dnd bandits viariations

10 Ways to Make Your D&D Bandits Interesting

Simple statblocks can be quickly overlooked.

Combat encounters can become a slugfest really fast. Especially at the first tier, when PCs are squishy and it’s easy to overwhelm them. A lot of published adventures use same groups of foes repeatedly. It works because it is easy to balance and predict the outcome. Bandits are bread-and-butter of early fights.

That being said, using the same creatures doesn’t mean they all have to be the same. Here are ten ways to make simple dnd bandits unique and the fight more flavourful.

Let’s Take a Look at The Bandit Statblock

D&D Bandit Statblock

It is simple. Easy to run. Straightforward. Maybe even plain. Let’s take a look what could be done with the Bandit to elevate each encounter with such plain creature.

How to Transform Your D&D Bandit

Weapons

dnd hurling bandit statblock
Deevin doesn’t want you to come closer. He sticks to his sticks. And throw them at you. From afar. Duck,now! 

Simply swapping a weapon can seem way too easy, but in fact, it can change a lot. Having three bandits on battlefield, each with different weapon can diversify the visual aspect of the encounter and help players recognize each and one of the bandits.

A classic bandit is portrait with a scimitar and light crossbow. It means our bandit can easily use light, finesse, martial weapon. Also, this its weaponry is worth around 50 gp! For that much money, you can easily give your bandit 5 daggers and a quarterstaff or a pike and a club.

It will change their damage output or the way they fight and thus force players to think in more strategic way.

Play around different weapon traits. Versatile can turn a simple quarterstaff into a quite deadly weapon when used with two hands (1d8 bludgeoning damage). A pike has a reach trait so fighting in a distance is now possible.

A bandit with a whip and a dagger won’t be overpower in terms of damage output, but will definitely make an impact when he appears with a roaring crack and a sharp blade.

Armor

dnd broken bandit statblock
He might look poor but…well he is poor. But he still remembers some of the manners from back when they considered him nobility. Brace yourself, good Sir.

Armor is trickier than weapons, because upping AC can heavy influence the encounter. Having a bandit with AC of 19 on level 1 can be deadly! Fortunately within the type range of armor there are several options to chose. Padded, leather, studded leather, hide and ring mail can still work well, and make the encounter a little bit more diversified.

This will also help players to find new armor or pieces of armor for themselves if they need something. Sticking just to one kind of equipment severely narrows the window.

Tip #1: Flavor is also super important here! Each sword, mace, armor can have different design, color, material. Play with it, so that looting is not just a mechanical choice but a style choice as well. 

Race

dnd wet bandit statblock
You don’t want to end up on the wrong side of Rafael. He can freeze your whole waterskin or worse, wet your pants! 

A lot of statblocks are specifically vague in terms of description. Race is one of the aspects that can be easily swapped and used. A bandit can be Human, Aasimar, Elven or Warforge. Some books introduce race-specific statblocks with additional abilities, but there is absolutely no reason not to use everything that the games offers to you.

To make the bandits more interesting, pick the race traits that have small or no impact on combat and implement them in their life, behaviour or other roles in the adventure. They will immediately rank up from just a mob to a NPC, without you even noticing it.

Think about earth genasi bandit who runs through rough, rocky terrain without any trouble outmaneuvering your PCs. A dwarven fella, mending and repairing everyones weapons with his smith’s tools. A band of half-orcs who scare anyone into submission without even starting a fight.

Class

dnd flashy bandit statblock
She knows how to use that sword of hers, but more importantly she knows when to reach for it. I ain’t sure which one is more scary. 

Adding a class level to monster is possible and shortly described in Dungeon’s Master Guide on page 283. It reasonable to watch the Challange Rating more closely this way, especially on lower levels. It does, however, become a create tool to buff some lower CR bandits and cultists against slightly stronger characters.

Three cultists with CR 1/8 would be nothing against part of four 3rd level characters, but giving each one of them 3 levels of warlock or cleric can make a little fuss on the battlefield.

MONSTERS WITH CLASSES

You can use the rules in chapter 3 of the Player’s Handbook to give class levels to a monster. For example, you can turn an ordinary werewolf into a werewolf with four levels of the barbarian class (such a monster would be expressed as “Werewolf, 4th-level barbarian”). Start with the monster’s stat block. The monster gains all the class features for every class level you add, with the following exceptions:

• The monster doesn’t gain the starting equipment of the added class.

• For each class level you add, the monster gains one Hit Die of its normal type (based on its size), ignoring the class’s Hit Die progression.

The monster’s proficiency bonus is based on its challenge rating, not its class levels. Once you finish adding class levels to a monster, feel free to tweak its ability scores as you see fit (for example, raising the monster’s Intelligence score so that the monster is a more effective wizard), and make whatever other adjustments are needed.

You’ll need to recalculate its challenge rating as though you had designed the monster from scratch. Depending on the monster and the number of class levels you add to it, its challenge rating might change very little or increase dramatically. For example, a werewolf that gains four barbarian levels is a much greater threat than it was before. In contrast, the hit points, spells, and other class features that an ancient red dragon gains from five levels of wizard don’t increase its challenge rating.

Dungeon Master’s Guide

Consumables

dnd slipper bandit statblock
We all thought he’s dead but then he pops out a bottle out of the sudden and BAM! Branbek is in the game again.

There is plethora of cool potions the bandits can stack and use at the last resort. They might be flavoured as narcotics, magical seals, etc. Giving an amateur wizard/bandit a spell scroll could be a great way to bring more dramatic element to the fight, especially if he needs to read the scroll for more than just one round.

Consumables are great because the can be used just once, so they don’t provide a stable advantage, but rather a quick boost that can be just what you need at the crucial moment of the battle. Additionally, they can be a great loot for PCs.

Minions

dnd newbie bandit statblock
Just put this on and hold on to this. No, not like that. There! Now just stand there and don’t draw any attention to yourself. 

Minions were introduced in D&D 4e and today they are mostly known in 5e thanks to Matt Colville. Usually they work as bosses entourage, a cannon fodder to bring more fun into high stakes situation.

Minions are perfect to make a fast pace scene, where PC are in pursuit or fend off a horde of attackers. The dynamics of multitude 1HP enemies can be especially interesting in Tier 1.

Tip#2: General rule for minions is, they have the same statblock as normal creature but only 1 HitPoint. Anytime they get hit, the die or fall unconscious. 

Pets and Mounts

dnd shepard bandit statblock
She stinks even worse than this dog of hers. And does she have to talk to him like that? It’s a thirty pound beast not a newborn. 

Buffing a lowly bandit with a gnarling hound or a parrot with sense of humor could be a huge role-playing boost or mechanical advantage. You can give them two separate statblocks with different initiative and skills or give the bandit a bonus action with two options for the pet:

  • Attack command
  • Skill-linked action like Hiding, Chasing (Dash) or making a Perception check.

Rule of thumb is, the pet’s CR shouldn’t be higher than 1/8, otherwise you are creating a much stronger encounter.

A mount is a special type of pet. It can give the bandit huge advantage over PCs so don’t overuse it. Besides, rising, feeding and taking care of the mount could be an expensive endeavour so only few bandits can afford such luxury.

dnd mounted bandit statblock
Look at him! He thinks he is a freakin’ king now. He can’t even ride this chestnut properly. I’m wondering where did he steal such a beast.

Rules for mounted combat can be a little overwhelming for a single NPC, so I like to give such creature Mounted Combatant feat.

Mounted Combatant Rules

You are a dangerous foe to face while mounted. While you are mounted and aren’t incapacitated, you gain the following benefits:


• You have advantage on melee attack rolls against any unmounted creature that is smaller than your mount.

• You can force an attack targeted at your mount to target you instead.

• If your mount is subjected to an effect that allows it to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, it instead takes no damage if it succeeds on the saving throw, and only half damage if it fails.

Faction and Faction markings

This might be seem as more of a style over substance change, but adding faction markings to your bandit can make him more recognizable and give his action some purpose. Even thou he might not pose a real threat in a fight, he could represent much more – a whole group of people with similar interests, philosophy, religion or else. Instead of a singular entity, he now becomes a representative of many.

Think about the outfit, tattoos, scars or makeup. Is he a colorful, easily recognizable mobster; scraggy raider or a cunning scoundrel. The impression he will make, alongside with his fellow bandits, can turn a certain squirmish into more tense, dramatic encounter.

Secrets and information

The satisfaction of a well coordinated battle can be a reward in itself. That being said, a lowly bandit is not likely to possess a lot of loot or magic items, so the reward system might be under pressure in such circumstances. Attaching pieces of information or perhaps even secrets can be a turnaround.

Useful information might concern:

  • Current quest and/or plot line
  • A big-picture campaign plot
  • A piece of lore about the world
  • A closure or a fix for some of your plot holes

Roles

4e had one more, fun rule. It gave the monsters a role, that would help building and running combat encounters. In fact, the minion rule we’ve already talked about, is part of that system.

Looking at the bandit statblock, there isn’t much to work with. Turning such creature into e.g. a Controllers [a role that deals mostly in crowd control activities] could be almost impossible without a significant change in the statblock.

A few thing we could use however.

  • Hidden or elevated bandits with crossbows could perfectly fit an Artillery role – with high damage from afar, but small chances in melee.
  • A shielded bandit (yes, give him the bloody shield!) next to a spellcaster could perfectly fit a Soldier role – protecting and shielding the vulnerable Artillery or Controller.
  • A hidden bandit waiting for the right moment to attack, could possibly change the situation on battlefield. As a Lurker, bandit perhaps won’t deal devastating amount of damage, but dealing it in the right moment can be a game changer.

Depending on the Tier of your game, bandits with specific roles can be a cosmetic change or a significant part of your encounter strategy.

Bonus Bandit Option – Change Their Context

There is an unlimited ways to use bandits in your game. The situation you put them in can change the whole encounter (social or combat) and turn the rest of the points I made on the head. Context is paramount.

Levels and CR

One of the most considered context is the PC’s levels. It is natural that in order to balance the encounter we try to find the best ‘monsters’, with enough hardship to make the players be quick on their feet and use their abilities right, but not too tough so they can actually have fun. Consider shifting the paradigm of this context.

What if your players meet much stronger bandits or much bigger in numbers so they couldn’t be defeated easily? Perhaps they are a fraction or a villainous group for PCs to deal with later in the campaign? How about the opposite – PCs are meeting bandits which pose no danger to them at all. How would that change the dynamics of the encounter?

Environment

Bandits in their home town can be become a formidable opponent because they are on their own turf. They know all the passages, hideouts, rooftops and sewers. They can move quickly, use the terrain and contacts for their benefit. Similarly, road bandits lurking for passersby can use outcroppings, riverbanks and narrow paths to attack. The obvious advantage and a creative use of it can propel a simple combat encounter into fantastic scene.

But what if we inverse it? How would a group of city dwelling gang of thugs operate on the roads or a ship or a dessert? Or the raiding party from wilderness suddenly forced to operate within a city walls? How creative would they be to survive in this new circumstances or what weird alliances would they make? The environmental context writes their story itself.

Download Bandits Statblocks

If you enjoyed the examples I gave, feel free to download the whole bundle of bandit statblocks for your campaign.


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