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More Criminals Than Targets
"There are more criminals in this town than in prison."
Tommy Vercetti, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

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 poor 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

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    Anime 
  • In One Piece, some of the pirate gangs are preying upon towns too small to sustain them, and the world in general seems to have an unsustainably high pirate population. Justified in some cases, such as with Arlong, whose crew have set up permanent camp on an island for decades but are taking tribute from seven nearby towns to sustain themselves.
  • Conan Edogawa sure runs into a lot of criminal cases (with a disproportionate-seeming amount of murders among them) for a single kid detective — enough to have made a career out of solving them by the age of seventeen even before he got shrunk down again.

    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.

    Film 
  • 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 Sociopathic Hero, 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.

    Literature 
  • In 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.
  • 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".
  • This was one of the reasons Colin Dexter gave for announcing he would never write another Inspector Morse novel.
  • This trope is the reason that in the revised edition of Darkspell, the thieves' den in Dun Hireadd was changed into just a father, his son, and a few contacts/family members. Dun Hireadd is not large enough to support a fully-fledged Thieves' Guild.

    Live Action TV 
  • Battlestar Galactica has an odd example: a prostitution ring specializing in pimping out children is 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Plus, this isn't a simple city. The Seattle Metroplex is basically a 2070s city-state, with a population higher than many modern countries. The average citizen isn't a street tough or a Runner, it's the millions of perfectly normal wageslaves living their mundane little lives behind all the security and comfort of their favorite megacorp (after all, forcing your workers into poverty and death reduces productivity and profitability). Those couple thousand Shadowrunners are the rare tools used by the major players in the city, doing the sabotage and espionage that big corporations use to one-up each other, not a large portion of the overall population.
  • 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.
    • 1) A Wizard Did It (Luskan has one of the major wizards' guilds of the region. It happens to be evil, but still). 2) Luskan may be dominated by criminals, but the region isn't — Luskan is something of a pirate port, and there's a fair amount of seaborne trade going on in the area.
  • 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.
    • The Innistrad plane suffers from Ravenloft's version (mentioned above) of more monsters than humans. It's actually a Discussed Trope, though, as some of the vampires are trying to essentially use sustainable farming methods on the humans, while some of the werewolves actively want the plane to reach a predator-only state. In the mid-point of the block, Dark Ascension, the humans actually are dwindling in population. Sorin Markov had to create an angelic Big Good (Avacyn) in an attempt to avert this trope. Innistrad's problems started when Avacyn got herself sealed in the Hellvault.

    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 will 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.
    • Taken Up to Eleven with Rogue Isles, where the only legitmate buisnesses seen more the entire freaking city are a bunch of fisheries, and infact people need to be reminded that their economy is not just a endless cycle of people stealing from eachother.
  • 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 Megaton's 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's situation is justified, at the least: it's a city with a fairly large number of inhabitants, many of whom are armed and will fight you if you commit a crime there. While Sheriff Simms appears to be the only one maintaining law and order, it is very likely that the citizens will defend the town in the event of a major attack. The walls are also a good force multiplier that would make it hard as hell to get inside the city, especially since the entrance is protected by an outer gate, a sniper, and a robot.
      • 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.
    • This trope has largely been averted in Fallout: New Vegas. Raiders like the Vipers and Jackals have a relatively small presence in the Mojave Wasteland, largely thanks to the pacifying efforts of the NCR occupiers. In the case of larger groups like the Powder Gangers and Great Khans, they behave more like organized tribes and have motivations other than raiding caravans and settlements for loot.
      • The White Legs tribe in Honest Hearts play this trope straight in that they are essentially a large group of marauders, and by far the single most powerful tribe in their territory. That being said, it has been outright stated that the White Legs have no agricultural or hunting skills, and that they only know how to take from others in order to survive. Practically every single one of their endings sees them dying out within a year, either because they lack the skills to survive on their own or because their defeat at Zion sees them being set upon by another tribe.
  • In Transcendence, most of the star systems in Human Space have more criminal than lawful 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: Origins 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, but justified.
    • Actually explained by Rica in the Dwarf Commoner Origin. Because the Casteless aren't allowed to join the army, the nobles and their armsmen are forced to breed like crazy, simply to offset the number lost everyday to the Darkspawn. It's not working and so naturally, the Casteless are slowly becoming the majority in Orzammar while being unable to contribute to society as a whole.
  • Dwarf Fortress averts it or plays it straight, depending on the world generation seed.
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion 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 - dwelling in many of the province's caves, and nearly every 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.
    • This is partially justified in the case of the Forsworn, who 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).
    • The size of the Thieves' Guild is also justifiable in that they do work throughout the entirety of Skyrim, not just in Riften.
    • It's also no wonder that Nords in general are skeptical of magic: there's maybe a few dozen legitimate mages in all of Skyrim, yet seemingly hundreds of murderous necromancers.
  • 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?
    • In the third game, you are attacking other pirate ships and taking their plunder. It's not clear where they got it, but you can assume it was another pirate. One of the ships you can attack, though, is an unarmed glass-bottom boat. Guybrush feels really bad about attacking innocent people. Guess he kinda missed the point of being a pirate.
  • Bloodbath Bay in Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves 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.
    • The sequel, Last Light, continues this trend; you only run into a single bandit group of about 20 or so guys, who specifically menace similarly small groups of refugees travelling down a particular stretch of tunnel. Literally all of the other human enemies in the game are soldiers of the various factions.
  • 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 Spielburg 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.
  • Justified in Batman: Arkham City: Batman is in a walled-off section of Gotham that's become a maximum-security prison where all criminals and political prisoners (Bruce Wayne and most of the "targets" for this trope) are kept.
  • In The Sims games, it's entirely possible for all your playable Sims (that is, apart from children and University students) to be in the Criminal career. It will be unclear exactly who their targets are because they never mug people and Townies don't have homes that the player sees.
  • In both The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (which share the same timeline and version of Hyrule), the Dark World counterpart of Kakariko Village—Hyrule's only town—is Thieves' Town, which is of course entirely made up of thieves and various assorted criminals. In the former game, this is justified, as the only people who went over are thieves trying to steal the Golden Power, but not so much in the latter, which takes place in Lorule, which is supposedly a normally functional kingdom.
    • It's implied by Princess Hilda that the kingdom seriously went downhill after they destroyed their Triforce. Most likely the town wasn't always that way. There also are citizens who aren't dangerous, but are very strange (they appear to all be in some mask cult).
  • The human areas of Guild Wars 2 are guilty of this, and it's not helped by some bandit camps being far away in remote unpopulated places where they would have absolutely nobody to prey on (Brisban Wildlands being the most egregious example).

    Webcomics 
  • The 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.
  • Lampshaded in Errant Story, in a way that would make Ayn Rand envious: the same guilds that supply the bodies for police and security forces in the nation of Farrel also train the criminals, so there are always plenty of bandits to go around. Jon's explanation of this elicits a predictable reaction from Snark Knight Sarine.

     Western Animation 
  • Subverted in Adventure Time with the City of Thieves. Everyone in the city is a thief, and therefore everyone is also a victim. Naturally the city is a hellhole, but there is no shortage of people to snatch from.


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