago
        Anonymous

        I was sincerely hoping that was someone else, since they made no attempt to overtly connect the two.

  13. 3 weeks ago
    Anonymous

    for me the issue i have is enemies just cant fricking hit the players

  14. 3 weeks ago
    Anonymous

    Thanks for all the great advice in this thread. My session is in a couple hours, and I’m going to put a lot of your suggestions to work. My final bandit roster ended up looking like this:
    >1 Level 9 Fighter
    >1 Level 9 Druid
    >6 crossbowmen, half of which have the False Life spell
    >4 mounted spearmen
    >3 assassins, one of which has Misty Step

    So we’ll see how that goes. Also I’d like to say, to the post above me, you are absolutely moronic. This thread can die now.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *