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A specific way to engage in dramatic license with the economics of crime. Many settings and plots are enhanced by the presence of a criminal element, whether it be a Thieves' Guild, the Mafia, pirates, assassins, bandit gangs, highwaymen, gentleman thieves, or even some guys who are Just Like Robin Hood. However, all these people do need someone to steal from. Sometimes, you can't help but wonder whether the number of available targets is really high enough to support all these people who seem to be preying on them.

Are there really so many rich aristocrats in the setting that the cunning burglar can rob a new one each week and never run out of targets? Can the poor village-folk really be menaced by a roving bandit gang for months without actually running out of things for the bandits to steal? Can the fleet of twenty pirate ships really make a living year-round by lurking outside a port containing just two small fishing boats? Does the road from the town to the lighthouse really have enough trade on it that the highwayman won't starve? Does the town with only a few hundred people really have enough work to support a full-time hitman? Sometimes, it's all realistic and justified, but other times, the Rule of Cool (or perhaps simply Did Not Do the Research?) has won out.

A related phenomenon is when trade on a certain route is said to have been halted by bandits, pirates, or suchlike. This may be plausible in the short term, or if there are bandits/pirates on a route for other reasons, but... why would bandits/pirates still be there if there is no longer any trade to rob? Thieves can't thieve if they bring an end to the commerce which they prey on, so bandits/pirates can't have a 100% capture rate and still have a long-term job.

Video games, which often suffer from Thriving Ghost Towns, are particularly prone to this, especially when bandits or other criminals are provided en masse as an enemy for the player to fight. You'll get villages with five houses being menaced by marauders numbering in the hundreds, and the roads between towns will have more bandits than both towns put together have citizens. The Thieves' Guild members hiding in the Absurdly Spacious Sewer could easily constitute three quarters of their city's population, and there are more trained assassins going after the king than the king has employees.

A lot of detective series have this problem, too. Never mind the coincidence that all the crimes happen near the amateur detective... why are there even any criminals left?

If the criminals are all successfully pretending to each other that they're not criminals, they're a Flock of Wolves. See also Wretched Hive, for a place likely to have this problem, and More Predators Than Prey, for when a whole ecosystem suffers from a similar situation.

Examples of More Criminals Than Targets include:

Fan Fiction

  • Deliberately played straight in Mass Effect Interregnum, in a very serious way. It's commented at several points that Omega's criminal population seems to outnumber its innocent population (mainly because why would innocent people go there in the first place?), to the point that Garrus sarcastically remarks that Omega's the only place in the galaxy where you could fire an assault rifle into a crowd and come out with a net karma boost. Things get a whole lot more serious, however, when Golf sets out to destroy Omega's entire population, saying he's done the numbers, and the benefits of exterminating everyone on Omega literally would outweigh the innocent deaths in just a few years.


  • The (fictional?) country of Mexico in at least Desperado (if not its sequel and predecessor) have a lot of people running around with guns in every town, working for mob bosses who will happily turn even on their own "allies". Even the normal people are working and get paid by the mobsters, and the only ones which appear to make an honest income are American tourists who bartenders don't want in their bars, and would even shoot them for asking to be served normally. In the long run, economy failure aversion sort of justified because almost everybody's working with drugs, and the money for assassinations, paying gang members, drug mules etc. come from outside economies which actually work honestly for them.
  • In a place like Sin City where everyone is either a criminal, a victim, or a Heroic Sociopath, you'd think the entire population would've been killed off by now.
  • In The Godfather, when Michael is in hiding in Sicily he is surprised to find that almost all the men in a particular town have killed each other in vendettas. If he learns anything from this, it doesn't stick.


  • This was one of the reasons Colin Dexter gave for announcing he would never write another Inspector Morse novel.
  • In Discworld, this is Ankh-Morpork before the Watch starts actually fighting crime. In the early books, it was a parody of the average fantasy-setting city entirely occupied by thieves, thugs, assassins and innkeepers. When Twoflower shows up, at least half of the people he meets are trying to figure out how to scam him. He remains oblivious.
    • Justified in that Twoflower has come to Ankh-Morpork specifically to visit places like The Broken Drum, the whore pits and similar "colorful" locations. He hasn't come all the way from the Agatean Empire to see the Street of Cunning Tax Attorneys.
    • Though, this is as much because of the dishonesty of the average Morpork citizen as the amount of professional thieves.
    • Yes, the average A-M citizen is out to cheat everyone else, even the citizens who are not thieves by profession. It's part of the culture.
    • This trope is discussed hilariously in Jingo. The D'reg not-chieftain Jabar explains they never steal too much or try to frighten the passing caravans with excessive violence, because then the caravans would simply stop coming ; instead, they rob a little and let the merchants go, and in due time the merchants return, goods replenished. Vimes comes to the conclusion that this is "a type of farming".
  • In The Dark Lord of Derkholm, the Thieves' Guild supports the overthrow and expulsion of Mr. Chesney and his tour groups because they insist on enforcing this trope.

Live Action TV

  • On Monty Python's Flying Circus, Highwayman Dennis Moore has this trouble. At first he stole Lupins from the rich to give to the poor; eventually the poor were able to get it into his skull that they'd rather have money. So Moore started robbing the rich of their riches, with the result that the rich were poor and the poor were rich. Eventually Moore was reduced to stopping coaches, making people pull out what money they have, and redistributing it so they all have the same amount.
  • British mystery series Midsomer Murders loses three or four members of a small village per episode. One of the commentary tracks notes that there shouldn't be anyone left by now.
    • It's a different small village each week though... Midsomer is an entire fictional county. Point still stands though; you wouldn't think it would be so gentrified with that kind of murder rate...
      • A different village every week, yes, but there are only six or seven villages in the county so by the time it's, say, Midsomer Mallow's turn again (or Badger's Drift, which seems to bear the brunt of the murder rate)it's not like the birth rate has nearly made up for last month's bloodbath.
  • Battlestar Galactica has an odd example: a child prostitution ring catering to the survivors of the Cylon attack, who number less than 50,000. This population is about the size of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, or Nantucket Island in the summer. So either pedophilia is much more common than on Earth or they should have great difficulty finding clients.
    • Perhaps having survived armageddon some people decided to say screw it to all morals and rules for some reason. Whatever the reason it is probably best we don't know; besides, it was a bloody awful episode anyway.
      • It's not a CHILD prostitution ring, it's a prostitution ring that happens to supply children. Logically, they had a handful of clients for that service, so they decided to procure the supply.
  • A similar kind of logic applies to Murder, She Wrote, in which the murder rate in Cabot Cove, Maine is ludicrously out of proportion to its peaceful, gentrified population.

Tabletop RPG

  • Shadowrun fits the bill. Various books mentions Seattle having about 1000 to 2000 Shadowrunners (Illegal Wetwork Mercernaries that will do any job deemed illegal for anyone who'll pay). Though this future Seattle does have a huge population, how much work can there be in a single city for so many mercenaries to find work?.
    • It kind of helps that every employer in the city has need of Shadowrunners. Including some of the older, richer 'Runners.
    • Also, not all of the runs take place in Seattle, not even in the same nation (there's NAN, Tír Tairngire and California Free State nearby - as I recall, at least one of them borders the city). For most Shadowrunners, Seattle is just the most convenient base of operations on the continent.
  • Predatory variant: The Ravenloft setting's largest territory, the Core, is roughly the size of Denmark, and most of its domains have populations in the low thousands. Yet it somehow sustains massive numbers of vampires, werebeasts, and other monsters that pass for human in public, while subsisting wholly or largely on human prey. Never mind how they can maintain The Masquerade when half the population is a monster in disguise: unless the monsters are eating each other, there shouldn't be anybody left alive there!
    • Ravenloft is constantly kidnapping people from other planes, so it actually makes sense that they would need to be disposed of to prevent overpopulation.
  • Luskan of D&D should have collapsed long ago as it is basically made of criminals.
  • In a trophic rather than economic version, the demiplane of Grixis in the "Shards of Alara" block of Magic: The Gathering is populated almost entirely by undead predators, with few living creatures and no equivalent of photosynthesis that would introduce new energy into the ecosystem. Many cards take note of the problem of Grixis' ecosystem (such as it is) winding down, a problem eventually mitigated by the collision of the shards.

Video Games

  • Borderlands has maybe, what, 25 non raider NPCs on the planet? And several thousands bandit, raiders, and other such people? Somewhat handwave by the backstory of Pandora having been populated with convicted criminals.
    • The backstory more or less goes like this: One of the big corporations tried to set up a mine on the planet using convicts as labourers, but the nonviability of this made them lose interest. There was a brief "vault rush" but outside of a few scientists there weren't many people who ever went that never went rogue. Doesn't explain how everyone stays fed and healthy, mind you.
    • It's a short timeline: Near the middle of the game is when the bandits start preying on each other (Jaynestown). Give it another decade and the population with stabilize at a smaller level.
  • Dungeon Siege, in which the necessity of giving players people to fight results in so many bandits on the roads that you wonder why they haven't starved to death yet.
  • Neverwinter Nights 2. Oh god, yes. Add up the number of thieves you kill in Act 1 and compare it to the population given in the 3.5 setting books, you just killed most of the city!
    • Technically, a lot of them were mooks shipped in from Luskan, but there's still way more of them than NPC citizens.
    • If you join the thieves, there are just as many guardsmen the city won't miss as there are criminals if you join the watch.
  • Baldur's Gate appears to have this, with bandits plaguing the roads to such an extent that trade has ground to a halt - which raises the question of why the bandits are still there if their prey is no longer risking the trip. Somewhat unusually, though, there's an answer: the bandits were actually hired by someone specifically to shut down trade, so the fact that the merchants are staying home isn't a problem for them.
  • City of Heroes' Paragon City is endlessly populated with Gangs of Hats, Mecha-Mooks, Gaia's Vengeance monsters, ancient malevolent spirits, demons, aliens, rogue military/black ops groups, Corrupt Corporate Executives and their minions, witches, zombies, a Mad Doctor's minions, wizards, The Mafia, escaped prisoners, and a Circus of Fear. It gets a bit of lampshading; people complain about, for instance, repeatedly getting their purses stolen.
    • It's also home to an opposite problem; more heroes than citizens. It's kind of funny to see an entire park full of brightly-costumed vigilantes watch the only civilian for five blocks walk by, waiting patiently for the inevitable mugging to happen.
  • Fallout in general suffers from this, number three in particular being the major offender. Tennpenny Tower and Rivet City get a pass due to sheer numbers and relative isolation. The smaller settlements, however, consist of four-ten people, three of which are would-be soldiers on patrol, max. Even the standard group of six to nine raiders could have a field day against Megatons lone sheriff and security robot. It is worth noting that the settlement of Evergreen Mills does get overrun by a large raider group prior to your departure from the Vault.
    • Megaton, at least, is justified; it's city with a large number of inhabitants, many of whom are armed and will fight you if you commit crime there. Megaton's lone Sheriff maintains law and order, but its very likely the whole town would band together to form a militia if they got seriously attacked. The walls are also a good force multiplier that would make it hard as hell to get inside the city.
    • A better question about Fallout 3 is how can the region support so many humans without agriculture (towns have small enough populations and often mutant cattle or at least trade, but there are far too many raiders). Or how so many large predators (like mutant bears or deathclaws) can survive with so few prey items (other then smaller predators, which also have little enough to eat). Then again, if the player character and his companions can live for years on end without food or drink, maybe all that radiation has given everyone the superpower of super nutrition.
    • There are also more mercenaries than people who can hire them, though by their behavior, it's established that the largest mercenary group, Talon company does more raider work against hardened wealthy targets like super mutants and brotherhood of steel than actually filling contracts.
    • Averted (for once) in New Vegas.
  • Many (maybe most) systems in Transcendence have way more criminal stations than friendly stations.
  • Granted, Orzammar is implied to be larger and more populous than the city you actually see in-game, but still - the criminal element of the Dwarven capitol in Dragon Age seems to outnumber the law-abiders.
    • Probably why they're pretty much all starving to death.
    • This part is probably on purpose, as most of them are hereditary criminals...the Casteless are living in ghettos, and likely to die out. They don't interact as much as expected with the people who have wealth. It's unsustainable, and but justified.
  • The Elder Scrolls Four has way too many bandits for the economy to support. This is made worse in an unmodded game, where bandits start wearing expensive equipment at high levels. Which means the average bandit, when selling his equipment, is actually far richer than most aristocrats.
  • The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim has bandits, or their spiritual kin: Forsworn and Silver Hand, in nearly every cave, abandoned watchtower, or crumbling ruin. Their total population is vastly greater than the citizens of the inhabited towns, and their chiefs tend to wear the third best armor in the game. The same applies to the Thieves' Guild in Riften, which has nearly half as many (visible) members as the population of the city itself.
    • The Forsworn are partly explained in that they are militant radicals of the native population -- within their region, there should be a lot of them (things are not very happy for the natives, in the main), and if they drive out foreign traders and aristocrats, that's a perk, not a problem (they are fighting an insurgency for independence, rather than trying to earn a living by being bandits).
  • Final Fantasy VI takes this to hilarious extremes with the town of Zozo, which appears to be populated entirely by criminals who sit around waiting for travelers to mug and lie to. Strangely enough, Zozo appears to be the most modern town in the game, second only perhaps to Vector.
  • For all that Guybrush Threepwood wants to be a mighty pirate in the Monkey Island games... how often does ANYONE plunder anything that's not another pirate?
  • Bloodbath Bay in Sly Cooper 3 has this problem too. All pirates, all the time. It's described as an intentional throwback, but where does the cash come from if all the pirates just pirate each other?
  • This is actually realistically averted in Metro 2033; throughout the entire game, you only encounter 2 small Bandit enclaves, consisting of small bands of less than 15 men each. Indeed, there are relatively few human enemies in the game compared to most other similarly themed games, which makes sense as the total number of human survivors of the nuclear holocaust is given as less than 40,000.
  • Mafia Wars carries this as a strong implication. Tens of thousands of Mafia robbing banks, assassinating FBI agents, and having gang wars in the middle of the street on a daily basis can't be healthy for any rational economy.
  • Had the hero not arrived in Speilburg to deal with the problem, this probably would have happened within the year.
  • In the X-Universe, Pirates and the Yaki typically outnumber civilian traders by 5:1 to 100:1 in the contested Pirate Sectors. However, as a whole, there are less Pirate ships active in the game at any one time than just a single race's trade ships.


  • Order of the Stick Lampshades this with Greysky City, where everyone is a thief, mugger, or murderer to the point that the city really shouldn't be able to function. And home of the Thieves Guild, naturally.
    • And way before that were the forest bandits, to whom Haley gave a detailed tirade on exactly why thievery by brute force was just unsustainable for a force that size. Of course, the explanation practically ran on nonsensoleum itself since it was based on the premise that no one could ever get a certain amount of wealth without being a high-level character.
  • Parodied in RPG World: the backstory for a few of the characters is that they were in a town which was economically depressed until it was revitalized when everyone became a criminal.
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