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Fantasy, vaguely European middle ages. Humans are the only friendly intelligent species. Other species (and magic) exist but they're almost always things you work (or fight) against rather than forces on your side. Both the other species and magic are so varied that it tends to be a flavor-of-the-week sort of deal, and thus it is impossible to make long-term plans for what threats are on the horizon.

Thankfully, mortal men are generally up to the task of dealing with these threats, and when either magic or species are a violent threat, the threat isn't big enough to warrant marching armies.

The kingdoms are very loosely knit where central regions are supported by mostly removed, small communities that provide agricultural and craftsmanship needs. The societies are very spaced apart, and borders are extremely poorly defined and enforced even worse. War is historically extremely rare, and armed forces are universally underdeveloped on all levels (small armies typically are only stood up when raiders, bandits, or the ilk threaten citizens).

Each small community (town and surrounding farmland)--one to three times a decade--deals with an until-then-unheard-of magical beast, wizard, etc. The threat could be eating the sheep, burning the crops, abducting children, or something else that demands that they are dealt with. These threats are significant enough that the nations really need to put an end to them but rare enough that the leaders can't justify stationing troops in the towns. Still, the townsfolk can't deal with it directly, as it's dangerous enough that the inexperienced, ill-trained, and poorly armed citizens will face significant loss trying to deal with it themselves.

I want the world to have adopted a habit of communities hiring bands of mercenaries (or as they call them "hero bands") to deal with these time-to-time threats, but this leaves the obvious suggested transition to bandits and highway robbers when these hero bands are between jobs.

What is a policy a kingdom can adopt (within the restrictions of the historic period, and no hand waving with magic) that's an efficient and effective means of stopping these otherwise helpful bands of mercenaries from devolving into bandits, while not placing a strain on the coffers? Since not all of the bands of heroes are from the kingdom, social pressure or indoctrination methods would be fairly hit-and-miss.

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    $\begingroup$ Like other guilds regulating their respective trades, establish an adventurers guild. Rogue "hero" groups are a threat to be dealt with by a hero group. $\endgroup$ – Thaylon Feb 8 '17 at 12:48
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    $\begingroup$ I think you should look up 'The Witcher' $\endgroup$ – Rakesh G R Feb 8 '17 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ Keeping finding more work for them, farther and farther away. $\endgroup$ – Tony Ennis Feb 9 '17 at 0:25
  • $\begingroup$ By severely punishing banditry to the point that it is not profitable. $\endgroup$ – JFA Feb 9 '17 at 1:31
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    $\begingroup$ You could also lampshade the issue by acknowledging their unstoppability, maybe having some characters voice these concerns in-universe or e.g. complaining that these so-called "heroes" do more damage than they actually prevent due to their carelessness. Cf. barbarian heroes from Discworld. $\endgroup$ – errantlinguist Feb 9 '17 at 21:27

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One way to keep the heroes from getting lazy and taking the bandit path is to make these heroes into a religious order. If they are serving the high gods by protecting people from the demonic Outsiders, then they are going to have less desire to break from that path. After all, doing so could have eternal repercussions.

This also serves the additional purpose of providing a system of honor around their behavior, baked into the religious dogma of their order(s). As part of the religious system, the heroes can expect certain privileges, like free food and shelter or healing from the temples (if magic allows) or from the local healers, surgeons, or whatever your setting uses. And as a holy order, there is incentive for the villages to supply the "best and brightest" of their children to the temples for training into the mystical ways of these hero bands.

By setting up holy training centers, you ensure that these bands get proper training -- something that would be unavailable without at least some kind of militaristic society to train them. These enclaves would serve as rest areas between circuits, and a convalescent/retirement home for the injured or permanently disabled. These elder heroes would serve as teachers. And these enclaves would probably be where the majority of the world's weapon smiths would practice their trade as well.

If they work on a circuit rider basis, then they can probably stay relatively busy. Sure, each village has an encounter with the wilds only once every 3 to 5 years, but an entire kingdom, then, would have encounters going on fairly frequently. Especially when there is significant travel time between villages.

The older surviving heroes who aren't fully retired might also serve as circuit judges in smaller towns that don't really have their own nobility. Or other "holy" duties as part of their travels between communities.

The religious trappings could also place constraints on their behavior, such as not robbing the village "in payment" for their services, not availing themselves of the locals sexually, or in other ways becoming bully-like dictators on the local level.

Those few circuit knights who break from the order would be labeled heretics and blasphemers. They would be hunted and hated by the order and all who honor it. If your world's Gods are active and involved, then the fallen knights might be destroyed outright for their heresy.

The enclaves would contain healers, weapon smiths, researchers, story tellers, and historians, at a minimum. The knights and these non-warriors would have a strong symbiotic relationship. Historians and researchers would chronicle past wilds-events, trying to discern patterns that might predict future events. New weapons and tactics would be researched by these folk and then tested later against future events.

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    $\begingroup$ Of course, while it may help and is likely to work for some time, it's not a sure fire guarantee, at least not in the long term - historical military religious orders have at certain times done exactly as described in your last paragraph, for example Teutonic and Livonian orders certainly devolved to that level at some points in history. $\endgroup$ – Peteris Feb 7 '17 at 20:33
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    $\begingroup$ Oh sure, but it provides a framework that discourages such behavior, at least in theory. And if the world might include god(s) that actually do strike people down with lightning... $\endgroup$ – CaM Feb 7 '17 at 20:38
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    $\begingroup$ The entire point to developing the code of Chivalry was to curb the homicidal and pillaging tendencies of groups of men-at-arms. Attaching an existential religious meaning to their actions is a great way to focus these armed groups. $\endgroup$ – Jason K Feb 8 '17 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ Heh. And those that break away from the circuit riders or fall into evil become outcasts to be hunted and destroyed. Because they're not just villains. They're heretics who are committing blasphemy against THE GODS! [queue dramatic drum beat here] $\endgroup$ – CaM Feb 8 '17 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ You'd still want a mechanism for ousting power-monger and/or conquer types. $\endgroup$ – nijineko Feb 8 '17 at 19:19
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I recently read the Kingkiller Chronicles, and the author described an interesting system which might make sense to you.

Imagine a society similar to Feudal Japan. These people developed certain fighting techniques, which are a highly kept secret. Each martial arts school trains warriors, the best of which are sent out into the world.

These warriors - even if trained at competing schools - will all cooperate out "in the wild" (they consider all outsiders barbarians, although that's both hypocritical as well as ironic, as their insular culture is quite backwards in some respects).

These highly trained warriors act as very expensive mercenaries, however their fighting skills are so famous that anyone considers themselves lucky simply to have one available to hire. They never negotiate their prices, and they never fight against one another (if your enemy also hired a group of them then warriors on both sides will return their fee to their respective employers and collectively walk away).

Any attempt to force their hand will not end well, and that employer will most likely face severe retribution once word reaches the schools of what has happened to their warriors.

These warriors all send their money back home for the continued survival of their people. They are bound by a very strong sense of honor, as well as serving a higher purpose - sending money back home. Each is aware that dishonoring their school or nation will have negative repercussions for their entire country, and will affect the employability of their fellow warriors.

There are not enough of them that they have trouble finding employment, and when they're between jobs they can simply visit back home.

A guild of heroes can work in much the same way. Imagine heroes going out and solving the problems of the world, then sending their profits back to the guild.

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    $\begingroup$ So, in a sentence, the mercenaries don't become bandits because there's not enough of them to make jobs scarce, and because it would bring dishonor to their families? $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Feb 8 '17 at 3:13
  • $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh - these mercenaries don't. In that universe there's plenty of other mercenaries who do become bandits. But this group can always simply go back home if work dries up, and their factions are rich enough due to their combined profits to keep feeding and supporting the entire community. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Feb 8 '17 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ China's martial factions survived for a long time in similar fashions. $\endgroup$ – nijineko Feb 8 '17 at 19:17
  • $\begingroup$ No offense to you, since you are just suggesting an idea from an established work, but the economics of this system are so dumb that they single-handedly caused me to stop reading The Kingkiller Chronicles. There is no way this system is stable for more than a couple decades. The economic and political incentives to become independent of the school are too great, if the warriors are really as skilled as the book claims they are. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Jan 17 '18 at 19:26
  • $\begingroup$ @kingledion - hey, I agree that the books are mediocre at best. I read them all in about 3 days, and was hooked / running on a high (as it were). Once I'd had a couple of days to think about them, however, I realized that the story/universe/characters really bothered me. This mechanic might work if there's a very small number (relatively) of warriors who really value their culture, etc. but yea, in reality it would never hold together. Still, it might make sense for a guild of heroes with some magical pledges assuring their loyalty or whatever. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jan 17 '18 at 19:31
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Machiavelli has a lot to say about mercenaries:

Mercenary and auxiliary troops are useless and dangerous. Mercenaries are disunited, undisciplined, ambitious, and faithless. Because their only motivation is monetary, they are generally not effective in battle and have low morale. Mercenary commanders are either skilled or unskilled. Unskilled commanders are worthless, but skilled commanders cannot be trusted to suppress their own ambition.

Plus a lot more, and none of it good. If you want to keep mercenaries from becoming bandits, I suggest two things:

  1. Never miss a payroll.
  2. Never get in a war you might lose.

If a prince does not command his own native troops, the principality can never be secure.

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    $\begingroup$ I suspect that you also should never get into a war that you might not win. It's not enough to not lose, if after several years of fighting back and forth the fighters are getting weary of never making any overall progress. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Feb 8 '17 at 9:27
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    $\begingroup$ Rule 3: Never get involved in a land war in Asia. $\endgroup$ – Tim Feb 8 '17 at 15:02
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling Probably, yeah. But you could also look on that as job security. $\endgroup$ – Spencer Feb 8 '17 at 16:43
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    $\begingroup$ Machiavelli was also being sarcastic. $\endgroup$ – nijineko Feb 8 '17 at 19:17
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    $\begingroup$ @nijineko Why do you say that? $\endgroup$ – yitzih Feb 9 '17 at 14:17
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Elite Hunters

These people hunt to make ends meet in times of peace. They are master marksman and expert spear wielders who never miss a game. This keeps them well trained as well as well fed at peace time. Whenever they are needed in a village, they go in, shoot the baddies to the void and return to their forests.

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    $\begingroup$ I like this. You could take the whole "rangers" route and make them a mysterious group shrouded in rumor and legend. $\endgroup$ – Logan Kitchen Feb 7 '17 at 23:38
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    $\begingroup$ I like where this answer is going. Can you address the last paragraph of the question? "What is a policy a kingdom can adopt that's an efficient and effective means of stopping these otherwise helpful bands of mercenaries from devolving into bandits..." $\endgroup$ – G0BLiN Feb 8 '17 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ Sadly this will not happen with the government, after all government is trying to save bucks. There will always be hunters in a realm, calling them in time of need for better equipment could sway them to help those in need. $\endgroup$ – Cem Kalyoncu Feb 8 '17 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ @G0BLiN A simple poaching law turns the heroes into outlaws, so the policy to adopt would be to not adopt a policy. $\endgroup$ – Tim Feb 8 '17 at 17:57
  • $\begingroup$ @CemKalyoncu - not trying to be contrary, but I don't see how a 'hunting allowed' policy (even if it applies exclusively to these elite hunters) is enough to prevent said hunters (who can defeat mighty beasts, powerful wizards etc.) from devolving into bullies and bandits. $\endgroup$ – G0BLiN Feb 8 '17 at 19:53
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I must point out that the Feudal system (knights/nobles/peasants) essentially fulfilled the system that you are requesting. The nobles hired knights and/or warriors to police and protect their land.

In addition to protection, the nobles were expected to administer their holdings and often acted as CEOs of their enterprises. For example the noble would hire a blacksmith and pay a portion of his wage... with the expectation the noble would be able to have priority on jobs.

In modern society, it would be the police force who would handle the threats to the community and would in fact contract with more experienced and elite police to handle more serious threats (SWAT).

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This is basically the same question as about what keeps adventurers from taking over the kingdom, perhaps someone remembers more about it and can find it.

You need three factors to keep them in check:

1) A culture of independence. You need cats for mercenaries, not dogs. You don't want a large group that would band together to take over a nation.

2) Loot. When the mercenaries eliminate a threat they get to keep the property of the monster they removed.

3) The wanted poster.

Rulers must be reasonably friendly towards such mercenaries on their lands so long as they are well behaved, only killing bad things. Mercenaries that misbehave find their pictures on wanted posters all over the place, any other mercenaries that happen along are free to kill them and take their things and money.

This situation will be stable so long as you don't get a large group banding together to actually take over.

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This was a problem that basically came up historically in Europe - in many cases the difference between a lord and their immediate warriors and a mercenary band is more of name than of nature - and the solution that they implemented was to create a code of honour, Chivalry. This made the mercenaries into something more than they had been, those that could afford it were knights and they were bound by the code of chivalry which governed the acceptance of their peers.

This is not a bad starting point for your setting. I think that the other thing that you need for this to be sustainable is a clear chain of command, so as part of a mercenary group's articles it would be necessary to state the exact chain of command. In the case of a transgression by an individual, the entire chain would be held responsible. A breach of these articles results in the company being struck off, at which point they are treated as common criminals and whoever captures them has a right of seizure to their property. There is a route for experienced mercenaries to sign into a new company but it will involve a substantial pay cut. This creates a significant stick for any breach of individual discipline, let alone a whole company considering turning rogue.

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My immediate thought was "Who could stop these people?". In a society where bands of heroes defend the simple people making up the rest of the society, there are very few groups available that can stand up to the heroes. However, rival groups could easily stand up to eachother.

I would propose two things:

  1. Focus on "hero band" reputation
  2. Have kingdoms reward bands that stop crime

First, focus on the reputation of these hero groups. With all of the saving and fighting that they do they would be celebrities. The strong warriors that young lovers swoon over and that ambitious children dream of becoming. They would command respect and awe. This reputation is what gets them hired in the first place. You could have them stay busy between disasters traveling to villages building their fame and demonstrating skills (maybe even for pay, like a traveling show). Because this reputation is so important, if they were known as robbers or thugs their reputation would quickly tarnish and their pool of customers would vanish. That could be a strong deterent from a life of crime.

As a side note, having some hero bands involved in secret crime while trying to maintain a good reputation could start some great story lines. A less popular but virtuous group could expose a shady one, or a likeable thief could hide in a group of heroes, that sort of thing.

Second, these "hero bands" could function somewhat like police in-between town-saving battles. The kingdom could have small rewards for hero bands that catch highwaymen and convicts so that the bands stay busy. A greater reward could be provided for catching another "hero band" committing crimes. That way, these bands keep each other in check, and any band turning to a life of crime would have to be ready for the combined strength of other bands.

In summary, the weight of a bands reputation, and the fear of other warrior bands would keep them from turning to crime.

As for stressing the coffers; the small fees paid out for catching criminals is much less than keeping an army or police force in the kingdom, and while the rewards for catching a "hero band" would likely need to be high, the likelihood of a band going bad is set up to be relatively low, so this is rarely paid out. It shouldn't put any large economic stress on the kingdom.

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    $\begingroup$ When there is a particular animosity with a rival band, you can frame them for a crime, destroy their reputation, boost your own reputation, remove the competition, and get paid handsomely for it. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Feb 8 '17 at 13:50
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    $\begingroup$ Wandering law enforcement is not particularly useful - local townsfolk, who know the area and the people, function best for that. What they could be doing instead would be more like the medieval tourney circuit - provides practice for their skills, plenty of friendly competition, and entertainment for the masses. Think of them as somewhat akin to modern sports teams traveling from competition to competition vying for bragging rights as that year's champion team. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Feb 8 '17 at 14:18
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Let the locals defend themselves.

You say that the locals can't defend themselves. I disagree.

Let every village have a militia that is large enough to defend against most threats. Have them call for help from nearby villages for the really large threats.

Have everybody spend one day per week training combat, except during harvest. Let them use tools as weapons: Hammer, axe, flail, scythe etc.

These people will be less trained than professional soldiers, but there will be more of them and they will be much cheaper.

When threats are rare, people will get lax. To avoid this, make sure that news about villages that fail to defend themselves spread to everybody. Everybody should know, in gruesome detail, what happens to villages that doesn't train properly.

You might want to have professional instructors travelling around to make sure people are learning the best fighting techniques.

People who have homes and jobs are not likely to turn into bandits, but they can turn into rebels. The government need to be nice in this setup.

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  • $\begingroup$ Not only is this practical, it's how it was actually done. The king's army wouldn't ride out for a bunch of bandits - the local lord/knight was expected to deal with that himself. More interestingly, medieval England instituted mandatory weapons training with the longbow (and made it a crime to not practise) which basically turned the entire country into a nation of marksmen. Spears and longbows are relatively cheap and relatively effective weapons. Mercenaries will still be useful for harder problems, but the skill level of the peasant militia would make banditry too risky. $\endgroup$ – Graham Feb 8 '17 at 18:13
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Accountability

Mercenary groups serve particular areas of the country which are under the eye of some lord or other ruler. To be selected for a position in the mercenary training school is an honour. To graduate and join is an even higher one. When you have joined your family are given a house in the richer district near the lord of the land. These districts are walled in and the walls well guarded by men loyal to the ruler of that area.

Now, as you can imagine, if your family are in the clutches of the ruler you're about to turn against you're pretty unlikely to let a couple of your comrades turn to bandits just because they don't have family. You're all well paid, your families kept healthy and well. Banditry doesn't really appeal when your family's lives are at stake.

The mercenary groups will be treated as a whole, if five in a group of fifty have no living relatives they might decide they want to live as bandits the group has a choice: hunt them down as the lord of the land will ask or defy the request and be seen as aiding the bandits and risk the lives of their families.

As such each mercenary group will regulate itself, ensuring none of its members turn to banditry and live for word to spread.

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You cannot do this cheaply.

If you have a military force in a nation, it either needs lots of discipline and needs to be collectively loyal to the nation or be tiny, or it swallows the nation.

You can see this happen throughout history.

To sufficiently reward the mercs, you'd have to give them an independent income; land, serfs, etc. Then make their ownership of said land dependent on military service. Some mercs would get lots of land and have to supply lots of military service (more than they personally can do).

We'll dub the mercs that get land "nobles". They have to provide fighting forces, let us call them "knights", at the request of the government.

Part of the knight's service would be an errant phase, where they wander the land and solve village problems. They would have the right to commandeer food and shelter from local nobility (even petty nobility) for a short period, or longer if their service is required.

A system whereby you earn some reward for solving the problems of villages during the errant phase of your knighthood could be developed. Having this different than "be paid money" is tricky, because avoiding fungibility is hard. But you could imagine having to build your own coat of arms or epic poem as part of this phase. The parts of the poem/coat of arms involved might require religious assent (and be tied to the village where you solved the supernatural problem).

In short, remove said "mercs" from the economy; cover their needs independently, don't have them do it for money. Make them part of the "standing army" of the nation (or a phase of it).

Now, we have knights, sworn to nobles. Before you can be a "landed knight", you must first be an "errant knight" and collect an epic of your heroism. Your food/shelter/armor is covered (from your sponsor/parent), so your need is for heroic deeds to do. Being a bandit doesn't get you heroic deeds, it just gets you cash.

There is a risk that failed errant knights, who somehow are at risk of losing their knighthood status due to incompetence, injury or time, becoming bandits with weapons and at least some practice using them.

In short, you cannot have a cheap powerful standing army; a cheap powerful standing army takes over its nation. Use the government structure of the nation to produce the standing army.

You could split the knights into multiple orders. You could have the Knights of the Rose (landed noble), Knights of the Chalice (religious), Knights of the Coin (merchant), Knights of the Foam (naval), etc.

To qualify as full member of whatever guild, you have to be sponsored for erranthood (involves equipping you and paying into some royal fund, which gives you the right to be fed/transported/sheltered). Then you have to complete your knight errant and earn an epic. Only when your epic is done can you become a full member of whatever guild (nobility, church, merchants, sailors).

Such full members (and only such) would have the right to vote for their representatives in the House of Lords, which among other things determines taxation rates.

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If I could draw a parallel to our society, the fire department. Some of the earliest firefighters were subcontracted by insurance: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_firefighting

Perhaps you could have insurance brokers which sub-contract your "hero bands".

As far as the prevention of them going rogue, there are a couple of options:

  1. The members of these "hero bands" could be sourced locally, which would make sense given the need of close proximity to communities. That wouldn't totally prevent "hero bands" from abusing their power, but it would place some impetus that they "don't soil their nest."
  2. A form of internal affairs is not unforeseeable if there is a trend of these "hero bands" resorting to villainy. Perhaps the insurance brokers add an individual to each band, or if that proves insufficient a government official be attached to each "hero band" may be a feasible government investment.

EDIT

Option 2 seems to be the more interesting of these. I was going to elaborate on that a bit. Where would the motivation and/or compensation for maintaining an internal affairs department to keep an eye on these "hero bands" come from?

  1. Why would insurance brokers be interested in doing this:
    • The kingdom requires it, consider something like Emissions Trading but the measurement was the number of reported bandit incidents in an area, and the kingdom would evoke fines on the insurance broker for an increase in his patrolled area. Problems: This has some unfortunate side effects of making it monetizable for insurance brokers to do bandit work in an area they want to edge out the competition, or even to spoof incidents, making the measurement of reported incidents unreliable. Furthermore, the value prospect of insurance brokering goes down because you are now paying your "hero bands" to police an area; which is bad cause the kingdom would need these brokers.
    • Insured villages require one or more members of the band to be locally sourced. This speaks to the "don't soil your nest" principle. Problems: The locally sourced "hero" would need to be of upstanding character and capable fighting ability. This is a requirement something near a chivalric code, which may not be easy to find within the village's populous.
    • The "hero band" is also responsible for freeing the area of bandits, protecting the kingdom, and general policing of the area. The insurance broker rolls that into the cost charged to villages and is also subsidized by the kingdom with the money that would have otherwise gone to mustering or maintaining troops. Problems: "Hero bands" now perform all the primary functions of government; would there be an incentive for villages to pay tribute to the kingdom, why not just pay an insurance premium? Additionally, if "hero bands" replace the kingdoms standing troops the government is aiding the arming of militia; see also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Militia#Political_issues
  2. Why would the government be interested in doing this:
    • Insurance has always been about protecting the lives and property of individuals. This is a primary government responsibility. If the government is able to outsource some of its workload by maintaining some direction over these "hero bands" the reduction in governmental responsibilities may pay for itself. In this scenario rather than internal affairs the government agent would take on a leadership role of the "hero band." Problems: Having a singular government point of contact who's responsible for maintaining order in the area could easily devolve into an Extortion racket.
    • Make another kingdom pay for it. The government could pick a village nearby a "hero band"'s operating area, which pays tribute to a different kingdom, and directs the "hero band" to require tribute from that village at threat of violence. Problems: This is going to escalate quickly. It'll easily devolve into war, or at least unauthorized skirmishes along the border (which will quickly become well defined.)
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    $\begingroup$ Good job, Jonathan! A more detailed answer might have been even better, but you have done a fine job here. Keep rolling! $\endgroup$ – Youstay Igo Feb 8 '17 at 16:16
  • $\begingroup$ @YoustayIgo Hey thanks, I thought of this answer and figured I'd chime in on the chance it would be helpful. I'd love to take the time to improve it if you wouldn't mind providing some direction. When you say: "a more detailed answer might have been even better." Where were you thinking I could add detail? 1. To the historical sourcing 2. How the insurance brokers would function 3. One of the optional ways to prevent "hero bands" from going rogue? $\endgroup$ – Jonathan Mee Feb 8 '17 at 16:48
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    $\begingroup$ More detail about the form of internal affairs. Adding in more options to accomplish the goal. Which government official (as in, type and status) to be attached and how it would keep them from straying. It feels very awkward of me to ask you for more detail when I have myself not written an answer to this question, but since you mentioned ... $\endgroup$ – Youstay Igo Feb 8 '17 at 17:00
  • $\begingroup$ @YoustayIgo Thanks for the direction. It was a fun mental exercise thinking through all this. $\endgroup$ – Jonathan Mee Feb 9 '17 at 14:00
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Villagers pay some sort of retainer or tribute to the hero bands.

Alternatively or additionally there could be perks such as free food, drink/alcohol and other adult entertainments. If the hero band are having their most basic needs and desires met there will be little need to resort to criminal activities

You could have some historical example of a town that got wiped out because they stopped paying tribute then got no help when need forming the local moral to always pay tribute.

While you do run the risk of racketeering, most hero bands wouldn't want to rock the boat if they a good thing going and other hero bands may intervene to stop others ruining things for the rest of them.

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  • $\begingroup$ People are not satisfied with just having their basic needs met - especially not if they are the most powerful force around. Maybe they want a little more tribute, and a little more tribute, and take some liberties with the locals... that is inevitable. This is very much a protection racket, and human nature does not let that be a stable situation safe for those being "protected". $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Feb 8 '17 at 14:21
  • $\begingroup$ Which villagers? The idea seems to be that they are literal freelancers who are hired by a village to deal with ad-hoc threats, but the problem arrises when they have no work, hence no village to pay the retainer/tribute. $\endgroup$ – colmde Feb 10 '17 at 10:28
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You have small groups of heroes, fighting creatures that often have supernatural powers. Life expectancy wouldn't be... well, if you have ask, maybe this job's not for you.

This would be a major deterrent for membership in these groups. In order to have them be at all effective, there would have to be a significant reward waiting at the end for those who survive, or no one worthwhile would ever join.

The reward would need several features:

  1. Needs to be big enough to overcome fear of almost certain death.
  2. Needs to be big enough that it dwarfs anything you might do as a bandit.
  3. Any time spent as a bandit disqualifies you from getting the reward.
  4. It must be actually attainable. There need to be people you can meet and talk to who have actually claimed it to prove this.

I propose that society could be structured so that the rulers of each town and nation-confederacy are surviving members of the hero groups. This would naturally provide as much wealth and prestige as the society is reasonably able to afford, and it puts an experienced fighter or two with the right contacts ready and waiting in each village. If need be, larger towns or regions could be ruled by councils, the membership of which could grow and shrink depending on the supply of retired heroes.

Heroes now have to option to retire into what are effectively the wealthiest roles out there afforded by society. Even bandits require leadership and coordination. The people who would naturally be the leaders of these groups are those closest to claiming the prize.

This also seems like the natural result of the situation. Once upon a time, villages fought monsters with whoever was there. The best surviving warriors naturally banded together into small groups for support. Some of those groups went bad, and some of these bad groups didn't stop at mere banditry; they claimed territory through conquest or usurpation. Others that didn't go bad were naturally selected into leadership. Over time, tradition cements the leadership roles, which suppresses the need and desire for groups that go bad.

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Of course, this is essentially the same set up as most mainstream comic book worlds, but set in medieval times.

In comic books, there are superhero teams that form all of their own accord, often funded by some rich guy or group of rich guys, specifically to fight the "good fight" against the evils that appear in the world. Incidentally, they also end up fighting against all the supervillain teams, i.e. the super teams that have "gone bandit".

In some worlds, these superhero teams are self-sustaining, reaping what reward they can from their adventures as well as their notoriety, and instating a managed system whereby the spoils are re-invested in the team's ongoing existence.

To map this to your world, the hero bands consist of talented people who want to do good in the world (or at least protect people from the bad in the world, which is not the same thing). Groups that form for the purposes of banditry, or that devolve into banditry, get put down by the other hero bands, primarily because that's one of the driving forces behind the existence of hero bands.

And hero bands are not automatically forced into banditry in less violent times, because they have developed other sources of income besides the spoils from their big adventures -- they do other work, or they adopt wealthy patrons, or they gain a large-enough nest egg that they can survive off the interest. (And remember, this doesn't have to be our modern hedge-funds-and-soy-futures type system. It could be as simple as pooling resources to build their own commune, complete with farmland, central well, and (possibly indentured) working class.) Or maybe they run a mine, or do some sort of special manufacturing, or travel as a band of entertainers the rest of the time.

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One example might be the Varangian Guard of the Eastern Roman Empire. These elite mercenaries were recruited from Germanic tribes to protect the Emperors and their families.

Why recruit barbarous brutes to protect the vanguard of civilization? Simple: they were loyal to their work, and they were not from the society whose leader they guarded, so local politics mattered little as long as the money kept flowing, as they could always return home if they felt like quitting (which was rare).

Compare this to the Praetorian Guard of the Western Roman Empire, which was composed of Roman citizens who had much more of a stake in imperial politics. Western Roman history is littered with examples of the Praetorian murdering or simply abandoning emperors they don't like, either for the greater good of the empire or for their own personal desires.

I don't think this example would work for the small communities in your story, but perhaps nobles and royals would find this tactic useful for keeping themselves save and secure, as long as they could pay them.

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You're looking for a solution like in David Drake's "Hammer's Slammers." Mercenary groups get charters, which let them post large bonds with some neutral authority. If they break contract, they lose the bond. If their employer breaks contract, they can as well, without losing the bond. If they misbehave while not under contract, the bond authority might be persuaded to revoke their charter, so they can't post the bonds needed to work as mercenaries anymore.

That gives you a class of professional mercenaries who can still be absolute bastards, and who aren't actually beholden to anyone beyond what their contract calls for. It probably also gives you bands of thugs who call themselves mercenaries and work for cheap, but are not at all reliable (roughly the same divide as seen in any profession).

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Throw them out of the country

Nobody likes mercenaries hanging around when they're not needed, put them back out on the road. The key word being out.

It's important to consider who mercenaries are in a middle ages setting. Fundamentally they're foreigners. Apart from the nobles, there isn't really such a thing as a standing army, the nobles fight as part of their duty to the crown, they don't have a choice. The rest of the non-noble army consists of conscripted peasants, the general population of the country, they don't have a choice either.

So where do these mercenaries come from? If they were natives they'd be conscripted and part of the army, if they were nobles they'd have to fight by duty. They're foreign professionals, once you're done with them, pay them and put them on the first boat out. Nobles and landowners have rights, peasants do not, foreigners most certainly do not.

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Maybe you don't see this, but this sounds like a more militarized version of spooks from the "last apprentice" novels.

Make their system a trade skill, not a common skill, this will reduce the number but improve the quality. You can ensure quality by providing quality check at the national/regional level.

Keeping the numbers low enough will increase their prices and can avoid working for long periods without devolving to bandits.

Making sure this position was attainable by most of the population prevents a complete caste system and provides upward mobility to the civilians that do take the initiative to deal with their own problems.

Keeping the practitioners local also makes them less likely to extort their clients through force.

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Close as I can think of today would be the Tulla. Little short people. You go back in there Country & log or such. They see you. In today's world with cell phone towers, solar plates. They track you. Tell the game warden were your at. What roads the illegal logs are coming down. See that there is a arrest. They can fight. Still like spears. But do have some guns. Remote mountain jungle areas they call home. Morro can be mercinary. Governments still at war with some of them. Border Tulla ground. There more for rifles & artillery. Great fighters they are. You need kill 12 enemy to become honored enough to become a teacher. Back when it was hand to hand. Unlike Japan were they sent out there best. They kept there best to teach.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding, those Tulla seem good. You seem to not be at your best ease with the English language. Is it ok if I do some edits to help your answer be more readable? $\endgroup$ – PatJ Feb 9 '17 at 10:13

protected by Serban Tanasa Feb 9 '17 at 15:25

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