The Hard Life of the Outlaw

As stated previously, in early UO Dread Lords ruled.  This was not only because there was no effective justice system to countermand their actions, but because the game really had no way whatsoever to make their life harder than that of an adventurer.  The most important advantage shared by the murderer and the more benign player was that the murderer had access to a house which was lockable, in which he could store everything he needed (or didn’t need), and barring a breakin, that stuff remained his even if he was killed.

Once again realism rules here.  A known multiple murderer does not have a nice house in the burbs containing all the property he strips from his victims.  He does not have access to city services.  He is hunted more or less actively by the police department if they have a clue as to his whereabouts.  A dark ages brigand (and there were a lot of them) lived like a nomad, crashing for a while in an abandoned farm or some similar shelter, and did not have huge piles of footlockers with every conceivable item locked securely therein.  Take away this sense of security and profitability, and you bring the murderer onto a new level of realism that helps to discourage casual gamer PK’s from this lifestyle, and helps to define the lifestyle of the player who really does want to live the spartan existence of the outlaw.

At this moment, I can hear the shouting from many PK’s who have grown used to the cushy lifestyle afforded them by the existing game systems.  "What do you mean we can’t have a secure house?  No place to store my 6 million suits of plate I got off chumps this week?  You suck!"  Yes I mean all of that.  Here are the basic concepts of the "realistic criminal" model:

  • A criminal cannot expect the protection of the lord whose laws he is violating.  Let’s assume in our system that player-built housing exists within the patrol radius of the local monarch’s men.  This is usually 20 miles from the city center effectively, and maybe a little more for farms and outlying residences, but these places will not be patrolled as heavily by the local constabulary.  However, within the monarch’s zone of influence, there are patrols and rangers and such who enforce the law of the land and would certainly know if a wanted criminal was setting up housekeeping nearby.  A small army of men would converge on the residence and apprehend the criminal, seizing his land and property in the bargain.
  • A criminal’s home, if he has one, is therefore always away from the local lord’s sphere of influence.  If you have a good enough system for player construction (a real-time system based on relevant skills, instead of just buying a deed), a criminal might indeed build himself a cabin somewhere deep in the forest.  He may store his gear there semi-securely, hire guards to protect it, and perhaps even have traps and hidden areas to store it in.  However, no system is foolproof, and if someone manages to take his property away, he has no recourse in the form of a police report.
  • A criminal’s property is always endangered.  If the property is found or its location known to the magistrate, he will almost certainly order it confiscated.  A thief who steals from a criminal’s house is free from sanctions, except being hunted down by the injured party.  This is one reason that a real-life bandit who was unusually resourceful often had a number of caches lying in various hidden locations.  A smart pirate doesn’t bury all his loot in one vulnerable spot.

These considerations have a number of impacts on the criminal lifestyle.  Since hoarding is extremely difficult for a criminal, if not impossible, it ceases to be a very attractive motive for attacking other players.  The fact that a criminal has no legal recourse to being attacked or burgularized himself means that suspicion will be higher between criminals, as it usually is.  A criminal who wishes to accumulate wealth through the sale of stolen or looted items will have to resort to dealing his goods on the black market, which always buys low and sells high.  And a criminal who is dependent on resources only civilization can provide, like the knowledge stored in the city’s magical arts college, is going to have to be extremely clever and resourceful to get what he needs to continue growing in power.

However, all is not lost for the would-be murderer-baron.  Assuming your system is robust enough to support it, it’s possible that a well-organized and charismatic criminal can establish a fiefdom without the consent of the local duke (or whatever).  The aspiring crimelord finds a place where he is unlikely to be discovered for a while, and commences construction of a central stronghold like a moat house, or moves into an abandoned (or overthrown) existing structure.  From here he can convince peasants and such to move in and pay him taxes if the services he offers are arguably better than what they had before.  (Peasants are always looking for a better deal.)  Over time, he may acquire a small fiefdom and a supporting army of soldiers and brigands to defend it.  The local duke will no doubt be incensed at this, and begin to send demands of tribute, which the player may decline.  If this happens, the duke will start sending forces in to take the land (and its tax base) by force.  Depending on how these battles go, the player may be overthrown, or become a client state of the duke (through negotiation), or defeat these attackers so completely that the duke decides not to pursue the matter.  Oddly enough, this ultimate victory for the crimelord now makes him the center of government for his zone of control.  This is not an uncommon way for a kingdom to be established historically.

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