Life out in the desert is really harsh. With barely any rain or soil to grow crops, and a lack of other natural resources, tiny desert villages can be really terrible places to live.
Because of this, many people living out in the desert only have the choice of thievery as a way of living. They prey on unsuspecting travelers crossing through the desert: hiding behind dunes planning an ambush, then making a quick strike to grab the loot. In most media, they're dressed in turbans and veils that both protect their faces and conceal their identities. They mostly appear either in Arabian-style stories, or as a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Arabian cultures. The western variation is also fairly common; they tend to wear black hats and bandannas around their mouths for the same reason as Arabian veils. Guaranteed to show up in any Desert Punk story.
Sometimes related to, and sometimes contrasted with, Bedouin Rescue Service.
- In the world of Desert Punk after a nuclear war turns the entire globe into a desert planet, many are forced to make their living as mercenaries with a few operating as bandits in order to prey on travelers.
- In Dragon Ball, Yamcha is first encountered as being a desert bandit trying to rob Goku and co. He is one of Goku's first opponents because of it, although he eventually joins the heroes afterwards.
- Tiger of the Wind in Monster Rancher is introduced as this, leading a band of Tigers to steal from travelers.
- Parodied and then played straight in One Piece. In the anime the crew encounters a gang of desert pirates who later fight a gang of desert bandits. Both groups believe that the desert will decide their fate in all matters, including an encounter with a large-dung beetle.
- The Tusken raiders from the Star Wars movies and the Star Wars Expanded Universe are native inhabitants of the desert planet Tatooine who make their living by robbing whoever else is currently occupying the planet.
- In Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Lo leads a very large gang that preys on the Han Dynasty's trade routes through the desert. He meets Jen when he raids her caravan, swipes her comb apparently for the heck of it, and then leads her on a merry chase through the desert.
- The main characters of The Fall turn into heroic versions of this when they attack the Big Bad's caravan in the desert.
- All the factions in Mad Max: Fury Road given that it's a Scavenger World where the strong take from the weak, but the Buzzards probably fit the trope best.
- In Dune, the Fremen would raid Harkonnen patrols and spice harvesters and extract their water (including that in the personnel). But the real reason for those attacks was to keep them from stumbling across the Fremen's secret terraforming operations.
- The forty thieves from Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves are bandits from the "Arabian Nights" Days; it's implied that they attack and rob from caravans in the desert.
- The D'regs from the Discworld series (who feature prominently in Jingo) are bandits who harass the merchants in the deserts of Klatch. Although they're honourable enough to provide a Bedouin Rescue Service to anyone who's lost in the desert (rather than simply travelling the roads) and pragmatic enough to avoid killing the merchants or robbing them too often (if they force them out of business, who would they rob?).
- The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps: On their way to Mother of Waters, the brothers are ambushed by the Desperados, a gang of desert bandits who prey on merchant caravans and evidently thought that twenty-five mercenaries could be quickly dealt with.
- Call of Cthulhu
- Supplement Curse of the Chthonians, adventure "The City Without A Name". While traveling from Jerusalem to San'a, if the PCs travel by land they may be attacked during each stage of the trip by Bedouin bandits who want to rob them.
- Campaign The Fungi from Yuggoth, adventure "The Sands of Time". When the PCs ride out to Doctor Galloway's dig site they will be attacked and captured by a group of desert bandits led by a man named Kemal. It turns out that Kemal is acting under orders from the Cthulhu Mythos cultists the PCs are opposing.
- Dungeons & Dragons
- 1st Edition Monster Manual, "Men" entry "Nomads". Desert nomads would attack and capture small groups (such as PC parties), taking their valuables.
- 2nd Edition Ravenloft supplement Domains of Dread. Diamabel, overlord of Pharazia, at one time led his nomadic tribe in attacks on merchant caravans and even small cities in search of loot.
- BIONICLE: The Bone Hunters, former Rock Tribe Agori who splintered off into their own species, who steal resources from other tribes except the Rock Tribe, as well as capturing Glatorian, Agori, and Vorox to sell to the Rock Tribe.
- The Gerudo race from The Legend of Zelda, starting in Ocarina of Time. They are a vaguely Arabian-style race of women (and one man) who live out in the desert and work as thieves. In The Wind Waker, this actually forms part of Ganondorf's stated motivation to take the Triforce, as he believed that it would give his people a better life, but his lust for power eventually got in the way. By the time of Breath of the Wild, they have abandoned their thieving ways and are now a tribe of merchants instead.
- In Bravely Default, thieves in the desert country of Ancheim are cooperating with the merchant Profiteur: Profiteur bought the town's wells and put an exorbitant price on water, forcing the people to go to the oasis to drink, where the thieves can attack easily.
- RuneScape's Kharidian Desert is one of the only places where bandits can be found. (Elsewhere, they're more likely to be labeled "thieves" or "rogues" or "highwaymen" or the like.) They play a key role in several desert-related quests, and the Bandit Camp is one of the more prominent settlements in the area.
- World of Warcraft: The Wastewander bandits of Tanaris, originally pirates who had their ships stolen by other pirates and turned to capturing water sources and stealing from the Goblins of Gadgetzan to get by.
- King's Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder! has bandits operating in the desert. In fact, Graham is even required to visit the bandit camp at one point in the game; an important item is there that he'll need.
- Bandits in the Super Mario Bros. series. They appear as common desert enemies in various games (notable Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi: Dream Team) and attempt to steal Mario and co's coins in battle.
- Bandits from Nuclear Throne. While present in all levels, they appear first and most numerously in the desert area, with their leader acting as the Boss of that area. They also look the part as much as the post-apocalyptic setting allows, being wrapped in white cloth and having their faces covered.
- Quest for Glory II has the Desert Brigands, who are pretty much that game's goomba. True to the Arabian Nights-inspired setting they wield scimitars and wear turbans (and throw daggers at you in the Fan Remake). A band of these guys assaulted and raped Julanar after luring her into the desert by pretending they were in need of a healer in the back story for one of the sub-quests.
- Kingdom Hearts features Bandits, Fat Bandits, and Luna Bandits, all styled in a stereotypical fashion to look like classic desert bandits, complete with scimitars in their hands and turbans around their heads. Naturally, they'll only found in the desert world of Agrabah.
- The Fire Emblem games tend to have a Running Gag where there is a desert level spent fighting bandits who are led by a pair of twin brothers who are palette-swapped versions of each other.
- Some Sandbenders in Avatar: The Last Airbender make their living by stealing from desert travelers. One band was able to steal Appa from Aang and his friends, then sell him to a Fire Nation circus.
- The bandits in The Thief and the Cobbler live in the desert and wait for caravans to drive by. They even have a special book that describes what to do in different situations that occur. For example, when a caravan comes, the instructions say "CHARGE!"