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Army of Thieves and Whores

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They're ragtag, but an army all the same!

"The French system of conscription brings together a fair sample of all classes; ours is composed of the scum of the earth — the mere scum of the earth."
The Duke of Wellington on the British Army

What you get when you take a Ragtag Band of Misfits and band them up with other Ragtag Bands of Misfits.

An army of thieves and whores is a military force made up of the lowliest dregs and losers of society. There's slaves, beggars, prostitutes (and their kids), robbers, outcasts, renegades, carnies, backstabbers, lawyers, heretics, and in general everybody you wouldn't expect to see in a proper army.

There is a practicality in using them as a military force: criminals are more likely to be well-trained and experienced in the art of taking others' lives. Besides your more independent serial killers and professional killers, gang members may even already be familiar with organized warfare of the underground urban variety. Therefore, they are more efficient to use as killing machines rather than wasting time subjecting a conscript to psychological torture which will result in PTSD-induced suicide. The major problem is how to keep your pets controlled so that they won't rebel. However, in fiction and Role-Playing Games, these armies of thieves and whores are often are portrayed as the heroes, because Underdogs Never Lose, or because the concept of ragtag underdogs fighting against a dystopia is very appealing for RPG scenarios. These positive portrayals will likely be put in contrast with the aforementioned dystopia which will be well-ordered and disciplined yet more unsympathetic and ruthless than our downtrodden misfits. There may also be a theme of uniting the downtrodden to stand against their oppressors.

The French Foreign Legion is often characterized this way, both in fiction and real life.

Less optimistic portrayals will feature "penal battalions" where criminals and the dregs of society such as thieves and whores will be conscripted into the military and sent out as cannon fodder, or at least be Trading Bars for Stripes (see also Boxed Crook). They will be also be prone to Rape, Pillage, and Burn, because, after all, since it includes hardcore and depraved criminals, this means that terrorizing the populace (preferably from foreign nations), robbing them of their belongings, and keeping prisoners for their own sick amusement is considered normal routine for them (unless there is someone, a Token Good Teammate, who can attempt to keep them in check, keyword, attempt).

In Real Life, this has often been the makeup of armies throughout history. Military life in the ranks was just too distasteful for someone to volunteer for it that didn't find civilian life just as hard unless he was motivated by ideology. When there was no ideological reason and no Barbarian Tribe nearby to recruit from, this is what you are going to end up with. The pay was simply not good enough to attract respectable people unless they were from nobility; which sometimes had ancestors who were part of one of these. On the other hand, assembling them into a properly trained army was a rather hard task not only for reasons of literacy or discipline but also due to the spread of chronic disease in a population with poor or no access to medical care and proper feeding and living conditions. A recruit from the poorest class in the Victorian Era could be expected to have either latent tuberculosis, syphilis, gonorrhea, bone diseases, or, worse, all of them together, and in crowded military camps germs are easily spread. (The ordinary peasant recruit of the State army was not much healthier either. The British Army Medical Corps found out in 1899 the majority of recruits were unfit for combat, even by the low standards of the time.)

Contrast the Carnival of Killers. Not related to the movie Army of Thieves.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Black Dog Knights of Berserk were made up of the worst criminals of all of Midland. They were so bad that they were sent to a distant prison on the border of the kingdom for their war crimes. They're headed by a nasty piece of work of an Apostle by the name of Wyald, who has the distinction of being the worst Serial Rapist in the series.
  • In Black Clover, the Black Bulls are comprised of former delinquents, people who've run away from their homes and people who've been rejected by their families. Somewhat justified in that, when Yami was made a Captain and allowed to start his own Magic Knight squad, he explicitly intended to start a squad for people who couldn't belong anywhere else.
  • In Bleach, the original Gotei 13 consisted of the thirteen most vile and dangerous criminals in Soul Society. The current version has cleaned up their act a bit, but they still have some very colorful characters in their ranks, like Yumichika, the very definition of Agent Peacock, Unohana, a kind healer who scares the absolute bejeebus out of everyone because she's one of the aforementioned 13 criminals, the womanizing Kyoraku, and the chronically ill Ukitake. And then there's Kenpachi, who Soul Society hasn't executed only because they still can't figure out how, and Mayuri, who actually was imprisoned, but paroled because, eccentricities aside, his loyalty and scientific genius makes him too valuable an asset to do away with.
  • In Dark Gathering, Yayoi is building an army of evil spirits, specifically focusing on ones that are powerful and actively malicious. As most of them have large body counts, she can freely threaten them with torture to keep them in line or use their doll bodies to absorb damage dealt to her team.
  • Digimon Adventure: In "The Gateway to Home", the forces DemiDevimon scrounges up for Myotismon's army are a ragtag band of "junk" Digimon — Digimon that, in the games, evolve when the player fails to feed their digital pet, exercise them and clean up their... waste. The result is a loose band of slovenly, low-grade Digimon — slug-like Numemon, shifty Vegiemon, a single turd-like Sukamon, and his Chuumon partner... and two of the heroes in crude disguises. As can be expected from an army scrounged up from the literal leavings of society, not one of them has the stomach for war and they mutiny en masse when the going gets tough.
  • In Naruto, Corrupt Corporate Executive Gato uses an army of mercenaries and thugs to keep a leash on the general populace in the Land of Waves.
  • One Piece: Considering that most of the Main Characters are pirates, almost every force that isn't the government or the revolutionaries fits under this.
    • The earliest example would be Don Krieg's Pirate Armada, which consisted of 50 ships and 5000 men. However, when Don Krieg's fleet entered the Grand Line, they ran afoul of "Hawk-Eye" Mihawk, one of the Seven Warlords of the Sea. Mihawk decimated the fleet, leaving Krieg with one battered flagship and a hundred starving men to limp back into the East Blue.
    • To save Nico Robin from Enies Lobby, the Straw Hats ally themselves with two unlikely factions: first, the Franky Family, a gang of bounty-hunters who the Straw Hats became enemies with in Water 7 after they stole the crew's money, whose boss Franky was also taken by CP9; second are the Galley-la Shipbuilding company's top three foremen, who came along to take vengeance after CP9 tried to assassinate their boss Iceburg. Coming along are Kokoro's family: Kokoro herself, a Lady Drunk, her Cheerful Child granddaughter Chimney and her pet rabbit-who-acts-like-a-cat Gonbe, and finally Yokozuna, a giant sumo-wrestling frog. During the siege on Enies Lobby, Usopp convinces the island's giant gatekeepers Oimo and Kashi to switch sides after revealing their captains are still exactly where they left them 100 years ago and not imprisoned by the World Government, as they had been led to believe. In short, it's a small army consisting of pirates, bounty-hunters, shipwrights, sea-train workers, a giant frog, and two giant warriors.
    • During his escape from Impel Down, Luffy manages to upend the entire system and collects a small army of hardened criminals, two former Warlords, a whole bunch of Revolutionaries... and Buggy.
    • This trope is the reason why the four most powerful pirates are known as the Four Emperors: they don't have a single crew, but entire fleets to throw at their problems. When Whitebeard goes to Marineford to rescue Ace, he doesn't just bring his own crew — which is so big that it needed four ships to carry everyone — but also a few dozen other pirate crews allied with him, all of them as fiercely loyal as the main crew (and a few of them being former crew members before splitting up to form their own subordinate crews).
    • During the Dressrosa Arc, the gladiators from the tournament for the Mera Mera Fruit form one to take down Doflamingo for turning them into toys in order to enslave them. The pirate Cavendish even points out that Doflamingo's actions have basically united an otherwise uncooperative bunch of outlaws, renegades, and champions from across the seas into a cohesive force dedicated to destroying him. After everything is said and done, all of them decide to throw their weight behind Luffy for his efforts, giving the Straw Hats an army of 5,600 pirates.
    • In the Third Act of the Wano Arc, the Ninja-Pirate-Mink-Samurai Alliance that attacks Kaido's stronghold on Onigashima consists of the Straw Hat Pirates, the Heart Pirates led by Deadly Doctor Trafalgar Law, assembled fighters of Wano, which includes various bandits and yakuza, and the warriors of the Mink Tribe. Helping the Alliance are the Kid Pirates led by the violence-prone Eustass Kid, newly-minted Straw Hat and former Warlord Jinbe, Ex-Whitebeard Marco the Phoenix and Kaido's "son" Yamato.
  • Askeladd's mercenary band in Vinland Saga consists of dregs and raiders who couldn't even find a lord to serve. Thorkell's band is more of a Blood Knight version, consisting of veteran warriors united in their admiration of their commander and their desire to find a good fight. The two eventually come to blows. Askeladd's group rebels against him, leading Thorkell to kill them all.

    Comic Books 
  • The name comes from the rebel army raised against the tsar in Nikolai Dante, which does indeed consist mostly of robbers, prostitutes, pirates, and various people the tsars have trodden on.
  • Each iteration of the Rough Riders is composed of people who are simultaneously extraordinary and distressingly radical, including mobsters, anarchists, and at least one zombie.
  • The protagonists of Universal War One are the Purgatory squadron, almost entirely made of officers on trial for various crimes. They are given a second chance, but can be sent back to court martial at the slightest sign of reoffending.

    Fan Works 
  • And So We Fight: Zant calls the Ravager army this trope almost completely verbatim in the Twilight Realm. Ishaka is only upset that Zant forgot to include the fact that the Ravager army has "thievin' whores" in it as well.
  • The Nightmare Pirates of The Butcher Bird basically consist of this, being pirates and drawing most of their ranks from smugglers, murderers, criminals, and the various scum of society. They also end up being part of an even larger example of this trope by forming a massive pirate alliance.
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami has many Keepers employing criminals and misfits into their armies to use as cannon fodder. And Keeper Mercury is no exception. Well, except by the fact that she actually doesn't consider them expendable, and actually works for the good guys while pretending to be a purely pragmatic villain.
  • In Equestria Divided, most of the Cult of Laughter's infantry units are either psychotic cultists slash clowns or insane townsfolk. House Whitegold, on the other hand, has the Whitegold Militia and Sapphire Sirens units, which are what you get when the thieves and whores get an actual military budget.
  • An ISOT in Grimdark: Inverted. The Renegade German faction adopts one of these from the Dark Elves, but to everyone's surprise quickly turns it around into a professional and effective military force, thanks in no small part to proper discipline, training, tactics, and weaponry.
  • A villainous example in The Night Unfurls. Combine the biggest and most famous mercenary group in Eostia with any traditional Always Chaotic Evil fantasy races you can think of (orcs, goblins, ogres, you name it), you have a huge one of these that persists for more than 30 chapters of the story, not including the Aborted Arc of Thorn and beyond. Rape, Pillage, and Burn is the main M.O. of this army to realise Vault's dream of a Sex Empire.
  • Nymeria's War: Efran Sand's rebel forces consist of pirates, bandits, and sellswords, among them even Ironborn raiders. Together, they form a highly effective group of guerilla fighters who pose a genuine threat to the forces of House Dalt.
  • Please Stop Eating The Hell Butterflies: Before Bleach canon pretty much confirmed it to having been this way in the past, the story had the Gotei 13/Thirteen Court Guard Squads as this in present, though with less "everyone is a monster pointed in the right direction," and more "Yamamoto has three types of employees: the Bunny-Ears Lawyer, the crazy ones he wants gone, and a few sane exceptions."
  • Ponies and Dragons: The explanation for how Chrysalis managed to pull off the events of "Guardians of Harmony" after losing her hive to Thorax: she managed to get a large portion of the Winter Court (where all the worst of Changeling society, including her, are banished to for various horrible crimes) to join her in her attack.
  • Weaver Nine's Society is a dodgy group of outcasts, criminals, and fugitives forged into one of the most dangerous organizations on earth and united under Weaver's leadership. They are regarded as terrorists by most of the world and joining automatically grants a Kill Order. Based in Kenya and suspected to be the real power controlling most of Africa, they are classified as an S-class threat by the Protectorate.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Because he can't recruit enough sailors to risk a voyage to the dangerous island of Colossa, Sinbad in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad has the bright idea to recruit criminals who were sentenced to be hanged. They almost immediately mutiny and plan on using Sinbad's ship to become pirates.
  • The narrator of Barry Lyndon describes the lower ranks of the Prussian Army as this.
    At the close of the 7 Years War, the army, so renowned for its disciplined valor, was officered by native Prussians; but it was composed, for the most part, of men from the lowest levels of humanity, hired or stolen from almost every nation in Europe.
  • Hedley Lamarr organizes an evil version of one of these for the climactic battle in Blazing Saddles.
    "I want rustlers, cutthroats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswogglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass-kickers, shit-kickers, and Methodists!"
  • In the French war movie Captain Conan (1996), the title character commands a unit of trench raiders which includes recruits from military prisons. Part of the plot involves a court-martial when several of these soldiers use the skills they've learnt to rob a nightclub.
  • Captive State: The Resistance Cell in Chicago. For starters, the mission we see carried out by the Cell are partially made of a Goth cross-dresser who's implied to be a prostitute, a butch lesbian mechanic, a deeply religious ex-priest, and an ex-Marine. Rafe's partner is a low-class wigger.
  • Norm MacDonald's character from Dirty Work at the end has a crack team assembled of senior citizens, homeless dudes, and "my loyal army of prostitutes", the latter two of which counted as a Chekhov's Gun each.
  • Flesh+Blood (1985), features a mercenary band led by Martin, as well as Celine and Polly, two camp followers.
  • The Ravagers in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) are a motley gang of Space Pirates whose only rule is to steal from everyone. In the climax of the film, they've been convinced to help the heroes take down the Big Bad.
  • G-rated version in Muppet Treasure Island. Most of them turn out to be full-on villains with only Long John Silver standing out as Affably Evil, except Sweetums, who sides with Captain Kermit.
    Kermit: Who hired this crew?! This is undoubtedly the seediest bunch of villains, cutthroats, and scoundrels I ever laid eyes on so who hired them?!?!
  • The Viking band from The Northman is introduced killing a fisherman and his son for no reason. The raid on the Slavic village is even more brutal, featuring wanton violence, including against women and children, and burning people alive more or less For the Evulz.
  • In The Ribald Tales of Robin Hood, Robin's band is comprised of thieves and camp followers, which is even commented on by Prince John.
  • In RoboCop 3 McDaggett, the boss of OCP's armed force, orders the police to assist in evicting the populace of an entire district by force. The officers refuse and resign en masse. McDaggett decides the city's lowlives will do just fine and proceeds to assemble a small army of them and attack. They're quite successful against the armed resistance, thanks to being equipped with body armor and heavy weapons (plus OCP had a tank), but then RoboCop shows up and slaughters the lot.
  • In Rocky Mountain, the Confederate soldiers are under secret orders from General Robert E. Lee to meet with outlaw Cole Smith, who allegedly commands 500 bandits, in order to persuade him to bring them into the war on the side of the South.
  • Rogue One has the Rebel Alliance as one, hiring mercenaries, assassins, and saboteurs to get a chance against The Empire.
  • The slave army in Spartacus qualifies as this trope. In this case, however, the army loses.
  • In xXx: State of the Union, to counter the treasonous General Ripper's highly trained team of Marines, Darius gathers the local car-jacking outfit and arms them with weapons (then a tank they jacked). It's even lampshaded: "The fate of the free world in the hands of a bunch of hustlers and thieves." Kyle quips back, "Why should tonight be any different?"

  • Played with in the Roman army in Belisarius Series. While it clearly has quite a few elements of this in it, and sometimes requires rigorous persuasion from Belisarius to keep them from indulging in war crimes, when put to it they can also act in an honorable enough manner to impress Rajputs.
  • The Black Company is one of these. It was standard practice for the Free Companies not to ask questions about who you were or what you did before you joined up. They're usually the most elite force in whatever army they're working for in the current book thanks to a cunning and experienced officer corps, although the level of professionalism among the rank and file varies considerably over time as their fortunes shift.
  • Blood Meridian features numerous examples of this trope. Captain White's filibuster expedition and the Glanton Gang are the most obvious examples but there are others as well, such as the Mexican bandits that The Kid and Sproule encounter or the Comanche warband that wipes out White's filibuster
  • Temujin's (Genghis Khan's) forces in Wolf of the Plains starts out as one of these, as he initially builds up his forces by recruiting the various outcasts and nomads who would otherwise have nobody to stand with.
  • Another literal example in Dark Ones Mistress, with the ruler's army who are also The Soulless.
  • The army John brings to fight the Crusades in Dirge for Prester John. They're the cream of Pentexore, but they have no idea how to form an actual army.
  • Discworld: Before the beginning of the series, the Night Watch of Ankh-Morpork was made up of incompetents, thieves, and losers. By the time of Guards, Guards! only a handful are left, the worst of the worst led by a drunkard. Captain Vimes' character arc is largely concerned with the redemption of the Night Watch into a powerful and functional force.
  • Done literally in The Elenium. With the Church Knights and regular army away to fight the bad guys, the local thieves' guild is recruited to defend the city.
  • In the Emberverse, Norman Arminger recruits motorcycle gang members into his army to act as enforcers, and become part of his aristocracy, while establishing the Portland Protective Association.
  • Gaius Marius' legion in Emperor: The Gates of Rome is viewed by the more conservative Romans due to Marius abolishing the land requirement for entry, bringing in numerous poor citizens who otherwise would have had no means of supporting themselves. And they love him for it. In the second book, Spartacus' slave army also qualifies.
  • The Ogre Company from In the Company of Ogres are all employees of the Brute's Legion who were Reassigned to Antarctica for being the bottom of the barrel. The fact that Ned has to whip them into shape in a year lest his boss eats him is the Inciting Incident of the story.
  • Since Marius also appears in the Masters of Rome series, his legion fulfills a very similar role and plays a key role in the first book.
  • In The Night Angel Trilogy, in the second and third books Logan essentially puts this together. Some of them become his bodyguards, others go back to the life they had for a bit, but mostly, he does this to redeem the once crime-ridden country and give it hope for a corruption light future.
  • Phule's Company has the Omega Company. In the Space Legion in general asking about a recruit's past is a big taboo, and "Omega" is the unofficial "dumping ground" for commanders willing to get rid of recruits they deem unsuitable. Their own sergeant noted that the result "looks more like a schoolyard" and "separated the problem Legionnaires into two groups: the wimps and the hard cases". That is, either unable to function in an army (or society in general) or inveterate criminals. Then the protagonist business shark promoted to command this mob thought it's not as bad as it looks...
    Phule: It's been done before. Specifically the Devil's Brigade... the first Special Service force, which eventually became...
    Beeker: The Special Forces. Yes, I'm familiar with the unit. If I might point out, however, that was a joint U.S.-Canadian force. At the beginning, the Americans provided a motley assortment of rejects and criminals, as opposed to the Canadians, who donated a crack fighting unit. While you definitely have your allotment of criminals, I fear you're lacking the offsetting crack fighting unit to serve as an example.
  • The Saga of Darren Shan: The vampeze get around their strict refusal to use projectile weapons by hiring human thugs and cutthroats. Debbie and Alice eventually come up with the idea for the vampires to join forces with humans for the same purpose. Those humans mostly end up being homeless people. It's justified because those are the people that the vampeze are feeding off of, so they're only too happy to have a shot for revenge.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: In general, it's common for both Westerosi armies and mercenary companies to end up as this — Westerosi lords usually build up their forces by mass-conscripting whatever huddled masses of peasantry happen to be at hand, while few mercenaries are very choosy about who they take on — but a few organizations stand out in particular:
    • The Night's Watch used to be a universally highly regarded order that was erected to defend Westeros against the Others — but nowadays, it involves this trope to a large degree. While there are second and third sons and highborn illegitimate sons from noble houses who still join for the sake of duty and honor, most other members are criminals whose crimes were pardoned in return for joining and many of the willing volunteers are misfits of some sort. Other than the North, where the Night's Watch is still considered a noble calling, most other realms see the Watch as essentially a joke because the ancient threat of the Others is believed to be long-gone and few believe that it actually has returned. Consequently, the Night's Watch has become ridiculously underfunded, to the point that they can barely garrison three of the nineteen forts manning the Wall by the time the story begins. In A Storm of Swords, some local prostitutes help the Night Watch fight off a wildling onslaught, making this a quite literal example of the trope. In A Dance With Dragons, Jon adds wildling warriors and spearwives to the mix in an effort to build up their ranks and help defend humanity (Westeros and wildlings alike) against the ever-approaching threat of the Others.
    • The Brave Companions, a.k.a. the Bloody Mummers, are a mercenary company formed from those the rest of the sellsword community rejected. They accept psychos, creeps, disgraced pedophile priests, mad doctors, and common bandits from all Westeros and Essos. Their commander openly delights in their reputation as their current employer's pet psychopaths.
  • Spellsinger: In one of the novels, the communist dragon Falameezar rallies the world's rats and mice to rise up against oppression.
  • Star Wars Legends: In the second book of The Han Solo Trilogy, the smugglers (few of whom have military training, although many have fought pirates and Navy patrollers), con artists, mercenaries, honest traders with no combat experience who have relatives on Nar Shadda and pirates form a ragtag militia fleet that nonetheless scores some heavy blows against the invasion force seeking to raze their home.
  • The Stormlight Archive: This becomes the fate of the bridge crews. Being sent to the Bridge Crews is often regarded as a Fate Worse than Death, a punishment restricted to only the biggest outcasts and criminals of the Alethi Army. The Way of Kings (2010) follows Kaladin who takes up the mantle to train Bridge 4 in the ways of combat with hope that they'll ultimately escape when the time is ripe. When the time comes in the form of a gambit pulled off by their superiors in leaving a rival army to die in haste, Bridge 4 sacrifices their chance at freedom in order to save said army, ultimately putting them in favor of the general, who frees not only Bridge 4, but every other bridge crew in thanks. He offers them all a job as body-guards to protect his family and the king in addition, outright looking over their various criminal pasts.
  • Michael Moorcock's short story "To Rescue Tanelorn". Narjhan raises an army of beggars from Nadsokor and leads them to attack the city of Tanelorn.
  • Victoria's newborn army in Eclipse. She basically turned whoever she could find. It doesn't work.
  • In Un Lun Dun, Deeba's army of rebels starts with the... extreme shoppers, and works its way up from there.
  • Deconstructed with the Division Numero Uno in Victoria. In this dystopian setting, a near-future America has grown so hopelessly decayed and corrupt that the Federal Government has to supplement its forces with literal deputized gangsters to put down rebellions against it, and the Division is the most famous such unit. It turns out, however, not to be very competent as a military force, degenerating into a drunken rampage as it is deployed against the La Résistance in upstate New England, and its excessive brutality ends up alienating most of the government's remaining supporters in the region.
  • The 108 Stars of Destiny in The Water Margin are one of the oldest examples of this trope. Generally, they're a bunch of disgraced noblemen, thieves, killers, pirates, monks, murderers, and bandits recruited from all across China.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones:
    • The Night's Watch, which offers atonement for anyone who joins. It used to be highly regarded by all and is still seen as a noble-calling in (only) the North, where there are still second/third sons and highborn illegitimate sons from noble Houses who join for the sake of honor and duty, but because the ancient threat of the White Walkers is believed to be long-gone and few believe it actually has returned, the Watch is seen by a joke by most southern realms and has become underfunded, forcing it to incorporate this trope to help fill out its ranks.
    • The men of the Brotherhood Without Banners proudly proclaim that some of them were once swineherds but now they all fight for the people.
  • The Bowzocks from Gekisou Sentai Carranger are pretty much the bad guys from Blazing Saddles IN SPACE!, being an army of alien criminals hired to depopulate the Earth to make way for a hyperspace highway.
  • The eponymous Shtrafbat (penal battalion) of the Russian TV series Shtrafbat. The first company is made up of criminal convicts and the second company is made up of political convicts. Very few survive in the end.
  • The Maquis in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager is a milder example. Sure, there are people like Chakotay, Cal Hudson, and Michael Eddington who deeply believe the cause is just and noble. But there are also Starfleet washouts, thieves, headcases, folks with severe anger management issues, and sociopathic killers. As Chakotay points out when one of his former crew turns out to be the last one, they didn't have the luxury of sending out applications - if you could wield a phaser or fly a ship they'd take you.

    Myths & Religion 
  • In Christian metaphor The Church is sometimes compared to this, as every member is a repentant sinner; and sometimes at one time a literal thief or a whore.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • The Lost of 3CW, looking to spread across Europe and their foreign affiliates, The Age Of The Fall in Ring of Honor, looking to spread across The United States, were both largely made up of outcasts, the disabled and or antisocial brutes. Even the supposedly affluent people like Lacey had clearly lost their way before joining. Both groups had noble political goals, but drew the ire of locker rooms for their methods, being hostilely taking over arenas or just using up air time to preach.

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech:
    • The 17th Recon Regiment, Camacho's Caballeros, is described as half Battlemech regiment, half gypsy caravan, being a big, tightly knit, and constantly squabbling bunch of extremely talented pilots. Their best scout kills Humongous Mecha on foot and is the literal daughter of a whore and former petty crim, while the regiment itself is full of very capable warriors who probably couldn't go four days in a more traditional unit without being put in a brig.
    • The entire Ghost Regiment division of the Draconis Combine, composed largely of the Yakuza of the day, which ranges from old hands following their own personal code of honor to thuggish bullies. Being less hidebound due to not having to follow the demands of the samurai code of honor instilled in traditional units, the Ghosts can pull all sorts of nasty stunts without getting more than a reprimand.
    • The Black Widow Company, especially in its earliest incarnations, was this. It was populated largely by discipline cases from the rest of Wolf's Dragoons, including at least one member under a suspended death sentence, another threatened with exile from the Inner Sphere due to embezzlement and one condemned to the unit for daring to ask for the hand of his CO's daughter in marriage.
    • The Marian Hegemony (a Periphery nation modelled after the Roman Empire) has the Cohors Morituri (Cohort of the Dead), a penal unit comprised of condemned prisoners and a military police unit that acts as their wardens. The prisoners - who range from political prisoners to psychotic murderers - are considered slaves, even being branded on their foreheads to mark them as property of the state, and assignment to the cohort is considered a death sentence.
  • Dungeons & Dragons adventure CM1 Test of the Warlords. The domain ruler Longtooth has "Longtooth's Legion", an army of five hundred thieves armed with bows and swords.
  • Exalted has the Vermillion Legion — or, as it had every reason to be called, "the Red-Piss Legion". Had, as thanks to its general, the Lady of War Tepet Ejava, it's now a Badass Army. Which is a very good thing, as she's the nice candidate for the throne of the Realm.
  • The Capitol faction of Mutant Chronicles has two flavours. The traditional one is the Freedom Brigades, which consists of volunteers willing to trade ten years of brutal service in the solar system's worst hellholes for a clean rap sheet and Capitol citizenship. The other flavour is the Free Marines, Capitol's most famous special forces outfit. In order to be eligible for the Free Marines, you have to have served for at least two years in another special forces unit, been decorated for gallantry under fire at least three times, been recommended for promotion, and been sentenced to death by a court-martial.
  • By the time of the last battles in Twilight: 2000, the U.S. Army was willing to take pretty much anyone they could get, including Soviet defectors and forcibly conscripting locals. By 2000, many regular army units on both sides had degenerated into banditry.
  • The Vampire: The Requiem supplement Requiem For Rome has the Peregrine College, a collection of the vampiric underclass.
  • Warhammer:
    • The Herrimaults, a loosely-knit group of outlaws operating in Bretonnia Just Like Robin Hood, is made up of the criminals and assorted undesirables of Bretonnian society — runaway serfs, levy dodgers, poachers, Sweet Polly Olivers who were found out, disgraced nobles, failed rebels, and everyone else who got on the nobility's bad side, united in a quest to strike back against Bretonnia's stifling social order.
    • The two-headed Beastman warlord Ungrol Four-Horn leads a large army of Ungors (Beastmen with small horns and no recognizable animal features beyond that), mutants, and assorted dregs and outcasts, all creatures seen as contemptible wretches, cannon fodder, slaves and food by other Beastmen. Ungrol is himself an Ungor, and like the rest of his army is driven by spiteful jealousy and hatred of the powerful Beastmen who abused him all his life.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The Lost and the Damned are a villainous (well, more villainous than the rest) version — they make up various Chaos armies, and are composed of mutants, murderers, heretics, and assorted scum of the Empire.
    • From the same universe, the Imperial penal legions follow this trope straight, being armies primarily conscripted from the inmates of Imperial prisons. When the Planetary Defense Force contributions to the Imperial Guard from worlds that serve as incarceration centers, the line between "penal legion" and "Guardsmen" become indistinct.
    • Most Penal Legions are formed of people that are desperately trying to clear their records by volunteering instead of accepting execution; given that the PLs are sent to some of the worst parts of the fighting and are considered expendable, this often ends in Redemption Equals Death. It's worth noting that there is no shortage of capital offences in the Imperium (this is an army where you can wind up executed for standing on the same planet as a heretic) so it's not uncommon for people to be eligible for induction into a Penal Legion for some really odd reasons, to our sensibilities.
    • The now discontinued Salvar Chem Dogs. An Imperial Guard regiment consisting entirely of drug addicts, thieves, and psychopathic thugs, who are kept in check only by their addictions and promises of large quantities of their fix. They're also motivated by being allowed to keep anything they loot.
    • In fact, you could probably look at any Imperial Guard regiment raised from a Hive World, and it will probably be this trope. It's even mentioned that one possible way to raise a regiment from a Hive World is simply sweeping through the Underhive, herding the street gangs onto a space ship, summarily executing the ones who make too much noise, and replacing the old gang colors with uniforms.
      • Gunmetal City from the Dark Heresy RPG regularly raised regiments both from the cream of their local enforcers and from mass conscription of the local gangs. It worked quite well... as long as the resulting regiments were stationed on different planets from each other.
      • Earlier editions made a point that Astartes chapter recruiting from a hive world is essentially this. However the fact that Astartes practice mind wipe and hypnosis during training probably helps.
    • Dark Eldar, essentially Drow in space. Despite their appearance and Klingon Promotion-based society, their raids in material space have perfect discipline, both because they're not dumb enough to endanger the raids essential to their survival in the Webway, and they all know what awaits them if they die there.
    • Ratlings (hobbits IN SPACE!) are a short human subspecies prone to thieving, drinking, and fornication at the drop of a hat. They are, however, excellent snipers and cooks, the first of which makes them accepted by officers and the second by the Guardsmen. They also have a reputation for running the informal black markets that pop up in every military camp anywhere.
    • All of these pale in comparison to the Night Lords. Some of the pre-Heresy Legions got their recruits from dangerous criminals, but even the Night Lords had a reputation for being extra-awful psychos, a legion for the real scum who would be rejected from any of the other legions and only allowed due to the Night Lords' lax recruitment standards. These guys were so bad that their Primarch Konrad Curze - think a mix of Batman, The Punisher and Kurtz as an Ax-Crazy giant demigod whose modus operandi was to be the worst person on his planet so nobody else could take his place and ended up brutally murdering every single criminal until the sewers were blocked by mutilated body parts, hated what the Night Lords legion became. It's even implied that Curze actually allowed an Imperial assassin to kill him because he was that deeply horrified by what he'd created. The Night Lords basically run on this trope played for Nightmare Fuel and it's hardly surprising they fell to Chaos.
  • Wargames Atlantic's "Death Fields" miniatures line (with respective rule set still on the works) has the "Cannon Fodder", prisoners of the alien regime that are handed an assault rifle and told to fight for their freedom (and quite probably die trying). Bits options for the models include Explosive Leash collars and manacles with freshly-cut chains.
  • Wretched Space: The default premise has the player characters as members of the Wretched Legion. Criminals and other misfits given a second chance; legionnaires are given a decommissioned freighter (equipped with a handler AI worth more than the ship itself), second-hand gear, and an implanted nanobomb controlled by the ship's AI. They are then shipped off to the loosely controlled Outer Rim to handle jobs that the regular Space Police can't or don't want to. As long as they don't endanger Galactic Federation personnel or equipment, they are allowed to complete their objectives however they see fit. They can arrest or kill any criminals they capture and confiscate their equipment and while their handler AI may place limits on their behaviour, they can usually steal from most inhabitants of the Outer Rim and commit minor crimes with no official punishment.

    Video Games 
  • In Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, the player character "Trigger" is part of one after being framed for shooting down a transport carrying ex-Osean President, Vincent Harling. This penal fighter squadron is known as 444th AKA the Spare Squadron, and it comprises of criminals, whose planes are adorned with "sin lines" on their tails to denote the severity of their crime(s). They are often used as expendable pawns by the Osean Air Defense Force, being sent on suicide missions on a regular basis. Their home base/prison is set up with fake aircraft and fuel trucks to look like a proper base and divert enemy bombing raids from actual air bases to it, and regularly succeeds at this. Their commander, McKinsey, is a condescending Glory Hound who believes that only he deserves to take credit for the squadron's deeds, not the pilots, and he will send pilots to rot in solitary confinement if they even just look at him the wrong way. Even their assigned AWACS, Bandog, shows little to no respect to the pilots he is assigned to, regularly tossing insults at the pilots while on mission.
  • You can assemble one in Age of Empires III, either by hiring them from the Saloon building or summoning them as a mercenary group. For some reason, they are more expensive than a conventional army. The Asian dynasties invert this, by hiring the Repentant version of them from Monasteries. They aren't any better or any worse than the ones summoned from a Saloon, though.
  • In Assassin's Creed II, Ezio Auditore assembles a literal army of thieves and whores (and mercenaries) to oppose the Templars' rule in Venice. He does the same on a bigger scale in Rome against the Borgias in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (his own mother and sister end up in charge of the biggest brothel in the city) and adds an army of Assassins that he trained to the mix — people he recruited simply for daring to stand up to the Borgias.
    Ezio, who are the true nobles of Venezia? Men like Carlo Grimaldi and Marco Barbarigo? No! I say we are; the thieves and mercenari and whores!
  • Borderlands 2: Brick, of all people, is the leader of such an army on Thousand Cuts, and the most likely to have the dirtiest, most bloodthirsty bandits with at least a common goal. He is obliged to let you kill them, though, because they're stupid.
  • You essentially recruit one in Darkest Dungeon, although admittedly, "army" is a generous term for your group of 30-40 heroes. Indeed, you start out with two thieves making up your entire party: Dismas is a Highwayman, and Reynauld the Crusader always starts with Kleptomania. Most of your recruits are exiles or otherwise messed up, and more than a few of them are criminals and heretics; it's entirely possible to have a party consisting of a grave robber, a scholar of the forbidden, an exiled barbarian warrior, and a demon-possessed werewolf creature.
    The Ancestor: Women and men, soldiers and outlaws. Fools and corpses.
  • The Division has the Rioters, regular citizens stuck in New York after the Dollar Flu and fed up with the government's response that they lash out at anyone, regardless if they're a maximum level Agent. The Rikers fit the bill more, being prison escapees who gladly commit any atrocity For the Evulz. The Division 2 reveals that they only got worse since their leader, LaRae Barret, was killed by the NY Agent.
  • Dragon Age: Origins:
    • The Legion of the Dead, a dwarven army composed of anybody willing to give up every single aspect of their former lives in order to take up arms against the darkspawn. A funeral is held for every new member and in all ways save the obvious they are considered dead by society. Thus, if you're bankrupt, wanted, disgraced, insane, or somehow otherwise unfit to live among normal people, you can join the Legion and be accepted and pardoned. And many do. Even non-dwarves can join if they wish (something absolutely unheard of anywhere else in dwarven society) because the Legion is chillingly aware it is a Red Shirt Army-in-waiting and takes all the bodies it can get.
    • If anointed king, the progressively pragmatic Bhelen Aeducan opens up service in the regular army to Orzammar's Casteless as a means of social advancement.
    • Even the Grey Wardens are less extreme in presentation but ultimately just as inclusive and binding. In theory, anyone can be conscripted — from blood-soaked psychopaths right out of the hangman's noose and the lowliest slaves to princes, kings, and lords — and in particular apostate mages (who'd otherwise be executed, lobotomized, or imprisoned) are free to fight right alongside everyone else. Their job is to stand between the darkspawn and the world, giving up everything (lives included) so the realm can exist in peace, and they are equally legendary and reviled for their heroism and absolute ruthlessness. In practice, the order's reputation has dwindled over the years and there are now far fewer high-status Wardens, leaving a fighting force of oddballs, criminals, and peasants sometimes unaware of the sacrifices Gray Warden are expected to make.
  • Dungeon Keeper let's you recruit all sorts of criminals who didn't fit in the Overworld society. Warlocks and Dark Mistresses, then Black Knights, Dark Elves and Rogues in the sequel.
  • Elden Ring: All Demigods have their own Lordsworn troops, but due to Mook Depletion during the Shattering they have to make do with whoever they can get as replacements. Godrick and Rykard have it the worst; Godrick has been forced to conscript civilians, hire foreign mercenaries, and utilize exiled knights and soldiers from penal colonies, while Rykard has no Lordsworn to his name and uses serpentine monsters, the Abductor Virgin war constructs, and the few Recusants who've promised to assassinate Tarnished for him. Through Flavor Text it's explained that even though Rykard's Lordsworn loyally followed him into blasphemy and supported his ambitions, once he suffered Motive Decay and became obsessed with simply amassing more power for its own sake rather than accomplishing his original goal, they all abandoned him. Meanwhile, nobody liked Godrick very much in the first place, so it's hardly surprising that not very many people willingly chose to serve him, and most of the people who did were undoubtedly slaughtered when he foolishly decided to lay seige to the capital city, which is so famously impenetrable that the only being who ever managed to successfully breach its walls was an enormous dragon nearly half the size of the city itself, and even he didn't get much further than that.
  • The Courier in Fallout: New Vegas can assemble one from the various factions in the Mojave, recruiting their support in the Second Battle of Hoover Dam to turn the tide for either the NCR, the Legion, the FEZ, or themselves.
  • The Player's army in every Fire Emblem game will be this by the end, though it also includes many nobles and trained soldiers as well. You will recruit anybody, despite their background, who even remotely dislikes the antagonists or is friends with someone already in your group. May be justified depending on the exact game; despite the presence of nobles, the player is rarely in command of any sort of disciplined military force, and when they are, it's usually a mercenary group who really would take on anyone who could earn their keep and be trusted not to kill everyone else.
  • In Long Live the Queen, Elodie can grant a mass amnesty to prisoners to fill out her army if Nova is in peril.
  • In Lost Technology, the backbone of Alcatraz's armies are rogues and pirates.
  • In Mass Effect 3, Shepard can make a deal with Aria T'Loak, an asari crimelord, for one of these. In exchange for helping her get command over the three major mercenary groups of the Terminus Systems, she will send a fleet of said mercenaries and criminal scum to help the war against the Reapers.
  • Space Pirate Militia in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption are made up primarily of captured slaves and criminals forced into service. Their service mostly consists of acting as canon fodder at for the space pirate vanguard, rations for the rest of the space pirates, and anything else which requires disposable bodies.
  • Mount & Blade allows you to recruit captured bandits into your force. In addition, your normal recruits are common peasants who have joined your army in hopes of a better life; your job is to turn them into something more than that.
  • At one point in Neverwinter Nights 2, your character is given command of a unit of Greycloaks, Neverwinter's civilian militia. If you want, you can recruit new Greycloaks by offering amnesty to any criminals who'll join your forces. This will drastically reduce your army's quality though.
  • Blackwatch from [PROTOTYPE] is implied to be this. They need men willing and able to shoot civilians or even each other on the suspicion of being infected/talkative. In the comic tie-in to the first game, Peter Randall (who would later become the division's general) is shown to be a fairly unhinged platoon leader during the Vietnam War, and in [PROTOTYPE 2], when asked what he would be doing if he wasn't in the unit, a Blackwatch soldier implies that he'd either be dead or in prison.
  • Resident Evil: The Umbrella Corporation has multiple mercenary units. The Umbrella Biohazard Countermeasure Service, first introduced in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, is comprised largely of convicts, including death row inmates. While their stated goal is to rescue personnel trapped in Raccoon City, it's revealed in-game that the real reason Umbrella sent them in was so they'd get slaughtered, allowing the corporation to evaluate the military applications of their various monsters.
  • In Sabres of Infinity, the Tierran Army becomes this after the first year of war. By this time, they've run out of volunteers, and so they're forced to resort to emptying out the prisons to fill the ranks. This leads to your troop (as a Lieutenant) being mostly composed of lower-class conscripts, with correspondingly bad effects on all of the unit's stats.
  • In StarCraft, approximately 50% of the enlisted in the armed forces of the Confederacy of Man/Terran Dominion are brainwashed criminals (running the gamut from thieves and murderers to the occasional political prisoner).
  • The eponymous team of Team Fortress 2 consists of a hyperactive Bostonian hoodlum, an Australian game hunter turned assassin (not a crazed gunman!), a delusional, nigh-anonymous pyromaniac dressed in an all-concealing jumpsuit, a crazed civilian & serial killer who believes he's a soldier, a chain-smoking French quintuple-agent, a saw-wielding German quack with mad scientist tendencies, a drunken Scottish swordsman & explosives expert, a Russian bear-wrestler with a huge handheld minigun, and a shotgun-toting Gadgeteer Genius Texan with a robot arm. The last one is the sanest of the group, and he cut off his own hand to attach a robotic replacement to the stump, which speaks volumes about the rest.
  • Tyranny gives us the Scarlet Chorus, which is a loose pack of Social Darwinist gangs made up of whatever conscripts survive the brutal initiation rites. Mixed in are criminals and psychopaths who willingly join the armies of an Evil Overlord in exchange for a promise of free rein to wreak havoc. The only thing keeping the Scarlet Chorus under a semblance of control is the Voices of Nerat, a gleefully psychotic Humanoid Abomination whose centuries of Torture Technician experience, soul-devouring ways, and pure creepiness terrify even the Chorus' most hardened killers.
  • The main characters of Valkyria Chronicles III. The Nameless includes a repeat arsonist, a convicted murderer, a brothel madame, a con artist, a draft-dodger, a sadistic dominatrix, a trigger-happy alcoholic, and a money-grubbing mechanic. The leader is charged with treason. What a merry band of undesirables! This is just one of the many, many ways the game is Darker and Edgier compared to its earlier installments.
  • The Exiles of WildStar are composed mostly of this, not that they have much choice in the matter.
  • World of Warcraft:
    • The Horde gathers all sorts of monstrous-looking races that are often nomadic or tribalistic. The orcs and the Forsaken are The Atoner because they were previously brainwashed into evil, although the latter are much more resentful and pragmatic. The trolls needed allies against the Alliance because their arch-enemies, the highborn elves, joined that faction. The taurens just happened to be there and spout a similar philosophy to that of the shamanic orcs, as well as not generally getting along with the night elves. The blood elves are the remnants of the highborn elves after they suffered great tragedy and felt betrayed by the Alliance. The goblins are greedy merchants whose methods the Alliance finds distasteful. The Vulpera are nomadic and Cute Monsters. The Huojin Pandaren value pragmatism more than their race's pacifism, so they joined the Horde. Finally, half the Dracthyr were found by the Horde in stasis and joined that faction.
    • On a lesser scale, the small army of Nightfallen that mobilizes against Suramar City. Even when more rebels join the cause, most have no combat experience or have had none for centuries, making them ill-equipped. Still, a crash course does wonders, as your small band is able to take down a rather powerful demon that makes a preemptive strike against Meredil rather easily.
    • Rogues are made of thieves, assassins, and other kinds of low-lives from any race. Therefore, the several In-Universe rogue guilds—such as Ravenholdt, the Syndicate, the Shattered Hand, the Deathstalkers, and SI:7— are an example of this.

  • The only thing you have to do to join the Raven's Army in Archipelago is make a Deal with the Devil. People willing to do that, however, tend to have little to lose. Their supreme commander, Snow, openly calls them "maniacs, wanderers, lost souls".
  • The citizens of Mechanicsburg, ancestral family home of the titular Girl Genius Agatha Heterodyne, descend from the army of thieves and whores who followed the Old Heterodynes. It's all In the Blood for them because when the Siege of Mecahnicsburg begins in earnest, the attackers find themselves having to fend off surprisingly effective attacks from shopkeepers and artisans in town.
  • Frontier HQ's garrison in Avania is stated by Captain Schmutzesser to be "the dregs of Avania." The behavior of said men does little to prove him otherwise.

    Web Original 
  • In The Gamer's Alliance, the Union Workers has an army of well-trained thieves, mages, assassins, and the like.
  • The CORE in S.S.D.D. relies heavily on conscripted criminals from its member nations for Cannon Fodder. Tessa was sentenced to two years for assaulting a police officer, and one of her squadmates was a petty thief.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • During the Lusitanian Wars, Romans were often opposed by bandit contingents aside from proper rebel forces. The chieftains Curius and Apuleius, resident Those Two Guys, were called "thieves", "robbers" and even "scoundrels" in most sources due to their personal approach to war, as they seemed more interested in sacking and plundering everything they could get their hands on than in accomplishing military objectives. Some authors believe at least Apuleius wasn't even indigenous to begin with, but a Roman deserter who had gone native for the spoils. Their greed was demonstrated in a memorable occasion in which they attempted an ambitious ambush to steal all of Quintus Fabius Maximus Servilianus's gold and it ended up with Curius's death.
  • By the end of the Thirty Years' War, every army involved. While they were always well-trained and equipped by contemporary standards, military service in the era was extremely lethal (the average attrition rate in Baroque Europe was that 1/4 of an army would die per year) and as a result the various armies had a hard time finding new recruits. They solved this by press-ganging poor residents from the streets or by offering clemency to bandits and convicts in exchange for military service (as a bonus said bandits often had military training already, as deserters and off-duty mercenaries would often turn to pillaging for survival).
  • The British Army of The Napoleonic Wars. Almost entirely made up of the lowest orders of society anyway, convicted criminals made up perhaps a third of the manpower. Their commander in the Peninsular Wars, Sir Arthur Wellesley (perhaps better known by his later title as The Duke of Wellington), described them as "the scum of the Earth". Though he also added, "It is only wonderful that we should be able to make so much out of them". He was right — they overlapped with Badass Army.
    • It should also be noted that he said this after the Battle of Vitora, near the end of the Peninsular War, where the British Army suffered a major breakdown in discipline when a large amount of the army broke ranks to loot the abandoned French supply train (which also contained a large amount of treasure), an act that was partially responsible for the Allied Army being forced to break off the pursuit of the broken French Army, leading to tens of thousands of French soldiers escapingnote . It is rather understandable why he'd be upset to see his chance to inflict heavy casualties on the broken French Army wasted by his men's greed.
    • Wellesley is also reputed to have said, "I don't know what effect these men will have on the enemy, but by God, they terrify me.", though some say he was refering to some of his officers when he said it.
    • "Convicted criminals" in Wellington's army often included debtors, poachers, petty thieves, and others whose crimes were either minor by modern standards or were committed because the perps were down on their luck. It is harder to estimate how many would have been hardened, professional criminals.
    • The French Royalist army was a Deconstruction. The Republican government controlled all the manpower available after the Revolution, and the Royalists had to recruit from mercenaries (and not the best, from contemporary accounts). Interestingly, the most effective Royalists were partisans like the counter-revolutionaries of the Vendee; these were usually peasants who had their own grudge against the new government, namely their clamping down on the Catholic Church's authority and accompanying secular programs.
  • During The River War in Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, the Egyptian government responded to the Mahdist uprising by sending Colonel William Hicks south with an Egyptian army. Most of these troops were criminals, many even ex-rebels against the Egyptian government, some marched to the front in shackles. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hicks' men were annihilated by the Mahdi.
  • The Argentinian navy in the 19th Century was something of this. In fact, because most of the convicts that comprised his crews wouldn't remember the sails names but were experts at card games, Admiral Brown had the sails renamed to cards names.
  • The Imperial Russian Navy during the Russo-Japanese War became so short of manpower by the moment Admiral Rozhestvensky's fleet set sail, they sent the worst recruits, untrained peasants, and convicts for crews. The admiral had whipped them (sometimes literally) into shape during the 4 months of the trip to Pacific.
  • The Dirlewanger Brigade of the Waffen-SS from World War II. The unit was originally made up of poachers but was ultimately ranked with any criminals or mental patients the SS could find. Even the rest of the SS was disgusted with them, though that said, their "disgust" was probably based not so much on their behavior as the fact that the brigade was made up of a large number of people who the SS would normally have gassed or shot. Their actions were heinous but "the rest of the SS" was up to genocide, so they were probably considered at worst a reflection of the kind of barbarity they would expect from such a bunch, rather than the other kind of professional and civilized barbarity practiced by themselves.
    • There was a more pragmatic reason for which both Heer and SS soldiers hated them: when drunk, hysterical or out of control (that is, most of the time they served), Dirlewanger's men robbed, beat or shot even other German troopers. Keeping them under control involved public hanging and shooting of the offenders, sometimes by Dirlewanger's own hand. And Dirlewanger himself was probably the worst of them: he was a violent, alcoholic, sadistic, paedophillic sociopath who had previously been convicted of numerous crimes and was almost sent to a concentration camp, only to be spared due to having served in WWI alongside a close friend of Himmler.
      • They were also useless for anything other than committing atrocities against people who couldn't fight back. During the Warsaw Uprising, they managed a 315% casualty ratenote . To make matters worse, in the latter stages of the war, several battalions of the brigade were made up of communist and socialist political prisoners who volunteered for the specific purpose of defecting. The Nazis were completely okay with taking them, and sent them to go fight the Soviets. It ended about as well as you would expect.
    • SS General Friedrich-Wilhelm Krüger (a man who never had any qualms against organizing genocide in Poland): "Unless this bunch of criminals disappears from the General Government within a week, I will go myself and lock them up!"
    • By late 1944-early 1945, Dirlewanger's men used cloth masks when Army or SS photographers were around, due to their evil reputation gained during the Warsaw Uprising (to which the Reich leadership contributed willingly, documenting a lot of things by film and photo, to make an example of the death of rebellious Poles).
  • The "Ever Victorious Army", at least in its earliest incarnation. Formed in 1860 in Shanghai during the Taiping Rebellion, the initial force was recruited by Frederick Townsend Ward (and his backers) mainly from Europeans present in Shanghai, the "scum of the Shanghai docks": Beached sailors, mercenaries, criminals, deserters, and expatriates. Those who survived and stuck around became the officer corps for an army of several thousand Chinese soldiers, and this army of dockside scum grew and evolved into possibly the most veteran, well-drilled, and tactically innovative fighting force of the period, first under Ward's leadership, and then under Charles George "Chinese" Gordon.
  • Before Sun Tzu earned his fame, he was given a test from the King: turn 180 concubines into a small army. He pulled it off, though he had to punish some of his officers before they would take him seriously.
  • The Continental Army in The American Revolution started out as this. It was made of people who didn't have any experience of warfare, who didn't have any strong officers who could inspire strong discipline among them; many of them deserted the "army" to go back to their families and farms and didn't return in weeks. It suffered from lack of food, uniforms, and ammunition, bad language and diseases were infecting the army so hard that hardened Seven Years' War veterans were shocked by it, most of the soldiers only fought the revolution half-heartedly, alcohol was consumed in great volumes, etc. It's said that when George Washington got to see the "army" he had accepted command of, he had a Heroic BSoD for half an hour before he started cleaning it up.
    • In some cases, ironically, the problem of the Continental Army was the reverse. New Englanders at least were small farmers and storekeepers who were too well aware of their dignity as middle-class folk to take to military discipline and needed a commander who could work with their cultural eccentricities before they became effective. Historian Fred Anderson draws a picture of that in several of his books.
  • Both sides in The American Civil War suffered from this, but a special mention goes out to Wheat’s tigers, “The sweepings of New Orleans,” a unit that Jackson reputedly hid from international observers, not to prevent international observers forming a poor impression of his army, but to stop them getting robbed by the troops and their camp followers. Their reputation on the battlefield was, however, excellent.
  • The Musta Nuoli (Black Arrow) battalion of the Finnish Army, led by legendary colonel Nikke Pärmi, whose men were volunteer convicts and prisoners. He claimed after the war that the felons and white-collar criminals were excellent soldiers, while political convicts were notoriously unreliable.
    • Konnakolmonen (Crook Three), the 3rd Jäger Company of the Pori Brigade, Säkylä. It is an enhanced discipline unit for those conscripts who have criminal records when conscripted.
  • This trope was deconstructed by the French Army during the Franco-Prussian War. It had terrible morale, was plagued by alcoholism and petty theft, and to top it all off, it was run by General Rippers who bordered on General Failures. They were given a thorough beating by the Prussians.
    • It should be noted that both sides made heavy use of conscription, it's just that they had different systems. Prussia used short term compulsory service, so that every man above a certain age was required to serve in the military for a brief period of time before then being sent off to the reserves, meaning that when war broke out their "conscripts" had all received proper military training. This model, which was pioneered by the Prussians, was fairly common in continental Europe by the Franco-Prussian War. France, meanwhile, had until recently conscripted men by ballot and had them serve longer periods. They were in the process of reforming the system to be closer to the Prussian model, but they hadn't finished by the outbreak of war. Making matters worse, the conscripts could only serve in France proper during peacetime, meaning large amounts of their actual professional soldiers were busy in their various colonies.
  • In World War 2, the Nazis had the Strafbataillon and the USSR had the "Shtrafbat" battalion. Both were made of soldiers who retreated from the front lines without orders and political prisoners. Each side was given the deadliest jobs, including attacking fortified positions and mine clearing. The USSR stationed barrier troops behind their penal soldiers. The barrier troops' sole job was to stop and sometimes shoot any retreating Shtrafbat soldiers.
  • The modern Russian army, mainly the conscripts, has elements of this. On paper conscription is mandatory for all young men, but in practice most are able to get out of it in various ways - education exemptions, medical exemptions, legal loopholes, bribes, and so on. The ones who do get conscripted are mostly those too stupid and/or poor to get out of it or too desperate to try (read: criminals). Russian conscript culture has a heavy overlap with prison culture as a result.
    • Following the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, the Russian paramilitary group Wagner has tried to recruit convicted criminals to compensate for its manpower shortage. If they survive a six month term, they get a pardon from the government. The Ukrainian government claimed that nearly half of the group's membership was made up of such recruits by late 2022.
    • As of 11/02/2022, Vladimir Putin has signed a decree making legal and even encouraging the recruitment of convicts of serious crimes, including rapists and murderers.
  • The Russian Civil War was absolutely loaded with these. The Whites in particular suffered from having to deal with nominally "loyal" warlords who all-too-easily went rogue:
    • In the Baltic region, General Yudenich theoretically controlled about 30,000 men - just enough for an advance on Petrograd. However, half of these were part of the "West Russian Volunteer Army" - an army led by adventurer Pavel Bermondt-Avalov. Since they were too busy attacking Latvia, this meant that Yudenich had to advance with only 18,500 men.
    • Closely related to the Bermontians was the Freikorps - an army of German deserters and Baltic nobles led by general Rüdiger von der Goltz. Formed to preserve German interests in the region, they joined forces with Bermondt for an attack on Latvia. Ultimately, the lack of unity among the anti-communist forces in the northwest was the reason for its failure.
    • A thousand miles away, the main White government of Alexander Kolchak supposedly controlled all of Siberia. In reality, he only commanded the Urals region - everything west of Lake Baikal was in the hands of Cossack warlord armies. These armies were essentially massed groups of robbers, pillaging at will. All of these warlords (Semyonov, Rozanov, Kalmykov, etc.) were either overthrown or easily dealt with by the Reds.
    • And, last but not least, Roman von Ungern-Sternberg - a half-mad Baltic German nobleman who managed to cobble together 2,000 men - of dubious moral quality at best - and take over Mongolia. During his brief rule, he earned the sobriquet "The Bloody Baron". Tired of his cruel treatment towards everyone, his soldiers mutinied and left him to the Reds. After a six-hour show trial, the thoroughly unrepentant "Mad Baron" was executed.
    • The Red Army was not exempt either. During their takeover, they threw open prisons and insane asylums, specifically to terrorize civilians and raise funding for the war by pillaging. The Red Army was known for slaughtering men, women and children, burning churches and monasteries to the ground, and massacring any area that resisted their approach.