Groundbreaking – All Terrain Highway Robbery

Hello, Randal here. I recently moved from California to Washington (state), driving for over 12 hours during the trip. A long, flat boring valley floor gave way to hills, then mountains. From farmland to forest, I saw a lot of different terrain. I have considered at length (we were are the road from 4am to 8pm) what it would be like to try to move that distance, with my whole family and all of our possessions, using nothing but a wagon or two. But that sort of content isn’t what Groundbreaking is for. Here, we look at creating content that we can use in our games, and not many folks want to roleplay a family moving a couple wagons across country. conveniently ignores Jade Regent. What did I come up with that is adjacent to this train of thought? Well, Highway Robbery, of course!

For simplicity, we are going to lump Highway Robbery into two categories: “Full Stop” vs. “Fast and Hard”.

  • Full Stop For this scenario, I am implying that the robbers have a way to stop the entire group, keep them under their control, and either have a way to take all the valuable belongings with them or simply take all the wagons. Pursuit is usually not an option due to having transport stolen or disabled.
  • Fast and Hard For this scenario, I mean to say that the robbers ambush the group, using chaos to scatter and flee with the stolen goods. Pursuit might be possible, but you might end up on a wild goose chase or you might end up alone and surrounded.

Now, you might be asking what I mean when I say “All Terrain” … highway robbery in the desert is going to be very different than highway robbery in a swamp. Here is how I envision these differences, as they could be found in Marathis’ Cradle. GM Note: I did no research for this, I simply combined memories of books, stories, and movies along with my own “how would i do it” to come up with these simplistic scenarios.

Fantasy Live Role Playing Characters, Hardenstein 2014

Farmland (Full Stop) This is likely to be one of the least strenuous places for a criminal to partake in highway robbery. Lots of tall grasses or crops to hide and lots of flat lands upon which to escape. While they have all the room to run, it means that pursuit is also easier, and so criminals here are likely to be less extreme in their demands, perhaps taking just enough to make the effort worth while but not enough that the victims immediately demand justice or pursue. This means they are more likely to stop families or groups that have few “strong men” capable of fighting back, and that they simply extort a fee for “safe passage”. Often, to avoid a chase, they will cut loose any animals to ensure the victims are too busy afterwards. GM Note: If you want to add some tension, and it won’t upset anybody’s boundaries, you could have the thugs take a specific animal or person/child to create the “We will let them go when we get away” scenario; this could just be enforcement, or you could let it turn into a rescue scenario as well.

Swamp (Fast and Hard) The fog can change moods, visibility, and circumstance in the eastern swamps. Not to mention hide large animals that might be sneaking up on you. You generally don’t stay in place long when you are looking over your shoulder, and a good criminal is constantly looking around at their surroundings. Most robberies take place with an ambush of some sort, be it horseback, standing behind a tree, waiting under a bridge, or hiding in the muck. Because even the most seasoned trackers can get lost in the mysterious and overwhelming swamp, the bad guys are likely to have a favorite tree stump in the swamp that they drop their loot in during an escape. This means that they don’t have to go far, and if caught, they generally don’t have the goods on them. GM Note: This can also be used to divide a band to thugs by having the loot go missing before the designated regroup time.

Forest (Fast and Hard) The thick, lush forests of the north are an interesting thought experiment. In addition to lots of travel being done by game trail, the region has the largest contingent of people dedicated to stopping somebody daring enough to rob you roadside. The hunters are training in virtually every part of the forest year round. Anybody willing (or desperate) to take on this life of crime needs to be able to stay out of sight, move fast and light, and lose a tail. It would make even more sense, in this place where law of the land rules, to not worry if you are being pursued at all. Unfortunately, this means that they are more likely employ traps at their ambush sight, and that they likely don’t care how injured you are by this. Additionally, there is a good chance that they have a hidden cave or hollow nearby, or possibly one for the loot and the other for themselves, so that they don’t have to run far to get away. GM Note: Pit traps are hard to create, so any kind of snare or trap that injures feet is a great way to deter pursuit. Knowing that rangers and druids are about, often with animal companions, those criminals that last the longest know how to cover their scent as well.

Desert (Either/Both) I can make a case for both styles of robbery here. Not being seen is difficult, and you would want to be mounted to cover great distances. If it is an ambush, then there is a good chance they are timing it such that they can ride in with the sun at their back (sunrise or sunset) or perhaps just taking advantage of the haze on an extra hot day (or wind/weather magic or illusion if you choose a higher skilled enterprise). Alternately, if the road/path travels between dunes then they could hide around a dune with a single scout keeping watch. Additionally, shifting sands might provide a great place to hide out in the open with a properly camouflaged covering, be it canvas or netting. Instead of a quick ambush, simply setting up a blockade with a mounted rearguard could be sufficient for a full stop scenario. Being lost or detained in the desert is a bad thing, so taking (or threatening to take) water or shade is often enough to ensure compliance and deter pursuit. GM Note: Should a pursuit take place, it might be long, drawn out, and involve the death of mounts (assuming a daytime desert heat).

Hills & Mountains (Either/Both) Hills and mountains provide all their own challenges, most of which will tire out all but the strongest of athletes. Expect criminals in these areas to have multiple paths mapped out that require intimate knowledge of the terrain, be it caves, cliffs, hollow trees, gullies, and more.

Waterways (Either) Fast and hard is difficult on the water, so it is more likely to be a blockade at a narrowing point of a river or stream. Most often this ends up just being a toll, because unloading or moving cargo is not simple, and showing up with somebody else’s cargo can get you in trouble. Additionally, somebody could sneak over to a vessel and simply push/pull a single crate or barrel or bundle into the water with the expectation that there is somebody waiting with a hook to grab it. Odds are good this crime won’t be noticed for hours or days.


Did I miss anything? Did I get anything disastrously wrong? Let me know and please continue to join us at our Discord server https://discord.gg/Rt79BAj.

Randal Meyer

As a lover of crunch (rules and numbers), Randal is always tinkering with rules options. His love of magic users has led him to always fuss with the mechanics of magic and magic items. Years of GMing on the fly have given him vast amounts of ideas and content from which to draw on for adventures (ideas, plots, NPCs). When not working, playing with his kids, bowling, or running a PF campaign, Randal is likely writing some new mobile web app (http://halfmugtavern.blog) to enhance the experience of playing Pathfinder!