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City Guards

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"No, peasant, you will not be allowed to throw off the Emperor's groove. Begone!"
"Stop right there, criminal scum! Nobody breaks the law on my watch!"

The City Guards are the local authorities. They strut about between one tile square and another, looking busy, decked out in more armour than your hero and generally acting superior. In stories, the training and equipment of city guards varies according to the wealth and power of the city or town. A wealthy Merchant City's guard may be an elite unit equipped with gleaming armor, costly swords, and elegant uniforms; they have a high morale and will be a formidable adversary in a battle. A dingy small town's guards may be old, worn-out soldiers with battle-dented breastplates and rusty weapons; they are poorly trained and will likely make only a token resistance before yielding. Even within a given city guard, there is a range of ranks and skills, from raw recruits to skilled swordsmen and experienced officers who lead them.

Beyond the duties implied in their name—guarding gates to the city—the guards also enforce laws and regulations and patrol the city. The degree of discipline and adherence to law and order varies a great deal. The city guard to a wise, good king will be just and fair, but the guards to a sleazy dictator will be the mirror to their boss, and they will likely be corrupt.

Every once in a while, the hero will encounter a Locked Door guarded by one or two grunts in armour. Generally, they will stand around until you give them the proper item, such as a pass, bribe them with food or occasionally real money, or just get to the right point in the plot. Bad guys attacking the city walls, threatening to break in and murder everyone in sight, are great occasions for checking out guarded rooms.

Often, the city guards (and the guards in general) will be better equipped in appearance than your hero, such as in games where there is no armour for you. Despite this, you're probably stronger than them (unless you aren't), and let them stand in your way only out of respect for the law or... something. Of course, that in itself can get stupid in its own ways, such as when you're in an enemy town. As for the ones in Good Guy towns... do they have no idea what urgent plot points they're keeping you from? Don't they know that the Evil Overlord is marching his forces upon their hapless town? No?! The Guards Must Be Crazy.

City Guards are a common form of the Broken Bridge, in which case they may well be Invincible Minor Minions in order to make Sequence Breaking impossible.

A common cause of NPC Roadblock. See also I Fought the Law and the Law Won.

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Video Game Examples:

    Action Adventure 
  • Assassin's Creed almost entirely takes place in the cities of Damascus, Acre, and Jerusalem, and the city guards are a constant obstacle during every stage of every assassination. While on the ground their encircling tactics can be nastily effective, Altaïr, the protagonist can take to the rooftops to fight in his element. Due to the social stealth aspect of the game, the guards are infamous for their quirks. For example, after stealthily assassinating a guard, Altaïr can sit down on a nearby bench, eliciting no suspicion from guards who come to investigate, despite the small armory he wears.
    • On the flip side, however, these guards will be out for your blood if you happen to do such incredibly suspicious things as ride a horse at a speed exceeding 1/2 MPH on an otherwise empty road or get pushed by some random crazy person.
    • In the sequel, the guards are back, though they're somewhat smarter and don't usually attempt to kill you for bumping into people.
  • Soldiers stand guard all throughout the city area in Beyond Good & Evil, and they prevent you from accessing certain parts of the city at first. More of them appear throughout the town as the game progresses, as the government grows more paranoid. Interestingly, they start out as jerkasses toward the heroine. But once you acquire a sidekick who happens to be one of them, they immediately become polite and upright. Hmmm...
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • For more specific examples see below but in general the role of the guards in this series can be summed up as one of the three: incompetent, non-existent, or an active hindrance to the player character.
    • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past: The guards are in the employ of the villains — they hold their own princess captive and try to arrest Link for it later. The oft-ignored guard on Hyrule Castle's battlements will comment on how most of the guards lost their minds since Agahnim took over, and muses that it'll only be a matter of time before he's affected too.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: Many guards are seen in key parts of Market or protecting the nearby Hyrule Castle. You have to sneak past them early in the game to get to Zelda.
    • In The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask:
      • The guards wouldn't let you out of Clock Town in the beginning of the game (because you're trapped in the body of a young Deku Scrub). Later, when you're back to human form, they try to protest that it isn't safe for children, but then decide that this particular young child is carrying a sword, and therefore will be perfectly fine.
      • At one point in the game, an old lady walks through a field in front of a guard when she is mugged and completely ignores her cries for help. If that weren't enough, after running around a bit the mugger escapes through the very door he is guarding. It seems the only job these guys were hired for was keeping small children from going outside.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: The game depicts the guards of Hyrule Castle Town as generally useless cowards, although they thankfully never really get in your way either. Well, they try if you run around as Wolf in town.
    • The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap: The guards stationed around Hyrule Town never antagonize Link and will comment on the king's strange behavior. You do have to sneak past the guards at Hyrule Castle in the later parts of the game, just like in Ocarina.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: The guards outside Gerudo Town will prevent Link from entering because he's a man.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom: Lookout Landing is a makeshift settlement built right outside the ruins of Hyrule Castle Town. It has Hylian guards at each of the four entrances, and they'll recognize Link on sight due to him being Legendary in the Sequel. As you complete the main story quests, the Hylian guards will be joined by Rito, Goron, Zora, and Gerudo guards, with the Rito in particular patrolling from the sky.
  • In the Nintendo 64 game Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon, one necessary path is blocked by two guards. After getting the required pass, the guards complain that now they have nothing else to do but stand there for the rest of the game.
  • In a sequence in Ōkami, you are required to sneak past a door guarded by two weak, early-game monsters, even though you could probably kill them at this point with a flick of your Reflector.
    • Also, the very literal Sei-An City guards, who you have to sneak past.
    • Receiving unusual mercy because they can talk.
  • [PROTOTYPE]'s marines will almost always target you over the nearby infected horrors, even if you're just running away while Hunters chase you to the ends of the earth. Justified in that you are their primary target.
    • Averted at one point when the Blackwatch forces are told that defending a particular truck is their primary objective, and they immediately cease to attack you, even you start butchering them for health.
  • The two BribeClaw in Star Fox Adventures will let you pass — for the rest of the game — in exchange for 25 scarabs. (The second one, though, can be bypassed using a Staff Power. If you do this, the BribeClaw will behave as though you had bribed him, and will therefore let you past every time you approach. You only need to pass him once, however, if you know what you're looking for.
  • StarTropics was well-practiced at using this trope. In at least half of the towns you come to, plot requires you speak with the mayor/chief/head honcho of the town. However, a guard will be standing in the way, barring passage inside unless you talk to absolutely everyone in town at least once first. This, obviously, was a less than subtle way of making you talk with all of the citizens before moving on.

    Browser Game 
  • Peasant's Quest has a guard guarding the mountain that leads to Trogdor. In order to pass, you must prove that you are a peasant, which includes being on fire.

    Eastern RPG 

  • EVE Online has CONCORD, the neutral police force. If you attack an another player in high-security space without a war declarationbribe, retribution is swift, deadly and unavoidable. In fact, successfully evading them is a bannable offense on the basis that it all but requires hax to do so. Factions also maintain their own navies, but those are at least escapable, if not survivable.
  • Everquest II has guards in major cities. Some which are harder than high end raid bosses.
  • RuneScape used these too...and were attackable. They weren't actually programmed the same way most City Guards are actually...and players would regularly kill them for experience. It's even been lampshaded how guards don't have a very long lifespan.
  • World of Warcraft has guards in every city and town (as well as invisible elite guards that only appear to opposite faction players). Guards will give you directions if you ask them, however in some cities (specifically the ones in Stormwind for starters) are rather unpleasant about this. The ones in Undercity basically demand to know what you want for talking to them. To sum it up, all guards are somewhat Ax-Crazy with Fantastic Racism and will attack/kill players of the opposite faction on sight whether they're causing trouble or not.
    • Notably, town guards are usually level-appropriate to the area their town is located in. So they do a good job of driving off enemy-faction players questing in the area, but provide laughably weak resistance to high level players intent on killing everyone in town (except the kids).
    • Guards vary on how helpful they are to players in need. Some guards, like Booty Bay Bruisers, will rush to your aid if you've got monsters after you. Other guards won't lift a finger unless the monster attacks them. Certain guards will react to PvP combat by killing everyone involved, even if one player didn't do anything. For awhile, this was a very common cause of Griefing.
    • Some guards got the Invincible Minor Minion treatment as of Cataclysm. In all starter areas but Quel'Thalas and The Exodar there are level 90 Elite guards that can kill most level 85s in three hits or less. Should the player ever feel the need to wipe out a town of the opposing faction guards will spawn with several times the player's health pool just to be an annoyance. The latter type respawns instantly on death and begins to chase you until you leave the town.
    • Of note is that there is an achievement for killing the leaders to the opposing faction. So while guards in large cities provide more than enough deterrent to keep lone players of the wrong faction wandering around the place, they are deliberately set as a level-appropriate obstacle for a large group - if you can get through the guards, you probably have a decent chance of taking out the leader as well.
    • In neutral settlements, such as Booty Bay, the guards will attack any player that picks a fight with a player from another faction. Unfortunately, if the latter fights back, they will attack him, too.

  • NetHack:
    • Minetown has guards that will simply stand by and watch as you and its inhabitants try to kill each other, but God help you if you dry up one of the town's two fountains, in which case every last one of them will be out for your blood.
    • They will also attack you if you directly assault a shopkeeper. The key word being 'directly': If you anger the shopkeeper by zapping him with a wand or throwing things at him, the guards won't care, and any subsequent beating will apparently be considered self-defense.
    • There's also the guards that come if you're raiding a vault, though they can easily be sent away by telling them that you are Croesus. God help you if Croesus is dead, though...

  • Each town in Animal Crossing: Wild World has two armed canine guards at the north gate. You can't even leave your own town until you get friend codes. The trouble is that you can't get friend codes within the game; you have to get them from other players.
  • In Elite Dangerous, populated (non-anarchist) systems have System Authority vessels that respond to danger and patrol around nav beacons and space stations. SA vessels are very dangerous and piloted by aces, but their response time outside of usual patrol routes can give pirates enough time to swoop in and harass traders. Each of the major Powers has their own city guard (i.e. Zachary Hudson's Federal Agents) that patrol their owned systems to keep out criminals and foreign powers.
  • City-Building Series:
    • Pharaoh: Police officers are an unfortunate necessity in the city, as crime levels go up automatically, only reducing when a police officer (or magistrate, or upgraded priest of Ra) walks by. They also have Punny Names referencing fictional cops.
      • In the expansion, they get a new purpose: stopping tomb robbers from stealing grave goods interred in a monument.
      • They also kill wild animals when running into them, but animals aren't limited to roads like officers. During an enemy invasion, they'll also join the fight, but unless present in stupidly huge numbers won't even serve as a speedbump.
    • Zeus: Master of Olympus: Watchmen serve the same function as police officers, but they're only really needed on difficulties higher than Normal.
    • Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom: City guards serve the extremely important purpose of catching spies and saboteurs. Unfortunately, your citizens limit how many watchhouses you can have in the city without causing unrest.
  • Similar to the above, each of the Houses in Freelancer has their own police force and their own Space Navy, with the former patrolling the trade routes to scan for contraband and the latter acting as general muscle, particularly in frontier systems without trade routes. Each are distinct factions with their own Alliance Meter, so you can be wanted by the police of one House while their navy doesn't care (and vice versa), and a different House's forces care even less about what you did in a rival's territory. Police and Navy of the same House are always allied with each other, though, so opposing one too much will also turn the other hostile eventually. Some police forces are state agencies, others are private corporations, but they all act the same regardless. As usual, all of them can be bribed to make them non-hostile again in case your relations with them have deteriorated to this point, but the randomly generated bribe offers tend to make this approach somewhat unreliable. How dangerous these forces are depends solely on their House due to how the campaign is structured, with Liberty guards being complete pushovers while Kusari guards put up more of a fight. They all become trivial in the endgame, though, and they generally fare poorly against all but the worst-equipped criminal factions.
  • In the ancient Egyptian city simulation game Immortal Cities: Children of the Nile, you can employ these yourself, as distinctly separate from your main army. They're even literally called City Guards. Mostly they just go around stopping vagrants, thieves, and protesters, as they are fairly useless against a real army.
  • Majesty: The player’s Palaces and Guardhouses will automatically spawn City Guards and Palace Guards, respectively, who will fight against enemy forces and monsters who get too close. While they cost nothing to use, they are roughly as strong as a baseline-level 1 hero and cannot level up, making them the game’s Redshirt Army. Even the Veteran Guards from the leveled-up Guardhouses are only marginally stronger.

  • In the Thief games, guards abound. Even if they'd be sympathetic to the plot you're trying to advance, who has the time to explain it to them? Besides, getting around them is the majority of the game's objectives, and even in Thief 3's between-mission sandbox, they're really no more a deterrent than citizens, whether you're playing as intended, Thief-like, or going berserk. They do have some amusing exchanges to eavesdrop.

    Western RPG 
  • Picking a lock with any other creature (even a cat) on screen in the original Baldur's Gate yields the delightful phrase 'Someone has noticed you. You heard the guards being summoned'. This would be followed up by high-level, well-equipped guards (though how powerful, exactly, depends on the in-game area you were in) showing up to confront you. Some of them can be bribed to go away, some just kill you.
    • If you are sufficiently evil, extra groups of guards will spawn when you enter a town just to attack you. For some reason they don't have the same dislike for all the evil characters you'll meet throughout the games.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • The standard variant is present throughout much of the series. While not inherently superior to the Player Character in terms of strength, they are more numerous and typically attack in groups. They can be killed, though each one killed adds significantly to the bounty the character must pay off to avoid jail time, and unlike most NPCs they respawn endlessly, making it neither possible nor practical to kill them all. Unlike in most video games, the city guards will always remember who you are. If you are wanted, they will try to apprehend you on sight. Given how much of the series is spent in cities, it is usually a good idea to just accept the fines or jail-time they offer you rather than fight them. Further, they will attempt to arrest you rather than kill you immediately. You may choose to pay the fine or go to jail if arrested, though in either case, the guard will confiscate any stolen items you may have. You can also choose to resist arrest, which will make all guards in the area immediately hostile to you. The exception is if you have such a high bounty (usually 5000 gold, which is 5 murders worth fines or stealing one priceless item) that they mark you for death on sight. At that point, your only hope is to have the Thieves' Guild make your bounty go away. Specific examples and exceptions are below.
    • The very first installment, Arena, has no bounty system at all. Instead, if you commit a crime, the guards will try to execute you on the spot. Luckily, it's very easy to flee them since they don't chase you out of/into buildings or towns, and the lack of a bounty system also means that once you escape, you won't suffer any long-term consequences for your crimes.
    • In Daggerfall, it is more reasonable to flee as criminal records only apply within a given territory and decrease over time. For example, if you commit a crime in Daggerfall and flee, you can simply stay outside of Daggerfall for a while until your bounty goes down.
    • Morrowind has several different types of guards. Hlaalu, Redoran, and Telvanni guards each patrol the towns and villages under their faction's authority. Ordinators patrol Tribunal Temple holdings. Imperial Guards patrol the Imperial settlements. Mournhold is patrolled by High Ordinators and King Helseth's Royal Guards. The Skaal village has Skaal Honor Guards. Belonging to the same faction as the guards will increase their disposition and cause them to be more polite to you, but they'll still attempt to arrest you for committing a crime.
    • In Oblivion, if the guards witness you attacking/killing someone, there is a pretty good chance that they will literally chase you across the entirety of the game world. One player was apprehended three weeks after attacking a civilian, on nearly the opposite edge of the map, by the SAME GUARD that witnessed the attack.
    • Skyrim manages to avoid some of the previous problems with the city guards. To note:
      • While they'll still chase you down and try to arrest you, you can still attempt to flee, as each of the holds (read: city/provinces) tracks crime separately. Kill a man in Riften, and the guards in Whiterun won't care. Also, if you commit a crime and leave the city, the guards will remember you; an overt crime that earns a bounty will cause them to arrest on sight, while a covert crime like thieving (without getting caught) will periodically result in a guard who will comment "Wait a minute, I know you...." If you stop to talk to said guard, he'll realize you're apparently behind the theft or other crime and try to arrest you.
      • If you are the Thane in a hold, you can sometimes get guards to look the other way in regards to some of your crimes, but you can only do this once. If you've done enough jobs to get Thieves' Guild influence in the hold, you can bribe a guard for half your bounty to make the problem go away.
      • In rare cases, guards will stop to actually interrogate you if you linger near the scene of a murder.
    • In-universe, this city guard duty is one of the peacetime duties of the Imperial Legion. They almost exclusively make up the guard units in Cyrodiil itself, capital of the Empire, but also serve as the guards of Imperial settlements in the provinces.
    • Where this gets frustrating is that, as quick as the guards are to arrest you for crimes, in the base game they'll do absolutely nothing if you're attacked by thugs in front of them (but they won't charge you for killing them either since you were defending yourself). At least one mod made it so if you're attacked by thugs with guards nearby, they'll actually do their job and help you.
  • Spiderweb Software's Exile (and Avernum) series features guards that aren't really all that tough versus various miscellaneous enemies and tend to get killed easily when defending the town... Except for when YOU piss them off. When that happens, all of their stats (and their attacks/round) instantly triple.
  • Fable abounds in City Guard antics, from the obnoxious Broken Bridge that bars you from entering Bowerstone North until after a certain point in the main plot, to their willingness to accept 1000-gold "sponsorship" for "guard breaks", to their annoying propensity to get in the way whenever you have to team up with them on various good-aligned quests.
  • Bethesda, in keeping with their above example, included guards in some locations in Fallout 3. The most notable is Rivet City, which has a practically unlimited amount of guards with combat armor and small arms in defense. Of course, almost everybody in Rivet City can be slaughtered, leaving only the guards and a few kids to take care of.
    • Fallout 2 has guards in cities with functioning governments: Vault City, the NCR capital, and San Francisco. They typically have slightly better equipment than a player first finding the city would have, barring Sequence Breaking. Everywhere else, theft or assault is punished by random civilians pulling their guns and trying to shoot you.
    • Fallout: New Vegas has Securitrons patrolling the Strip in New Vegas, and if one specific path is taken in a quest NCR soldiers will take up guard duty in Primm.
  • In the Neverwinter Nights mod game A Dance with Rogues, every city guard is single-handedly capable of killing you, and it's impossible to bribe or evade them if they either spot you committing a crime or someone else reports you to them. This necessitates the use of stealth over brute force, which is the focus of the game. The one leeway you're given is that they'll only give you a verbal warning if it's a minor crime (like walking around with your weapon unsheathed).
  • On the other side of the coin, some of the guards in earlier Ultima games were just way stronger than your characters, at least at first. In addition, many MMOs use City Guards which are pretty well leveled, largely to keep PVP from getting out of hand.
    • For example the guards in Ultima Online are nigh-invulnerable teleporters who kill with one hit.
  • This is an old staple of the Ultima series. Unusually, the first two games require you to kill guards in order to win. In the first game, you need to kill a jester in a castle to gain a key, which causes the guards to turn hostile. In the second game, killing guards is the only way to gain keys which in turn are the only way to unlock essential doors, plus one of the plot-critical items is found inside a prison, which has an unmoving guard standing in the doorway. The guards are the biggest threat in parts III-V due to the battles taking place on a separate combat map. What looks like a single creature in the main gameworld can turn out to be anywhere between 1-10 enemies in combat. Guess whether the guards are always packed full? The guards are also frequently some of the strongest enemies in the entire game. Ultima VII begins in the walled-off town of Trinsic, and the guards ask for a password in order to let you out through the city gates.
  • Dark Messiah has some unexpectedly competent guards, in terms of both story and gameplay. In gameplay terms, each is about equal to a single enemy Elite Mook, and is capable of holding his own even during endgame combat. In cutscenes and setpieces, they prove to be unexpectedly competent, often surviving what seem to be designated Red Shirt moments, and being generally good at their job.
  • Dragon Age
    • The city guards of Denerim in Dragon Age: Origins don't appear to do much; their leader, Sergeant Kylon, says that the guard is basically a dumping ground for "Lord Such-and-Such's illegitimate, untrained, moronic whelps," and cleaning up the crime-ridden city is basically left to the player character and any other mercenaries willing to take a job. The guard will come down on you if you're caught stealing, however. The dwarven city of Orzammar also has a city guard, which appears to be the main job of the Warrior caste when they're not campaigning in the Deep Roads. They're basically decorative, but they do try to apprehend the player character at the end of the Dwarf Commoner origin story.
    • In Dragon Age II, Hawke's companion Aveline joins the Kirkwall City Guard and later becomes the captain, so Hawke can take jobs here and there on Aveline's behalf. Kirkwall being a Land of One City, the Guard also does double duty as the city's army and primary defense (though they're actually outnumbered by the city's templars, leading to considerable Jurisdiction Friction between the civil government, which controls the Guard, and the Chantry, which controls the templars).

    Wide Open Sandbox 

Other Examples:


    Fan Fiction 
  • The Keys Stand Alone: the guards that are found in the Pyar, Guardians, and Circle cities (and quite possibly the cities for the other Power Groups as well, though the four never visit them). The four are initially impressed by the Pyar cities' guards' friendliness and helpfulness, and they're rather awed by their efficiency when they witness the guards taking down bad guys. And then they find out that the guards are also empowered as Judge, Jury, and Executioner, at least up to city or town limits.
    • The Power Group city guards reflect the groups' general attitudes: the Guardians guards are smiling, obedient, heavily armed, and very military-like, while the Circle guards are laid back and lightly armed.


  • This trope is done deliberately in the Discworld, where Terry Pratchett's Ankh-Morpork City Watch take every associated trope up to and past eleven. This is reflected in the computer games based on the Discworld, such as Discworld Noir. Note that they're the main characters in most of the books in which they appear, and the fact they regard "heroes" with suspicion is largely justified; Sir Terry "wanted to give them a day in the sun, but it turned out to be a full tropical holiday".
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has the City Watch of King's Landing, also known as the Gold Cloaks for that prominent feature of their armor. They are extremely corrupt, tending to work for whomever pays them the most.
  • Villains by Necessity: Sam and Arcie early on get hauled off to a dungeon by the Bistort city guards. During their escape, Sam takes on two with ease (neither is killed). Later, he kills another trying to rape a girl in a different town. It's mentioned most have grown lazy and incompetent as a result of most criminals now having gotten brainwashed so there's less for them to do.

    Live-Action Television 

  • Unsounded: Crescian towns are policed and guarded by constables who also work alongside the national military Peaceguard when applicable. Sette doesn’t bother to differentiate between the Peaceguard and constabulary and takes advantage of corrupt members to sneak into Ethelmik while avoiding the rest.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This trope is taken to it's logical conclusion in Exalted with the demon Sondok, whose literal reason for existing is to guard things (thus the title "She-Who-Stands-In-Doorways"). She's so good at her job, that some of the merchants who summon her have formed a cult expressly devoted to her as a form of contract.

    Real Life 
  • These are rather ubiquitous in Real Life. In many places around the world they tend to be known as "the police". In many historical cities, they actually had surprisingly few guards however (usually called "the watch" or something similar), with a very low ratio in comparison with other citizens. Sometimes guards or watchmen were paid for privately, to cover specific districts. Even some ancient cities such as Constantinople though had police forces similar to modern ones. However, these dissipated in the West after Rome fell, and didn't reemerge until much later in the 1600s. The invention of gas lamps also helped, as before it was very difficult to police the city at night (while punishments for crimes committed then were also much greater). Frequently other citizens were expected to help, either through something like conscription to serve as guards, raising the "hue and cry" after crimes has been committed in public and serving in posses when called on to pursue criminals. This remained the case in rural areas much longer as more cities gained professional police forces similar to those now existing. However, organized law enforcement is still Older Than Feudalism, dating back to ancient civilizations like Mesopotamia, Egypt and China.


The Guards

A common template for fantasy guards.

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